08 September 2023

Birding with my good friend Markus Craig - Part 1

09 June 2023 - Suikerbosrand, Glen Austin and GECKO Conservancy

My good friend from Kuwait who I had last seen over 5-years ago, Markus Craig and his wife Cornelia had planned a 3-week safari to South Africa. They kept two days at the end of their holiday to catch-up with my family and of course we managed to squeeze in some birding and I was able to show Markus some of our local sites.

Markus has an impressive world list, so adding a few more to his list was my challenge, which I'm pleased to say I managed to achieve. As they had spent most of their time in Madikwe and KNP, I concentrated on the highveld grasslands and what better reserve than Suikerbosrand to do so. I picked Markus up long before sunrise and we had a stop for a M&B coffee before heading to Eendracht Road just as the sun was rising.

We are almost at mid-winter, so birds do take awhile longer to get active, but once the sun hit the grasslands, birds started calling. We picked up a Marsh Owl surveying it's domain from a lone pole in the grasslands

Marsh Owl (Asio capensis)

Later we observed it hunting over the grasslands..

Marsh Owl (Asio capensis)

We had a small flock of Reedbuck which was nice to see

Common Reedbuck (Redunca arundinum)

We didnt do well with Lark's at all which was a little disappointing - after the winter burn is normally better for the Pink-billed - but we did get the much wanted Orange River Francolin as we were heading toward Suikerbosrand.

Orange River Francolin (Scleroptila gutturalis)

A Capped Wheatear posed obligingly just before we got onto the main road to head to Suikerbosrand. 

Capped Wheatear (Oenanthe pileata)

We spent quite a bit of time around the Reception area which is always quite productive - here a Fiscal Flycatcher welcomed us

Fiscal Flycatcher (Melaenornis silens)

Followed by an African Hoopoe

African Hoopoe (Upupa africana)

A Cape Robin-Chat popped up in the parking area

Cape Robin-Chat (Cossypha caffra)

Walking around, we got the Red-eyed Bulbul

African Red-eyed Bulbul (Pycnonotus nigricans)

and then I picked up Red-throated Wryneck, another bird on the 'want' list

Red-throated Wryneck (Jynx ruficollis)

It was then time to head into the reserve where we had quite a few Mountain Wheatear driving up to the plateau. It was really great to be birding again together with Markus and we had a lot to catch-up and reminisce about.

Female Mountain Wheatear (Myrmecocichla

Along the ridge, we picked up a few Eastern Long-billed Lark - tick!

Eastern Long-billed Lark (Certhilauda semitorquata)

Whilst looking at the Lark's, Markus shouted Suricate and sure enough there was one at the top of the ridge, like a sentinel. This was the first time I had seen one in the reserve, so a real surprise

Meerkat (Suricata suricatta)

Driving further along the ridge, we had a Rock Kestrel using the updraft to hunt

Rock Kestrel (Falco rupicolus)

We stopped for a Southern Rock Agama basking in the sun

Southern Rock Agama (Agama atra)

We had this Pipit that we couldn't ID - possibly Plain-backed?

Pipit sp.

Checking all the Cistic's we finally found Wailing..

Wailing Cisticola (Cisticola lais)

After completing the circular route and just before joining the road back to Reception, we picked up Red-winged Francolin in shitty light, but another tick on the card

Red-winged Francolin (Scleroptila levaillantii)

After departing the reserve, Markus picked up a Secretarybird hunting in the grassland adjacent to the main road back to the N3 - also against the light

Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius)

I then took Markus to Glen Austin Pan in the afternoon where we added White-backed Duck - another on the 'want' list. We enjoyed the many Brown-throated Martin's overhead

Brown-throated Martin (Riparia paludicola)

And the growing numbers of Black-headed Heron establishing a new colony on the edge of the Pan, as the Sacred Ibis had claimed their original location

Black-headed Heron (Ardea melanocephala)

Later afternoon we joined the GECKO team to conduct a survey at one of the sites we monitor. We managed to find one Grass Owl that had not been ringed - but no sign of another

African Grass Owl (Tyto capensis)

We did also find a few Marsh Owls which are much more cooperative to photograph as they always seem to circle back whereas Grass Owls fly away from you before dropping back into cover

Marsh Owl (Asio capensis)

It was a great day's birding with my old friend from Kuwait, especially since I was able to add to his life list. A braai at our place with Markus, Cornelia and my family in the evening was a great way to end a really enjoyable day - but it is up early tomorrow again, for a final outing before they fly back to Austria.


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