05 July 2023

Golden winter light

12 May 2023 - Suikerbosrand

I planned a morning at Suikerbosrand to enjoy the golden winter light in the grasslands before the inevitable winter fires burn through the reserve. I stopped for my obligatory M&B coffee just as the sun was rising and the mercury was still in low single figures.

This time I didnt stay too long on Eendracht Road, besides the birds weren't yet active as it was still too cold. Once through the gate to the reserve, I stopped for a singing Rufous-naped Lark

Rufous-naped Lark (Mirafra africana)

then just before the road to Reception stopped again to photograph a Scimitarbill

Common Scimitarbill (Rhinopomastus cyanomelas)

But it was soon chased off and replaced by a Red-eyed Bulbul on almost the same perch

African Red-eyed Bulbul (Pycnonotus nigricans)

On the opposite side of the road, Levaillant's Cisticola's were getting vocal, but at the top of a small tree to enjoy the first rays of the sun

Levaillant's Cisticola (Cisticola tinniens)

I parked in the visitors parking and walked around the reception area and this always takes longer than planned, as there are many good birds to be had. First up was a Familiar Chat

Familiar Chat (Oenanthe familiaris)

Followed by a Yellow Mongoose that stopped long enough to roll off a few images

Yellow Mongoose (Cynictis penicillata)

Winter is when Fairy Flycatchers are present and I had really good fortune with one that wasnt active at all - probably still to cold, but I wasnt complaining, as this was the best photographic opportunity I had ever had with this species

Fairy Flycatcher (Stenostira scita)

A little further along, a cracking male Mocking Cliff Chat

Male Mocking Cliff Chat (Thamnolaea cinnamomeiventris)

Followed by the pied morph Mountain Wheatear that played along with me

Pied morph Mountain Wheatear (Myrmecocichla monticola)

Walking back to the Hilux, a Southern Grey-headed Sparrow was calling from a tree in the parking

Southern Grey-headed Sparrow (Passer diffusus)

I then headed up the circular drive, starting later than planned - but I was not complaining, as I managed a few cracking images in and around Reception. At the top of the ridge, a grey morph Mountain Wheatear - I find this is the toughest one to try and photograph

Grey morph Mountain Wheatear (Myrmecocichla monticola)

Further along the ridge road, a single Eastern Long-billed Lark that remained just out of range

Eastern Long-billed Lark (Certhilauda semitorquata)

and a little further on a male Sentinel Rock Thrush, also against the rising sun

Male Sentinel Rock Thrush (Monticola explorator)

I stopped in the place where the Sickle-winged Chat had been seen previously and managed a distant image of what is probably the same bird - told by the hint of white in the outer tail feathers

Sickle-winged Chat (Emarginata sinuata)

Once I had dropped down to the grasslands, I had a soaring Hamerkop pretending to be a raptor

Hamerkop (Scopus umbretta)

and then a couple of Wailing Cisticola's, similar in appearance to Levaillant's but with more grey upperparts

Wailing Cisticola (Cisticola lais)

As I got nearer to the now closed picnic spot, Ant-eating Chats started putting in an appearance

Ant-eating Chat (Myrmecocichla formicivora)

As well as a couple of African Pipit's on the road

African Pipit (Anthus cinnamomeus)

Once past the picnic site, the birding dropped off quite quickly with not much seen in the Acacia section either. Once I rejoined the main road on the top of the ridge, I had a cracking female Sentinel Rock Thrush which obliged as it surveyed the surrounding grassland from atop the wooden sign

Female Sentinel Rock Thrush (Monticola explorator)

It was then time to head back home, in time for lunch after a really enjoyable morning. A mid-week visit to Suikerbosrand is preferred to the weekend, as you pretty much have the whole reserve to yourself - so for photography, this is ideal.

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