Marievale selection

In this post I have shown a selection of birds which you are likely to see at Marievale Bird Sanctuary in springtime. Marievale, located near Nigel in the Gauteng province in South Africa, comprises the wetlands of the Blesbokspruit Ramsar site plus over 1 000 hectares of open grasslands, reed beds and open water. This is a perfect place for birders and avian photographers alike.

“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” ~ H. D. Thoreau

An adult Grey-headed gull in flight. It has a characteristic grey head with a red bill, red-eye ring and red legs and feet.

This is a freshwater gull which is found around in land lakes and dams and seldom along the coast.

The grey head colouring is this gull’s breeding plumage. In winter it loses the grey colouring on its head.

A skein of Spur Winged geese flying over the wetland.

“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.“ ~ Vincent Van Gogh

A wide variety of ducks can be found at Marievale. The next image is a pair of Fluvous Whistling ducks with their distinctive bluish gray legs and bill. They have cinnamon brown feathers and dark brown wings with a silvery-white stripe on the edges. Males and females look alike, though the males are slightly larger.

The Spoonbill has a unique shaped bill ideal for catching fish, insects, larvae and crustaceans. Its bill is highly tactile, feeding with lateral movements (sweeping) and for pecking, but not for probing into sediments. Its long legs are ideal for wading through shallow water searching for food.

Once the Spoonbill has caught a morsel in the spoon part of is bill, it flicks the food into the air and catches it in its mouth.

“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.” – Gary Snyder

A Three-banded plover. Both lapwings and plovers are classified in the Charadriidae family. The essential difference is that plovers are the smaller cousins and lapwings the larger ones.

The Three-banded plover has two black breast bands separated by a white band which gives this species its name. It has a distinctive red eye-ring. This is a tiny plover  growing to 18cm in length.

You will see many Whiskered terns trawling back and forth along the open waterways in the wetland search for  edibles at the water’s surface. These terns are highly nibble with long wings, and are able to turn and stall in an instant to plunge onto the surface of the water to catch a fish.

A Red-billed teal sunning itself in the warmth of the early morning spring sun. Like the Fluvous whistling duck this is a dabbling duck, meaning these ducks feed mainly on the surface of the water with their neck stretched out while quickly “chewing” or “nibbling” at the water with little bites. They also sweep their head from side to side at the same time to cover more surface area. Dabbling ducks also feed by tipping headfirst into the water to forage on aquatic vegetation and insects in the shallow water. Often all you will see is their tails sticking up into the air. 

A pair of Red-billed teal in flight over the wetland in Marievale.

“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.“ ~ E. O. Wilson

A Levaillant’s cisticola preening itself in the early morning after foraging in the dew laden grass for insects. This cisticola has a distinctive red cap and grey back with heavy black streaking.

A White-breasted cormorant is so-called because of its white breast. This species is often found in inland waterways together with its smaller cousin the Reed cormorant and darters. 

Perhaps my favourite teal is the Hottentot teal because of its colouring. I think all the teals are exquisitely coloured ducks. Teals are petite ducks and are characterised by short necks and short tails.

The Hottentot teal is a small dabbling duck. It has a dark brown crown, a fawn face and neck and mottled brown back with green sheen on its secondary feathers. This teal has a characteristic blue bill. Females have lighter brown crowns, they have less contrasting facial markings.

“We often forget that we are nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.” ~ Andy Goldsworthy

We don’t always see Avocets at Marievale. We get Pied Avocets in South Africa. This is a really unusual bird. It has long legs, webbed feet and a long thin upward curved bill. The Pied Avocet has a black crown, nape and neck, a white throat and breast.

Avocets feed by sweeping their long thin bill from side to side in the water to catch food.

This was a first for me. I have never seen a Little-ringed plover before. This Little plover is easily recognisable by its black and white head pattern with a brown crown.

This little character was foraging along the water’s edge for insects and aquatic invertebrates. It looked to be even smaller than the Small three-banded plover.

A male Stone chat, a ubiquitous species in this area.

This female Blacksmith lapwing was disturbed off her nest. This lapwing species has a unique, noisy, metallic-sounding ‘klink klink klink’ or ‘tink tink tink’ call which it repeats loudly and continuously, especially when disturbed. The clinking notes sound like a hammer on an anvil, hence its name.

“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter… to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring—these are some of the rewards of the simple life.” ~ John Burroughs

After careful searching we saw the four cryptically coloured eggs of a Blacksmith lapwing. This was a loosely formed nest formed next to the water’s edge. This was a precarious position which would be flooded if more rains came along and raised the level of the water in the wetland.

This ruff was an early arrival of this long distance migrant. It is a migratory sandpiper journeying to this part of the world for summer from Europe and Russia.

 This little stint’s beak is perfect for probing  the soft mud for insects and invertebrates.

A male Long-tailed widowbird  which was starting to take on its breeding plumage. Once fully plumed, it is black all over except for a red shoulder with a white strip.

This male Long-tailed widow bird has attained most of his breeding plumage but his tail feathers have still further to grow.  These long black tail feathers are used in slow flight displays when females are around. 

A family of Egyptian geese, with mother and five goslings.

“Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty.” ~ John Ruskin

A pair of Cape shovellers, with the male behind and the female in front. The Cape shoveller is endemic to South Africa.  This is also a dabbling duck. Many of the dabbling ducks use their flat bills to strain food items from the water, but the big spatulate bill of the Cape Shoveller is adapted to take this habit to the extreme. Flocks of shovellers often swim along with their big bills barely submerged in front of them, straining food from the muddy soup of shallow waters.

The Cape shoveller has a dark, large spatula-shaped bill. Its eyes are yellow and its legs and webbed feet are bright orange-yellow.

“Nothing in nature lives for itself. Rivers don’t drink their own water. Trees don’t eat their own fruit. The sun doesn’t shine for itself. A flower’s fragrance is not for itself.”~Unknown

A head shot of a sacred ibis. The Sacred ibis, was often mummified as a symbol of the god, Thoth, in ancient African and Egyptian traditions. Thoth was said to have the head of an ibis, and was responsible for writing, mathematics and measurement as well as the God of the moon and magic.

The Sacred ibis is a wading bird often found along the edge of rivers and lakes foraging in the reeds and vegetation. It uses its long beak to prone the reeds and mud for fish, insects, frogs worms and crustaceans. 

A Glossy ibis has a long, decurved bill, and in good light its plumage is metallic bronze with a striking mauve and green tinge. The non-breeding plumage is similar but much duller appearing darker brown in colour, with dense white streaks on the head and neck.

A Glossy ibis preening itself with the morning light illuminating the green sheen on its wings

Over 240 bird species have been seen at Marievale. It is best known for its birding but you might be lucky to see Water or Yellow mongooses, Cape Clawless Otters or even Reedbuck. This a wonderful example of humanity just giving mother nature a chance to establish herself,  and she delivers a bounty for all to enjoy.

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed and to have my senses put in order.“ ~ John Burroughs

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its inter-connectedness and let it be.

Have fun,


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