Black Harrier Surprise

Visiting a nature reserve for the first time is always exciting for me. My first visit to West Coast National Park was exactly that and I was even rewarded with a very special sighting.

My first experience in the park was in the beginning of January 2016. I had done a little research on what type of wildlife to expect. It was still peak season and I knew the roads would be full of cars. I decided the best bet would be to spend some time in one of the viewing hides.

I made my first stop at the Abrahamskraal hide, fairly close to the entrance gate. This hide is situated on the only fresh water wetland in the park. I was really surprised at the diverse birdlife that this little water source boasts.

I had only started my photography hobby, so most of my time was spent fiddling with camera settings and figuring out what to do next. I looked up to scan the greater area for any wildlife and to my surprise I saw a raptor flying across the veld.

I could not identify the raptor at the time as I had not seen this kind before. Luckily there were some pictures inside the hide.  The identification plaque said it was a critically endangered species. It turned out to be a Black Harrier.

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This Harrier flew in on a mission and looked like it was in charge! It was such a beautiful sight! One that I did not expect at all. It circled the wetland a few times and surveyed the veld, but did not manage to catch a meal.

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Unfortunately the sun rises directly into the viewing hide so I struggled to capture the shots well. I hope to see this majestic raptor some time again.

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Egret Dance Off

Having spent a lot of time hanging around wetland reserves, I’ve become accustomed to various hunting strategies from different birds. However, there was still one amusing strategy to be seen.

I made my way to my local Sunset Hide at Rietvlei Nature Reserve in Cape Town one early morning in May. In the shallow water stood a Little Egret. These birds are distinguishable by their bright yellow feet. I have seen them numerous times before, so I considered it to be just another Egret sighting.

With the very shallow waters in front of the hide, many shoals of Harders come to gather in the warmer water. I spotted a Purple Heron hidden in the reed beds along the water’s edge. The Heron’s will move close to within striking distance and then freeze like a statue until it is time to strike. Often the fish will swim close by and then quickly swim away resulting in unsuccessful hunts for the Herons.

The Little Egret however deploys a completely different strategy. After taking in the morning sun, it started to move around in the water. I saw some movement from the fish and all of a sudden the Little Egret started to prance around in the most bizarre manner. At first I had to try and figure out what it was doing. It was flapping its wings vigorously, running around in circles, hopping across the water in different directions.

This created a sense of confusion not only by me, but for the fish as well. In between all of this commotion, the Little Egret struck the water and managed to make a catch. This was most fascinating!

Just before I could see whether I managed to get any decent photos, this whole scene played out again.

And again.

And then again. It was unbelievable what a successful little hunter this bird was.

Once the Egret had its fill, I looked across the water to the reeds in the background. There the Purple Heron was still standing, in strike position, all but hoping for a single catch.

Bontebok National Park

Just outside the picturesque town of Swellendam, lies the Bontebok National Park. I made a visit to this Sanparks reserve for the first time in March and thoroughly enjoyed the days outing.

Not quite knowing what to expect from the park, I was pleasantly surprised by the friendly and efficient staff at the reception. The park offers a self-drive game viewing area. It is pretty simple to navigate as it is a large circular route that takes approximately 2 hours to drive. The direction is clockwise and ends at the day visitor’s picnic area. Unfortunately I managed to take a wrong turn at the start and ended up driving anticlockwise and felt horribly lost when none of the road directions matched that of the map. After an embarrassing phone call back to reception I managed to get back on track.

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The picnic area is clean and tidy and the braai facilities are well looked after. It is situated perfectly along the Breede River. There was nobody else at the picnic area that day and we had the entire area to ourselves. In the distance I heard and saw two African Fish Eagles calling.

While sorting out the lunch, there was a knocking sound above us in the Oak Tree. Looking up I spotted a Cardinal Woodpecker. This was such a cool sighting as I had not seen a Woodpecker before.

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There is quite a couple of antelope to be seen in the park. I manage to spot Bontebok, Grey Rhebok and a Duiker. I was hoping to see the endangered Cape Mountain Zebra, but they must have been resting in the shade somewhere.

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The birdlife is quite spectacular in the park. One of the great sightings to look out for is a Denham’s Bustard. I managed to get a glimpse of one far across a field. Luckily I took the binoculars that day. I was really hoping to see a Secretary Bird, but had no such luck. I even saw a couple of Blue Crane’s too.

I managed to see quite a couple of raptors in the park. Some of the sighitngs included Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Jackal Buzzard, African Fish Eagle, African Marsh Harrier and Steppe Buzzard.

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The park also offers a camping sight along the Breede River. I will most definitely make a point of camping there in the future.

My first Lion kill

Seeing the “King Of The Jungle” is such a thrilling feeling. On my first trip to Kruger I was lucky enough to see five different sightings of this magnificent beast.

After a very uneventful morning drive, my friend and I drove back to our camp at Skukuza along the H4-1. Not too long after leaving Lower Sabie, we saw a lot of cars parked along the river. We had finally seen what we were hoping for. Our first Lion kill!

On the opposite side of the river bed we saw what all the commotion was about. There was a small pride of lions feeding on a zebra carcass. Unfortunately we did not witness the takedown, but we were treated to the feeding and interaction between the lions.

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In total we counted 3 lionesses and 7 cubs. It was very entertaining to watch these lions. Some of the cubs were still very young and after feeding for a while they simply wanted to play. We parked at the sighting for close to 2 hours and simply enjoyed the various antics of the lions.

The kill still seemed quite fresh and there was still a lot of food available. We scanned the area hoping to see other scavengers that will try their luck at a quick meal. We could not see any action on the ground, but we did notice a good couple of vultures start to fly in.

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Time was ticking and we started moving towards camp. Just as we thought the fun was all over my friend spotted a leopard further down the road, but I missed it. And as we thought the fun was over we arrived at another lion kill. Two lionesses had taken down a warthog. The lions were then chased away by some elephants nearby and ran off into the bush. About 40 minutes later one lioness emerged again and started feeding on the warthog. This was all behind thick bush so I could not take a decent photo.

Jackal Buzzard takes off

I made a quick visit to Tygerberg Nature Reserve on Freedom Day. There was another beautiful sunrise before the gates opened, but the weather started playing up and the clouds quickly rolled in.

Tygerberg Sunrise

There really wasn’t much action so I decided to cut the morning short. I made my way back to the entrance and renewed my annual membership. While I was talking to the ranger, I saw a Jackal Buzzard perched on one of the nearby pine trees. I decided to take a quick walk there and hopefully get some decent shots.

I approached rather cautiously as I wasn’t sure how skittish the bird was. I managed to conceal myself a little behind some wild olive bushes. I got as close as I could without potentially scaring the bird off. Despite trying to camouflage myself, I was spotted.

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The Jackal Buzzard seemed unperturbed by my presence. It looked as if it was still going to sit there for a while so I decided to set up my camera and prepare for it to take off. I waited patiently for another 20 minutes. Finally I saw the Jackal Buzzard start to twitch and it look unsettled. I knew that it would take off any second.

I was right. I saw it thrust forward and spread open its wings and take flight. I simply love the colours of the Jackal Buzzard and I always marvel at the wingspan of raptors. It glided so gracefully and decided to bank sharply and fly off in the other direction.

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