Mashatu’s winter avian residents

This post shows a small selection for birds you can see in winter in Mashatu. These are all resident as the migrants have flown north to warmer climes.

“There is something exciting about waiting quietly for winged visitors. You know they are coming but you never know who will be next. Most visitors arrive quietly and some arrive like winged wild jewels.” ~ Mike Haworth

A pair of Jameson’s firefinches. The adult male has entirely scarlet plumage apart from brownish wings. The female has a scarlet tinge but is “browner”. Their beaks are steel blue. The beak shape indicates that they are seed-eaters.

A female Jameson’s firefinch taking a bath around midday at Rock Camp. This image was taken from the patio which offers a good view of the bird bath. Usually, at the lodge, once we have had brunch, friends go back to their room for a siesta. The human activity around the patio at the main lodge quietens and the bird activity picks up. As with all things birding a good dose of patience is required – but the rewards are great.

For the first time in a decade I saw a pair of Black-faced waxbills come down to drink at Rock Camp’s bird bath. When photographing birds around the bird bath near the main lodge patio one has to pay attention all the time. Many of the birds do not make a sound and fly in quickly and quietly to have a drink. The birds fly onto a branch close to the bird bath. They will have a good look around to check and see if the area around the bird bath is safe to drink.

A bevy of blue waxbills. These are frequent visitors to the camp’s bird bath. Waxbills, Bulbuls and Sparrows return every hour or so to drink at the bird bath.

A juvenile Black-headed oriole. This one of the more colourful species frequenting the camp’s bird bath. These orioles are usually heard well before they are seen, but when they come close the bird bath they are quick and quiet.

“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” ~Aaron Siskind

An adult Black-headed oriole. This oriole has vivid colours with a bright yellow body and a black head with a red eye and pinkish red beak. Once you have heard this oriole in the vicinity of the camp it is a case of watching out for flashes of vivid yellow in the surrounding trees. The shape of the oriole’s beak indicates that it is an insect and fruit eater.

A single Double-banded sandgrouse chick hiding in the sand and short dead grass. The size of this chick was about the length of my thumb. The camouflage was superb. The parents quickly moved away from the chick to divert attention from it. The chick instinctively knows to lie still in the dead grass to maximise the effectiveness of its camouflage.

The male Double-banded sandgrouse moved away from his chick as soon as he saw us to divert our attention away from the chick. The female did the same thing.

An adult Black stork. This is a widespread but uncommon stork species. It has mainly black plumage with a white belly. The black plumage has an iridescent green and mauve tinge. It has vivid red legs and a red beak and eye ring. The Black stork prefers more wooded areas than the White stork which favours open grasslands.

An adult female Cape weaver. The female has a less complete yellow plumage with white underparts. Its head and back are yellow like the male’s colouring. The eye is a pale colour unlike the red eye of the Southern masked weaver. The beak is a dark brown upper mandible and light pinkish mandible. The beak is longer and more pointed than the masked weavers.

An adult female Red-billed firefinch. Females have uniformly brown upperparts and buff underparts. There is a small red patch in front of both eyes, and the beak is pink. The adult male has entirely scarlet plumage apart apart from his wings which are a light brown. Firefinches are frequent visitors drink at the bird bath during the day. They normally come to drink in small groups.

“Photography helps people to see.” ~ Berenice Abbott

An adult Natal spurfowl. We only see Crested and Natal spurfowl come into the camp to drink. For some unknown reason we never see Swainson’s spurfowl in camp. The Natal spurfowl has a mottled brown back plumage. The underpart plumage has a brown and white marbled scaled appearance. This spurfowl has distinctive yellow nostrils with a bright orange-red bill and legs. Each spurfowl has a different loud and raucous call.

An adult Kori bustard walking away – as they always do. A Kori will tend to stride away from you as fast as it can but being a heavy bird will fly if pushed. It is the heaviest flying bird in in Africa and can weigh as much as 19 kilograms.

A Tawny eagle on the lookout from the top of a tall tree for any potential prey. This is one of the few resident eagles in Mashatu. Others include Martial, Verreaux, African Hawk-eagle, and Snake eagles. I have not seen Bateleur eagles flying over Mashatu.

The beautifully coloured Lilac-breasted roller. There are many in Mashatu and they can usually be seen on prominent lookouts watching carefully for insect and small reptile prey. I have also infrequently seen Purple rollers and once seen a Broad-billed roller.

A White-fronted bee-eater, one of the only two species of bee-eater resident in this part of the world. The other is the Little bee-eater. During winter the Carmine and European bee-eaters fly north in search of greater insect activity in warmer climes.

“Snaps are images of what you were looking at. Photographs are images of what you anticipated, experienced and wanted to reveal.” ~ Mike Haworth

A juvenile Verreaux eagle-owl very interested in its surroundings There is a family of Verreaux eagle-owls resident in the grove of Apple leaf trees next to the rock outcrop near Rock Camp close to the Pont Drift border area. We saw these eagle-owls first thing each morning on our way out of camp into the reserve.

A Crimson-breasted shrike. Its distinctive scarlet red underparts and black upperparts are diagnostic. The wings are black with a white streak in its primary feathers. It prefers the dry thorn veld areas. There is no sexual dimorphism. I was told by our guide that a yellow morph has been seen in the reserve but I have only ever seen one at White river near Kruger Park.

“You just have to live and life will give you pictures.” ~ Henri Cartier Bresson

An adult Sabota lark with its distinctive white streak above the eye and strongly streaked on the breast.

An adult female White-browed Sparrow-weaver with her distinctive white eyebrow and light spots and her breast and a light horn coloured beak. The male has a black beak.

We watched this melanistic Gabar goshawk hunting Queleas in a thick thorn bush. It was a real game of “cat and mouse”. We never saw it catch a Quelea. The traditional plumage of a Gabar goshawk consists a light grey head, neck and back feathers. The tail has white and dark brown barring and the belly and covert underparts and legs to its knee have white feathers with grey streaks. The legs from the knee to the feet are an orange pink as is the cere and top of the beak. The Gabar goshawk seems to prefer to hunt queleas, sparrow and weavers.

Just a few of the hundred of thousands of Red-billed queleas which had flown up to the Shepherds bush for safety after having been foraging on the ground for seeds.

“To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.” ~Elliott Erwitt

An adult Burchell’s Coucal judging from the fine barring on the lower belly feathers. You can see it was quite cool that morning as it was all puffed up trying to keep warm. Smaller birds do not like this coucal as it is a voracious hunter and will feed on their eggs and young if it can find them. This is one member of the coucal family that remains resident in Mashatu all year round.

A male Saddle-billed stork was fishing in the waterhole in front of our camp, Rock Camp. He managed to catch frogs and this small terrapin which he eventually subdued and swallowed whole. There is sexual dimorphism in this species. Both male and females have the bright yellow saddle on the upper part of the upper mandible. The male has a yellow throat wattle and black eye. The female has a yellow eye ring but no yellow throat wattle.

These were just a few of the wide variety of avian species you can see in Mashatu Nature Reserve in winter. There is a marked seasonality in the variety of birds you will see in Mashatu with the numbers swelling significantly once the migrants return in the warmer summer months. Enthusiastic birders regularly see 120 to 145 birds species in the few days they are in Mashatu.

“My life is shaped by the urgent need to wander and observe, and my camera is my passport.” ~ Steve McCurry

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

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