This is a small selection of the birds we saw on our recent trip to Mashatu in early June 2013.
One of the most amazing things about bird photography is you can spend hours trying to get a decent or interesting shot of a particular bird and then all of a sudden one of the species, which has been so elusive and furtive, just sits in front of you and displays as if you are not even there. Nature really does reveal itself at its own time. Normally is takes patience to get a reasonably clean shot of a hornbill let alone it doing something unusual.
The next image is of a Yellow-billed Hornbill displaying to his female. This pair called to each other, they were about half a metre apart, and the male displayed to the female over and over.
There are many sightings of these birds in Mashatu but you have to pick your spots. Clean backgrounds which are those far enough behind the subject to give a properly blurred background. This Red-billed Hornbill must have sat for a few seconds and then it was gone. You have got to know what you are looking for and recognize it when it comes along.
The Roller, is an old faithful when photographing. It is always difficult to get that perfect flying shot and as you can see it still eludes me. Nevertheless, its blaze of colour always impresses me. Those blues are exquisite.
I have put this shot of a Purple Roller in this sequence because they are not common. The light was not good but the innate colour and majesty of this bird shines through the dusk.
You will not see the nightjar in winter in Mashatu as they have all moved north for better pickings. You are likely to see a Spotted Eagle Owl though. They are common and active at dusk. This shot was taken with a spotlight as my light source and a cooler white balance. Those orange eyes, the ears and the black sideburns are a give away.
It must have been about 09h00 when we saw this Pearl-spotted Owl. He looked around at us from near the top of the tree and within seconds was gone – some are models and some are not.
In winter you are likely to see the Goshawks in the glades of trees, their ideal environs. This Little Sparrowhawk was lurking in the upper branches looking for a meal. Again these visitors do not stay on parade for more than a few seconds. Seeing is one thing, photographing is another!!!!!
Mashatu is Dark-Chanting Goshawk territory. It was mid-afternoon when we saw the individual in the next image. He had a good vantage point and was happy just to scan the area. It had its back to the sun, so when it flew off its head and face were in deep shade cast by its open wings – no shot!
This Grey Heron was perched high up in a dead tree above the Majali River. The late afternoon sunlight on it was perfect. A common subject in an unusual place is always worth a shot.
I took this shot from the other side of the river of this female Saddle-billed Stork. I am not sure why the Herons and Storks were perched up on top of trees that afternoon. Perhaps there was a predator we did not see.
The Carmine Bee-eaters had already migrated north. They are intra-African migrants. The amount of insects decreases in winter so they move north to better feeding areas. There was a colony of White-fronted Bee-eaters nesting on an east facing bank of the Majali River.
There is always a lot of activity in the colony giving many opportunities to capture a few decent shots of flying Bee-eaters. It is not that easy as they do not have a predictable flight pattern.
Around the Lodge we saw Black-backed Puffed-backed Shrikes and this female Chin Spotted Batis. They seldom sit on an open perch so I had to settle for the cluttered background. It does show that these small flycatchers stay in the central part of the bushes and trees rather than the periphery.
Some birds pose beautifully for you. This female White-browed Sparrow-Weaver did just that on top of a Shepherd bush early one morning. You can see she is puffed out, a sign it was chilly that morning.
Newmans indicates that the Black Stork is an uncommon resident. This was the third time I had seen a Black Stork. The other two times were in the Kruger Park. There was a small flock of these birds foraging around pools of water in Mashatu’s rivers. I never realised how beautiful they were. In full sun they have that iridescent green sheen on the neck and head against their bright red beak and eye-ring.
There is a lot of thornveld in Mashatu and as such you are bound to see a Crimson Breasted Shrike hopping on the ground below the thorn bushes and trees. They have a distinctive call which is often the first sign they are close by. The character in the next image was intent on eating a corn cricket it had managed to kill.
A new sighting for me was Three-banded Plover chick. The next image was taken in poor light but I thought it was an interesting record. I never realised that the chicks hid under the parent’s wing when there was danger. This is similar to the African Jacana. This Plover does not lift the chicks under its wing up and run to safety like the male African Jacana, probably because the parent is so small. We saw Three-banded Plover chicks on two separate occasions in two different places. Like Jacanas the chicks are born precocial, meaning they are born with feathers, and are almost immediately mobile and able to start feeding themselves.
We saw fish eagles and heard Meyers Parrots all over but did not get good sightings. White backed Vultures were roosting in a massive tree alongside the river. Unusually, we did not see a Martial or Tawny Eagle. We did not see any Temnick Coursers or Korhaans during our last visit but we did see plenty of Kori Bustards. There were many more, too many to mention here.
The birders and photographers of you will love Mashatu – it will keep you occupied for hours each day.
I hope you enjoyed this small selection of birds in this post. Mashatu offers a wonderful variety of birdlife, wildlife and vistas.
“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the wind longs to play with your hair”