A Sharp Story

With all the Recent Excitement over the second ever sighting of Sharp Tailed Sandpiper in Southern Africa found at the Maceneta Flood plains  in Southern Mozambique A few of us from Escape to The Wild decided we cant miss out on the action and so we packed the car and before we knew it we were across the border in search this once in a lifetime bird.


I think very few people can wake up at such unbearable hours as birders and hop into a car with an excited grin on their faces. At just before 2am we hopped in the car on the way to fetch Maans Booysen and Joe Harwood. Before we knew it we were on the open road

we were all a little nervous as we arrived a little late at the border post at around 07:30am . Although that may sound early, if you’ve ever tried to cross an African border this dangerously late  and usualy result in you being greeted by sheer chaos and cue’s.  as we neared the post we drove by a queue of trucks around 2km long! Maans noted how unusually short the line was. Somehow things were in our favour as the border was astoundingly quite, in and out in under 20minutes

As soon as we crossed the border everybody began their lists noting every Sparrow, Dove and Swallow we drove past as we headed toward Maputo. We added some pretty good birds to the 120kmh bird list with Striped Kingfisher, Cape Glossy Starling, Lesser Striped Swallow.

 We wanted to avoid driving through the capital Maputo so a couple of Kilometres before the city we turned left onto an inconspicuous sand road where we were greeted by a group of local youngsters who proceeded to direct us through a maze of sand roads  taking us through their suburban village onto the new ring road which bypasses the taking us almost straight to Maceneta, if it weren’t for the locals we’d still be trying to find our way through that village or sitting in Maputo’s traffic.

As soon as we arrived at the wetlands we made a stop for some well deserved coffee and to grab the binoculars out the bags before beginning the search. We were given a true welcome to the when a large flock of Red-Headed Quelea flew off in the distance and a Yellow Throated Longclaw displayed in front of us. We drank our coffee in a hurry as we wanted to get to the Sharp tailed Sandpiper spot where it was reported the day before.

If you’ve ever been on a major twitch you’d know how easy it easy to find where the bird was last seen because usually you’ll arrive to find a line of Spotting scopes and long lenses this time was no exception. It looked as if the group were taking photos and looking at something through their Scopes, suddenly the kilometre of road between us seemed to grow longer. When we did arrive after dodging a herd of cattle and the endless pot holes the news was not what we had hoped for the bird hadn’t been seen that mourning, so the scanning began we slowly spread out trying to cover as much of the endless habitat as possible when eventually after about 45 minutes of searching it happened.

I had covered a fair distance since we arrived so when I heard the Whistle my heart jumped into my throat I looked up Maans had seen the sandpiper fly into the spot where we originally stopped. Without Hesitation I began to run when, after the longest 5 minutes and the furthest sprint of my life, I looked through the scope and there he was! A beautiful little brown wader with a rufous tail and crown which blended in so well with the surrounding vegetation it would be unbelievably easy to over look but we had him!

For the next 10  minutes all you could hear was everybody helping others to get onto the bird which to be honest probably caused a little more confusion then it cleared “left of the Ruff but moving toward the Woody by that brown clump… No not that brown clump the other brown clump”  its quite entertaining to listen in, however after a few minutes everyone was onto him as he gave great views walking in and out of the grass feeding with other waders giving us awesome opportunities to compare him to the more common birds. After many photos were taken he flew off landing further to the back making him harder to see. There were smiles all round with the occasional high-five. We stayed for a little while longer hopeful that the sandpiper would come a little closer but sadly that never happened.

 We got word the previous day of a possible Red Necked Stint which had been found on the Maputo Mudflats not so far away and so we began to make our way to the Maputo mudflats with another group of birders hopeful that we might connect with the mysterious Stint. Half an hour or so later we were navigating our way through a fishing village on the outskirts of Maputo which unlike the village we came through earlier had no helpers  so it took a little longer than it probably should have.

We eventually arrived and began preparing for a very muddy walk. We traversed an interesting beach littered boats across its shores beached by the low tide a typical Mozambique scene with the city of Maputo in the background. The Birding on the flats was exceptional but challenging with a multitude of waders, Grey Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper and plenty of little stints which made our search for a Red Necked Stint even more difficult. Sadly we had no luck finding the Stint only views of some potentially different birds but not enough to make a call on ID. We kept our eyes on the skies with hopes of finding a stray Frigatebird or two that may have been blown off course during the recent Cyclone up north.  we were rewarded with Little Tern, Caspian Tern and plenty Pink Backed Pelicans but sadly no frigatebirds.

Tired and sunburnt we made our way back to Maceneta to further explore the wetlands curios as to what else could be lurking about in the flooded grasslands. We stopped for lunch at the same place as coffee earlier but this time we did some further exploring and walked through the fields hoping to bump into something good, out of nowhere a large Snipe flew in and landed in the thick grass a few metres away. We did our best to relocate the bird, it eventually flushed and flew off into the distance it was behaving very strangely flying in a very direct manor not the usual zigzagging flight of African Snipe we all got a little excited before the photos we managed to get showed that it was definitely an African, sadly not a Great Snipe. 

Making our way through the wetlands stopping every now and again at promising looking areas we quickly added Whimbrels, Ruddy Turnstone, Rufous Winged Cisticola , and a plethora of Egrets and Herons. Eventually we reached the town of Maceneta, a very small fishing town with a small tourism industry. The people were unbelievably friendly and in no time we were settled into our accommodation for the evening. With a few hours of light left myself and Grant Egen decided to walk down to the beach to see what was out and about.

On the way to the beach you walk through an interesting coastal woodland where we came across White Throated Robin Chat, Sombre Greenbul and Rudd’s Apalis. The beach was great with plenty of activity, men were fishing, children swimming  not ideal for birds so our hopes weren’t too high but we still enjoyed watching groups of 20 plus Sanderling feed in the sand then scurrying away as the waves chase them back up the bank. We enjoyed a few terns and gulls patrolling the beach soon we had Kelp Gull along with, Sandwich, Common and Caspian Terns. upon heading back we were pleasantly surprised with a small group of Green Twinspots as the sun snuck below the horizon.

The Next morning we decided to make our way home as in the evening we had received news which needed attention at home. We started the day by heading down to the beach to see what was around we were greeted with views of a stunning Lesser Crested Tern flying just above the breakers not much else was on the beach, back at the car we got views of a very vocal Grey Sunbird which did not seem too happy.

On the way out we happened to bump into some friends at the sandpiper spot and so we stopped once again to help relocate the bird. Whilst the group were looking for the sandpiper a few of us  decided to brave the flooded grassland on the opposite side of the road in hopes of finding the Rosy Throated Longclaws. After some time and sufficiently soaking our boots we managed decent views of three Rosy Throated Longclaws and more African Snipes than one could count. Although not very uncommon we thoroughly enjoyed these birds as they would make there bizarre drumming sounds as they flushed out the grass, if you’ve never heard them do this before it’s a fantastically unusual sound which they make by using air to vibrate their outer tail feathers as they fly at high speed.

further on into the morning we bumped into another group of birders who had arrived fresh from Nelspruit, they too were in search of the Sharp Tailed Sandpiper! After a little chat we headed back with the latest group of twitchers to where the sandpiper had last been seen and in no time at all they too had eyes on the bird. Although we had already seen the sandpiper earlier t and the previous day as well we were glad to have come back as we were given a fantastic surprise when amongst the many waders we picked up a beautiful Pectoral Sandpiper a few hundred meters away from the sharp tailed sandpiper. Two national rarities within a few hundred metres of each other!

thrilled with the morning and past day’s birding we began heading back to the highway to make the long trip home however it didn’t take much to distract us as we repeatedly made stops for Little bittern, Ruddy turnstone and a fantastically odd tailless raptor which after a little debating turned out to be a juvenile Palm nut Vulture mid moult. A bit of a head scratcher for us all. As if that wasn’t a great enough good bye Maceneta had one last surprise in store for us as we stopped to sift through a group of waders A strange white bird in the far back caught my eye barely visible through the grass, moments as we rolled forward Macenetas first two Long toed lapwings appeared out of the grass what a send off 3 rarities in one day that’s what you call a farewell!

Zaagkuilsdrift South Africa

Zaagkuilsdrift – A Birders Paradise


Sunday 3 March 2019 Escape to the Wild took guests on a day tour to the Zaagkuilsdrift and Kgomo Kgomo area north of Pretoria in search of a variety of Warblers along with the many other bushveldt birds that call the area home. This is how it went.

 

Author: Bradwin Adendorff


An Adventure at Zaagkuilsdrift

Zaagkuilsdrift lies just a few kilometres north-west of Pretoria. The area is a well-known Birding Hotspot with over 300 recorded species. Due to the Acacia woodland and a large floodplain along the Pienaar’s River, the area attracts vast numbers of Crakes, Herons, Bitterns and Waterfowl. Zaaguilsdrift is probably one of the best Warbler watching locations in Gauteng , and the reason my guests and I were up eagerly before dawn on a Sunday morning!

Under the cover of darkness, we searched trees and fences for possible owl sightings. We were lucky enough to spot a Marsh owl devouring a field mouse in one hungry gulp! As the sky started to lighten 20 minutes later, with the mourning glow to our backs, we spent at least 15 minutes watching a juvenile Spotted Eagle Owl, who ran, hopped and skipped, in pursuit of the many moths flying around in the headlights!

As the sun rose, the warbler hunting began in earnest at spot number one! The dawn chorus began with a whole host of species serenading the morning. Classically, the first bird to begin its morning call was the White Browed Scrub Robin, the warblers soon followed suite, and we had Common White Throat, Garden Warbler, Marsh Warbler and Grey Backed Cameroptera’s in the bag. We bumped into some fellow birders and enjoyed the dawn chorus with a good cup of coffee and birding banter before moving on.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

We made a stop just a few kilometres down the road, where we managed fleeting views of a possible Thrush Nightingale. But after a good 45 minutes trying to relocate the elusive bird, we move on. The stop was not in vane, however, with great views of Namaqua Dove, Broad Tailed Paradise Whydah and Purple Indigobird. Switching the vehicle into 4 x 4 mode along a road resembling a river, we managed stunning views of African Crakes foraging in the tall flooded grass, darting in and out, less than 6 metres away.

Despite our attempted break from Warblers, we began hearing Barred Wren Warbler in the distance and Olive Tree Warbler in a thicket adjacent to the road. With patient anticipation, we managed to piece together the Olive Tree Warbler, first a tail, then a wing, an eye and at last, the beak, allowing us to piece together the bird like a mental jigsaw puzzle.

We had not yet given up on spotting the Thrush Nightingale, and for our patience, we were welcomed by a very accommodating Garden Warble, Red Billed Fire Finch, and a few Scaly feathered Finch. And as all birders know, after a little waiting and just a little more searching, there it was! The Thrush Nightingale had flown in from behind and perched ahead of us just long enough before darting into the thick thorny bushes, smiles all round and just a few “air punches”, as our mission had been accomplished.

As the midday heat approached, we enjoyed a snack and juice break, overlooking the main Kgomo Kgomo Floodplain. The floodplain was in excellent condition with enough water and flooded vegetation to support vast numbers of birds. We were thoroughly entertained by Blue Cheeked Bea-eaters, hawking insects metres in front of us, as well as a beautiful Intermediate Egret hunting fish in the water lilies.  We slowly made our way back over the flooded marshland, stopping every couple hundred metres, we were delighted with great views of Black Winged Pratincoles flying overhead. With Warblers still on our minds, while searching in the reeds and swamp grasses, we had views of African Reed Warbler, Lesser Swamp Warbler and Little Rush Warbler.  But the highlight, undoubtedly, was a beautiful Sedge Warbler, which sang its heart out in the reed beds below the bridge, giving everyone great views as it jumped around from reed to reed                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

The trip was a great success with many great birds and some memorable sightings! We ended the morning with 120 odd species seen and an overall total of 9 warblers in the course of a few hours. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday, after all!

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