09 March 2023

Hit and Miss

14 January 2023 - Zaagkuilsdrift

There were reports that the Striped Crake was still present around Plat River on the Zaagkuilsdrift Road, so I had to give it another go while the wet conditions were still viable. It requires an early start from Jozi to get to the start of the sand road before sunrise and there is still about 20 odd km's to do before reaching Plat River.

As always on this road, it is hard not to be distracted and the first distraction was this gorgeous Black-chested Snake Eagle that had roosted overnight on one of the telephone poles. Those eyes!

Black-chested Snake Eagle (Circaetus pectoralis)




I managed to avoid any other distractions and arrived at Plat River to find only two other cars present, all patiently waiting on the Crakes and some of the other specials in this specific area. The trick with these skulkers is to remain in you car and listen for their call so you can get a bearing. Thereafter it is just a patient waiting game as you hope to get a glimpse as they move quietly and slowly in the thick grass on the side, but below the road level. Birding is still good, whilst you sit quietly in your car - but then you can also lose focus at a crucial time and miss a glimpse. Unfortunately, there were no calls and later more cars arrived and most people got out and walked the road - that was the end of any possible sighting of this elusive bird. Crakes are generally wary and any movement will send them into hiding.

I reluctantly joined the others on the road and was rewarded with a good sighting of a Dwarf Bittern that flew across the road and landed in the open on the top of a tree

Dwarf Bittern (Ixobrychus sturmii)






There were a good few duck species flying over from the flood plain and I recorded Spur-winged Goose. Even from this distance the formidable spurs are evident

Spur-winged Goose (Plectropterus gambensis)



Yellow-billed Duck

Yellow-billed Duck (Anas undulata)



Red-billed Teal

Red-billed Teal (Anas erythrorhyncha)


and White-faced Whistling Duck

White-faced Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna viduata)


Of course there were other species like Black-crowned Night Heron early on

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)



and Purple Heron later

Purple Heron (Ardea purpurea)


Overhead, there were European Bee-eaters

European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)


and in a big mixed flock of Hirundines, I had a single Black Swift

African Black Swift (Apus barbatus)






and a few Pearl-breasted Swallow's

Pearl-breasted Swallow (Hirundo dimidiata)


On the side of the road, Yellow-crowned Bishops

Yellow-crowned Bishop (Euplectes afer)



and White-winged Widowbird's were pretty active and displaying

White-winged Widowbird (Euplectes albonotatus)




There were also a number of Red-backed Shrikes

Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio)





Along with a lone Spotted Flycatcher

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)


Oddly enough a Striped Crake did call whilst there was a lot of action on the road and one group claimed to have seen a bird fly out from the marshy  grass. Once everyone had left, I remained in my car - but the birds stopped calling. A cattle herder came by with about 20+ cows and some of them walked the marshy area next to the road. I hoped they might flush one of the Crakes, but no luck. So, another hit and miss with this species. They are really challenging and frustrating, especially when they are calling from less than 1.5m away!

I cut my losses, again and headed toward Kgomo Kgomo stopping on the floodplain for an African Spoonbill

African Spoonbill (Platalea alba)



and in the Acacia habitat connected with a Black-chested Prinia

Tawny-flanked Prinia (Prinia subflava)



Along with what appeared to be a larger than normal Rattling Cisticola, I will call it Sumo Rattler!

Rattling Cisticola (Cisticola chiniana)


On the bridge, there were a few Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters hawking from the overhead lines

Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (Merops persicus)


A small flock of Black-winged Pratincole

Black-winged Pratincole (Glareola nordmanni)


and Little Swift were still active with their nests under the bridge

Little Swift (Apus affinis)



A Great Egret flew overhead

Great Egret (Ardea alba)


Also around the bridge and the road were more White-winged Widowbird's

White-winged Widowbird (Euplectes albonotatus)


and a couple of Scaly-feathered Finch

Scaly-feathered Finch (Sporopipes squamifrons)


A strange Moth that I will probably battle to ID

Moth sp.


By now it was warming up quickly, so I headed back East on the road, stopping for a calling Barred Wren-Warbler high up in a tree

Barred Wren-Warbler (Calamonastes fasciolatus)


and a Grey-backed Camaroptera a little further along

Grey-backed Camaroptera (Camaroptera brevicaudata)


The last bird was a Gabar Goshawk

Gabar Goshawk (Micronisus gabar)


So, although birding was pretty good - I dipped again on the primary objective...




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