Big Birding Day 2019

Our local Nature Travel Birding team took part in the recent BirdLifeSA National Big Birding Day, a nationwide initiative to get people out in nature and involved in the fantastic hobby of birdwatching.

The idea is to pick a team of four members that bird in a set 100 km diameter area with a pre-set centre point. You need to see as many birds as you can in a 24 hour period, with both sightings and birds heard counting towards the total. The teams all over the country (more than 300 teams this year!) have their totals calculated with the use of the brilliant BirdLasser App. Some teams are hardcore birders that bird for the full 24 hours, taking almost no breaks. These teams easily tally up more than 300 species, but our team was much more relaxed!

Our day started at 4am when we met up and drove northwards to the famous Zaagkuildrift Road that leads west from the N1 highway to the small settlement of Kgomo-Kgomo with its associated floodplain.

The dawn chorus was among the best we have ever experienced and within a few minutes we had picked up Northern Black Korhaan, Rufous-naped Lark, Scaly-feathered Weaver, Long-billed Crombec, Spotted Thick-knee, White-browed Scrub Robin, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Red-chested, Black and Diederik Cuckoo, Black-chested Prinia, Natal Spurfowl, Arrow-marked Babbler and Burchell’s Coucal.


We stopped at a small wetland for an early coffee break and managed to see Intermediate Egret, African Fish Eagle, Amur Falcon, Giant, Pied and Woodland Kingfisher, African Jacana, Squacco Heron, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, White-faced Whistling Duck, Whiskered Tern, Hamerkop, as well as fly-bys of Striated Heron and Knob-billed Duck.

We continued making our way westwards with the mercury already in the 30s at 8am! It was going to be a scorcher! We drove slowly, listening intently for sounds from the lush bush around us. We added Black-backed Puffback, Acacia Pied Barbet, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Jameson’s and Red-billed Firefinch, Southern Pied Babbler, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Yellow-billed Kite, Chestnut-vented Warbler and had beautiful views of both Greater and Lesser Honeyguide.

We also got one lone White-backed Vulture and a beautifully-coloured Common Buzzard.

We also got a big fright when a massive White-throated (Rock) Monitor crossed the road in front of us; an impressive and angry-looking specimen indeed!

Just before reaching the Kgomo-Kgomo floodplain our total was well over 100 species, having also added Green-winged Pytilia, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Violet-eared, Black-faced and Common Waxbill, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Barred Wren-Warbler, Willow Warbler, Namaqua Dove and African Grey Hornbill.

Two members of our team were convinced that they had seen a Grey-headed Kingfisher fly away from us down a small stream, but unfortunately no one else saw the bird and we couldn’t count it (three of the four members of the team have to see or hear a bird for it to count according to BBD rules); it would have been a good record for the area!

Black-faced Waxbill.JPG

We reached the famous Kgomo-Kgomo floodplain just after 9:30am and were happy to find a decent amount of water there. Previous years had been extremely dry, but we were hopeful at finding some good birds. We managed to get Wood Sandpiper, Ruff, African Spoonbill, Great Egret, Three-banded Plover, great numbers of Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, a Jacobin Cuckoo, but the highlight was a good few Cuckoo-finch in the grass on the western side of the bridge!

We drove back the way we had come on the Zaagkuildrift Road, and upon reaching the N1 highway aimed south. On the way we picked up good numbers of both White and Abdim’s Stork, both nice surprises. We reached our next destination, the Rooiwal Water Treatment Works, at about 11:30am. Only birders will understand why people willingly walk and drive around in a sewage treatment plant! Here we picked up Groundscraper Thrush, Grey-headed Gull, Cape Wagtail, Cape Teal, Little Grebe, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Red-knobbed Coot, White-fronted Bee-eater and Brown-throated Martin.

Next we headed into Pretoria for some shelter from the sun. The temperature for the entire period from about 11am to 2pm was 35 degrees Celsius! We chose a nice restaurant situated next to a small wetland in the city (the Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary) for us to have an hour of relaxation and a quick bite to eat. We were pleasantly surprised to get Black Heron, Reed Cormorant, Little Egret, Common Moorhen, Black-throated Canary, Karoo Thrush, Horus Swift, Lesser Swamp Warbler and Bronze Mannikin.

Our final spot for the day would be the wonderful Rietvlei Nature Reserve to the southeast of Pretoria. We arrived at 3pm and continued adding birds to our list until we had to leave at gate closing time of 7pm. We followed a route that our team had had great success with in the past, and that includes all the bird hides, some nice grassland sections and the gardens around the coffee shop with its huge trees. Highlights in Rietvlei included Cape Longclaw, African Snipe, Pied Starling, African Darter, Green Wood Hoopoe, Red-throated Wryneck, Cape Grassbird, African Yellow Warbler, African Black Duck, Black-headed Oriole, Capped Wheatear, Bokmakierie and Grey-backed Camaroptera.

Cape Longclaw

We ended our day at one of the bird hides inside Rietvlei just before 7pm with some sparkling wine, toasting great friendship, a fantastic BBD and a new record for our Nature Travel Birding team of 188 species for the day! Next year we go for 200!

Ending BBD with some sparkling wine!