Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mogoebaskloof Raptor Weekend
July with Michael Parker

Having got a Forest Buzzard earlier in the month, we decided to have another go. SO leaving Joberg at 5 am we got to the Springbok flats to see if we could find a Lanner or Snake Eagle, but everything was so dry, with no birds about at all.

Juv Jackal Buzzard
Not much till the afternoon when we caught a juvenile Jackal Buzzard. But encouragingly saw 2 Forest Buzzards and 2 Long-crested Eagles. One of the Forest Buzzards a real beauty, very white bird, was too low down in a field and unsighted so couldn't try for it.
Michael and his 2 JB's

The following morning we got 2 Jackal Buzzards on the one trap! An adult and sub adult. Not every day that happens!

LB in the Lowveld
After a cold night (minus 3 degrees) we decided that things were not up to much here in the mountains, so we decided to explore the Lowveld and headed down the pass to 500m, a drop of a kilometre or more!

Purple Roller
Here we got a Lizard Buzzard, Dark-hanting Goshawk and a Purple Roller, a tick for Michael.
We did a lot of reconnaissance work and found some great routes and tracks for the summer whether are more birds around with the rains.
Pale-chanting Goshawk

a double header!

In search of the elusive Forest  Buzzard

July weekend

The last time I came up to the Magoebaskloof region, an area of Afro-montane forest and plantation, I was with Charlotte where we saw plenty of FB's even catching 4 birds.

SO the plan was to have another go over the same time period. Our first visit was with my two girls, Grace and Kara-Mae, 11 and 8 respectively. 

Kara with her Lizard Buzzard
Setting off we arrived at out lodge next to a trout dam in the afternoon, the only bit of action was dropping a trap for a circling Black-chested Snake Eagle, without success (not a common bird up here) and a juvenile African Goshawk which we couldn't tempt with our trap.
However the day was saved by catching and ringing a Lizard Buzzard, which Grace ringed, and Kara released, very chuffed too!

Next day we toured the small trails and back tracks in search for Forest Buzzards, saw a couple of distant Jackal Buzzards and Long-crested Eagles, but not catchable. 

'Eagle eyes' and the
Forest Buzzard
Then passing a stand of gum trees next to a garden, we spotted a pair of Black-headed Herons intent on some obvious and sudden abundance. Kara pipped up 'theres a buzzard' to which Grace and I sceptically ignored this discovery as a probable non raptor species. But for her sake I reversed to have a look at what she had seen. Bugger me!!! if it wasn't a cracking adult Forest Buzzard on the fence!!! We got a trap down and in a few mins had the bird! Well, it was nothing but praise for Kara, what a star! She had save the expedition!

Grace with the retrap JB
We were seeing plenty of LCE's and JB's but no more FB's, but in the afternoon we eventually got a Long-crested Eagle out of a stand of pines and at a good weight of 1.4kg.

Grace with the same bird
 16 months earlier! 
On the morning we set off back to Johannesburg, we caught a Jackal Buzzard with a ring!! It turned out to be the same bird we had caught last year in April 2015 so 16 months later!! It was a juv then and was now almost half way through its PJ primary with a sequential moult score of 555554000, it had lost 40g!

Dad and Kara with the BSE
Once we had got down into the savannah and farmland in the south of the province we came across and caught a Brown Snake Eagle off of a power pole, an adult at 2,2kg's.
Grace with the BCSE
Then 20 mins later we found a Black-chested Snake Eagle on a pylon, coming into Nylsvley and caught it. A big adult at a good weight of 1.75kg's. Grace managed to close all the rings on these birds (needed both hands) and she was very chuffed to have ringed all 6 raptors we caught. Kara was equally chuffed to have got 6 release ticks!

Kara and the LCE


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Late Summer, Limpopo 15th to 27th April with Kevin Henderson and Gerry Thomas

Cape Grassbird
With most of the Amur Falcons well on their way back to Asia, we didn’t go south to the Newcastle roost, instead we started in the Magoebaskloof area. Lots of forestry plantation, indigenous afro-montane forests and heathland scrub where we got a few nets up.
Morning netting produced a couple of nice endemics in the form of Cape Grassbird, Drakensberg Prinia, as well as Golden Weaver, Tambourine Dove and Olive Bushshrike.

Our first raptor run found us set up on a Long-crested Eagle, unfortunately too intent on watching for mice in the grass below it and not seeing out trap. however someone else did, and in came a ‘Buteo’, me thinking it must be a late Steppe Buzzard. However when we caught the bird, my instincts told me we had an endemic Forest Buzzard. It was probably an early arrival, having migrated up at this time of year from the E Cape where they breed.
One other raptor caught was an adult male Rock Kestrel.
Mountain Wagtail

Whilst doing net rounds we had been pestered by a lark female African Goshawk which had so far managed to get out of the net each time it had gone in after something. But sooner or later it had to happen and we caught this lovely young bird. Other new and exciting catches here was a beautiful MOUNTAIN WAGTAIL, got in a spring trap at the edge of some waterfalls, this species filling in the niche its Grey counterpart does in Europe.

En route to the next site we got 2 early Greater Kestrels, one when dropping for a Black-chested Snake Eagle that watched as 2 adults with a juvenile all descended onto the trap with just the youngster getting caught!
a dark Forest Buzzard
Then followed 2 adult Pale-chanting Goshawks, an immature Gabar Goshawk and then after loosing a BC Snake-eagle off the trap, had a brilliant run of 4 BC Snake-eagle’s in a row, one, a bird of 2.1kg, is one of the biggest I’ve caught. 9 raptors for the morning!
female African Goshawk

Came across an adult and juvenile Peregrine at one point, not something you see everyday, got a trap down, but not at all interested!
Also tried for a Gymnogene which landed next to the trap, took a stab at it, then cleared off!   Watched a pair of Kori Bustards in a large field.

At the next site, we put nets up round the pool, sadly the Barn Swallows had disappeared where we had caught a BTO control last time, but we got a few interesting things. I finally got a Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling as well as a Yellow-throated Petronia, both ticks for me!

Rock Kestrel
We were in a lovely valley of giant Baobabs now in the Limpopo river valley. We spotted a large eagle on top of one of these majestic trees and got a trap down. It came in immediately, a Tawny!! the bird hit the trap so hard, it knocked the mouse out of the trap and took it!! What a bizarre incident! 
A bit later on we got a Brown Snake Eagle, a bird of 2.2kg’s. That night we were treated to the sounds of big cats in the locality, a Leopard ‘coughing’ across on the ridge near us and a bit further away a Lion roared for some of the night.

Next morning we got an adult male Shikra and a juvenile Gabar Goshawk in quick succession. Had to wait at one point when a herd of Elephants crossed the track and we watched a pair of Klipspringer sunning themselves.

Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling
Heading west, we got into even drier country and were seeing no raptors on the way. We got to the next camp with just a Purple Roller to show. That night though, we mist-netted a Pearl-spotted Owlet, such aggressive little things!

First thing out on a raptor run we got an adult female African Hawk Eagle at 1.840kg, the male came in too, but took off when she was caught. That afternoon at camp, we were enjoying a beer on the verandah, when a Little Sparrowhawk flew into the dead tree across the backwater. I quickly got a Quelea into a trap and stuck it out on the lawn and the reaction was immediate! And we had a nice adult female bird all of 114g!

Leaving the Limpopo valley on the 23rd of April, we saw a small flock of some 12 Barn Swallows. There are a few Lesser-grey Shrikes around still and the odd European Bee-eater still moving north.

adult female Lanner
Little Sparrowhawk
We came across a pair of Lanners, the female was scoffing down dove with the male looking on peevishly. We got 2 traps down, a quell and a mouse, given the nature of this species, the male will go for the Quelea and the female the mouse. The female immediately showed great interest and the male started bombing the Quelea, but nervous. eventually the female flew down to the mouse with her meal, she just couldn’t let it go in case the male got it! It was too much for her, so she flew back up to the pole and hovered down the rest of her meal before returning to the mouse and we caught her! Talk about greedy! What a lovely adult bird at 740g.

The next site was in the foothills of the Waterberg national biosphere reserve where we got another juvenile Gabar Goshawk and an adult female African Hawk Eagle. We also saw 2 different flocks of some 20 and 30 odd House Martins. Also saw a Secretary bird and a group of 7 Denham’s Bustards.

In all 22 raptors ringed of 14 species in difficult dry conditions. Steppe Buzzards would have put our totals up a great deal, but given the late date we had no migrants to work with.
Olive Bush-shrike

Tambourine Dove

Familiar Chat
Kevin with a Brown Snake Eagle

African Hawk Eagle 

Raptor Bonanza!! 
Carly Peggie and Adam Wentworth 
February - March

Both Carly and Adam were trainees and their first time to Africa, and what a trip it turned out to be!
Mainly focusing on birds of prey, we only mist-netted at certain sites when conditions were favourable.
 Lesser Kestrel
Again we made the journey to the Amur Falcon roost site in Newcastle in northern Zulu-land. En route we got a cracking adult male Lesser Kestrel followed by an adult Greater Kestrel. Steppe Buzzards were plentiful, but not playing with our rodents and traps!   But did get an immature Jackal Buzzard.
Adam with a young Jackal Buzzard
At the Amur roost the the wind had picked up with thunderstorms on both nights so we only managed to get a total of three birds. We also bounced a large female Black Sparrowhawk in the nets!

Next day we toured the area between KZN and the Freestate Provinces, such breathtaking scenery and fields with flocks of Blue and Grey-crowned Cranes, Secretary birds and all kinds of other fauna.
We did well on the first morning getting 3 Steppe and 3 Jackal Buzzards, one of the latter out of the sky! Dropped the trap as it was quartering the hillside, when suddenly it spotted our trap and came in like a rocket! Also got one Black-shouldered Kite.


Woodland Kingfisher
here we set nets in the lodge grounds and got a lovely selection of birds. This was the Olive-tree Warbler site from last month and we managed to get another 3 including a retrap from 
S Carmine Bee-eater
 month. Got a few Red-backed Shrikes, Marsh and Willow Warblers. There were a few Southern Carmine Bee-eaters around and so I put the call on under the net, got one bird to perch on the top shelf string! Eventually we got 2 birds, this was a tick for me! Out on a raptor run, we got a Black-chested Snake-eagle and a Lizard Buzzard, Lilac-breasted Roller and a Woodland Kingfisher. Seeing lots of raptors here, must be the late rains bringing birds in, but everywhere so dry still. Great movement of European Rollers and Eurasian Golden Orioles.

5.7kgs of big eagle!
Setting off to the mountains to our next site we drove through some remote bush in conservancy land and after catching another Lizard Buzzard, came across a huge juvenile Martial Eagle on a pole. Got a trap down and waited. after 5 mins the bird came in, not overly enthusiastic and a bit wary of the trap, but after an agonising hour of the bird walking round the trap we eventually got it! What a bird, 5.7kg’s!! A huge female. We processed it as fast as possible and released it.

business end of the young Martial
After a post euphoric couple of Steppe Buzzards, we then got into the mountains and caught an adult Long-crested Eagle, one of the common birds of the area. Rain curtailed netting in the mountains, but we saw and tried for 4 Long-crested Eagles and 2 Jackal Buzzards, and one bizarre sight of 6 Lesser-spotted Eagles feeding on termites with a load of Steppe Buzzards and Wooly-necked Storks! These mountains a very odd place for LS Eagle. All the birds were far too focused on the termites to bother with mice in a trap! 

We made our way back down to the savanna and north the following day and what a day, we got 9 raptors, 6 Steppe Buzzards and 3 Black-chested Snake Eagles on the way to the next camp!

Carly and a juv BC Snake-eagle
With hundreds of Steppe Buzzards around, all mustering for the northern migration, we were in the zone! Next day we got 10 more raptors, 1 Black-chested Snake-eagle, 7 Steppes and 2 Pale-chanting Goshawks. Also finally caught a European Roller in the mouse baited spring trap, I have tried so many times with this species which never show any interest, but perseverance pays, and we got one!
One of the Steppes this day had a ring on, very frustrating not to have caught it, it looked like a lock on ring, not a SAFRING ring, so possibly Russian, Kazakistan or Israeli??

Returning to camp late afternoon we spotted a Wahlberg’s Eagle in a thorn tree and dropped for it. Bird came in and for the next hour, proceeded to walk around, and occasionally kick the trap, fly off and back again, caught briefly, off, agonising in the extreme! Eventually it got dark and the bird disappeared. 

Euro Roller
The next morning in in exactly the same spot we tried for the Wahlberg’s, the night before, we saw another bird, different individual, and got a trap down for it, bang! Straight on!! We had our first Wahlberg’s Eagle, an adult male.

Fired up with this success for the day, we dropped for and got a second one not 30mins later!! This time an adult female, by the way, this is a species I rarely ever catch on these trips, there just seemed to be plenty around and, like the Steppe Buzzards gearing up to return to the Palearctic, Wahlberg’s having bred here are now mustering for the northern journey up into Africa.
The rest of the day saw us get another 3 Steppe Buzzards and a Dark-chanting Goshawk.

Now we were really in ‘raptor country’! Mpangubwe National park, a big wide valley of ancient Baobabs and rocky outcrops with the Limpopo River just to the north forming the Botswana and Zimbabwe borders. one early morning we spotted a Wahlberg’s Eagle some 300m off sitting on top of a Baobab, we dropped a trap and backed off and the bird reacted immediately and we had our 3rd Wahlberg’s Eagle another adult female! Interestingly whilst the female was on the trap a male came in and also tried to get in on the action!

For some reason we were not having particularly good results with brown Snake Eagles, we have so far dropped for several of these birds which are usually more obliging. Here again we dropped for one, for it to come into trap but then to get chased away by a rare vehicle coming from the other direction.
But then we got another European Roller!! This is peculiar, is it the weather? timing? Just doing what I have always tried to do with this species, same system, but now 2 birds!

We came round a bend where the rocky outcrops formed a pass either side of the road, and there sitting in a tree was a huge adult female Martial Eagle. No surely not!! With the adrenalin coursing, we got a trap down and soon the bird came in, massive beast! We waited and this time the mouse was doing its thing and the bird worked the trap wonderfully. then it was on! I drove in and took a running dive at the bird as it was moving with the trap! and got it!
business end of a Martial!
This bird was a handful, lots of attitude, not unlike trying to subdue a recalcitrant Rottweiler! not as heavy as the last juvenile, but at 4.5kg’s gave a very good account of itself!
Then not an hour later, en route to the next camp, we spot another adult Martial Eagle on top of another Baobab! Whats going on!! We got trap down and waited 30 minutes for the bird, but whilst it did show considerable interest, it just wouldn't commit to coming in. 3 Martials in one trip would have been unheard-of!

Leaving the area, we headed west through some very dry and unproductive country, but did get two Steppe Buzzards on the way. 
Next day we did a drive through one of the most productive areas I have ever sought raptors in and were first rewarded with a sub adult African Hawk Eagle, such spectacular birds, both in appearance as well as in action. Shortly after this we came across a black morph Gabar Goshawk. It was a young bird calling for all its worth to is absent parents who were probably out trying to get food for it. We got a trap down for it, but it was so busy calling, it never spotted the trap until I drove up to it and beeped the horn, which made it look at us, then saw the trap and came in like a rocket and onto the trap, not 2 m away from the vehicle!
The rest of the day produced another Black-shouldered Kite, a Steppe Buzzard a Black-chested Snake Eagle and last thing our 4th Wahlberg’s Eagle. The bird had been watching a few Carmine Bee-eaters feasting on an emergence of termites, and was about to join them, when we got a trap down first and caught it! After 30 minutes of checking out another area we drove back past the spot and what a site! Hundreds of Carmine and White-fronted Bee-eaters were feasting on the termites as was our Wahlberg’s, running around on the ground sporting its new ring and stuffing termites down its throat for all it was worth! Always nice to see how undisturbed birds are from having been ringed.

Carly and Brown Snake-eagle
Wahlberg's Eagle adf
Next day were were out early and were finally rewarded with a Brown Snake Eagle. I have been trying for several of these birds in this area but have not had any come into trap. This one was just over 2kgs. Also got another Black-chested Snake-eagle, an juvenile African Hawk Eagle and 2 Steppe Buzzards.

Moving south now, we headed to the Springbok Flats area, a wonderful interface of farmland and bush. But not before getting another African Hawk Eagle and Black-chested Snake Eagle. The latter bird had a wound on its thigh, quite a nasty gash, maybe from a fence, or a mongoose? But at 1.6kg’s it was a healthy weight.

In the Flats, we got 3 more Steppe Buzzards, and an adult male Lesser Kestrel, before getting to our last site. Here we set a few nets and got a few straggling Willow Warblers and at dusk put nightjar call on and got a Rufous-cheeked Nightjar.

Last day and heading back to the big smoke, we struggled to find any birds, but finally found a Brown Snake Eagle, which was so not interested in our trap! But a bit later found a juvenile female Lanner on a pylon and got a trap down with a Zebra Finch lure and mouse combined. It did the trick, she came in immediately and we had her, all 700g of her.

And that was it, a record breaking trip of 68 Birds of prey ringed of 17 species!

Martial Eagle 2
Brown Snake Eagle 1
Black-chested SE 8
African Hawk Eagle 3
Wahlberg’s Eagle 4
Long-crested Eagle 1
Steppe Buzzard 29
Jackal Buzzard 5
Lizard Buzzard 2
Pale-chanting Goshawk 2
Dark-chanting Goshawk 1
Gabar Goshawk 1
Lanner 1
Greater Kestrel 2
Lesser Kestrel 2
Amur Falcon 3
Wattled Starling
Black-shouldered Kite 2

ad male Red-backed Shirke
Carly with an Af Hawk Eagle

Olive-tree Warbler
Juv Lanner

adult Martial

black morph Gabar Goshawk

Limpopo Jan - Feb 2016
juv and adult male Amurs
Phil and Hugh Hanmer, Andy and Susan Jones and Eugene Hood

We started this trip off by heading south east from Johannesbug to the town of Newcastle in KZN where the largest known roost of the migrant Amur Falcon occurs. This small raptor arrives in late December having flown all the way from the Russian - Chinese border, some 16000km. And here in this small town they congregate every night in the tens of thousands.
We got to the site and with the coordinator Rina, set a couple of nets and despite 2 hours lost to rain, we managed to catch 16 birds over the two nights including a Red-footed Falcon!

In the garden of the accommodation, the next morning we got some cool stuff in the nets. Forest and Cape Canary, Olive Thrush, Dusky Flycatcher and Greater Double-collared Sunbird.

Next stop was the Lowveld and the Greater Kruger area. Here was a marked contrast to the habitat we had just come from. Netting in the grounds of the lodge in thorn scrub was spectacular, and the most exciting was catching not one but 6 Olive-tree Warblers! These are the first I have caught in SA. Other Palearctic migrants included Marsh and Willow Warblers. 
Hugh and the first Steppe Buzzard
Moulting Olive-tree Warbler
Stierling's Barred Warbler 900!
Leaving here we dropped for an adult Tawny Eagle which was still at its roost. The bird came in straight away and we had our first Eagle, and what a gorgeous bird! 2.6kg of fury! This is a very difficult bird to find usually, as numbers are in decline due to poisoned baits set for Jackal as well as direct persecution.

Susan and her huge Tawny!
Green Twinspot a forest jewel!

Up in the Afro-montane forests of Magoebaskloof we set nets in the first and were soon extracting some beautiful birds. Green Twinspot, White-starred Robin, and a very interesting reaction from a pair of Narina Trogons, when I put the stuffed eagle owl next to the net, how we never caught them is a miracle!

Heading further north, we caught a Steppe and Jackal Buzzard before leaving the mountains, getting down onto the hot savannah again. Here we picked up another Steppe Buzzard and our first adult Black-chested Snake Eagle as well as Rock Kestrel, Pale and Dark Chanting Goshawks.
Eugene and Susan with 2 Steppes

The next two days we carried on and got several more Chanting Goshawks, and in the camp one night managed to get 2 Pearl-spotted Owlets. Also here we did well for Purple and Lilac-breasted Rollers of which we got 4 of each in total.

adult male Lanner
Had a bad spate of birds getting off traps at one point, loosing a Brown and a Black-chested Snake Eagle as well as an African Hawk Eagle, but made up for it with a cracking adult male Lanner Falcon later on!

Our last camp was right on the Limpopo River and on the way we got a 2nd year African Hawk Eagle and another couple of Chanting Goshawks. Setting nets in the afternoon, we caught two retraps, a Marsh Warbler from exactly one year ago as well as a Woodland Kingfisher from the same session, and another Woodland Kingfisher from 3 years ago! We also got a pair of Meve’s Starlings and Blacksmith Plover.
Af Scops Owl
Woodland Kingfisher

During the night we managed to get an African Scops Owl.

On the way back to Johannesburg, we got another adult Black-chested Snake Eagle when we drove through the spectacular Waterberg region, a National Biosphere reserve.

Our last day was sadly compromised by rain and cold weather as we had arrived at Vulpro a facility which traps large numbers of the Cape Vulture for wing tagging and releasing. Sadly the birds had just not come out of roost on this cold and wet morning.

In the end managed to ring 38 raptors of 15 species in all, a record 16 Amurs and the Tawny a real bonus!

Gtr Double-collared Sunbird

lovely eagle

Phil with his ad BC Snake Eagle
a fierce looking Shikra