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

Magic Moment… Mating Hooded Mergansers!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

It was a perfect evening for exploring side roads in the Priddis area when we came upon a picturesque little pond.  As we rolled to a stop, we noticed a beaver in the pond working away on a piece of wood.  A few minutes later we found its mate and we watched and photographed the beavers doing their busy work around the pond.

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We hadn’t noticed a pair of Hooded Mergansers sleeping on a grass tuft in the pond until their nap was over and they started swimming across the water.  The evening light was perfect and we watched them swim, dive, and preen for at least half an hour until something special happened.

First, we witnessed the Hooded Mergansers “dance” with each other – a beautiful ritual of splashing and preening in synchronicity.  We suspected the dance might lead from one thing to another…and we were not disappointed!

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After some time, the female laid her head down low against the water, and waited patiently for Mr. Handsome to strut his stuff… but Mr. Handsome wasn’t in a hurry and seemed more interested in putting on a good show than getting on with the show!  He raised his crest over and over, splished and splashed until everything was just right.  However, our boy eventually finished his performance and the pair mated right in front of our eyes. In the photo, you can see how he was holding her crest with his beak and “steering” her in the water.

It’s not everyday you see Hooded Mergansers, let alone mating Hooded Mergansers, so we are extremely fortunate to witness nature at its very best this evening – a magic moment.

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Marcy & Ray Stader

StaderArt Birds