Pulling chicks…

The Vic Falls wheatear [Pied – n-br], given the paucity of records, is our latest blocker & an unwelcome addition to an elastic list of self-injury. Co-celebrating the 93rd birthday of Zimbabwe’s Chief of Graft, Asia’s vagrants & vagabonds were clearly in attendance; early party-pooping notwithstanding. We declined the temptation & made the decision not to go. Local twitchers & listers traveled north. Kudos. Commiserations to the late Saturday / Sunday crew. The joy is in the anticipation & the chase …

‘….a tragic & elastic list of self-injury.’

To be fair we’ve seen Pied Wheatear elsewhere in the world. It’s an indulgence; a concession to our shrinking, global village & a malaise of complacency that sets off warning-bells. The mirror knows… In local news a creche of Striped Crake dominated domestic, social headlines. It’s life at the end of the seasonal rainbow. Good news & testimony to patience, birding’s true reward.

As for us we headed north to the Limpopo province’s Nylsvley [Nylsvlei..] Nature Reserve for some storm-chasing of our own. The weather wasn’t great for tennis but who plays tennis on purpose anyway? Avian specials included, inter alia: – Corn, Spotted & African Crake, Lesser Moorhen, Thrush Nightingale, Dwarf Bittern [br.], Rufous-bellied Heron, African Grass Owl & White-backed Vulture. That’s a haul to titillate the records even if the flooding on the plain is only at 70%. The extent of the inundation is rain-dependent & this year’s water came too late for the truly bizarre but who needs vagrancy when the floodplain’s at full-employment?

We spent Saturday night at a revamped Dinonyane Lodge. Under New Management & the supervision of new owner Eddie, this is the ONLY accommodation in the area we consistently endorse. An enlarged dam is a new addition to the facility and promises to be a beacon for local residents. Self-catered accommodation in the Nylsvley Reserve itself, for the contrarians that is, is clean and well-serviced. Guests staying in the reserve are limited to the gate opening / closing times and for those of you who don’t know, Nylsvley’s more iconic birding is accessed outside the reserve, at Vogelfontein. Gate times aren’t always premised on a birder’s best interests…

We spent an obligatory hour or two inside the 4000 ha reserve, an IBA and RAMSAR site, and partial protection [most of the floodplain is privately owned] for one of South Africa’s largest ephemeral floodplains. Vogelfontein, accessed from outside the reserve, demanded the rest of our time. The bits & bobs of the floodplain accessed from within the reserve, was mostly unproductive. Bushveld birding elsewhere, however, was bold, brash & loud. Perversely a semi-flooded / partially-inundated floodplain racks up a larger list than a wet year would allow – habitat diversity rather than the extent of the inundation, key. Lesser-spotted Eagle, African Hawk Eagle, Cape & White-backed Vulture, Olive-tree Warbler & Purple Indigobird were the stand-outs on a longer list of others. A mixed flock of Black-winged Pratincole, Yellow-billed Kite, White Stork & Lesser Spotted Eagle rivaled the more internationally acclaimed #vismig fall-out spectacles, if only in number. If more-trumps-variety, then this annual, South African, phenomenon is grossly under-reported.

 ‘…  rivaled any acclaimed #vismig fall-out in number..’   

Vogelfontein lived up to expectations with one exception; the ‘exception‘ this month’s nominee for bogey-bird-of-the-year. Allen’s Gallinule, a not uncommon visitor to Southern Africa’s ephemeral pans & ponds, continues to elude – a duck & dive routine that turns the mind to chicken; roast chicken…

If you look up at the night-sky, on a dark night, away from the distractions of tungsten light & other man-made folly, are the stars not the building-blocks of dreams? Nothing is certain. The best & brightest demand attention & we’re drawn to them. Good glass serves-up more, much more. On brighter nights the ordinary, more plentiful balls of gas & rock fade or vanish. The brightest shine-on but it’s less, not more. Birding’s the same. Whilst we chase the stars it’s the more common, less fanciful birds that paint the canvas. Vogelfontein is such a place. On the commons & in the seasonal inundation we know they’re there; the common, homespun many; a supporting cast of white-noise that lends the ordinary; an ordinary that highlights the special. Wax on..

“… we know they’re there; the common, homespun many; a supporting cast of white-noise that lends the ordinary; an ordinary that highlights the special.”

African Crake

Then again it’s the specials that make the common ordinary & who dreams of ordinary? Vogelfontein draws them in & this is our story.

In the previous post [See here] we put a positive spin on the lunar cycle & the effervescent effects a full moon has on birds. It gets them up and dancing. PG-rated stuff. This week was a different kinda flicks & chicks the family kind. The weather played a role – & I have the empirical observation to stake the claim.

Dwarf Bitten

On Saturday the sun broke through the rain, during brief windows, at least twice (2x). An all-sorts cast forgot the cloak & dagger farm and took to the open to towel-off. The bedraggled ensemble included Spotted, Corn & African Crake. More than a handful of the older folk dried-off the kids; shivering bundles of ooh & ah. Dwarf Bittern chicks boasted spiked hair. Lesser Moorhen clucked a series of notes in a haphazard sort of way but for all the world to see. African Grass Owl preferred an early evening drip-dry in the blower; the crepuscular gust a spin-off of the storm that was.

African Crake – To be continued…

During the sun-downer interlude a Rufous-bellied Heron buzzed the field, close-by, overhead. It’s difficult to focus the glass, eat a good biscuit, make yourself heard & drink G & Tea when these gifts come wrapped for the taking. Those are not hands-free applications.

Elsewhere the same wet weather grounded the clean-up crew. In and among the Cape committee – one or two White-backed Vultures; another regional ‘are-you-sure?’. Yes – thank you for asking.

On Sunday the course was dry, the puddles had drained and the game was different. Rain was forecast but fell in spits & spats only. A ‘pair‘ of Thrush Nightingale suggested we cross-over to the other side & scale the 12-ft. fence; the fence the intermediary at our discussion & a sturdy symbol of neighbourly trust. We’d omitted to pack our lawyer & declined the invitation. It’s the ring of their eyes and not the white of their eyes we’ll remember. Fair enough.

‘… & scale the 12-ft. fence, …. a sturdy symbol of neighbourly trust.’

Exclude the Nightingale, a hobby and an inundated-grassland-gliding Boomslang [the antithesis of tree-snake & an insult to its mamma] & the remainder of the Sunday session had us well-grounded, back in the commons & at the table of home-cooked fare; tasty, super-sized servings but perennially under-seasoned & uneventful. Nothing else showed.

So there you have it. Dreams are the playthings of storms, steam-dried in the baleful sun and matured under the full moon on a cloudless night. It’s a fact & I can prove it.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *