Sunday, 17 February 2019

Getting a goose

Brent Goose is a bird I've dipped twice in Notts (at Dunham and Langford), but it's also one I've been expecting to find locally one day - and that day was yesterday (Saturday). I'd had a nice morning out at Collingham, with the two redhead Smew still on Ferry Lane Lake, along with a Great White Egret which then flew south towards Langford. This bird is missing a primary from the middle of its right wing, and is the same bird that has been frequenting the area of late.  

Running out of time, I had a quick look at Mons Pool. As well as a pair of Red-crested Pochards, there were lots of Greylags present. After a quick scan, I concluded there were no Pinkies (or indeed any other grey geese) lurking amongst them, and started back towards the car. What sounded like a Pinkie calling had me turn round, and note a small, dark goose... scoping it revealed it to be a juvenile Dark-bellied Brent Goose. I'm not sure how I'd missed this initially, but at least I got it in the end... A county tick and my 185th patch species. 

Juv Dark-bellied Brent Goose
Juv Dark-bellied Brent Goose

Ice n' easy

Cotham Landfill apparently only has about 14 months left - so one more winter after this one. After that, the chances of finding white-wingers and Casps locally will be dramatically reduced. 

However, I've been a bit rubbish at visiting the site over the last few weeks, mainly due to work pressures. But with Wednesday and Thursday off work to paint my front room, I was planning a visit on the Thursday, once I'd done the majority of the decorating. However, this proved to be an error, with someone finding an Iceland Gull at Kilvington Lakes, and then at Cotham Landfill on the Wednesday. Oh well, kudos to them!

A visit to the tip first thing on Thursday paid instant dividends, as although most of the tipping area is now not visible from the cyclepath, the 2cy Iceland showed nicely for a few minutes on the front bank before flying out of sight (where the majority of the gulls were). 

Anyway, always nice to see a white-winger. But how many more...?

Iceland Gull

Monday, 4 February 2019

All of Jan and the start of Feb

Its been a steady start to 2019 on the patch; Smew and Great White Egret lingered from 2018, but a Raven over Mons Pool on 27th was a species that eluded me last year. Both Jack Snipe and Woodcock gave themselves up without too much trouble (the former on Ferry Lane Lake, the latter at Parish Field). A whopping 105 Pochard held a Red-crested Pochard at the end of the month, and Wigeon numbers built up to around 340, although Tufted Duck numbers remained low - making the chances of finding a Lesser Scaup a bit of a long shot. I finished the month on a modest 78 species, with plenty still to go at in February. 

GWE, with Little Egrets and Grey Herons

Away from the patch, I caught up with the Hooded Crow at Bothamsall on 25th, on my fifth attempt, and bagged the three Shorelarks at Langford Lowfields before work today, having been unable to do any birding over the weekend. Added to the Velvet Scoters in November, it has been a good run in Notts for county listers (one of whom I'm not...).

Hooded Crow

Visits to Cotham Landfill have been few and far between; the tip is getting increasingly difficult to view, and gull numbers have been unremarkable. This has been reflected by a lack of white-wingers in the roost at Hoveringham, and similarly low gull numbers. My best there was a 2cy Caspian Gull on 2nd.

Monday, 21 January 2019

Wrapping up 2018

After the Velvet Scoters in mid November, I managed just two further additions for Patchwork Challenge 2018 the first was Great White Egret on 25 November, finally catching up with the bird that had been frequenting the area for around 3 weeks. The second were two Waxwings, which were calling from the hedge by the conveyor outfall next to the Trent when I pulled up on 9 December; unfortunately they were immediately flushed by a dog walker and flew west across the Trent Valley.

Great White Egret

I finished the year on 137 species, and 160 points. This was not, however, my worst performance, despite the significant reduction in patch visits as a result of Dad Duties:

Number of visits
Species and points by year
Points per bird by year
Cumulative species total by 10 day period

Highlights during the year were Bearded Tit, Grey Phalarope and Velvet Scoter, which were full fat patch ticks (and the latter the first in Notts since 1996), along with Spotted Redshank and Waxwing, which were firsts for the Patchwork Challenge era. Added to these were the likes of Turtle Dove, Black Tern, Little Gull, Sanderling, Turnstone, Grey Plover, Whimbrel and Garganey, so all in all it was an OK year. Notable omissions included  included Brambling, Red Kite, Ruff, Tree Sparrow and Whinchat...

Bearded Tit
Velvet Scoters

Away from the patch, and it was a pretty unspectacular year for bird finding and twitching; a fortnight on Unst in the autumn was particularly
 missed... I guess my best find was the Kumlien's Gull at Cotham Landfill, which also frequented Hoveringham and Kilvington, and was just the second of this form for Notts. My only ticks were Snowy Owl (Snettisham in March) and the Grey Catbird... Hopefully 2019 will deliver a bit more. 

Kumlien's Gull
Snowy Owl
Grey Catbird

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Patch mega!

I had a whole day with Freya today, and after a morning playing and an early lunch, we headed out to Collingham, and she fell asleep in the car (as I hoped she would). I was after the Great White Egret which has been kicking around here and Langford (and Meering), and with which I haven't been having much luck. Having looked at Ferry Lane Lake yesterday, I had a quick scan, not expecting much to have changed, but almost did a double take as I completed my first sweep - there were two female-type Velvet Scoters! This is a rare bird inland, and the last one in Notts was at King's Mill Res way back in 1996 (my GCSE year at school). They were diving quite happily, but occasionally becoming more alert, necks extended. I aged these as 1cy birds from photos, with a pale belly patch visible in the wing-flapping photo below (although other features of this age such as browner plumage tones and pale fringes to scaps and upper-wing covs are difficult to make out). 

Velvet Scoters
Velvet Scoters
Velvet Scoters
Velvet Scoters
Velvet Scoters

I called Mark Dawson, and was just about to put the news out when my phone died. Mark arrived (and was suitably excited about a Notts tick), and then called various people, and RBA. I stayed until Alan Clewes arrived, and by which time Freya had woken up, so we went off for a push around in the push chair. Once again, no sign of the Great White Egret (like yesterday), but there were a few other bits round - 5 Curlew, 3 Common Redshank and a Dunlin, with the Spotted Redshank still present on Ferry Lane Lake. The Scoters stayed for the rest of the day, and were widely appreciated by Notts listers, but had gone the following day. 

Spotted Redshank

Last weekend was a non-birding weekend (stag do in Leeds), and the weekend before I had my parents visiting; this was when the GWE first turned up (found by Mark D), and despite an immediate visit, I couldn't locate it - the aforementioned Spotshank was some recompense, being the first here for some time (since at least 2013). 

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

South Africa part 3 - Cape Town

With the first and second parts of our trip now behind us, a Black-headed Heron at King Shaka Airport bid us fairwell from Durban, and we were then on a two-hour Mango Airways morning flight to Cape Town for the third and final leg. We enjoyed spectacular views of a snow-clad Lesotho shortly after take-off - somehow difficult to reconcile with the heat of Kruger we'd been experiencing just a few days earlier. 

Looking towards Lesotho

After an uneventful flight, we picked up our new hire car and drove to Hout Bay, a small town just south of Cape Town, at the base of the Cape Peninsular. The only birds of note on the drive were 15 Greater Flamingos taking off from a river by the motorway. Arriving in Hout Bay, a Malachite Sunbird was the first new bird, whilst a couple of capensis Cape White-eyes and Speckled Pigeons were in the garden of our pleasant accommodation. 

Hout Bay

We decided to take advantage of the bright and clear weather and head straight out to Table Mountain. After almost bailing because of the massive queue (which you can partly jump by going onto their wifi and buying tickets online), we enjoyed the cable car up to the top, complete with rotating gondola. At the top, several very tame Orange-breasted Sunbirds were the first Cape region endemic for my list, added to which were lots of Red-winged Starlings, and Peregrine, plus the odd Familiar ChatCape Robin-chat, and White-necked Raven. Some obliging Rock Hyrax (I prefer their Afrikaans name - Dassies) were entertaining, sunbathing on the the rocks. Back at the bottom, a female Cape Sugarbird showed well in the fynbos. We then headed the short distance to Camp's Bay, where we had a meal watching the sun set over the south Atlantic. 

The cable car up Table Mountain
Looking south
Cape Town, Robben Island to the left
A Red-winged Starling admiring the view
Orange-breasted Sunbird
A female Cape Sugarbird
Sunset from Camp's Bay

The next day I was up early for what I was hoping would be a highlight of the trip -  a pelagic out of Simon's Town, with Cape Town Pelagics. This was, in the event, a slight anticlimax... by which I mean it was still brilliant, but not as good as perhaps I was hoping. We also finished an hour and a half early, having steamed 13 miles south of the Cape of Good Hope in search of a trawler which was apparently out there. The sea was very lumpy, and having crashed our way out, the trawler proved to be a tanker, so there was no big aggregation of pelagic seabirds. We then crashed our way 13 miles back into shore - which was fairly exhausting. I don't get sea-sick, but had some taken some anti-sickness pills just in case, which I think proved to be the right decision (as one person was violently ill and didn't look like they enjoyed the trip at all...).

Looking back towards the Cape of Good Hope - a smooth start

On a more positive note, as we rounded the Cape on our way out, there were huge numbers of Sooty Shearwaters (1000s) just offshore, and we saw c.100 White-chinned Petrels, c.10 Shy Albatrosses (my first albatross), a few Cape Gannets, plenty of Cape Gulls and Cape Cormorants (the latter streaming our of False Bay in the morning), and two Sub-antarctic Skuas, neither of which I saw well. Added value was provided by cetaceans - a breaching Humpback was fantastic, and a bucket-list moment, although it disappeared as soon as we'd seen it, but two Southern Right Whales just off the Cape were more co-operative. A super-pod of Large-beaked Common Dolphins (100s and 100s) was an incredible sight, as they surrounded the boat. 

Seabird melee
Seabird melee
Sooty Shearwater
Sooty Shearwaters
Southern Right Whale
Southern Right Whale

Breaching Humpback - awesome!
Shy Albatross and White-chinned Petrel
Shy Albatross and White-chinned Petrels
Shy Albatross
White-chinned Petrel
Large-beaked Common Dolphins

Returning towards Simon's Town, Bank, Crowned and White-breasted Cormorants on the rocks made it a four-cormorant morning (and five species for the trip), although these were eclipsed by my first ever wild penguins, with around 50 African Penguins on the sea off their colony at Boulder's Beach. An African Black Oystercatcher, a Rock Kestrel and a couple of Hartlaub's Gulls, plus lots of Cape Fur Seals, completed things. 

Cape Fur Seals and Cape Gulls
Bank Cormorants
Crowned Cormorants

Turning the early finish into a positive, I stopped to do some fynbos birding on the way back to Hout Bay, visiting Jonkersdam just west of Glencairn. This seemed like a productive spot, producing frequent Karoo Prinia and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, a couple of Cape Siskins, two Cape Buntings, two Common Waxbills, a Rock Martin, at least three Cape Grassbirds, a Cape Bulbul, a couple each of Malachite Sunbird and Cape Robin-chat, and a pair of Cape Sugarbirds. A Painted Lady and what I think was an Angulate Tortoise provided some non-avian interest. Back in Hout Bay, there was a touch of the familiar with a Little Egret and Chaffinch.

The path at Jonkersdam
Southern Double-collared Sunbird
Cape Grassbird
Karoo Prinia
Angulate Tortoise

The next day, as our Great White Shark cage diving trip was cancelled due to the heavy seas (and the backup day was also subsequently cancelled - the biggest disappointment of the trip), we amended our plans. I had a short walk before breakfast at Del Hel in Constantia, just up the road from Hout Bay. This wooded valley produced lots of Olive Thrushes, a pair of Olive Woodpeckers, two pairs of very smart little Swee Waxbills, a couple of Yellow Canaries in the pines by the road, and an African Olive Pigeon, unfortunately only in flight. In addition, a Spur-winged Goose flew over. Unfortunately, I couldn't locate any Knysna Warblers in the time available.

Olive Woodpecker
Olive Thrush
Swee Waxbill

We then headed to Boulder's Beach, back over near Simon's Town, enjoying the spectacular coastal road known as Chapman's Peak Drive en route. Boulder's Beach was a fairly surreal experience - African Penguins nesting in the coastal scrub and loafing on the beach, in blazing sun, with tourists wandering around on board walks amongst them. A Cape Batis and a Fiscal Flycatcher were the only other birds of note, and a Four-striped Grass Mouse was the only mammal. 

Noordhoek beach, at the southern end of Chapman's Peak Drive
Welcome to Boulders
African Penguins
African Penguins
African Pelican
African Penguin
Chillin' on the beach
Youngsters in their artificial burrow
Popular penguins
Popular penguins
Unexpected hazards

Continuing on, we made our way down through Table Mountain National Park, seeing Familiar Chat, Karoo Prinia, Fiscal Flycatcher, Common Fiscal, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Jackal Buzzard and several Ostriches, along with several Bontebok and Chacma Baboons. At the Cape of Good Hope there was a Rock Kestrel (with a couple more elsewhere) and two super-smart African Black Oystercatchers, with four Southern Right Whales just offshore. We didn't bother to queue up to get our photos taken with the 'Cape of Good Hope' sign...

The interior of the Cape of Good Hope
Southern Right Whales close offshore
African Black Oystercatcher - stunner

We had lunch in a nice little bay at Olifantsbos, where there were 100s of Hartlaub's Gulls, lots of African Sacred Ibises, a few Kelp Gulls and two or three African Black Oystercatchers feeding on kelp on the strandline. There were also streams of Cape Cormorants flying past, along with several Swift Terns, and two Cape Wagtails. A quick stop at the visitor centre on the way back out produced my first Cape Spurfowl, as well as Bokmakierie, Cape Wagtail, Cape Robin Chat and Malachite Sunbird.

Mainly African Sacred Ibises
Cape Cormorants

The following day we turned north, visiting West Coast National Park. This place is famed for its display of wildflowers at the right time of year - and that time was now. Unfortunately we had picked a cloudy day, and the flowers were mainly shut up, although there was still a hint of their splendour. However, there was still plenty to see. Starting with mammals, the undoubted star was a Caracal, the third cat species of the trip and one I didn't think we'd see. This was initially just sitting in the road, and from a distance I wasn't sure what it was... but as we got closer, the penny dropped, and I tried to position the car for a photo. I then had one of those nightmare moments where my camera refused to take a shot, and then another car came the other way. This stopped too, but too late, pushing the Caracal off into the adjacent low scrub. The other car drove off, but we lingered, and I decided to get out. Fortunately, the cat was stalking parallel with the road, and I had some glimpses of it before it vanished deeper into the strandveld vegetation. One of the best moments of our trip.


In addition we encountered several herds of Eland, several Mountain Zebras and Bontebok, two Wildebeest, and a few Springbok; I suspect that many, if not most of these were (re)-introduced, but I may be wrong. On the smaller side were a few Dassies, and number of Cape Fur Seals were offshore.

Eland, with the road to Geelbek behind
Mountain Zebras

The birding was good, and as ever, I could have done with more time to catch up with a few more of the local specialities. However, new birds included frequent Karoo Scrub Robin, along with several groups of White-throated and Brimstone Canaries, several Grey-backed Cisticolas, White-backed Mousebirds and Bar-throated Apalises, and single African Rail, Karoo Lark and White-throated Swallow

Karoo Scrub Robin
White-throated Canary
Brimstone Canary
Grey-backed Cisticola
Karoo Lark

But perhaps best of all were up to six Black Harriers – these are absolute stunners; a black-and-white harrier, for which West Coast NP is a real strong-hold. Surely up there as one of the best looking raptors in the world.

Black Harrier with Geelbek behind
Black Harrier
Black Harrier
Black Harrier

There was a good selection of other stuff on offer in the park’s terrestrial habitats. Amongst the ‘Capes’ were Bulbul, Spurfowl, Longclaw, Robin Chat, Bunting, Sparrow and Weaver, added to which were Karoo Prinia, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Bokmakierie, Common Fiscal, Pied Starling, Malachite Sunbird, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Common Waxbill, Helmeted Guineafowl, Rock and Brown-throated Martins and Pied Crow. And loads of Ostriches!  A Jackal Buzzard and several Black-winged Kites and Rock Kestrels were the only other raptors in addition to the Black Harriers.

Cape Bulbul
Cape Bunting
Common Fiscal
An Ostrich family
A distant Ostrich

A short spell in the hide at Abrahamskraal produced the aforementioned African Rail (nice to see after a heard-only bird at Wakkerstroom), along with Lesser Swamp Warbler, Red-knobbed Coot, Little Grebe and Cape Shoveler. Slightly frustrating were several calling Red-chested Flufftails, remaining firmly buried in the emergent vegetation.

The Abrahamskraal hide
Lesser Swamp Warbler
African Rail

Another hide, overlooking the Langebaan lagoon at Geelbeck was productive, with a good selection of Palearctic waders in the form of lots of Whimbrel, Grey Plover and Black-tailed Godwits, several Greenshank, Avocets and Black-winged Stilts, and two Terek Sandpipers. A couple of Blacksmith Plovers were less familiar. In addition, there were c.100 Lesser and c.30 Greater Flamingos, one Sandwich and a couple of Caspian Terns, a number of Hartlaub's Gulls, the odd Little Egret and Grey Heron, and the first two Cape Teal of the trip.

Lesser Flamingos
Hartlaub's Gull

A third hide at Seeberg produced more of the same, plus Kittlitz’s and White-faced Plovers, whilst a drive to the end of the Postberg Peninsular (which would have had the best wildflower display had the weather been conducive, and which is closed for most of the year) added several Antarctic Terns feeding offshore amongst some Swift Terns.

The viewpoint at Seeberg
The boardwalk down to the hide at Seeberg
Habitat at Seeberg
Kittlitz's Plover
Plankiesbaai on the Postberg Peninsular

Sir Lowry’s Pass was the first destination the following day. This site features in a book I was given a couple of Christmases ago by a well-meaning in-law, entitled the ‘Top 100 Birding Sites of the World’. However, far from being an amazing site, this is where things began to unravel... Unfortunately, the weather at the top of the pass was poor, windy with low cloud. Having managed not to get killed crossing the busy road to access the path to the north, things got worse. Despite Cape Town being in the clutches of a terrible drought, it started to rain, and to top it off, the first kilometre or so of habitat had recently been burnt.

Sir Lowry's Pass - no birds here...
Sir Lowry's Pass

With time against me, I bombed out. No Cape Rockjumper, no Ground Woodpecker, and heard-only Victorin’s Warbler. Birds were very thin on the ground, but I did at least see my only Neddicky of the trip, along with a party of Cape Siskin, two or three Cape Grassbirds, and a couple of Orange-breasted and Malachite Sunbirds. But not much else… By the time I returned to the car I was pretty much soaked to the skin, requiring a change of clothes. Some non-birding time was then in order, so we visited Stellenbosch just to the north. Several Cape Canaries were in trees in a town centre park, and to the south of the town, two beautiful Blue Cranes were in a grassed field (much closer but more fleeting than encounters in Wakkerstroom), with three Great White Pelicans nearby.


Heading back towards Hout Bay, we detoured via False BayNature Reserve. This site comprises a lake and waterworks and surrounding habitat, and again, merited more than the hour or so I could give it. There were swifts and hirundines in abundance, with lots of African Black Swifts, several Little Swifts and at least one Horus Swift, and plenty of White-throated Swallows and Rock Martins, several Brown-throated Martins, two Barn Swallows, and at least two huge Greater Striped Swallows.

African Black Swift
White-throated Swallow
Looking out over the Zeekoevlei, with the back of Table Mountain beyond

I only peeked into the first tank at the waterworks, which held lots of Little and two Black-necked Grebes, several Southern Pochard, good numbers of Cape Teal and Cape Shoveler, an escaped Red-crested Pochard, and a Spur-winged Goose, plus lots of Red-knobbed Coots, as well as MoorhenCattle EgretBlack-headed Heron, Spotted Thick-knee, Egyptian Goose, Sacred Ibis and Blacksmith Plover. Adjacent dry habitats held several now-familiar species, plus a few Yellow Bishops and at least one Little Rush Warbler. A Cape Grey Mongoose was a new mammal. We then drove back to Hout Bay via the coast road overlooking False Bay, which merged with the beach in several places.

Yellow Bishop
Little Rush Warbler
Strandfontein Sewage Works, within False Bay NR
Spotted Thick-knee
The beach at Stranfontein
False Bay at Strandfontein

And all too soon it was our final day. I had a pre-breakfast excursion back to Jonkersdam in hope of a Ground Woodpecker, without luck (and Cape Rockjumper doesn’t occur on the Cape Peninsular, for some reason). Along with a typical selection of fynbos birds, the only new species for the trip was a Lanner. A Cape Grey Mongoose was seen on the drive back to Hout Bay.

A fancy orchid

With our flight not until the evening, we spent much of the rest of the day at Kirstenbosh Botanical Gardens. This is a spectacular site, and produced several new birds – two Spotted Eagle Owls (roosting in a tree above the ticket inspection point), a Forest Canary and two African Goshawks. Another accipiter went unidentified, but may have been a Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk.

Spotted Eagle Owl
The gardens
The gardens, looking north over Cape Town

Added to these were several Olive Thrushes, three very confiding Lemon Doves, three Cape Canaries, a couple of Cape Batises and Sombre Greenbuls, several Cape Sugarbirds, three Speckled Mousebirds and a male Swee Waxbill, plus Karoo Prinia, Cape White-eye, Cape Robin Chat, Malachite and Double-collared Sunbirds, Cape Turtle Dove, Egyptian Goose, Cape Spurfowl and Hadada Ibis. Another Cape Grey Mongoose was the mammal highlight, whilst a visit to the Garden of Extinction was sobering.

Lemon Dove
Cape Robin Chat
Malachite Sunbird
Cape White-eye
Cape Spurfowl
Cape Grey Mongoose

And that completed our trip. The eighteen days had flown by, and everywhere we’d been we felt that we needed at least a couple more days. South Africa is an incredibly diverse country, and the birding and mammaling is top notch. We had absolutely no issues whilst travelling around, and never felt unsafe.

My final tally was 326 species of bird, of which 225 were ticks; I suspect had I been birding 100% of the time, I could have pushed my trip list up towards 400 species. I'm always keen to see as many endemic or restricted-range species as possible when I visit somewhere new; of the c.37 species endemic to SA, I was in-range for 31, and saw 14, so just under a 50% strike rate. In terms of 'southern Africa' endemics/near endemics, I was in range for c.101 species, and saw 64 (so a slightly better hit rate). But hey, it ain't about the numbers... the highlights are really too many to mention, but Bateleur, Taita Falcon, Botha's and Rudd's Larks, Blue Crane, Southern Bald Ibis, Secretary Bird, African Penguin, Shy Albatross, Black Harrier, African Black Oystercatcher and Cape Sugarbird spring to mind.

The mammals were as good as, if not better than the birds; I notched up 48 species, the vast majority of which I'd never seen before, including Lion, Leopard, Caracal, African Elephant, Southern White Rhino, Hippo, Cape Giraffe, Wildebeest, Cape Buffalo, Plains and Mountain Zebras, Spotted Hyena, Meerkat, Humpback Whale...

Quite the best two and a half weeks I've ever had. I’d go back in a shot.