Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Trip Report: Nylsvley and Mkombo

Natasja and I visited the Nylsvley floodplain and Mkombo dam over the past three days. We had a wonderful time and saw some fantastic birds and bird behaviour. 

The Nylsvley area is still quite dry and waterbirds numbers were low. However the first pentad we did between Modimolle and Nylsvley had some nice patches of water and we recorded lots of African Snipes, two Yellow-billed Egrets as well as Wood Sandpiper, Purple Heron and African Jacana. The grassland areas had Banded Martin which remains one of my favourite martins!  It was also good to record Red-billed Oxpeckers again (at Mkombo dam we recorded nearly 20!), a species that is becoming more and more common again and a nice illustration that conservation efforts can be successful. Another interesting species recorded was Wattled Starling and although not an unusual species to record in the area we only recorded one or two each time, usually they occur in large flocks. We recorded 85 species in this pentad. Not too bad at all! 

We then met with a farmer in the more northern section of the floodplain (hold thumbs if all goes well the protections status of this part of the floodplain might soon receive a higher conservation status) and during and after the meeting we saw a flock of Abdim’s Storks and two Black-chested Snake-Eagles. 

On Saturday evening we did another pentad near Nylsvley Nature Reserve and had nice birds such as Burnt-necked Eremomela and Grey-backed Cameroptera. Cape Vultures roosted on the power line structures. In the late evening an outbreak of ant flies attracted tons of birds and it was fantastic to see how species, for example Grey Go-away-birds, which would usually not eat insects or catch insects in flight, helped them to this food source. At one point we counted near to 15 species feeding on the gravel road including a Burchell’s Coucal! One the way back to the lodge we had a nightjar we could not indentify but the Marsh Owl a few minutes later made up for the disappointment! 

On Sunday we visited Nylsvley Nature Reserve. We had 63 species in this pentad with most of the birding done inside the reserve. The highlight must have been the Lizard Buzzard that posed beautifully on a dead tree. I have not seen one for a while so it was nice to meet this species again. A Levaillant’s Cuckoo was seen near the Jacana Hide while a Bearded Woodpecker also announced its presence by its tapping. How they keep tapping like that for such a long period of time remains a wonder of nature. We are 99% sure we saw an out of range immature Spectacled Weaver. Another atlaser recently recorded this species nearby and it would be interesting to hear about other records of this species in this area as it might be an indication of a change in distribution. 

We planned to take a break on Monday, sleep late and relax but the Facebook posting by Etienne about the African Skimmer at Mkombo Dam necessitated a change in plans and by 11:00 we were on our way to Mkombo. This is a beautiful area and even without all the specials in the area you can easily spend a day here birding. We met up with some birding friends and a few hours later we had beautiful views of this immature skimmer. Such a shame that they are now considered extinct in South Africa. Other interesting species seen were Yellow Wagtail and Western Osprey. This spot must now rank as one of the best places in the wider Gauteng region to see Osprey. The wagtails were not as yellow as those we saw a few weeks back at Northern Farm but still a nice species to see as they feed between the cattle. Speaking of cattle, one decided for some strange reason to rest its head on my car’s engine cap. Why I have no clue – it was nearly 30 degrees outside and the engine even hotter! Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters were seen and heard a number of times – what a beautiful species. As can be expected there were tons of waterbirds. Although a relatively common species I always enjoy watching Goliath Herons – such majestic birds. How they manage to fly remains somewhat of a mystery to me. A fantastic site to visit and we will certainly do so many times in future. 

Natasja and I set us the challenge to see 300 species in the December period in the wider Gauteng area (bit wider than the 100km radius) and these trips gave us a massive boost towards this target. Now we can look forward to a few more trips in December to find the species we need.

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