Birding Big Day 2016 

Last Saturday my Dad and I took part in Birdlife South Africa’s Birding Big Day, a 24 hour period in which you have to see how many bird species you can count.

You have from midnight to midnight to record birds seen or heard, but we are not that crazy so we didn’t wake up at midnight!  Our day began at 5am and ended around 6pm.  You have to be within a 50km radius of your centre point for the birds to be counted. We made our centre point Bapsfontein out on the east rand so that we could include Roodeplaat Nature Reserve and Marievale Bird Sanctuary, as well as the Bapsfontein to Rayton birding route.

I just happened to locate Bapsfontein on the map as a good centre point but had no clue what was out there or where it actually was.  After referring to my newly acquired “Birding Gauteng” book by Etienne Marais and Faansie Peacock, I discovered that it was actually a really amazing birding area.
We started our bird count from home, and managed to pick up quite a few of the commoners along the highway enroute to our first destination, Roodeplaat Nature Reserve. Having checked out Roodeplaat the weekend before, we knew what to expect and where to look for all the good birds.
The highlight from Roodeplaat has to be hearing a Black Cuckoo fairly close to the road we were travelling on and then actually finding it in a tree right next to the road. We slowly drove up and parked next to the tree and I could even climb out the car and walk around to get the best angle for a photo, all the while the cuckoo carried on with its sad sounding call, one of my favourites.

Black Cuckoo


Leaving Roodeplaat we wanted to head to Rayton to start the Bapsfontein birding route, however we came upon some road works and a few detours had to be made. This worked in favour slightly as we came across a raptor sitting at the top of a tree not far off the road. I couldn’t add it to my Birding Day list at the time because I didn’t know what it was, but have since decided it was a Steppe Buzzard, a lifer! We also saw another raptor further on flying gracefully overhead which also turned out to be a Steppe Buzzard.

Steppe Buzzard

Steppe Buzzard

Steppe Buzzard


Once we were on the farm roads we were driving along slowly and came across Yellow-crowned Bishop, Zitting Cisticola, African Pipit, Black-shouldered Kite, Barn Swallows and then heard a rough, rasping, kraak kraak call, but could not find the bird for all the long grass around. I knew it was some sort of korhaan or bustard type bird. I then turned to my bird call tracks and apps for help, and narrowed it down to the Northern Black Korhaan which Monty Brett and Clive Hopcroft describe as being difficult to see due to the long grass of its preferred habitat.

African Pipit

Further into the farm grasslands we came across the Osspruit Bridge going over a little stream which provided a lot of entertainment.  Besides the Malachite Kingfishers, Capped Wheatear, Southern Red Bishops, Village Weavers, Red-billed Queleas and Guineafowl there were flocks of Swallows and Swifts hurtling around our heads and under the bridge. I spotted a couple of Little Swifts, the majority were White-rumped Swifts and then surprisingly South African Cliff Swallows, Lifer! They were busily collecting mud from puddles in the dirt road and constructing their nests under another smaller bridge close by.

Red-billed Quelea

Capped Wheatear

Southern Red Bishop

South African Cliff Swallows

Juvenile Malachite Kingfisher


Further down this road an extremely quick sighting of a Namaqua Dove flying off the road had me second guessing myself. As we were searching for it in the area it had landed some fellow birders drove by and stopped to chat. We told them what we were searching for and as they drove off they spotted the Dove back on the road, now behind us, and reversed to come tell us, so luckily I could confirm my sighting.

Namaqua Dove


We headed down to Marievale Bird Sanctuary next to end off the day.
Just after entering we jumped out the car to check in the water and reeds around the chalets and I heard a familiar call but couldn’t remember what it was. Turns out it was a familiar call but only from my bird call cd’s not from hearing it in nature before. I was very excited about it being the Red-chested Flufftail! Now to hopefully see the actual bird one day.
We stopped in at one bird hide but due to it being late afternoon and fairly warm the birdlife was rather quiet. We were entertained by a White-throated Swallow which was flying in and out of the hide only cm’s from our heads, as well as an African Swamphen feeding. They hold on to plant stems with their funny feet and eat the soft pulp from the stems.

African Swamphen


Driving alongside the water I mentioned to my Dad that I really wanted to see a Great Crested Grebe and Black Heron, they have been on my wish list for this year. I have seen Black Herons before, but never the Grebe. Not even a minute later down the road my Dad spotted it…a Great Crested Grebe!!! What!! Needless to say I was very excited and it was made even more special when that individual was joined by its partner and they greeted each other so beautifully. 

Great Crested Grebe and Red-knobbed Coot

Great Crested Grebe


A few minutes after this we turned into the main picnic site, made some tea and started to walk to the bird hide when what flies across in front of us….a Black Heron!!! It landed nearby in the reeds so I dashed over to relocate it and found it perched on a log sticking out the water. It didn’t hang around for long and flew off in the direction of the more northern section of the sanctuary. Later in the afternoon we had a few more sightings of what could very possibly have been the same individual.

Black Heron


Other Marievale highlights were Squacco Herons, which just seemed to be everywhere, the Burchells Coucal which landed out in the open on a pole next to the road and a Ruff.  

(Top) Burchells Coucal, (Bottom) Ruff, (Right) Squacco Heron


We left Marievale and headed back home, where I was able to tick off the last of our common garden birds to get our days total up to 104.
All in all we saw 105 bird species, I only ID’d that Steppe Buzzard today so I couldn’t include that in our official team total which only shows that we got 104. I hate to think how many more birds we could have got if only I knew some more bird calls…better get practicing!
I have finally reached and passed the 300 species mark, and my year
list is now sitting at 307. I’ll be heading to Pilanesberg again next weekend and hoping to find a Pearl Spotted Owlet, and then we’ll be heading down to St Lucia and Eshowe where I hope to make a big jump in that year list number. Really looking forward to some coastal and forest birding!! 

Stay tuned!

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