Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Hippo Hollow

Next stop on the South African Tour was at Hazeview just outside the Kruger National Park. We stayed at the Hippo Hollow hotel which is about six mile from the Phabeni Gate entrance to the park. Arriving at the reception you get the impression that this is going to be a great place to stay.

We didn't see any Crocks in the grounds but there was one Hippo in the lake when we arrived and there were Hippos grazing on the lawn during the evening. Birding around the hotel was great. They have a large lake, lawns going down to the Sabi River, and plenty of trees and vegetation to attract the birds. We stayed three nights giving us two days for safaris into the Kruger. I have split this into two blogs, the first for birds seen around the Hotel area and the second for those seen in the Kruger Park.

It is difficult to describe the birding. Everything is different and for me, with one or two exceptions, every bird was new. The real surprises were the Egyptian Geese and Cattle Egrets which were probably the most common birds seen during the holiday.

The hotel lake proved to be a great attraction to the birds as well as to me. I have never seen a Purple Heron in the UK and from what I hear they are secretive and difficult to approach. This one was the complete opposite. I approached slowly but it took no notice of me. Perhaps it was aware of the electric fence topped with razor wire that stopped me getting any closer. Still getting this full frame on a 400mm lens left me feeling very happy

Purple Heron

Other regulars around the lake included a couple of African Wattled Lapwing, a Malachite Kingfisher, and an African Pied Wagtail.

African Wattled Lapwing

Malacite Kingfisher

African Pied Wagtail - it takes a while before you notice the different markings

Dawn was the best time to be out but I always left the river to last. It was the dry season and the water level in the Sabi River was low but then I am not sure how much water Crocks need, so I wasn't taking any chances.

Reed Cormorant

This Reed Cormorant was one of the early morning visitors, again posing nicely for front and side views -

Reed Cormorant

and I had good views of this Black Crake before it disappeared into the reeds on the opposite side of the river.

Black Crake

It was difficult to stop birding. Everywhere I looked there was something new. I could tell that Sue was getting agitated over breakfast so I decided to put the camera down and spend a peaceful half hour enjoying breakfast with her . Good idea but then this turned up. I exited at speed, upsetting the coffee on the way.

White-fronted Bee-eater.

The hotel gardens gave plenty of other opportunities and we also paid a visit to a reptile park just down the road. Fortunately for me there were more birds than reptiles with over two hundred weaver nests around the site. If you spot any thing wrongly labelled, please let me know.

Difficult to see but a Black-collared Barbet

Kurrichane Thrush

Golden-tailed Woodpecker

African Golden Weaver

Black-eyed Bulbul

Tawny-flanked Prina

Village Weaver

Common Waxbill

Yellow-fronted Canary Crithagra mozambica  - I think!

I have a few other record shots taken around the hotel but record shots is all they are. Nice to have but they don't really make the grade for publishing on the blog. Most are more colourful versions of our LBJs, fast moving, difficult to photograph and difficult to identify. The only ones I was sure of were the Yellow-breasted Apalais, Cape White Eye. Red-breasted Swallow and Brown-throated Martin. I just wish I had spent a bit more time recording the Swallows, Swifts, and Martins during the tour.

One poor shot that does gain a place though, is this Purple-crested Turaco. He woke me every morning and called continuously but I couldn't locate him. He stayed high in the trees in dense cover and in any glimpses I had, he always had his back to me. On the final morning just as we were about to leave I got the shot. Low light levels and a long way off but I got it. Probably more pleasing than all the other pictures I took on this holiday.

Purple-crested Turaco - plus the usual branch

Kruger National Park to follow.


I haven't blogged for a couple of weeks. I have been away in South Africa on a "see it all in two weeks tour". We thought about driving ourselves around but the distances involved are huge and with me wanting to stop every time we see a new bird, progress would have been slow. On an organised tour using coaches and internal flights you get to see a lot more of the country but can't always do exactly what you want. Best of all you get to sleep while someone else does the long distance driving.

This was a touring holiday not a birding holiday but I can usually rely on a couple of hours birding before breakfast, whilst Sue prepares herself to face the day. We also like Botanical Gardens and then there are the few photographs grabbed here and there, in gardens and on rubbish tips, whilst I wait for Sue to exit from yet another souvenir shop.

There is so much that I could write about the country - the scenery, the people, the contrast between rich and poor, but this is a birding blog so I will steer clear of other issues.

Hadeda Ibis

The itinerary for most of these trips are similar. A day in Johannesburg, the Kruger National Park, Swaziland, the Battlefields area, then fly down to George for the Garden Route, the Winelands and a couple of days in Cape Town.

Researching the hotels before we went the first night in Johannesburg at the Indaba Hotel looked really promising. The hotel has its own garden bird list with 110 birds listed and cross referenced to the Sasol Birds of South Africa. There is also the Montecasino Bird Gardens just a few kilometres away with a lot of free flying birds using the gardens. This was going to be one of the highlight of the holiday

Just one problem. we had a 20 hour delay at Heathrow. We arrived at the Indaba at six o'clock in the morning and were scheduled to leave for the Kruger at nine o'clock. My days birding had just disappeared. Most people probably slept. I managed a couple of hours birding, a shower, and a quick breakfast, before we had to move on. Not ideal but better than nothing.

Black-eyed Bulbul

A confusing bird to start off with. One of the most common and easily seen but what to call it? Black-eyed Bulbul or Common Bulbul  Pycnonotus barbatus or should I be calling it Dark-capped Bulbul Pycnonotus tricolour or perhaps one of the other common or binomial names given to it across Africa. Black-eyed I like.

Blacksmith Lapwing (old name Blacksmith Plover)

Cape Sparrow

Karoo Thrush

Fiscal Flycatcher

Grey Lourie  (Go Away bird)


Red-headed Finch

Red-headed Finch (Female)

Red-eyed Dove

Speckled Pigeon  (Rock)

Fly over Sacred Ibis

Southern Masked Weaver

Southern Masked Weaver - nest building

At least I got a few pictures. Also seen but not photographed or perhaps I should say photographed but pictures really poor, Pied Crow, Cape Starling, Laughing Dove.

Some  of these pictures were taken in low light levels so are on a high ISO setting but they are a good start for my Africa collection.

Further Blogs on the South Africa trip to follow.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Red-backed Shrike

I was in two minds over going to see the juvenile Red-backed Shrike found at Tidemills yesterday. It sounded like a good bird and was showing well but there was the risk of a large scale twitch which I tend to avoid. In the end I did nothing, sitting at home until a tweet came through saying that it was still there.

Still some doubts, I already had good pictures of a juvenile plus some good shots of an adult male (see here). Finally I made a decision and set off, annoyed that I had not gone first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds.

When I got there it wasn't too bad. Only three people watching the bird and it really was showing well.

It came into a perch only 15 -20 feet from where we were standing and at at times was on the ground picking up bees only a few feet in front of me. Fabulous views and also good lighting, a rare combination.

I am usually happy with one or two good shots out of say two hundred taken. Today the success rate was more like 50% with half the pictures still to process

A great session but nothing is perfect. When I left an hour later the numbers watching had increased to around fourteen and it was getting uncomfortable. I am a bird photographer and I want to get close and get the best possible pictures but it takes time and effort.

Wait for the bird to come to you, rather than chasing it around the site. If it approaches you and feeds around your feet, it feels safe and you will get good shots. If its moving away from you and you chase it, your chances of getting a good picture are reduced.

I have to admit, this bird was difficult to flush but the pattern of its feeding changed during the time I was there. When I arrived it was using one perch. It stayed there for about fifteen minutes and was feeding close to the people observing it. Pictures were easy to get. By the time I left it was covering a much wider area moving from perch to perch every couple of minutes with a small group always in pursuit.

Don't stress the bird. You can get good pictures without trying to stick your camera three feet from its face. Make sure it stays there for other people to see.

Moan over. What a great bird.

A few more shots taken on a subsequent visit. I have never used so many pictures of a single bird before.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Red-necked Phalarope

Monday, we spent nearly five hours sitting in a hide at Titchfield Haven, waiting for a Semipalmated Sandpiper to turn up - it didn't. Which is probably just as well, as I am not sure that I would be able to tell it from Little Stint even at close range.

The drive home after missing a bird is always a bit depressing but we didn't let it get us down. This morning we were up early and over to Pagham North Wall hoping to find something unusual - we didn't and to make matters worse there were no reports of any good birds in the area. Running out of ideas we decided to go over to Thorney Island to have a look for the Red-necked Phalarope and I am pleased to say this time we were in luck.

The Phalarope has been there for  a few days now but has been distant for a lot of that time. Today it was just out of photographic range for most of the time but did make a couple of short forays into closer waters. It was then a case of trying to get a clear shot through or over the reeds and hoping that the light was reasonable.

We got a few record shots but it could have been better. If you are going to have a look at it, the late afternoon sun will give you the best lighting. For us, today, it was just too hot to stand around for a few hours waiting for things to improve.

To find the bird, park up at the triangle at (SU757049), cross the road and follow the footpath west to the beach. Turn left (south) and follow the seawall footpath for about 200 metres to the Little Deep (SU752048)

On Sunday we walked from Reculver out past Cold Harbour Lagoon. A short stop for pictures gave me the birds below.



Bar-tailed Godwit

Spotted Redshank


and this looks like another Little Stint - white braces on its back clearer in other shots

A couple of shots from Titchfield, taken whilst we were waiting for the Semipalmated Sandpiper that didn't show.


Common Snipe

And two from last week at Pagham North Wall

Curlew Sandpiper and six Dunlin

Low flying Buzzard

The hot weather seems to have caused the autumn migration to stall. Am I alone in looking forward to the cooler and more productive days to come.