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Ryan Ebedes

Sometimes, memorable birding experiences come not from the sightings themselves, but rather from the signs that your elusive target is, or has been, present nearby. Often, a trogon calling from dense forest can elicit the same amount of excitement as finding the bird itself, and it’s moments such as these that can make our hobby that much more exciting…

Which brings me to the time an intrepid group of Creighton Buttonquail hunters exited their vehicles to an unmistakable hooting coming from the veld below them…
Exciting stuff indeed; but, more on that in a moment.

Creighton has of late been producing some rather unusual birds to go with its already impressive list of specials. These have included a recent pair of Cape Eagle Owls and some Short-tailed Pipits which took up residence on Malcolm Gemmell’s farm. As you may already have read, the pipits decided to make an early exit from the area just prior to our arrival in their patch of grassland. The trade-off however was that our group of nine enthusiastic birders made full use of the idyllic weather and Malcolm’s 20+ years of experience to eke out a host of specials from the surrounding forests and grasslands.

Saturday began with a morning forest dawn chorus, and early risers included Black Cuckoo, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Lesser Double-collared Sunbird and Grey Cuckooshrike. Upon entering the forest we were treated to the vocal delights of Emerald Cuckoo, Narina Trogon and Orange Thrush calling within minutes of each other but all three remaining obstinately out of sight.

Brunch and a light nap preceded the afternoon excursions which saw the group heading straight for a known Blue Swallow breeding site where an empty nest in a man made dugout hinted that we may have arrived a few weeks too early. Patient scanning of the surrounding grassland however eventually paid off when a stunning pair of Blue Swallow’s made a late appearance and put on a fantastic show for all to enjoy. It is quite likely that these two have relocated to a site further down the valley and if this is the case there will be some work in store to find their new home.

With the sun heading for the horizon, we reluctantly left the pair and headed for a nearby parrot stakeout. This time our arrival was timed to perfection and we were treated to immediate views of Cape Parrots circling and wheeling above the forests even before our first sundowners had been poured. It was interesting to note that the birds were arriving from an easterly direction thus indicating that they had perhaps found new feeding areas during the day. In all a total of 28 birds were counted, and we retired to the Smithfield Guesthouse for supper and a well deserved sleep.

An early wakeup call on Sunday morning saw us heading for the buttonquail fields and once again our host’s experience on where and how to find these elusive creatures paid off handsomely. Hearing those birds calling from the grassland below us was exhilarating and when we finally managed to flush our first Black-rumped Buttonquail a short while later it made the effort all the more worthwhile. In the end a total of four birds were found, thus providing sufficient views for all observers. In addition to the b-quails the same field produced Pale-crowned Cisticola and Orange-breasted Waxbill, whilst an adjacent one provided us with fine scope views of a lone Denham’s Bustard.

Our final destinations were the nearby wetlands, where Red-headed Quelea were known to be breeding. Patience, once again, proved the order of the day and stunning sightings were had of a single bird in amongst his Red-billed cousins. The same marsh also provided reasonable views of Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, whilst a walk along a nearby railway line produced another Red-headed Quelea and Croaking Cisticola. A magnificent place indeed!

Other notable birds for the trip included a rather weary Maccoa Duck, Drakensberg Prinia, Black-bellied Korhaan, Crowned Crane and Bald Ibis.

Creighton is certainly alive with specials at the moment and the place is a must for those looking for a relaxing, if not exciting, birding weekend.

All the best,