My wife Gail and I operate a dual business as she runs the Guesthouse and I conduct the Birding Tours. I am registered as a Bird Guide no.433 with KZN Tourism, and have more than 30 years of experience.
The methods used for Birding here are either on foot in the form of gentle hikes, or in my double-cab vehicle (which limits visitor numbers to 4). I specialise in locating species by listening for their calls. This method is particularly important with regard to Buttonquail as well as other difficult-to-see Warblers, Cisticolas and forest-floor species like Lemon Dove and Flufftails.
The Creighton Valley is comprised primarily of highly productive (privately owned) Dairy farms dependant on irrigated pasture, maize for silage, and cereal cover crops. The pastures are mixed temperate grasses which resemble a “fruit salad” when ready for grazing. At any one time there will be a bonanza of food somewhere in the Valley that the birdlife here has learnt to find. This applies particularly to species that prefer to probe freshly irrigated soils. As a resident of 40 years I have access to most of these farms for Birding purposes with my guests. There are a few veld farms with beef herds, suited to an entirely different suite of species.
From 1st of September to end of February. This is the most productive time to see our species in Southern KZN when they are in full plumage, breeding, and vocal. The migrants are here as well.
To make full use of time spent here, it makes sense to be “on site” when the birds are active. This means we listen for “territorial calls”, then watch for “displays”, then follow their “foraging activity” For the latter stage they quite often join mixed flocks, at different strata levels. When the birds are satisfied or too hot, the activity slows down. We then retire for Brunch. Bird activity in the afternoons is slower, with a minor surge of activity towards sunset. It is a good time to conduct “lazy” birding from the vehicle, with a focus on large terrestrial grassland species.
*please note that costs for these are shared by the group
This tour departs in the dark so that we can be set up before they arrive from their overnight roosts. The viewpoint is on a high ridge with a fabulous view to the west over an Indigenous Forest. With coffee and Rusks, we wait for the sun to warm our backs and for the Parrots to fly up and settle on top of Yellowwoods in front of us. Ideally this is best enjoyed with Binoculars and Telescopes. Photographers without appropriate lenses have difficulty because Cape Parrots have a comfort/approach zone of about 75m before flying off for the day. There are “bonus” species on that Ridge: - Olive Woodpecker, Bush Blackcap, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, and African Goshawk. Depending on the season, on the plateau behind the ridge:-Black-winged Lapwing, Cloud Cisticola, Plain-backed and Yellow-breasted Pipit, Bald Ibis, Secretary Bird, Southern Ground Hornbill. At mid-morning we return to the Guesthouse for brunch and rest.
The aim of this early morning tour is to get to the ”zone” while there is no wind, agricultural and/or traffic noise, so that we can get some idea of where to commence our search by listening for territorial calls. The habitat is tall dew-laden grass with some rocky ground underfoot. Boots essential. We tramp military style, line-abreast, less than 2m apart (to prevent escaping birds going out backwards and thus not seen by the majority of the group). When flushed (which it does silently) there is limited time for viewing, before the bird returns to the grass. Before starting we even make “preliminary focus adjustments” to our binoculars to about 30m, to cut down on time wasted following a bird which is in a hurry to get away. We do not flush a bird twice, so as to limit pressure on this uncommon species. Bonus species around this habitat: - Croaking, Levaillant’s, Zitting, Pale-Crowned, and Wing-snapping Cisticolas, Drakensberg Prinia, displaying Long-tailed, Fan-tailed, White-winged Widow-birds, Rufous-naped Lark, Quail-finch, Brown-throated and Banded Martin, African Black, Alpine, and occasionally Horus Swifts. From this area, we drive through a local farm for Yellow-fronted Canary, Common and sometimes Orange-breasted Waxbill. Black-winged Lapwing and Bald Ibis are also here in numbers. At mid-morning, we return to the Guesthouse for brunch and rest.
BLUE SWALLOW TOUR
As a Blue Swallow Breeding Monitor for the 2019/2020 season I am concerned at the dismal results achieved. In my area (600sq kms) only 2 breeding attempts out of 6 nest sites were ultimately successful. For the 20/21 season I will again focus on 3 zones for this Special Species. Two of these areas are not far from Creighton, so getting to the area very early is not critical, as long as sunlight is on the foraging area. This encourages insects to rise out of the veld which draws many swallow and swift species to feed on warm slopes. Blue Swallows sometimes join these feeding parties. Careful scrutiny is required... The upper blue feathers of a male Barn Swallow, soon to migrate, therefore in early breeding plumage, in bright sunlight, have a close similarity to an adult Blue Swallow. There is a similar issue with White-throated. The secret is to eliminate a white belly or throat. The tail streamers on a male Blue are sensational---but he has to be flying overhead---- ideally against a white (not blue) sky---for the streamers to be seen clearly. They are thin. There are other quirks with Blue Swallow identification. Sub-adults look very much like Black-saw-wing. Generally Blues tend to feed away from the crowds, so they will disappear for an hour or two. Just when you are about to give up, they return. If not successful at one site, we would probably visit a second, finishing off midmorning for Brunch.
There are two in the area, Hlabeni and Xumeni. Both are on Cape Parrot flight routes, but in low numbers. It seems these small groups roost or breed in these forests, which they leave early in the morning to return late afternoon. One has to be outside the forest to see them and at the correct time. A much sought after species here is Orange Ground-Thrush. I prefer Xumeni for this since one is able to drive a beautiful forest road in the hope that it is feeding on the ground, which it does for the first hour of the day (04h00 to 05h00 in summer). It then proceeds to sing beautifully from a dense part of the canopy, usually out of sight. Sometimes this has to be sufficient for bird-watchers. Also invisible but not silent is Lemon Dove, a forest floor specialist, where the light is poor. It has competition with another species that does not wish to be seen, yet teases with far reaching ventriloquil call in Buff-spotted Flufftail. The worse the weather the happier it seems to be. It should be noted perhaps that both these Forests are at Mist-belt altitude (1800amsl), meaning high rainfall, mud, moss, lichen, thick forest canopy, impenetrable undergrowth. The good news is that both forests have trails which are cleared from time to time. Gumboots and warm wet-gear recommended. Sometimes the sun shines through, and one can enjoy some colour like the beautiful little Collared Sunbirds, or my personal favourite, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler. Good-looking but not often seen, are Chorister Robin-chat and White-starred Robin. Bouncing through the canopy is a creature with sensational feather colour but poor choice in vocals: Knysna Turaco.
This Tour usually fills the afternoon slot since the species we are looking for are the residents of our open grasslands so we meander along local valley district and farm roads: Denham’s and Black-bellied Bustard (the former hopefully presenting his spectacular snow-white ballooned chest with a slow pirouette, the latter, a descending floating flight with velvet black wings locked at a dihedral angle that is simply magnificent), Grey-crowned and Blue Cranes, Goliath, Grey and Black-headed Herons, flocks of everyone’s favourite Helmeted Guinea fowl, road-edge Red-necked Spurfowl, Amur Falcons on fences and Poles, Lanner Falcon and Jackal Buzzard on much higher vantage points like transmission poles or tall dry eucalyptus. The raptors do well here because the seed crops support both rodents and a host of seed-eating pigeons, doves and even Quelea. Most homesteads that have a tree-filled corner will have resident Black Sparrowhawk active at dusk and dawn. The status of owls is varied with Barn and Spotted being common, but sadly Marsh, Grass and Cape Eagle very much in trouble. Since the morning Tours commence very early we are seldom late for a 7pm Guesthouse Dinner.