So after a few long weeks of trying to plan a weekend birding getaway for myself and my birder friend Jaclyn, we ended up just having one day out at Marievale Bird Sanctuary.
We had originally wanted to go to the Rust De Winter area or Dinokeng Game Reserve, all close by just north of Joburg. But the accommodation was letting us down and I just couldn’t find anywhere that looked nice and had good reviews.
We then decided to try a completely different area and look at Chrissiesmeer. I had heard of Chrissiesmeer before as a good birding spot, but never had it on my list of places to go. It’s the Lake District of South Africa, which sounds amazing, and looks amazing too. Birding is done along the roads around and in between all the lakes, and I imagine produces some great water bird species. But alas that was not to happen, as firstly the weather caused us to postpone our booked trip by a week and then on the second attempt we were told at short notice that our accommodation had actually double booked us! There was also no other decent accommodation available in Chrissiesmeer as there was a huge wedding taking over the place. I eventually took this as a sign that we were just not mean’t to go away and we decided on a weekend at Jaclyns house, with a day trip to Marievale.
So after waking up at a decent hour on Saturday morning, we were on the road down to Marievale.
As we entered the reserve we first stopped by the chalet accommodation which has a good view over a section of the waterways. The Blacksmith Lapwings were not happy with our presence and voiced this quite loudly! Far out in the middle of the pan there was a small flock of Greater Flamingo and plenty of Red-knobbed Coots, while closer in we had a little spring of Hottentot Teal (yip that’s the collective noun for them), Black-throated Canaries and a couple of Cape Shovelers. It was great to see the Shovelers up close for a change and we could get a good look at his bright yellow eye and orange feet.
Moving on we stopped in at a hide but nearly froze our asses off with the wind howling in through the viewing windows. Obviously due to the wind it was rather quiet in the waters in front of this hide, but we did get another pair of Shovelers, some Yellow-billed Ducks, more Coots, a Little Grebe (Dabchick) and finally a White-throated Swallow flew in and posed for us on the purposefully places sticks in front of the hide. When we had entered the hide there were a few other people there, but they shortly left and we were soon joined by a couple of guys and then another man a bit later on. The 2 younger guys had walked in with big fancy cameras, sat down and proceeded to start playing bird recordings?! Wtf! I found this to be quite rude and intrusive of our experience. If you can’t be patient enough to wait for birds to come, if you have to attract them in this false way, then you don’t need to be there. In my opinion that’s not what it’s about! They didn’t even have the manners to ask us if we would mind if they played some recordings. To add to it, there was a Dideric Cuckoo on the recordings which I doubt you would ever hear in that setting, completely unnatural! And yes, their cameras did sound like machine guns!
We left that situation very quickly and moved on to bird along some of the other roads.
We got Glossy Ibis, African Purple Swamphen, Grey-headed Gull, Squacco Heron, Cape Teal, Reed Cormorants, Egyptian Goose, Pied Avocet and more Coots!
Later on we saw more Avocets and could get a better look at their awesome bill, and learnt they they can actually swim when the water becomes too deep! There were also some Black-winged Stilts flying around who landed nearby, I just love those long, red legs.
I had been hoping to see Black Crake and Black Heron on this trip, alas I was only afforded a sighting of one, a Black Crake, but only for a split second. Again one of those moments where I’m 99% sure it was one, but still not happy to put it on my list! After the brief excitement of the Crake, I noticed yet another Blacksmith Lapwing chirping at us, and quickly realised why. There were two of the tiniest chicks I have ever seen, tiny and round and fluffy and busy digging around looking for food. A highlight for the day for sure!
We then stopped off and the picnic site to have some snacks and hot chocolate! We had what I think were Brown-throated Martins flying overhead and we were quickly joined by some Southern Masked Weavers and a Fiscal Shrike, of course there also had to be a couple of Common Mynas too.
We watched as a flock of Greater Flamingoes moved into shallower water close to us, but they seemed so suspicious in the way they moved! As one unit, all heads up, all looking in our direction, moving slowly, it kinda gave me the creeps! Haha, random I know!
There were plenty of Long-tailed Widowbirds around, but it took us forever to get a decent look at one as they kept flying and landing quickly back in thick grass. I think they were trying to stay out the wind as much as possible. There were a few still moulting and they really do look rather odd at this stage, so scruffy!
Oh the Snipes! They gave us quite the run around and the thought that maybe we had found a Mega sighting for Marievale! We were driving down a road which had been rather quiet, when all of a sudden both of us spotted a snipe just off the road ahead of us but ducking into the thick reedy undergrowth. As we drove closer to the spot, we just saw it disappear. But this Snipe had look different to both of us, we both saw things that were not identifiable as the African Snipe. We were convinced that this could possibly have been Great Snipe, which is not really found in our country! Totally bothered and frustrated by not getting a better look, we decided to park the car and walk the area instead to try relocate the bird. We did…but yet again just briefly, and it flew off over the high reeds. The wind wasn’t helping in our identification of the bird either. The flight patterns of the Snipes are distinctive. When flushed the Great Snipe generally flies off low and straight, while the African Snipe flies off in a flustered zig-zag pattern, but due to the wind all the birds were flying rather strangely!
The Snipes then seemed to keep popping up everywhere and flying around us, and with a few of those slightly better looks we had to admit they just looked like the more common African Snipes. But to this day, we’re still convinced that one Snipe was something else!
We also spotted some Southern Pochards, which was another lifer. Always fun when you find a bird and have no clue what it is!
Just further on from the Pochards, I spotted a little wader close by to the road. These little water birds are quite a challenge, but we decided this one is a Little Stint, lifer! Carrying on our drive we stopped at a picnic spot to have a little picnic lunch, where we saw a massive Goliath Heron coming in to land across the dam, they really are huge and graceful birds!
That ended our Marievale Trip, but we were not done for the day yet. Back in Joburg, in Sandton to be particular, there has been a Southern White-faced Owl hanging out in a local park area for a few weeks now. They are not common is Johannesburg and so people have been making a fuss about this one and going to see it. I love Owls so of course I would want to go see this little cutey, which I’ve only seen once before years ago. My folks and I tried to find this Owl on 2 occasions, and we dipped on it both times. We knew the general area it was in and passes by would say it had been seen yesterday or that morning, but we could never find it!
So on this afternoon we went, I knew it had been seen in the morning again, and had a picture of it so I knew which trees to look in. We got to the park and joined a couple in searching for this apparent master of camouflage. Eventually someone told us of a guy who works there, who always know where the owl is and is happy to point it out to you, with the hopes of receiving a little cash in return. The guys came down to help us and went to a completely different set and type of tree and simply looked up and punted out the Owl! We would never have found that!! Sitting high up in the branches of a pine tree, I finally saw a little owl face looking down at me…ah happiness! It was high up, and there were plenty of spinet beaches and twigs obstructing the view but I managed to get some decent pics anyway. At first the owl was quite alert and looking down at us, but after a short while he obviously got bored of us, and seemed to go back to sleep!A fantastic way to end the day, so relieved to have found the owl on my third attempt! Maybe this was why we weren’t supposed to go away for the weekend, because I was supposed to finally find my owl. In fact I haven’t heard of anymore reports of it being seen this week so perhaps it has now moved on and I saw him just in time!!