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 ................


  1. Wow, what a gorgeous bird, you are so lucky to have seen it and taken such stunning pics as well. Sometimes it's worth being a Twitcher!

  2. Hi, Stuart great pictures you took.The twitch and all the excitement was worth it. Keep it up.