Lesser Florican - August 2023

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Saturday 27 April 2024

Ezemvelo Nature Reserve, South Africa - 21st April 2024

As I had most of Sunday in Jo'burg, I managed to find a local bird guide called Wian van Zyl to take me out for the day. I handed over a list of birds which were new to me (only five or six species) and I let Wian sort the rest. 

Wian picked me up at the airport hotel at 5.30am (breakfast helpfully served from 4am) and off we went heading west to the Guateng region. Wian was excellent company throughout and we had a superb day, this despite the majority of my target species not appearing.

A Black/Great Sparrowhawk flew over us at some traffic lights and close to the entrance of Ezemvelo, we found a Black-shouldered Kite, Southern Fiscal, Cape Grassbird, Levaillant's Cisticola and Ostrich. We entered the reserve and a start/stop drive in this predator-free reserve was mostly quiet, but I was more than happy observing some excellent antelopes. Most interesting to me were Black Wildebeest, Blesbok, Plains Zebra and a Common Duiker, plus a Black-backed Jackal was also seen. 

Noteworthy birds were some stunning Red-throated Wryneck; Buffy Pipit was new, plus Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Spotted Thick-knee, Brubru, Black-chested Prinia and Cape Longclaw as we progressed the dusty track. At the accommodation block, things spiced up a bit with one of my targets coming into some playback, this being a Striped Pipit. The pipit showed brilliantly for 10-minutes. A Mocking Cliff Chat, Chinspot Batis, Violet-backed Starling, Banded Martin, Bar-throated Apalis and Southern Black Flycatcher were also here, adding to the joys of encountering these excellent species after such a long gap. A drive further out into the reserve added some larks and pipits to the day, with Eastern Clapper (new) and Spike-heeled Larks, and, Nicholson's Pipit, plus Cloud Cisticola and a Pearl-breasted Swallow flew through.

One species that has eluded me during my trips to Africa is African Cuckoo-hawk, so with searing temperatures, we headed to Wilge River Valley which is apparently a good spot. However, on this occasion, thousands of locusts stole the show, with any nearby cuckoo-hawks no doubt gauging themselves on this recent hatch. Little was seen here but by the early afternoon I was battered and was quite happy just sitting by the river and eating lunch... what's happened to me!! Anyway, birds seen here comprised Hamerkop, Brubru, Southern Black Tit, Grosbeak Weaver and lots of quelea and sparrows. 

Wian dropped me off mid-afternoon and I caught my flight back to the UK, arriving early doors on Monday morning and was back into the office at 10am... probably a mistake as all week I've had a horrendous fever.

Striped Pipit

Red-throated Wryneck


Ezemvelo NR

Lunch stop

Friday 26 April 2024

Saint Helena Island - April 2024

In March, I had a quite incredible invitation through work to spend a week on one of the remotest islands in the world, this being Saint Helena. The invite was through the tourist board and I joined 25 others in what would be a remarkable push for tourism for the island, this despite its many access challenges. 

On Thursday 18th April, I took a direct flight to Jo'Burg where I had a free day on the Friday, to only explore locally, but this did produce Red-headed Finch (a South African tick), Greater Striped Swallow, Speckled Mousebird, Little Swift, Cape Robin Chat, Cape Wagtail, Hadeda Ibis, Karoo Thrush and a few other commoner species around the hotel, all of which were nice to reacquaint myself with, not having seen most of these since 2014.

The Saturday morning we took a flight to Saint Helena, stopping for half-hour at Walvis Bay in Namibia to re-fuel, but not a single bird was seen here! It was then a further three hours to the island and as we descended out of the clouds, the volcanic rock emerged and we soon landed on the short runway. White Terns and Masked Boobies were apparent on the approach.

On our drive to Jamestown I saw three Saint Helena Plovers (aka Wirebird, named for their long legs) which meant I'd seen pretty much every native bird before the trip had even started. After checking in at the superb Mantis Hotel, I walked down to the waterfront and seawatched for a while, finding Band-rumped Storm-petrels, a mystery and very distant Pterodroma petrel, Brown and Masked Boobies, Red-billed Tropicbirds, breeding White Terns above my head, but best of all, an unexpected Ascension Frigatebird was spotted circling high up and remained on view for a good ten minutes. Many non-natives were also seen, mostly Java Sparrow, Common Waxbill, Yellow Canary and Common Myna. Over the week I saw perhaps 40 plovers, most around the Golf Course.

Saint Helena Plover

The week comprised taking in the various 'tourist sites', but this did include Napoleon's museum/house which was beyond incredible. I'm far from a history buff, but this was a true eye-opener. Several hikes and many swims were also had, the latter allowing some excellent views of the endemic fish life: Saint Helena Butterfly fish being the most impressive. 

However, the best was saved until last when we managed to scrounge a boat and go snorkeling with the gentle giant, this being a superb Whale Shark! A majestic Devil Ray was also about! The shark was simply brilliant, this being a life-long ambition and it didn't disappoint as it casually cruised by back and forth for ten minutes and approached within yards!

Final descent towards Saint Helena

Jacob's Ladder - the record for going up 
is 5mins 5secs... my attempt was 6mins 19secs

Off Jamestown. The sailing ship on the left was
departing for the Caribbean midway through the week 

View of Jamestown

Millennium Forest

Napoleon's tomb

The shadow of a Whale Shark just about visible

easier from below