A FEW BIRDS IN PASSING

One cannot do any serious bird watching while in the company of those for whom animals are the most interesting. Here then is a sample of the birds I saw in passing whilst in the Mountain Zebra National Park. This Streaky-headed Seedeater (Crithagra gularis) was perched in a tree outside the communal kitchen in the rest camp. There were many of them all over the park:

Apart from seeds, they eat fruit, flowers, buds, nectar and insects. A similar diet is followed by the White-browed Sparrow-Weaver (Plocepasser mahali). The rest camp is awash with these birds and their untidy grass nests are evident everywhere in the park:

Having heard its melodious calls for two mornings in a row without seeing one, I felt privileged when this Cape Robin-Chat (Cossypha caffra) posed for me on a low branch outside the administration building. These birds eat insects, fruit and small vertebrates.

It is less easy to identify birds while driving. Could this be a Sabota Lark (Calendulauda sabota) posing on a termite mound?

There is no mistaking the Helmeted Guineafowl (Numida meleagris). These iconic birds grace any landscape as flocks of them pick their way through the veld looking for bulbs, roots, seeds and invertebrates.

This Ant-eating Chat (Myrmecocichla formicivora) was easy to identify too.

Given how little water there is at the moment, it was a bonus coming across a Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus) looking for insects, worms, tadpoles, or even small fish at the edge of a dam.

Lastly, this Common Ostrich (Struthio camelus) showed no interest in posing for a photograph – he clearly had better things to do!

NOTE: Please click on a photograph if you wish to view a larger image.

ROCKY LANDSCAPE

There are no soft, rolling green hills here, instead this part of the Karoo is noted for its rocky landscape.

A White-browed Sparrow Weaver blends into the stony environment as it looks for seeds to eat.

These tiny grains of sand have been used to build an entrance to an ant nest.

Enormous smooth boulders swell out from some of the hills.

As barren as this might seem, a Cussonia has found a foothold between the cracks of the rock.

Survival is everything here. On the valley floor a tree has a tenuous hold.

For, as you can see, the rocky substrata is friable.

SIX BIRDS IN THE MOUNTAIN ZEBRA NATIONAL PARK

Only six birds? No, there were many more for the montane grasslands of the Mountain Zebra National Park is an interesting environment for bird watching. I have featured birds in previous posts and so have chosen only these. Within minutes of passing through the entrance gate I was enchanted to spot a flock of Scaly-feathered Finches perched in the low bushes.

White-browed Sparrow-Weavers flocked around us in the camp site while we pitched our tent and kept us company throughout our stay: their cheerful calls were evident from first light until the last and they were so tame that they would happily hop between our feet to peck at tasty crumbs of anything that might have fallen from our laps.

Their untidy nests are evident both in the camp and in the veld.

The camp site is an interesting place to see birds, among which was this Pied Starling feeding its youngster:

It was along the Rooiplaat Loop that we spotted our first pair of Blue Cranes, and saw at least two other pairs elsewhere in the Park. This pair was happy to wander among a herd of Black Wildebeest.

I found it difficult to photograph the Rock Kestrels perched atop trees in the valley next to the Wilgerboom River for the light always seemed to be wrong. This is the best of a poor bunch:

This is the area where I found a very co-operative Brown-hooded Kingfisher:

The weather was overcast and dull; the temperature was cool, and a fairly strong breeze blew for much of the time. Given that this two-day stay was not focused on birding, I am pleased with my list:

African Darter
African Red-eyed Bulbul
Ant-eating Chat
Barn Swallow
Bar-throated Apalis
Black-shouldered Kite
Blue Crane
Bokmakierie
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
Cape Sparrow
Cape Teal
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Wagtail
Cape White-eye
Cardinal Woodpecker
Common Fiscal
Common Moorhen
Egyptian Goose
Emerald-spotted Wood-dove
Fork-tailed Drongo
Hadeda Ibis
Helmeted Guineafowl
Laughing Dove
Namaqua Dove
Ostrich
Pearl-breasted Swallow
Pied Crow
Pied Starling
Pin-tailed Whydah
Red-knobbed Coot
Rock Kestrel
Scaly-feathered Finch
Secretary Bird
South African Shelduck
Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Pigeon
Spur-wing Goose
Verreaux’s Eagle
White-breasted Cormorant
White-browed Sparrow-weaver
White-necked Raven
Yellow-billed Duck

OBSERVATIONS IN THE MOUNTAIN ZEBRA NATIONAL PARK – 2

The two most common birds in the rest camp were Pied Starlings and the loquacious White-browed Sparrow Weavers (Plocepasser mahali).

Pied Starling

Pied Starling

 

White-browed Sparrow Weaver

White-browed Sparrow Weaver

The latter live in flocks and build several very scruffy-looking nests on the leeward side of the acacia trees all over the park.

back view of nest

back view of nest

 

Front view of nest

Front view of nest

Their loud musical chirping lends a cheerful air to the camping area and is easily recognisable while one is driving through the veld. Many of those seen around the rest camp have been ringed. They swoop down to pick up seeds or any fallen crumbs around the tents and caravans, although I also observed them feeding on seed pods and catching insects.

Other interesting birds seen in the park include Grey-winged Francolin (Scleroptila africanus that were feasting on termites scurrying around a mound that had been broken open in the montane grassland.

greywinged francolin

Dusky Flycatchers were typically perched atop thorn bushes.

Dusky Flycatcher

There were numerous Ant-eating Chats that were also feasting on termites, which had perhaps surfaced after the rain.

Anteating chat

These nutritious insects were busily occupied carrying blades of grass back to their colonies. This must have been a hazardous business, given how many other creatures were out to enjoy them as a snack, including Pale Chanting Goshawks.

termites

It was interesting to watch a pair of Verreauxs’ Eagles (Aquila verrauxii) coursing just below the top of the cliffs as we wound up the steep Kranskop Loop. One seemed to ‘disappear’ into the face of the cliff and it was only when we rose higher that we realised they must be nesting on one of the rocky ledges. This was confirmed a while later when one alighted on the ground just ahead of us to collect sticks in its beak for the nest.

While we passed several birds – especially larks – that I was unable to identify, my bird list is as follows:

African Redeyed Bulbul
African Stone Chat
Ant-eating Chat
Barthroated Apalis
Blackeyed Bulbul
Blacksmith Plover
Blue Crane
Bokmakierie
Boubou Shrike
Cape Robin
Cape Sparrow
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Vulture
Cape Wagtail
Cardinal Woodpecker
Common Waxbill
Crowned Guineafowl
Crowned Plover (Lapwing)
Dusky Flycatcher
Egyptian Goose
Fiery-necked Nightjar
Fiscal Shrike
Forktailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Greywinged Francolin
Hadeda Ibis
Jackal Buzzard
Laughing Dove
Ostrich
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Pied Crow
Pied Starling
Redeyed Dove
Redwinged Starling
Rock Kestrel
Rock Pigeon (Speckled)
Rufous-naped Lark
Sabota Lark
Scaly-feathered Finch
Secretary Bird
South African Shelduck
Southern Double-collared Sunbird
Southern Masked Weaver
Speckled Mousebird
Verrauxs’ Eagle
White-breasted Cormorant
White-browed Sparrow Weaver