Thursday, December 23, 2010

!!!! The Great Twitch !!!!

The recent flurry of activity on the rarity front in South Africa has caused quite a stir amongst birders, and twitchers. Now I have never really included myself in the category Twitcher, and have only done the twitching thing for a handful of birds, those being (amongst possibly a FEW others):

1 - Pectoral Sandpiper at Roodekoppies Dam, North West
2 - Tree Pipit at Kgaswane Nature Reserve, Rustenburg
3 - Greater Sheathbill at Cape Town Waterfront ( we were in Cape Town visiting family already, so this one doesn't really count)
4 - Red Phalarope at Ruighoek Dam, Pilanesberg (my back garden, I had to get this one)

Initially, I enjoyed watching the emails back and forth from Trevor Hardaker about the Golden Pipit, and equally enjoyed watching everyone jump up and make plans to head off to KZN. However, the longer I watched the emails, the more I had the itch to join the insane travellers. I also was thinking I had to do something wierd and wonderful before an interesting 2010 came to an end.

Then the titbits from Muzi Pan were thrown into the pot, and thoughts intensified. Soon after, Rufous-bellied Heron was added to the potential lifer list, and things got interesting!! Plans started forming in my mind, together with the ever increasing stress that I would soon download emails to find one from Trevor saying "You missed out!!!"

The bug had bitten.......

Saturday 18 December was earmarked as D-Day, and plans continued. The few days preceding the 18th were racked with worry every time I checked emails, but every time I had a look, I could breathe a sigh of relief as I read Trevor's continual updates.

A colleague, Darren, and I jumped in a car at 23:45 on Friday night and shot off to Joburg. After switching cars and collecting my wife, we fetched my parents and hit the road. My thoughts of arriving at 09:00 worked out very well, and we found ourselves approaching the Pongolapoort Nature Reserve at just after 09:15.

At the gate, tickets were hastily purchased, fellow birders met, and the rush to the Golden Pipit spot commenced. Please let it still be there!! I have to admit I was intensely relieved to arrive at the Tsessebe/Nkonkoni Junction to find a beautiful yellow ball of feathers walking around on the road.

Golden Pipit on take-off

Over the next half an hour, we were treated to some awesome views of a displaying Golden Pipit, who relentlessly pursued every other bird in sight. Nothing was given breathing space, and Bulbuls, Weavers, Shrikes and Cisticolas were duly sent packing if they got too close.

Golden Pipit displaying
Golden Pipit resting for a moment
Golden Pipit heading off for more displaying
Golden Pipit just after landing
Golden Pipit showing stunning colouration on take-off
Golden Pipit - another short rest
Golden Pipit - what a beauty
It got to the point where we actually turned our back on this stunning bird and headed off to pursue our other specials. What a shame, I could have watched him for hours.

Next stop MUZI PANS. We rushed off toward Hluhluwe, and finally found the pan that housed the Rufous-bellied Heron. Try as we may we could not relocate the bird, despite it having been seen 30 minutes before we got there. We left the pan with plans to check it out on our way home.

A number of birders had already gathered at the edge of Muzi Pan when we arrived, and we joined the search for Yellow Wagtail, Buff-breasted and Pectoral Sandpiper.

The Yellow Wagtail turned out to be the easiest, and everyone in our group had good views.

With patient scanning through binoculars and scope, I finally picked out the Buff-breasted Sandpiper standing in amongst numerous Kittlitz's Plovers. It showed relatively well for the next hour, occasionally disappearing in flight, but returning soon enough.

With some more detailed scanning, and our departure time looming, I managed to pick out the Pectoral Sandpiper amongst the Wood Sandpipers, allowing good views to our group (lifer for most).

For my colleague Darren, he was very happy to also add Pink-backed Pelican and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater to his life list.

Just as we were about to drive off, I decided to have a go at the Red-faced Cisticolas that were calling frenetically in the surrounding reed-beds. We were fortunate, and a short playback drew 2 birds out of the reed-beds, allowing great views.

With sadness, we had to leave Muzi Pan and all its offerings. We made another short stop at the roadside pan, but the Rufous-bellied Heron was having nothing of this, and we noted our first dip of the trip.

The long road home was tackled, and a satisfied bunch of twitching birders finally made Joburg at just after midnight. Darren and I finally crawled into our welcoming beds in Pilanesberg at 03:00, a massive 27 hours on the road!!

I have now heard terms such as insane and mad and ......... used in reference to our road trip by family and friends. When asked if I would do it again, naturally the answer was an immediate:


Happy birding and twitching ................

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Confirmed ID

I received some very prompt responses all agreeing on a young Black-crowned Night-Heron for the pictures below.

Thanks for the replies.

Any clue??

While out birding today in Pilanesberg, I stopped off at Bathlako Dam in the west of the Park. I was then presented with views of the following bird, confusing me no end as I only had one field guide with me. It was considerably larger than the numerous Green-backed Heron moving around, with the body easily twice the size of these Herons.

I have searched through all my books, and I think I have it confirmed. However, I would like to see what everyone else thinks .............

Monday, December 6, 2010

Finally, a Cuckoo Finch ... or 50

A rush out to the farm dam outside Kroondal, Rustenburg, yesterday turned out to be absolutely worth it.

My wife and I  joined Geoff and Shaun from the Rustenburg Bird Club and within 10 minutes were spoilt with fantastic views of a male Cuckoo Finch sitting not more than 5 metres from the vehicle.

Cuckoo Finch - Kroondal Dam, Rustenburg 05/12/2010
 Over the next 30 minutes we saw a flock of easily 50 individuals! WOW!! This is definitely worth a visit for anyone in the area.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sandgrouse update

After I recently noted that the Sun City Site had dried up, I have taken to visiting the Sunflower Fields with birders looking to target the Yellow-throated Sandgrouse.

This has proved successful, and continued this afternoon. We arrived at the Fields close to 16:45, and set about scanning the ploughed fields. This proved tough going, and we made our way to the end of the fields without success.

At this stage I was hoping to strike it lucky at the spot where I witnessed the young drinking from the male. With a brief scan of the short grass, we managed to pick out a small group of Sandgrouse about 70m off. The birds were very relaxed, and we were able to walk around them to get the sun in our favour. With patience, we managed to get to within 25m of the closest group of 3 birds, with the second group of 4 another 10m further back.

We had a careful look at the group of 3, and we agreed that it was a pair with a younger bird. This youngster was noticeably smaller than the parents, and was an absolute mirror image of the mom. The group further back was made up of a pair and 3 sub-adults, these 3 looking just like the female again. I do not think this family was the same as the group I saw previously as I feel these young were larger. However, I can't be fully sure of this.

After getting fantastic views, they finally took off calling their distinctive call. This caused more birds to take off deeper in, and a flock of roughly 30 headed off deep into the fields.

We left the fields in high spirits, and with a half hour spare, we decided to pop in to the Sun City site to try for Double-banded Sandgrouse. As we approached the site, I was THRILLED to see that the stream was in full flow again!!! We parked alongside the stream and started scanning the skies for movement of the Sandgrouse. After waiting for 10minutes, I happened to look behind us in the bush, and spotted 3 Double-banded Sandgrouse sitting not more than 30m away.

We ended the fantastic afternoon at 18:20 and savoured sightings of 2 beautiful Sandgrouse species in one afternoon!!

I have not approached Sun City again about the waterflow through the stream, as so was surprised to see it flowing. I cannot be sure how long this is going to continue, but long may it last.

Happy sandgrousing........

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

WOW!! What a special sighting!!

I was contacted recently by birders that wanted to find the Yellow-throated Sandgrouse. With the Sun City site useless at the moment, I fell back on the Sunflower Fields.

This morning we were on site at 06:00, and started scouring the recently ploughed fields. At one of our stops to search some more, we noted a Temmincks Courser ahead of us on the road verge. Immediately, a young chick showed itself, and ran after its mom. Roughly 20m further on a second adult stood beautifully, surveying the activity. The mother and chick allowed us to stop right next to them (+-5m) and posed quite nicely for some photos.

Adult Temmincks Courser

Temmincks Courser chick

We continued searching the fields for the Sandgrouse in vain. At the end of the road, as we were about to turn around, a male flew in and landed about 100m off the road. As we got out of the vehicle, we disturbed a few birds that fortunately landed again about 40m from us. The excitement was great, as we could see a male and female beautifully. Upon closer inspection, there were another 3 birds following the male continuously. These 3 were more than half the size of the adults, giving me my first sighting of juvenile Sandgrouse in almost 4 years of watching them!

Male with 3 chicks in foreground

The 3 young would not leave the male alone, and when we had a look through a spotting scope, we had phenomenal views of the chicks drinking/sucking water off the belly feathers of the male!!

Poor angle of two chicks drinking

WOW!!  I've read about it, and know about the belly-wetting, but to see the chicks in action was incredible!!

Nature has an amazing way of firing up your day...

No water!!! What now?

During a recent visit to the Sun City site with members of the Bafokeng Land Unit, I was disappointed to see that there was no water flowing through the stream. This has only happened once before, prior to me finding the "source" of the stream.

I quickly headed to the Sun City sewerage works, and had a very brief chat with the manager on site. He confirmed that the water was no longer flowing through the stream, as this was in line with Sun City's policy to recycle 100% of the treated water for use on the golf courses and gardens. Fully understandable.

I mentioned the site and the use thereof by the Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, and he suggested I send him some more information on the bird and the site as a start.

Hopefully we can come to some arrangement that will be feasible.

In the meantime ... EISH!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Ringing attempt # 2

It is already a year since ringers from the Wits Bird Club managed to catch a couple of Yellow-throated Sandgrouse at the Sun City site. For the write-up on the first ringing attempt, visit

Yellow-throated Sandgrouse pair

It was with this success in mind that Barbi Forsyth set up another outing. Tuesday afternoon, 7th September, saw Barbi and her 'entourage' of ringers, Karen, Gail and Dael scouting the site to plan the next morning's setup.

The ladies hard at work

I joined the ladies early on Wednesday morning and the vigil began. Just after 07:00, a number of Yellow-throated Sandgrouse flew by, with quite a few landing amongst the nets. Try as we may, we could not persuade any of the Sandgrouse that the net was a good place to be! The birds have a very steep take-off angle so even with nets 3m high, it was not sufficient to catch any. The day wore on, and numerous other species were netted and ringed, from Namaqua Doves to Violet-eared Waxbills, including two retraps from Karen's ringing last year, those being a Sabota Lark and a White-browed Scrub-Robin. Oddly enough, both these birds were side by side in a net. Maybe they have a support group going for birds with bling.

Namaqua Dove male

As the afternoon approached, excitement was increasing again, and soon enough the Sandgrouse started flying past. With some persuasion and a lot of luck, one female Yellow-throated Sandgrouse was netted and successfully ringed. This was the first female captured here, following on from the two males last year.


Violet-eared Waxbill female

Dusk started settling around us, and the Double-banded Sandgrouse started appearing. We decided to leave the nets up as late as possible in the hopes of trapping one of these birds. None were interested in being given a new leg ring, and a decision was made to pack up. Gail started making her way towards her nets, and I stepped out from my hiding spot in the long grass, and promptly disturbed a female Double-banded Sandgrouse that had snuck in quietly. She headed straight into one of the nets, and gave Dael her first Sandgrouse to ring.

Double Success!!

Double-banded Sandgrouse female

Another attempt was made today, but very few birds were netted, none of them Sandgrouse, although one female Yellow-throated Sandgrouse flew into the net, and promptly managed to fly straight out again.

Oh so close ........

Well, with new successes in hand, and many adaptions to netting strategies, we will be at it again in about 6 months time!!!


Thursday, May 27, 2010

What a beautiful morning

Yesterday morning I met up with Japie Claasen and clients at the sunflower fields south of Sun City at just after 07:00. Shortly after starting along the road, we had views of a Lanner Falcon being mobbed by two Black-shouldered Kites. What a start. Not long after that, a pair of Yellow-throated Sandgrouse were seen within 20m of the roadside, allowing great views. We all had a good look before Japie headed further along the road. Being in a Landcruiser gave me some freedom, so I entered the fields on a small track (luckily the turf was fairly dry). I managed to find a few more pairs of Sandgrouse deeper in to the fields, with one pair allowing some great views at about 4m from the vehicle!!
It was at about this stage that Japie moved on to Pilanesberg NP to try his luck that side. I investigated further into the fields, all the while being presented with great views of Buffy Pipit, African Pipit, Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, Longtailed Paradise Whydah, Black-thoated Canary and a pair of Temminks Courser.
I was then alerted to the unique call of the Yellow-throated Sandgrouse and saw a group of around 50 sandgrouse fly over me towards the fields. With a bit of searching back and forth, I ended up right next to a mine shaft entrance gate, opposite which was an open "gravel" area with a few semi-dry depressions of water.
In and around this spot, I managed to see close on 20 more sandgrouse, and I assumed this to be a roosting spot or something along those lines.

Based on this info, I gave Japie directions to the site, and in his call this afternoon, he mentioned arriving at the site this morning to see roughly 50 sandgrouse fly off to the fields. After a quick count, at least another 40 birds were still on the ground!!! He arrived at this spot at about 08:15.

Anyone wanting directions let me know.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

More Sandgrouse sightings

I recently found some time to head into the sunflower fields south of Sun City to search for the Yellow-throated Sandgrouse.

I was presented with a good sighting within minutes of arriving, and this turned out to be the first of many. All of the sightings were seen from the road verge, as after all the glorious rain we have received recently, there was no chance at all of even walking into the fields due to the mud. A few groups were seen flying over, and all in all I must have seen near on 50 individuals.

A number of people have had the opportunity recently to visit the site, and I've heard good results for all the visits.

On my visit, the fields also presented good views of Greater Kestrel, Booted Eagle and Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, with the surrounding village offering awesome views of Scaly-feathered Finch.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sandgrouse sightings

A colleague has recently been assisting sunflower farmers in the vicinity with shooting of crop-raiding birds. The target species is Speckled pigeons, of which there are tens of thousands in the fields.

Of note is his reports of large numbers of Yellow-throated Sandgrouse utilizing the fields. He has regularly been seeing big flocks taking off in front of him.

Fortunately, with some assistance and guidance from me, he has learnt the key distinguishing factors between the Pigeons and Sandgrouse, and knows to avoid them.

With winter approaching, sightings of the Sandgrouse should improve nicely, so keep your eyes peeled when in the area.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Answer to the unknown bird......

I received a number of suggestions to answer my riddle on the young bird.

Herewith the ideas:

Village Weaver 5
Red-headed Weaver 1
Cape Weaver 1
Spectacled Weaver 1
A Sparrowlark 1

This indicates that it is most likely a Village Weaver, but we might need to wait till adult plumage to get a proper answer.

Thanks for the suggestions.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Unknown bird??!!

I received this image recently from my aunt who is based on a game farm near Phalaborwa. The family she is living with have rescued a number of birds, mostly chicks, that have been blown out of their nests in storms.

This little one was a recent addition to their collection, and they cannot place the species. Can anyone out there put a name to this bird? Please post a comment below the picture or email me directly at . Thank you!!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Twitch of the Tree Pipits

Luck was on my side yesterday, 22 February, when I downloaded emails. I had a long list of goodies to take care of in Rustenburg, and was preparing to leave.

My eye caught an email from Lisl van Deventer reporting a Tree Pipit seen in the Kgaswane Nature Reserve, Rustenburg. I immediately replied to this mail asking for more info, and received an immediate response from Lisl. Binoculars were picked up, bird books were found, and the idea of seeing a South African special foremost in my mind. While rushing to finish off a few things at work, I received a call from Etienne Marais, suggesting we meet up at Kgaswane. Great idea!

Two hours later, I arrived at the day visitor picnic site, to find Etienne's car, but no Etienne. I assumed he was somewhere in the surrounding scrub searching for the Pipit, and set about checking the area for bird life. Within minutes of arriving, I noticed a pipit-like bird land in a tree (pretty obvious!!), but had poor views against the light. Etienne appeared, and we headed off in search of the critter I had just seen.

Tree Pipit - Stuart Groom

We did not have a long wait, and were fortunate to have awesome views of two Tree Pipits sitting exposed on some bushes. Happy that we had found the two birds recorded by Lisl and party on Saturday, we were surprised to see a third bird fly in. Amazed at our luck, we were again surprised to see yet another individual arrive in view. Four Tree Pipits!!

Over the next 30 minutes we had crippling views of a number individuals, until they very willingly landed in the same tree. Surprised we were again, six Tree Pipits sitting together, with another just alongside in another tree.

Seven confirmed Tree Pipits!!!!!! We believed with all the movement that there may well have been up to ten Tree Pipits in the area!!!!!!

Five Tree Pipits - Stuart Groom

What a phenomenal morning!!!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Unusual sighting at Entabeni Game Reserve

Nature is a beautiful and amazing thing!! In the same breath, though, nature is not always fair!!

While out with Lee Gutteridge of Entabeni Nature Guide Training ( this morning, we came across a lone Blacksmith Lapwing at a dam close to their camp. What made this sighting unusual was the little group of four ducklings that were following the Lapwing closely. The ducklings were no larger than a tennis ball, and thus very young. The dam hosts White-faced, White-backed and Yellow-billed Ducks, and our assumption was that the ducklings were Yellow-billed Ducks, as a pair landed in the vicinity of the ducklings while we were watching.

The Lapwing seemed a little flustered at all the attention, and would move a few steps whenever the ducklings approached. The attention couldn't have been too annoying, or the Lapwing would have found another spot on the dam to rest. While discussing all the angles of the scenario, we wondered if the parents were not in the area when the eggs hatched, forcing the ducklings to "latch" on to the first creature they saw, the poor Lapwing. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

After watching this interaction for 15 minutes, two Yellow-billed Ducks flew in and landed roughly 15 metres away from the surrogate "mom" and ducklings. We thought this answered a lot of questions, but within minutes, the adult Ducks swam away from the youngsters. We watched for a little longer, before moving off to continue on the drive, with a promise to return to the dam.

On our return, we quickly scanned the area, and saw the Lapwing looking relaxed, and alone. Not one of the four ducklings were visible. The Yellow-billed Ducks also seemed to have moved off completely.

The Lapwing/Duckling mystery continues.......

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Birding Big Day with a twist - 28 November 2009

Two months ago to the day saw me eagerly starting a list for BBD 2009. At that stage I was quite content to bird out the day by myself, as my colleagues and BBD 2007 teammates were all unavailable.

My target pentad was the "Sun City and surrounds" pentad, 2520_2705, an awesome pentad that has Sun City complex in the NW corner bordered by Letsatsing Game Park (Gametrackers' private game reserve), and across to Kwa-Maritane lodge in the NE corner. The pentad then extends south to the village of Chaneng, encompassing the black-cotton clay fields that house the Yellow-throated Sandgrouse.

My list started at 06:15, and the first hour provided 40 species, including Barn Owl, Red-chested Cuckoo, Willow Warbler, Rattling Cisticola and Green-backed Heron. This, all recorded before I had moved out of our workshop in Letsatsing.

Hour 2 saw me creep up to 59 species, including Violet-backed Starlings and a bird party consisting of Puffbacks, Orange-breasted Bush-shrikes, Goldentailed Woodpecker, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird and White-throated Robin-chat. I also recorded Little Rush-Warbler calling in the reedbeds alongside the Cabanas' lake, a first for me in Letsatsing, pushing the total for this reserve towards 140 species.

Hours 3 & 4 added 25 species. I had great views of Little Sparrowhawk over the Cascades Aviary as well as good views of Black-chested Snake-Eagle. Sadly, the Meyer's Parrots were nowhere to be seen.

As the day drew on, I continued to notch up species between work. My 100th record for the day was a flock of Common House-Martins. I tried the YT Sandgrouse stakeout that afternoon, but only noted the Double-banded Sandgrouse arriving. My BBD 2009 ended with a Rufous-cheeked Nightjar, bird # 108.

Once home, I changed my target and set a new challenge. Looking at the Provincial summary and the SABAP2 website, the highest species list per card for the North West was 143. It had previously stood on 123, and I chased that previously to within 5 species, but before I could look, someone had changed the goalposts to 143 species.

I had my new challenge in mind as I started birding the following day, having 4 days over to find 35 species. The day started off well with Cape Vulture, Lilac-breasted Roller and Magpie Shrike showing off. A Squacco Heron was a nice record along the Cabanas dam wall. A Lesser Honeyguide performed well as well as a Spotted Eagle Owl in Letsatsing.

The fifth day on the card ended with me trying my luck at the YT Sandgrouse stake-out, and although I arrived a little late for the normal YT Sandgrouse "window", I was fortunate to have one male YT Sandgrouse fly-over. Last species to end my 5 day challenge was a Black-chested Prinia as I was leaving the stake-out.

Target: 143 species

Grand Total: 151 species

Target completed!!!!

Amazingly, some very common species did not find there way on to my list, and I can think of at least another 10 species that should be considered "common" and "easy to find".

Presently, the pentad's species list stands at a decent 244 species, so 200 on a card is not completely impossible!!

Anyone up for that challenge??

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Pilanesberg update

Finally, a chance to sit in front of my computer and update things.

Summer has truly arrived, as can be witnessed in the incredibly high temperatures, phenomenal thunderstorms, and multitudes of migrants settling down for the next few months.

Violet-backed Starlings are being seen daily, while the cuckoo's are making sure they are being heard. Black, Red-chested, Klaas', Levaillant's and Jacobins Cuckoo's are all joining in the chorus in amongst the beautiful call of the African Fish-Eagles that nest in Sun City. Interestingly enough, I have seen two juvenile Fish-Eagles flying together, having in previous years only noticed one individual being raised. Within our staff village, there is a pair of Black-collared Barbets busily feeding chicks, competing alongside a pair of Black Flycatchers. Cape Wagtails successfully raised two chicks already, and have now started on their second clutch for the season. Scores of White-rumped and Little Swifts have started building nests under the Sun City Skytrain rails, joined by a few Horus Swifts. Cattle Egrets are making themselves heard, with hundreds roosting and nesting in the trees within Kwena Gardens crocodile sanctuary.

The Yellow-throated Sandgrouse are still showing well at the Sun City site, even with the abundance of water around. A few birders have visited the site recently with great success. While out in the farmlands south-east of Sun City on Sunday, I had a flock of roughly 20 Sandgrouse fly past. On looking at Google Earth maps, I can see a small dam that could well be another drinking site, and will head out there soon for confirmation.

I also received a report from Andrew Jackson of Pilanesberg Wildlife Trust yesterday, that he had seen roughly 30 YT Sandgrouse on the Moloto Drive within Pilanesberg NP. As far as I can tell, this is a first for the Park.

With the great rain we have been experiencing recently, the Pilanesberg is looking very nice, and green. Along with this comes great animal sightings and some great birding!!

Happy birding and atlassing!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sandgrouse Success

The first few days of September 2009 saw a Great Challenge between Man and Bird, more specifically Joan Faiola, Karen Dixon, Barbi Forsyth (all members of Wits Bird Club) and myself versus the beautiful Yellow-throated Sandgrouse.

The Team

l - r Stuart Groom, Joan Faiola, Barbi Forsyth, Karen Dixon

Courtesy of Barbi Forsyth

The Target

The Great Challenge

In 1989/90, Sheila Blane of Wits Birds Club conducted a study of the Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, which was eventually published in Ostrich. All we know of the species is contained in this study, and although Warwick Tarboton ringed 6 birds in the 89/90 period, these records never made it onto the SAFRING data base. With this in mind, Joan contacted me a couple of weeks earlier with her suggestion to attempt to ring some sandgrouse at the Sun City site. What made this tricky was that we had no idea what would work on the Sandgrouse, so this would be a definite learning curve for us.

We had everything we needed:

Our Experienced Ringer - Karen Dixon
Our Observant Observers - Joan and Barbi
Our “Muscle” - Me
Our Bird Food - Chick Chick No. 1

Now all we needed were some willing Sandgrouse.

The Great Challenge began.

1st September 2009

Today saw the team setting up traps around the stream and in the surrounding grassy areas the birds were known to “graze” through. The Sandgrouse turned out to be very skittish near the traps, and avoided them completely. A slight rearrangement of traps took place for the afternoon’s attempt, but with no success.

Sandgrouse 1 The Team 0

2nd September 2009

Our Challenge was put on hold for the morning so that we could attend a meeting with Mr Ralph Makanya of the Royal Bafokeng Nation, the person responsible for the land under the Bafokeng’s control. We outlined our plans and intended activities, and were given permission to set up mist nets on tribal land. We left the meeting eager to get going that afternoon.

Whilst trapping the previous day, numerous Sandgrouse were seen to land at a spot roughly 70m further up the stream. Nets were set up at this site, and the wait began. The Sandgrouse gave us a hard time again, with all of them landing anywhere but at our targeted site. After calling it a day, the nets were taken down and packed away, and within 5 minutes of this, Double-banded Sandgrouse were landing and pecking away at the seed laid out by us, right where the nets were moments before.

Sandgrouse 2 The Team 0

3rd September 2009

This was our last chance to succeed, as Joan, Karen and Barbi were heading home later in the morning. We were at the site at 05:45, and immediately started stringing nets around the original site. While still setting up the first net, we narrowly missed bagging ourselves a few Double-banded Sandgrouse who somehow just managed to miss the nets. Once the nets were up, the wait began again. First bird to test the nets for us was a male White-browed Scrub-Robin, who was ringed and released. The first Sandgrouse started flying past just after 08:00, but none were keen on getting caught. They mostly seemed to be landing at the other site further up the stream. Barbi and I broke away to this site in the hope of making sure the Sandgrouse choose somewhere else to land, preferably in amongst the nets. Time steadily ticked past, until a great shout arose from Karen, she had one. What??!! Could it be true??!! The excitement was palpable as we all rushed back to the vehicle. With shaking hands, we all squeezed into Barbi’s Landrover. There was no way we were letting this one get away!

Courtesy of Karen Dixon

After a few deep breaths to calm the nerves, Karen carefully started recording all the necessary measurements on a beautiful male Yellow-throated Sandgrouse:

Ring: PA09626
Time: 08:30
Mass: 424g
Tail: 95mm
Tarsus: 36.1mm
Head: 49.8mm
Culmen: 18.0mm
Wing: 225mm (minimum chord *)

(* Minimum Wing Chord means that the wing was relaxed and not stretched along the rule. This is often necessary for larger birds.)

After capturing all the necessary information, and some quick photo opportunities, the male was released.

Sandgrouse 2 The Team 1

Courtesy of Joan Faiola

While watching the male fly off, I had a “gut-feel” moment and headed back to the nets to check up, and couldn’t contain my excitement when I saw another Sandgrouse caught in a different net. The sprint was on, and soon, I had the second male in hand. Wow, what a feeling!

After the shock of our double success wore off, Karen again started the meticulous measuring process:

Ring: 693480
Time: 08:46
Mass: 359g
Tail: 90mm
Tarsus: 30.9mm
Head: 50.6mm
Culmen: 15.7mm
Wing: 222mm (minimum chord)

Courtesy of Joan Faiola

Once Karen was done, we spent a moment allowing this amazing moment to settle in, before sending the male on his way.

Sandgrouse 2 The Team 2

Courtesy of Joan Faiola

However, the Sandgrouse were not finished with us yet. Barbi’s shout reached us with word of yet another Sandgrouse caught in the net. Again, the sprint was on, but sadly, as I reached the net, the male managed to extricate himself with a few twists and turns and hastily flew off. So close, yet so far!!

Final Score:

Sandgrouse 2.5 The Team 2.5

I must say a massive well done to the team for pulling this amazing feat off, it was a job well done!! And congratulations on being the first to add this charismatic species to the SAFRING data base!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Birdlife Northern Gauteng Sandgrouse Search

Yesterday morning saw a group BLNG birders braving the cold weather hoping to find the Yellow-throated Sandgrouse (YTSG).

After we relocated one vehicle who missed the turn-off (sorry, my mistake), we made our way quickly to the Sandgrouse site south of Sun City. We arrived just after 08:00, and immediately started looking for the birds I expected to have arrived already. The window of opportunity I was expecting, after recent visits, was 07:45 to 09:00. After 15 minutes of searching and waiting, the unmistakable call of the YTSG heralded the approach of a pair. A nice "fly-by" view was had by all, before the birds landed out of sight. I decided not to rush off in search of these, and rather wait for others. The next pair decided to land within metres of our vehicles, but out of view for us. Again, I chose to wait, and within minutes a small group landed in view about 60 metres away from us.

Over the next half an hour, we had a number of small groups coming and going, and were finally rewarded when a group of 5 landed roughly 20 metres from us. Great views were had by all as the birds settled, and slowly moved off towards the stream. One male very obligingly stopped to dust-bathe and allowed some of the birders to approach to within 10 metres for some great views and photo's.

A "successful chase" was called by everyone, and most of the group headed off to Pilanesberg for some more birding. The remaining few got out some coffee and rusks to celebrate, and whilst standing around, a single male YTSG landed on the gravel, allowing a brief view before taking off again. This was just after 10:00. Another single male alighted in the same area at around 10:20, and allowed a brief photo opportunity before moving off.

I estimate a total of around 30 - 35 YTSG for the morning. Total species noted was close to 40 species, quite a low number due to our intense focus on the sandgrouse.

Some nice species noted were Kalahari and White-browed Scrub Robin, Violet-eared Waxbill, Magpie Shrike, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Brownthroated Martin, Pearl-breasted and White-throated Swallow, White-winged Widow (starting to show breeding plumage) and Marico Sunbird. An interesting sighting of one melanistic Gabar Goshawk was seen by Niall Perrins who was trying to sneak up on the YTSG for photo's.

Thanks to the members who drove all the way out here to join us.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Successful chase

I was very glad to receive a request recently to chase the Yellow-throated Sandgrouse (YTSG).

This request came from Sharon and Fred Kersten (, as this is a species that is both new to them and the list Sharon is working on for the year 2009.

After a chilly start this morning at 07:00, we made our way to the Sun City site in anticipation. I was looking forward to this outing, as I have not seen the YTSG at this site for some time now. This is due to my poor timing, and only managing visits during fruitless times of the day. I still had faith!!

The "dawn chorus" kept me very busy trying to ID the numerous species calling around me, and we had nice views of Marico Sunbird flitting around, as well as a beautiful Kalahari Scrub-Robin. Crested Francolin were calling harshly, and a couple of African Wattled Lapwings joined in for good measure.

After an hour of patient waiting (I still had faith), 4 YTSG made a brief fly-over and never stopped. I was secretly concerned that this was it, but withing minutes a few more flew over and I picked out the typical "ipi aw aw" call of these beautiful birds. For the next hour, we had over 30-40 YTSG flying sorties, scanning the area below, and had some stunning views of a few groups flying past with the sun lighting up the amazing markings of both male and female. A handful alighted on the sandy soils for a spot of dust-bathing, allowing for some good views.

During this time, we kept noticing a number of YTSG coming in to land behind a few trees within 50 - 100m from the original site, and upon investigating, we came across another 2 sites with a "shallow bank down to the water" that these birds prefer. Amazingly (and some say "Murphy's Law"), while we were investigating these sites, a few YTSG chose to land right next to the spot we were standing on minutes before, mere metres from the cars.

We called it a morning around 09:30, with Sharon and Fred heading off to Borakalalo. Even as we were finishing up, individuals were still flying past and landing near the stream.

It was difficult to confirm numbers, but the total must have been over 50 individuals by the time we left. Fred was kept busy with taking some pictures, which I have been assured will be shown on their site. From the few he showed me, there were some great images. Have a look.

Happy birding and atlassing!!!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pilanesberg Update

After way too long, here is an update on how Pilanesberg is looking after just over 2 years of SABAP2.

The central pentads are growing nicely, with 2 pentads already over 25 cards, and Pentad 2515_2700 only 1 card away from turning RED.

3 of the pentads (light blue) are only 2-3 cards away from changing colour, which will make them Dark Blue.

In addition to all the cards submitted, it is great to note that the majority of the Pilanesberg pentads have over 140 species recorded, with some over 180, as shown on the species richness map (

This is a great achievement so far, and thank you to the atlassers who have assisted with getting Pilanesberg to where it is now.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Something different!!

It is amazing how a person gets used to your surrounding areas with the relevant birdlife, and how great it is to get away to a completely different biome!

A family wedding saw my wife, kids and yours truly jetting off to Cape Town on Friday, 10 July. Sadly the Capetonians didn't arrange great weather for us, with the resultant massive flooding in and around Cape Town. Sunday saw us packing house from Fishhoek to Gordon's Bay, with the weather only bettering on the Wednesday. We grabbed this opportunity immediately, and headed off to the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens in Betty's Bay. My wife was immediately provided with 2 lifers, Swee Waxbill, and amazingly close sightings of Cape Siskin. It was great to be out birding, although the toll of 2 small kids showed in the small list we managed to put together. We will be back.

Family gettogethers took up a lot of our time, but we did squeeze in a visit to the Helderberg Nature Reserve in Somerset West. Within minutes, my wife notched up Brimstone Canary, the third and last lifer for her. We were spoilt with phenomenal displays by Cape Sugarbirds and Orange-breasted Sunbirds, along with many of the other 'usuals'.

Interestingly enough, we had a view of a Klaas' Cuckoo around the nursery area, and judging by the numerous reports on SA Birdnet, there seems to be a large number overwintering this year. I have personally recorded a few Klaas', based on call, around Pilanesberg and Sun City already.

We noted numerous spots as we were travelling that will be visited during our next trip south, whenever that should be, and look forward to the completely different, yet refreshing, birding available!!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Superb Atlassing Efforts

I received an email recently from a fellow atlasser Tony Archer, # 10437, (see his SABAP2 stats here:, informing me of a trip he was planning into the western areas of North West.

His target was to atlas at least one pentad in each untouched Half Degree Grid Cell left in the North West, and as the Coverage map shows, (, he has done an amazing job.

There are now only 3 HDGC without a atlassed pentad, 2 of which overlap into neighbouring provinces (Go to the coverage map and select 'Empty Half Degrees" and refresh)

This great atlassing effort from Tony has pushed the North West's coverage to 21.7, ie 322 out of 1486 pentads atlassed.

Well Done!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Late Migrant Surprises!!

By now, as the SABAP2 LAMP challenge is proving, the majority of migratory birds have headed to greener pastures. There are naturally those birds that feel that South Africa's Winters aren't THAT bad, and choose to stay.

Nonetheless, while atlassing pentad 2520_2705 yesterday, I was quite surprised to see a single Jacobin's Cuckoo over our companies Game Farm yesterday.

This was followed up today by a single White Stork circling over the Kwena Gardens Crocodile Sanctuary.

Roll on Winter, and I'm already on the lookout for the beautiful Fairy Flycatcher that will start moving into our area soon.

Happy atlassing!!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

North West reaches 20%

I was very impressed to see that the North West province has now reached 20.4% coverage. This equates to 303 of the 1486 pentads overlaying the province having been atlassed at least once.

To reach this percentage, 1008 cards have been submitted, constituting 59 507 records, with an average of 59 species per card.

To date, the highest species count on a card in the North West is still 143.

Of the 303 North West pentads:

- 6 pentads have over 25 cards submitted
- 8 pentads have 16 - 24 cards submitted
- 14 pentads have 11 - 15 cards submitted
- 13 pentads have 7 - 10 cards submitted
- 27 pentads have 4 - 6 cards submitted
- 89 pentads have 2 - 3 cards submitted
- 146 pentads have been atlassed once.

On the species diversity front, North West stands as follows:

- 35 pentads have a species count of between 106 and 140 species
- 22 pentads have a species count of between 141 and 180 species
- 14 pentads have over 181 species recorded

Well done to all atlassers who have had a hand in these stats!!!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Atlassing discoveries

While out atlassing pentad 2520_2705 covering Sun City, I spent an hour or so with my parents birding in the Cascades tropical gardens, with the aim of ticking Meyer's Parrot amongst a few others.

Eventually, the shrieking call of the Parrot caught our attention, and we got some good views.

However, we were greatly surprised to note a second Parrot being chased around by nothing other than a Rosy-faced Lovebird. After some debate, including a trip into the aviary, the second parrot was confirmed as a Senegal Parrot.

There is no doubt that these 2 birds escaped from the aviary, as although they are listed on the aviary list, they were nowhere to be seen.

Although it is unfortunate that escapees are on the loose, we still watched the interaction with amazement. Especially the interaction between the Lovebird and the Senegal Parrot. On numerous occasions, the Lovebird was seen to be "dancing" in front of the Parrot, bobbing a few times, then turning 180* on the branch, followed by more bobbing and more turning. It seems that the Lovebird was living up to its name.

Having moved on from this activity, I was very glad to locate the pair of Little Sparrowhawk again within metres of where I had previously watched the male trying to interest the female in some nest-building. The pair seem to be content in this area, even with the hustle of visitors around the swimming pool.

Now I just have to wait for the Out of Range forms to be generated by our escapees. Even though the record will not be included in the data, it will still be interesting to see the "distribution" of the numerous escapees floating around South Africa.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Autumn Atlassing

Winter is well on the way to catching up with us, and this is very evident when spending a bit of time bird-watching. Migration has begun in earnest, and migratory species numbers are steadily declining.

In my earlier birdwatching years, I have been aware of these birds leaving and arriving, but have never really focused on this. That is where SABAP2 has changed my view, as I am now constantly looking out for the moment these species pack their bags.

Most of the Barn Swallows have moved on, but a handful were still scouring the fields near my house (2525_2700) on Friday, 13 March. Black Cuckoo has still been calling, as well as Diedericks. The Willow Warblers have already started their journey, and haven't been seen for a few weeks in my area. A Spotted Flycatcher was still frantically busy this morning catching any insect that dared move in front of his beak, preparing for the long journey. Lesser Striped and Red-breasted Swallows have still been relatively common till this weekend, maybe the cold mornings made them make up their mind to move.

The Woodland Kingfisher's striking call was common in my garden up till mid January, and has been silent since then. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the call on 5th March while out with guests at the Predator Park not far from Sun City (2520_2710).

In an attempt to "map" the departure of birds, SABAP2 is running a project called LAMP, the Long Autumn Migration Project, running from 1 March 2009 to 31 May 2009. The idea is o go deep in pentads, as this will clearly show the departure of the migratory species. For more detailed info, visit the SABAP2 website and have a look.

Happy atlassing!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Pilanesberg Atlassing

Atlassing over Pilanesberg has been a bit slow in recent times, not surprising as everyone went back to work during January. Not to worry, weekends are still available to benefit from the great birding that is on offer as the seasons start changing.

For those following the coverage map, pentad 2510_2705 has finally turned BLUE, while 2515_2705 has joined the Sun City pentad (2520_2705) as RED. This now leaves only 3 pentads just short of turning BLUE.

For those visiting Pilanesberg soon, why not target some of the lesser known pentads, and lets see if we can get Pilanesberg thoroughly atlassed. If you are interested in the Pilanesberg map with the pentads overlaid, please contact me on for a copy.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

North West Atlassing

North West Province has a total of 1486 pentads covering the area, and to date 241 pentads have already been atlassed at least once. This equates to a coverage of 16.2%, not far behind the overall SABAP2 coverage of just over 20%.

In reaching the 16.2% mark, a total of 755 card were submitted, constituting 44 625 records. This is an average of 59.1 species per card. The highest species for a North West card is 143, not an easy target. Next target 200???

Thanks to all the observers who contributed to these stats, this is a job well done.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Pilanesberg Atlassing

With all the fun of watching the BASH statistics being reached, I have only now got to update the Pilanesberg map.

As reported earlier, 2520_2705 has hit RED, with 2515_2705 only one list away!!

Sadly, the 4 green pentads have gone unnoticed for some time. Pursuing my challenge to TURN PILANESBERG BLUE (and RED ;-) I urge all atlassers visiting Pilanesberg in the next short while to target these areas, as there is some good birding to be had in these pentads.

2510_2700 is just 4 lists away from hitting BLUE

2510_2705 and 2510_2710 are just 1 list away from BLUE

2515_2710 needs 2 more for BLUE

Help is on the way for some of the North-Western Pentads with the new Black Rhino Lodge situated in close proximity to these, so I hope to see these reach BLUE soon.

Happy atlassing!!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


On visiting the SABAP2 website this evening, I was impressed to see that the rather HUGE targets set for the BASH challenge had all been reached. What an amazing sight to see what was accomplished in 2 months.

Herewith the stats:

Well done to Team SABAP2!!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Pilanesberg atlassing

Pentad 2520_2705 covering Sun City has turned RED! This is the first pentad out of 1486 pentads that cover the North West Province to have been atlassed 25 times or more.

Thank you to the observers who assisted me in reaching this target.

And unless an observer out there would like to prove me wrong, the next RED pentad is likely to be 2515_2705 covering the central area of Pilanesberg Nat Park (directly North of the Sun City Pentad), as it is currently standing on 24 full protocol cards.

Who will submit the 25th???

Monday, February 2, 2009

Yellow-throated Sandgrouse

The scenic route home today took me past the ploughed lands favoured by the Sandgrouse, but I was not fully expecting to find them, with it being 10:30.

I was therefore pleased to find a group of 9 birds feeding about 30m off the road. I approached on foot slowly, and at 20m, they took off, followed by another 11 birds that I hadn't noticed. I was happy to note that after flying a stretch, they circled and landed together about 80m away, having expected them to move off completely.

Now I can see why the jizz of a bird is so important to identification, because in flight the Speckled Pigeons and Yellow-throated Sandgrouse look very similar. This is till you notice the more pointed wings and more rapid flight of the Sandgrouse. With Pigeons and Sandgrouse sharing the fields, it makes identification quite tricky at first!!

And then there's the sandgrouse call to make life so much easier.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

YT Sandgrouse update

With the thought of adding another pentad to the BASH statistics (see the SABAP2 webpage), we headed off to atlas pentad 2525_2705 yesterday. Sadly, after one thing and another, we only managed 1.5 hours before calling it quits.

The list started off well, with species like Yellow Canary, Abdim's Stork, Yellow-crowned Bishop, Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark and Yellow-throated Sandgrouse showing well. I'll know the full total when I get around to submitting the list.
Using atlassing as the excuse, my main target was to located the YT Sandgrouse again, and I was not disappointed. This site is proving very reliable.
To start, 1 male and 2 females were noted feeding in the ploughed lands, and the next hour saw us noting over 40 sandgrouse along the 3km of road.
This area has the benefit of easier access than the site just south of Sun City, although you have to work for the sighting. No such thing as sitting around waiting for them to land in front of you. With all the rain we have had recently (close on 300mm in January), I haven't ventured down to the Sun City site as getting stuck in black-cotton clay doesn't appeal to me. If we experience a few days of dry weather I will pop past this site and see what arrives. An update will follow if I don't get bogged down.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rain, rain and more rain

40mm+ today, and its still dripping. The mornings rain very quickly put paid to what was supposed to be some good birding time. Oh, I did see a few birds, most resembling drowned rats, but the rest were doing the only sensible thing and staying under cover, like me.

The pentad covering Sun City (2520_2705) has finally turned RED, with the 25th list submitted recently. I was intending to make it 26, with a quick dash to pentad 2525_2705 in search of Yellow-throated Sandgrouse and the Temminck's Coursers I noted a few days back, but that was not to be.

However, without the distraction of birding, I could sit back and appreciate the beautiful rain and what it is doing to the veld in the area. Pilanesberg and surrounds is looking very lush, and the dams are nice and full. In my home pentad (2525_2700) I have recorded the following rainfall this season:

October 2008 - 80mm
November 2008 - 71mm
December 2008 - 26mm
January 2009 - 255mm and counting

This is still about 200mm short of our average, so still some catching up to do. When will there be time to atlas??

Here's hoping for a dry day shortly to get some fresh air and tackle some pentads.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Well Done!!!

Huge congratulations to the atlassers who pushed Gauteng's coverage to the magical 100% mark!

Awesome work!!

Next stop North West ????!!!!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Atlassing Pilanesberg National Park

I am fortunate that my workplace is Pilanesberg National Park, a stunning reserve with great birding. Inevitably, Pilanesberg receives most of my attention when it comes to atlassing, simply because of the ease of access.

Pilanesberg covers 55o square kilometres, and is pretty well situated to allow for easy atlassing. The park has a road network of over 200km, allowing fairly good coverage of the 9 pentads accessible by the roads. 4 additional pentads cover some part of Pilanesberg, however, no public access roads are available. These I will tackle as I can with the assistance of other guides in the park.

Below is a map of Pilanesberg with the pentads overlaid (A printable version is available, email me for a copy)

I recently posed a challenge to other atlasers in an article I submitted to Pilanesberg News, a quarterly newspaper. This challenge was to turn Pilanesberg BLUE!!

11 cards in a pentad turn it Light Blue, 16 for Dark Blue, 25 for Red. 3 Pentads currently are Dark Blue, with one pentad (2520_2705 Sun City) needing only one more card to turn RED!!

Below is the latest coverage (number of cards per pentad) of Pilanesberg as at 25.01.2009

I challenge atlasers to focus on the pentads still needing some attention, and lets see how quickly we can TURN PILANESBERG BLUE!!

In search of Yellow-throated Sandgrouse

I was contacted recently by a birder interested in locating the Yellow-throated Sandgrouse (YTSG), and we arranged to head out today.

My first target was to search the mielie fields between Boshoek and Robega, with a back-up spot being the Sun City site.

We arrived at the fields just after 13:30, as I was hoping to discover a bit more about the schedule these birds follow; I had seen them previously between 16:00 and 18:00. We scanned the 4km of road bordered by fields back and forth a few times, and although we couldn't find the YTSG, I managed to pick out at least 6 Temminck's Courser's in a fallow field. Stunning birds these. All this while we were constantly watching an approaching storm, and hoping that it would miss us. We weren't that lucky, and the storm arrived in all its glory just before 16:00. Timing couldn't have been worse, as we collectively noticed a flock of 5 YTSG fly in and land just as visibility was being lost by raindrops covering the windows. A patient 10 minute wait ensued, and we were graced with a 5 minute reprieve from the storm, just enough time to locate the birds and have a quick look.

That was all we were given, the storm closed in again and we made our way home, "paddling" our way through flooded roads (at least the roads are tarred ;-).

Hopefully this spot will prove to be a very reliable stakeout as time goes.

See you there?????

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Birding with a reason

When I first learnt of the Second South African Bird Atlassing Project (SABAP2), I must admit I found myself amongst many others that felt they could get more benefit spending their time differently. Although my father had been actively atlassing since the beginning of the project, the bug still didn't bite.

That was until I led a Wits Bird Club outing in search of the beautiful Yellowthroated Sandgrouse on the 23rd August 2008. The group leader, Mrs Gisela Ortner, delegated me to keep her birdlist as she atlassed the area surrounding the muddy little patch of water we were patiently waiting alongside. Thankfully, the Sandgrouse put in a great display, and everyone left happy.

Yellow-throated Sandgrouse pair

The following morning saw the group spending the morning birding on the Kedar Country Hotel property outside Rustenburg. My birdlist after 6 hours stood on 60 species, and this was to be my first list submitted towards SABAP2.

To date, I have submitted over 45 full protocol lists as well as over 20 adhoc lists. I have listed over 2800 records covering 327 different species.

You may ask the simple question: Why?

The answer is just as simple: Birding with a reason.

Gone are the days of visiting an area just to birdwatch. Now lists are kept, GPS co-ordinates noted, and plenty of birding is had!! These lists are submitted into the SABAP2 database, along with over 400 other observers' contributions, in a project aimed at improving our knowledge of bird distribution across the whole of South Africa.

Now an individual can contribute meaningfully towards an amazing project, and this gives me a reason to go out birding, knowing that I am making a difference.

For those looking for more information, visit, or hit the link on the righthand column.

Happy birding and atlassing!!!