Birding South Africa–Oudtshoorn!

The first time we cracked open our brand new “Newman’s Birds of South Africa” book, our moderate knowledge about birds went out the window.  We hardly recognized a bird in the book – talk about starting over!

One of our favourite birding locations in South Africa was Oudtshoorn, a town in the Western Cape province along the Garden Route drive (a week-long drive we were doing from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth).  Although this area is most widely known for being the “Ostrich capital of the world,” it also offers some pretty good birding.

This was a particularly memorable day in South Africa because we had a one-on-one encounter with Meerkats at the crack of dawn, immediately followed by birding with a local guide. We were extremely fortunate to see the landscape in full colour because we were in South Africa during spring.  When walking around, you wouldn’t think there are many birds, but patience and knowledge reveals an abundance of life.

It all started when our guide stopped dead in his tracks, listening intently because he thought he heard a particular bird call–a Double-banded Courser.  We know that when a bird guide (who birds every day) gets excited, you need to pay attention!  It is a very elusive bird and difficult to spot in tall vegetation so we stood still, held our breath, and eventually captured this image of the courser among the flowering desert landscape.  It is one of our favourite avian “captures” in the area!

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Double-banded Courser

The Southern Fiscal is also named the jackie hangman or butcher bird due to its habit of impaling its prey on acacia thorns to store the food for later consumption.  They hunt small rodents, insects and small birds.  Evidence of its latest meal (yes–a small bird) still on its beak…

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Southern Fiscal

Ah, the Cape Weaver… we feel sorry for the male Cape Weaver because he spends seven days constructing an intricate nest to impress a potential mate and will then spend several more days attempting to attract a female with calls and displays of prowess (like the one seen below). Once he succeeds he repeats the process and attempts to attract yet another mate (up to seven).  He is a very busy bird!!!  No wonder he usually does not participate in care of the young!

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Cape Weaver

During the breeding season, the male Southern Red Bishop sings his heart out in hopes of attracting a mate.  Similar to the Red-Winged Blackbird of North America, this gregarious male perches on a reed with his chest and flight feathers puffed out competing with the other males in area for attention.  Similar to the Cape Weaver, the Southern Red Bishop builds several nests which are then thoroughly scrutinized by the females.

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Southern Red Bishop

Given that Oudtshoorn is the Ostrich capital of the world, this blog post would not be complete without at least one photo of an Ostrich!  We took in the full Ostrich experience while in Oudtshoorn – an Ostrich lunch, an Ostrich farm tour, and an Ostrich ride, saddle and all (which is somewhat scary after you finish laughing at the thought as they are the fastest land bird at 70 km per hour)!

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Ostrich

 Marcy & Ray Stader

StaderArt Birds

We’re writing for Bird Canada Now!

We’ve been accepted as contributing authors for Bird Canada, a multi-author site for birding across Canada!  We’re pretty excited about the opportunity to share our stories, images, and videos with a large audience.  We’ll be writing a blog post once a month for Bird Canada, on the 5th of every month, so come check us out on Bird Canada.

Our first blog entry was just released and it’s a great post about our epic birding experience in Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park!

On this blog, StaderArtBirds, we will continue to post new updates regularly so stay tuned!

Thanks for reading!

Marcy & Ray Stader

StaderArt Birds

This is a new dedicated blog about birds!

For those of you who have been reading the StaderArt Blog, you know there is a variety of subject matter from people and places, to wildlife and birds.   We’ve decided to spin off a new blog specifically dedicated to birds called StaderArt Birds – just for the bird lovers!

We hope you enjoy StaderArt Birds as much as we enjoy discovering and photographing them!

Marcy & Ray Stader

StaderArt Birds

The Birds of Bow Valley Provincial Park

Psssst!  Wanna hear a little secret?  Bow Valley Provincial Park is a hidden gem in Alberta.

The park is only 33 sq. km but it is packed with a dense variety of habitat, wildlife and birds.   We go there early in the morning from time-to-time (while the masses visit Lake Louise and Banff) and we never seem to be disappointed!

This Lincoln Sparrow stayed hidden most of the time but every once in a while he popped up onto branch and posed for a second or two (with a yummy breakfast in its beak).

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Lincoln Sparrow

Willow Flycatchers are often overlooked and/or confused with other species.  There are several that look the same and it’s difficult to tell them apart from one another, but this little guy gave himself away by repeating his song over and over!  He was very cooperative and posed several times for the camera, often approaching us at close range.

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Willow Flycatcher

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Willow Flycatcher (close-up)

Who doesn’t like a Yellow Warbler?  This boisterous male was hanging out in the same willow thicket as the Willow Flycatcher.  Yellow Warblers are pretty common but they have this knack for dashing in and out of bushes a few seconds before you can click the shutter button on the camera.  Patience won the battle for us today, however.  Gotcha!

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Yellow Warbler

Over 220 species have been recorded in Bow Valley Provincial Park according to ebird.  Check here for a complete list of recent sightings:  ebird.org/ebird/hotspot/L430045

 Marcy & Ray Stader

StaderArt Birds

Mountain Birding: Common Loon & White-crowned Sparrow

This morning we headed off to one of our favourite mountain birding spots – Vermilion Lakes.  It was an awesome morning and the lake was fairly calm.  Long before we spotted this Common Loon, we heard it yodeling – the haunting vocalization it is so well known for.

16A_6576-1(Common Loon)

 

Later in the afternoon, we went for a walk along Lake Minnewanka and spotted a bird rummaging around some bushes along the water’s edge.  With patience, eventually the bird revealed itself on a rock and posed perfectly for us.  Thank you Mr/Mrs. White-crowned Sparrow!

16B_1276-Edit-1-2(White-crowned Sparrow)

Marcy & Ray Stader

StaderArt Birds

Sometimes misfortune is a Blessing in Disguise – Discovery of Birding

Panama Professional Bird Guide

16C_1032-1-2(Beny Wilson, Panama Bird Guide:  507-6112-2082,  veniciowilson@gmail.com)

When we first met Beny 2 years ago we were not avid birders… Ray had suffered a back injury that required us to change our usual activities to something more “tame.” A friend suggested we might like birding because of our interest in wildlife–we were skeptical but decided to give it a try and Panama seemed like the perfect place.

After our first 8-hour day on the famous Pipeline Road, dripping with sweat and swatting bugs that had no respect for bug spray, we weren’t sure what to think… until we downloaded our memory card and started looking at the pictures we took.  Suddenly those small, twitchy creatures jumped out of the screen in amazing detail, allowing us a small glimpse into the avian world – we were hooked!

Location: Summit Ponds

16A_3227 1-1-2.jpg(Blue-crowned Motmot.  Sometimes birds surprise you and come so close, they are almost out of the focal range of the lens, but the detail you can capture is mind-blowing!)

16A_3837 1-1.jpg(Male Crimson-backed Tanager.  These birds are quite common in Panama, but the colour is so vibrant we never tire of watching them.)

Location: Ammo Pond

IMG_5824-2.jpg(Ammo Pond)

Beny has the eyes of a hawk and a guide of his caliber can make such a difference.  When he starts acting like a kid at Christmas, you know you have been gifted something special, like when he spotted a Yellow-breasted Crake at Ammo Pond.  These birds are extremely rare–the last time Beny saw one was three years ago!

16A_3591 2(Yellow-breasted Crake.  We would normally not include such a “bad” photo in our blog but the rarity of this bird made it an exception.  Due to the dense vegetation of its habitat it is very difficult to see, much less photograph.  Just getting this “head shot” was a challenge.)

Location: La Laguna Sendero

Sometimes you get lucky and lightening strikes twice on the same day.  While hiking the Laguna Trail, Beny spotted a bird he wasn’t sure about (needless to say we were shocked).  It turned out to be a dark-phase juvenile Gray-headed Kite.  The dark phase was a “life bird” for Beny (which undoubtedly means it is also one for us)–score two!

16A_4038 1-1.jpg(Dark phase juvenile Gray-headed Kite)

16A_4130-1.jpg(Black-bellied Whistling Ducks)

As we finished the Laguna Trail we ended up by the Canal and saw several waterfowl wading about in a picturesque setting.  It was the perfect end to the perfect day.

Thinking back to the circumstances under which we first met Beny we can’t believe how our misfortune turned into such a blessing.  One that we can appreciate for many years to come!

Marcy & Ray Stader

StaderArt Birds

Unexpected Dinner Guest – Black-crowned Night-Heron

Panama has an amazing restaurant scene, everything is made from scratch and there is a broad range of cuisine available to suit every palette.  It is also a great way to people watch –you never know who might drop in!

One evening we were enjoying dinner outside on the Bay of Panama and we noticed a heron sitting on the roof line of the restaurant.  Of course we didn’t have a camera with us but this Black-crowned Night-Heron was incredibly patient and waited 10 minutes for us to grab the camera and come back to the restaurant.  It continued to pose for about half an hour because it was waiting for an opportunity to grab one of the fish swimming below.  We were very lucky he sat in one of the restaurant’s spot lights otherwise we would never have captured this shot because we don’t use flash on wildlife.
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(Black-crowned Night Heron – unexpected dinner guest)

Marcy & Ray Stader

StaderArt Birds