MARK TITTLEY – 15 November 2013

Trip Report by Mark Tittley from 15 to 18th November 2013

I had the experience of a lifetime in November 2013 when I joined birders from Bird Life Northern Gauteng (BLNG) for what was called The Great Bittern Hunt.

One of the big target birds for anyone birding around Creighton (with Button Birding) is to spot the super rare Black-rumped Buttonquail. Malcolm Gemmell took us into a field at dawn and we lined up and walked through the field twice. Along the way we flushed a pair of Common Quail and also three separate Black-rumped Buttonquails. Getting pics however was easier said than done as they would explode from beneath someones feet as we walked without a sound and fly off. Trying to focus on the little rockets proved to be almost impossible! This species was a Lifer for me on this trip!

On the second afternoon we headed off to one of Malcolm’s Blue Swallow hotspots but sadly the weather turned nasty and we got rather soaked and did not see any Blue Swallow (keep reading this report for an update on our sightings of this species). But we did see Denham’s Bustard, Black-bellied Bustard and Cape Eagle-Owl which more than made up for it! It was a great day of birding around Creighton despite the rain which is really welcomed in this area.

We headed off for an overnight stay at Ntsikeni Vlei to hunt for Eurasian Bitten and on the way to the lodge we spotted three raptors in a tall dead tree – they were Lanner Falcon. We may not have caught sight of the illusive Bittern at Ntsikeni Vlei but it almost did not matter given the incredible sightings we had including: Bearded Vulture on a nest, Black Harrier, Pale-crowned Cisticola, Denham’s Bustard, all three Crane species (a great highlight was watching a courtship dance display), Lanner Falcon, Secretarybird, Striped Flufftail and Yellow-breasted Pipit.

The highlight of my time at Ntsikeni Vlei happened at 9:18am just near the lodge. We had left for the Vlei at 4:30am and had returned around 9am. The night before I had tried with Dalu, the local guide, to hear or see the Striped Flufftail that are supposed to live in the thick grasslands around the lodge – with no success. At about 9:10 while breakfast was being prepared, I mentioned to Dalu that I wanted to try one last time for this species and he gave me a look that implied I was crazy to think I would see it in broad daylight. Still, I headed off to the spot where Dalu had recently cut two thin tracks with a grass cutter and played the call and waited. After about 5 minutes I heard one calling not more than 6 meters away from me – and then another one from further away in the grasslands. Suddenly it popped out and I was able to fire off a few shots that captured the little beauty out in the sunshine. I immediately ran off to the rest of the group – totally interrupting breakfast preparations with news of my sighting – but tragically even though two or three birds called back while they waited no one got a sighting of the bird. Still, it was a super sighting for me and another Lifer for the trip for me.

The scenery around Ntsikeni Vlei is simply out of this world – photos cannot begin to capture the beauty of the wetlands and the surrounding mountains!

Back in Creighton we were treated to views of Blue Swallow and Cape Parrots and Bush Blackcap among other great birds. Thankfully as it turned out I was able to spend two hours in a field with a scientist (Dr. Steven Evans) who is researching the Blue Swallows on Monday morning on my way back to Johannesburg and got some really good photos of male Blue Swallows that were flying around the spot where we were standing.

What an awesome experience it was!!! Malcolm Gemmell worked tirelessly to endure we all got great views of all the species and his amazing wife, Gail, treated us like royalty with the most amazing food and hospitality you could ever imagine!!!