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  • Writer's pictureLuca Tomlinson

Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve - The Familiar Stonechats

The signboard outside the entrace to the reserve

This past Sunday, Gabby, her parents and I went on a day outing to Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve. The main aim of the trip? Birding of course! Being YWP's first blog post, let me just warn you now - whenever you see me as an author of a post; more likely than not there's going to be birds involved. I apologize, but I can't help it, birding is addictive!

Suikerbosrand has been top of our Gauteng birding bucketlist for some time now, and so we were all very eager to see what we could find in this winter grassland paradise. We had quite a reasonably sized target list for the trip, some apparently easy to see while others we knew were very long shots, such as Ground Woodpecker. Nevertheless, we were very pleased with the amount of lifers at the end of the day. (Mine and Gabby's lifers will be in bold throughout this post)

We arrived at around 8am and quickly had a little squiz around the main picnic area. I knew it was going to be a good day when I got my first lifer of the day as soon as I got out of the car, which was a group of White-browed Sparrow Weavers, which we then proceeded to see hundreds of throughout the day. On the way to the out of order bathroom (I had to relieve myself behind the bathroom) I picked up on a pair of Cardinal Woodpeckers merrily banging their heads against some dead branches, as well as a Black-crowned Tchagra. I then tried to see if I couldn't use a bit of phishing to attract a few passerines (specifically Orange

River White-Eye). This yielded nothing but a little Neddicky.

A terrible photo of a White-browed Sparrow Weaver

To my utter dismay, when I retured to the car, Gabby and her mom informed me that they had just sighted a Greater Honeyguide which was apparently inviting them to go and fetch some honey, according to the call they heard. When we got back to the picnic site later in the day, I walked around for what must have been half and hour straight looking for this bird which had obviously found someone else to help him get some honey and so did not end up making another appearance. (I am still annoyed about this)

Anyways, we set off on the circular drive. First we climbed up to the highest part of the reserve and it didn't take long before we spotted our second lifer of the day, an Ant-eating Chat.

Ant-eating Chat

At the top of the reserve, we stopped to make some last minute camera adjustments during which I succesfully called a pair of Melodious Larks out of the rank grass. Off we went and were happy to find a small group of Mountain Wheatears in an acacia tree next to the road.

Me using my trusty Roberts 2 to attract a pair of Melodious Larks

Mountain Wheatear

From afar we could hear an Eastern Long-blilled Lark calling, but couldn't get a visual. Luckily though, we soon got a visual of another one bouncing between rocks.

Eastern Long-billed Lark

Next we found a lifer for Gabby, a pair of Black-chested Prinias, which was also a nice edition to my Gauteng list. Soon after, I was very happy when we found one of the birds that I was most looking forward to seeing, the Sentinel Rock Thrush which is a Suikerbos winter special. As always, we then saw many more in the high lying areas.

Sentinel Rock Thrush

On the way down to the lower lying grassland areas, we photographed many Levaillant's Cisticolas, and I finally managed to get the cisticola that has somehow managed to evade me for the last 2 years, the Zitting Cisticola. I'm glad I've now got that embarrassing bogey out of the way.

Levaillant's Cisticola

I was a little dissapointed after driving the bushveld section of the reserve as we managed to dip both Ashy Tit and Black-faced Waxbills. At least I managed to learn something though, as I hopefully once and for all matched the Chestnut-vented Tit Babbler to its commonly heard contact call.

A quick stop in the beautiful bottom section of the reserve

Oh yes, I almost forgot! You are probably a little confused about the second part of this blog's title, so let me explain. I am sure most birders will agree with me when I say that two of the most annoying LBJ'S of the highveld region have got to be the Familar Chat and the African Stonechat. Almost everytime we saw an LBJ land somewhere and eagerly looked through the binos in anticipation, it was one of these two. So in the end we just decided that from now on we'll just group them as one bird, a Familiar Stonechat.

Familiar Chat

Female Stonechat

Probably the luckiest sighting of the day was a single Cape Rock Thrush, who posed nicely for us in a branch right next to the road, but unfortunately the light was atrocious.

Cape Rock Thrush

Just before we got back to the main picnic sight, we came across a Black-winged Kite hovering next to the road (known as aerial perching). This has been a bucketlist shot for me for quite some time now and so I was extremely annoyed when it broke its hover a millisecond before I pressed the shutter. The bird must have heard the derogatory words in my head as it then decided to hover over the road right behind the car, and even faced me head on and so I was finally able to get the shot.

Black-winged Kite

After a much needed boerie roll at the picnic site and a few shots of a confiding Mocking Cliff Chat, we went on a short walk to see if we could squeeze in one or two more lifers. That's exactly what we did, locating a Cape Grassbird by its sunbird-like call, a group of Cape Canaries as well as an Acacia Pied Barbet (perhaps they should change it to Senegalia Pied Barbet before Australia notices) for Gabby, which was also #179 for my Gauteng list.

Mocking Cliff Chat

Acacia Pied Barbet

A Cape Grassbird and a Familiar Stonechat

On the way out of the reserve, we encountered a fire that had entered the reserve but seemed to be under control thanks to a group of firefighters, even though it looked like the entrace gate had somehow miraculously not been burnt down. The Capped Wheatears were quick to the scene as we saw at least 3 individuals on the way out.

At the end of the day, we were all very pleased with the days birding. I ended with 9 lifers, putting my list on a humble but growing 337, and Gabby ended with 11 lifers putting her list on 352.

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