This is my first post since the new year, so happy new year everybody. I hope that you get out there and do lots of birding!
My year has started with a car that keeps failing me and leaving me unable to bird as much as I’d want. Though thankfully I’ve had some help in getting out in the field since then.
The Lilac Breasted Roller – Fisherhaven
A few weeks ago there was a Lilac-Breasted Roller reported from Fisherhaven near Hermanus, a bird that I’d love to photograph and see. But I had no transport to do any chasing, and with petrol prices the way they are, not sure I could afford it even if I did. But lo and behold, I received a message from Pieter La Grange asking me whether I thought the Roller would still be present that weekend, a few days, maybe a week after it was first reported. He then offered me a place in the car, and suggested we head off early on Sunday morning (12 January 2014) to go find the little lilac bastard. We arrived there at about 7:15 and began search, driving up and down small roads of the town, but no immediate sign of the bird. Though the regular garden birds were present along the housing fences, with a couple of Bokmakieries sitting on the one house wall.
We moved on further down, scanning every wire we could along each stretch of road. The roads however were probably only 50 meters in length. We did a complete search of the neighborhood where the bird was reported, but we saw nothing.
We then moved on to what appeared to be a sub-section of the town, though this became a private entrance area. We did however manage to get fairly close to a Steppe Buzzard perched along the roadside, a little too close it seems as I managed to clip the wing as the bird took flight.
It was then further on down the road and another right, when we found ourselves in the middle of a township – being greeted with some weird stares. It didn’t either look like the place you’d expect to see a Roller, so we left and decided to call it quits. From there however, not wanting to waste the lovely day that it was, we headed to the nearby Rooisand Nature Reserve.
As always, the gravel road to the reserve showed a number of raptors with over 5 Black Shouldered Kites visible, many of them youngsters and one busy eating what looked like a mouse on a tree. Unfortunately all of the birds were on the wrong side of the sun and it was difficult to not only get a silhouette shot. A couple of Jackal Buzzards could also be seen perching on the dead trees that line the sides of these streets.
We got to the reserve parking area and began our trek to the hide on the right of the reserve. Along the path we encountered numerous Barn Swallows flying passed our heads, while a few waders did their things in the areas of still water. While busy watching the Swallows, Pieter pointed out that there were some Martins in with the Swallows and we began to try isolate them to get a shot and to ID. We managed to get a couple, and after some uncertainty as to the ID, we eventually clicked that they were Banded Martins, a lifer for me and a photographic lifer for him. After trying our hand for 30 or so minutes at getting the best shots we could, we progressed along towards the hide. Apart from the few small waders that we saw, we also caught a glimpse of the often present wild horses that can be seen here, this time with a small calf.
As we approached the hide we saw a number of Barn Swallows perched on the roof, along with one or two of the Banded Martins. Inside there wasn’t much to see apart from some of the general common species.
Upon exiting the hide we heard a very unique call coming from the bushes, but as soon as we tried to track it down it stopped calling and we were unable to find it, but it was definitely a call I am not familiar with. We made our way back to the car, but not before having a nice flock of Banded Martins pass over us, probably 10-15 of them.
Once in the car we made a decision that we would swing passed Fisherhaven once more and give it a try… But again no luck. A classic dip of the dippiest kind.
Common Cuckoo – Botrivier
Fast forward a week, we were just coming off the low from dipping on the Lilac Breasted Roller – but a Common Cuckoo had been spotted (originally thought to be an African Cuckoo), just off the road where we were a week prior. Pieter contacted me again and wanted to see if we were able to reverse the luck from the previous weekend and head through to Botrivier Road and try find the Cuckoo. Once again thanks must go to Pieter for allowing me the opportunity to get out in the field! We arrived again by about 7:15 or so, this time however we weren’t alone and three other birders were also looking for the Cuckoo. It’s not usually a good sign when there’s others there, that aren’t focused on a single area. We began searching an area of trees where the Cuckoo had previously been seen, but after about an hour of no luck we became doubtful.
We began to focus on a few of the other birds in the area, a Denham’s Bustard was a nice sight on the farm field in the distance. Swifts and Swallows were plentiful above us, with even a few Pearl Breasted Swallows in amongst them.
Cattle Egrets passed over us fairly often, along with a couple of Reed Cormorants.
As the day heated up a bit, there began to be a bit more raptor activity and we counted 4 Yellow-Billed Kite, 2 Jackal Buzzards, 2 Steppe Buzzards and a single Lanner Falcon, which was a lifer for me!
We didn’t want to leave with yet another dip, but we eventually got back in the car and decided to take a slow drive along the road and check all the fences for any signs of the Cuckoo. Unfortunately our search was in vain, even though we managed to get close to a Jackal Buzzard who was perched on one of the roadside poles.
In the end we had two dips in a period of 7 days, both within 15km of each other. But I was happy to have gotten out and gotten some photographs, as well as a couple of new lifers.