Sally Cumming describes her wonderful experience during Birdlife South Africa’s 31st Annual Birding Big Day (BBD) held on the 28 November 2015. Team Sprightly Sparrow, from the KZN Midlands Bird Club, consisted of four participants with Pam Nicol as their leader, Sally Cumming, Rosemary Forrester and Gail Glyn.
One of the goals of the Birding Big Day was to collectively tally as many of South Africa’s 846 bird species in a single day. In the end, a total of 621 bird species were recorded. Another goal is to fundraise money for bird conservation, and R60 000 was raised in donations and sponsorships from over 120 teams and individuals who took part in the 2015 event. Birding Big Day 2015 also created an awareness for the importance of citizen science, with the help of BirdLasser.
We started by birding in Amber Valley, just catching the African Sacred Ibis and Cattle Egrets roosting on the trees in the pond before they flew off on their daily search for food. Falcon Dam in the game area produced a Reed Cormorant, Southern Red Bishops, and the call of a Rufous-naped Lark, among others.
Our next stop was Howick Falls in the hope of seeing the Peregrine Falcon, but we only found Olive Thrush and Green-backed Camaroptera before moving on to the Fairways car park to tick Village and Cape Weavers and Common Mynas!
The drive out to Thurlow at Midmar was unproductive, as the road is busy and travelling slowly is not advisable, but once inside the reserve we were able to concentrate on looking out for birds. Not far from the gate we ticked White-necked Raven, Speckled Pigeons, and Pied Crow. The water level in the dam was extremely low, so the first inlet, which is usually very productive, was almost deserted. However, we were done proud as regards Raptors, for we saw Yellow-billed Kite, Black-shouldered Kite, a pair of African Fish-Eagles with a youngster, Long-crested Eagle, Jackal Buzzard and, as we were leaving, a Rock Kestrel. Further into the reserve we eventually saw our highlight for the day, a rather distant view of Southern Red Bishop, over 30 Grey Crowned Cranes, and an Osprey.
From Thurlow we headed to Queen Elizabeth Park. Lots of bird calls greeted us in the forest, and we saw and heard Chorister Robin-Chats. Continuing on to the end picnic site – the road potholed and muddy – we had a cup of coffee while admiring the dainty white Mystacidium orchids flowering on the branches of several trees. I was not permitted by our driver to “adopt” one orchid which had fallen out of a tree, and instead hid it in another tree in the hope that it would take root on its new host.
Then it was on to Darvill Sewerage Works, where the ponds are overgrown with reeds, but we did see a large flock of Cattle Egrets, several Spur-winged Geese, a couple of Goliath Herons, and pair of Red-billed Teals, as well as Weavers and Bishops. We had hoped to take in Albert Falls, but with a couple of participants needing to get back for another commitment, we headed back to Howick from Darvill. We unfortunately got caught in Saturday road works on the N3, as all traffic was diverted into one lane, holding us up considerably.
Our count amounted to 94 species, which was a little disappointing but understandable in cloudy dull weather, and Pam was able to send R1 000 to BLSA for their conservation projects.