On Thursday the 27th of May a morning’s birding in the Creighton area in the hope of finding the endangered Cape Parrot proved highly successful, and began with one of the finest starts one could ever wish to have for a day’s birding.
In the company of Malcolm Gemmell, we set off at 6am with the aim of reaching the proposed parrot stakeout in time to see the birds arriving from their overnight roosts. I was informed by Malcolm that they were birds of habit, and that timing would be all important. We did however have time to spare, and on the spur of the moment it was decided to take a short detour into the surrounding hills in search of owls. In the half light we began scrutinizing the roadside and adjacent telephone poles in the hope of finding one to get the day started. It didn’t take long for one to present itself, and as we rounded a bend were presented with a fairly large owl perched on one of the telephone poles. It took some skilful manoeuvring of our tour vehicle to get the headlights positioned just right for a decent view, but this was all the more rewarding as it turned out to be a stunning CAPE EAGLE OWL. We watched with delight for 3 or 4 minutes before his pose was disturbed by the hooting of a second bird from the adjacent hillside. A simply magnificent start to the day! In the end we reluctantly left the two calling to each other and headed for the nearby parrot stakeout, a few kilometres down the road.
The stakeout itself was situated on private farmland with the surrounding hills lined with both pine plantations and indigenous forest. We arrived just before 7am and immediately set up position in preparation for the birds arrival, with coffee and rusks on hand to warm ourselves up in the crisp morning air. We did not have long to wait. Within minutes a small group of five CAPE PARROTS arrived, squawking and wheeling as they plummeted out of sight into a distant bluegum. Our patience was rewarded 15 minutes later when the group, now accompanied by additional single birds, took off, circled, and then landed in a nearby pecan tree. Despite their amazing camouflage, excellent scope views were had, with the group comprising mostly of females and juveniles.
This however was only the prelude to the highlight of the day, when shortly afterwards, a second group of 23 birds descended from hills above, engulfing the valley in an explosion of parrot shrieks and whistles as they individually split up, wheeled and circled before plummeting into the surrounding trees. For the next two hours we were treated to fantastic views of males, females and juveniles, preening and feeding whilst alternating between the various tree species in the valley. In all a total of just over forty birds were counted.
Finally it was time to move on to the surrounding grasslands, making sure to check out a nearby dam, where highlights included a rather stately pair of CROWNED CRANES, small groups of canaries, including Cape, Yellow-fronted and Forest, and DRAKENSBERG PRINIA.
In the grasslands, we were treated to distant views of a lone DENHAMS BUSTARD, while small parties of AFRICAN QUAILFINCH gave their familiar metallic ‘chinks’ overhead. This area is well known for it’s small population of Black-rumped Buttonquail, and it was decided to give a known stakeout a try, in the hope of finding this elusive creature. Just prior to beginning our search however, we were confronted by a small group of cisticolas, darting in and out of the tall grass. When Malcolm suspected palecrowned, the bird was called up for reference on his PDA. I must say that this piece of equipment would appear to be an invaluable tool on birding trips, as having access to the calls so easily is a fantastic aid in the field.
In this case not only was the sound ideal for identification, but the volume proved audible enough for even the cisticolas and two PALECROWNED’s immediately responded, one flying to within metres of us and providing wonderful close up views. A return trip in summer is a must in order to see this species in breeding plumage.
As for the buttonquail, the search proved successful in that we managed to flush a single bird from the surrounding grassland. Although we were unable to pin down an ID the sighting was nonetheless rewarding for a group of birds that can be extremely difficult to find, even at the best of times.
The final port of call was a field of short grassland where we were treated to excellent views of BLACKWINGED LAPWING and, upon departure, a circling AFRICAN GOSHAWK. A fitting end to a fantastic day’s birding!
A big thank you must go to both Malcolm and Gail for their excellent hospitality and service. The guesthouse is ideally suited to cater to the needs of birders, and is certainly worthy of it’s label of “Birder Friendly Establishment”!
Looking forward to joining another trip to the area, hopefully in the near future.
Regards and happy birding