New Years Eve, 11:50, the fire works are almost in full swing as I find myself sitting around the table with family members, not really focusing on the card game at play but instead asking myself questions such as "What will species #1 be?", "Where will I find it?" and "Please can it not be a Sparrow...". My nerves and excitement were at an all time high and I wish that I could describe it in words but I simply cannot find any of them which will portray how I felt accurately.
12:00- Fireworks all over, cheers of joy and happiness, hugs, kisses and most importantly, the start of the biggest year of my life to date. Birding mode started to take over and I made deadly sure not to go outside and find a flushed Laughing Dove or Cape Sparrow as I had my eyes set on Spotted Eagle Owl for bird number one and I intended on connecting with this species at St Stithians Boys College in Randburg shortly after midnight. We started making our way to the car and in the corner of my eye a large figure caught my attention on the roof the house we were just in. I found my torch and what was Illuminated before my eyes forced the excitement which has been building inside of me since April of 2013, when I decided that I was going to do a big year, to overflow as I laid my eyes upon a gorgeous Spotted Eagle Owl; bird number one, tick!
Spotted Eagle Owl (Bubu africanus)
We then made our way to St Stithians Boys College in the hope of connecting with Barn Owl which was recently seen near the school hall. After an hour of searching we gave up but the "dip" was made up for in the form of Crowned lapwing, Spotted Thicknee and Common Pigeon.
3:30 and I was up again, running on 30min of sleep but more than ready for the rest of day one! I was going birding with Niall Perrins and Allan Ridley, both amazing gentlemen and among them a collection of birding experience which would astound many! It was decided that we were going to start the day off on the infamous Zaagkuildrift Road and then push through the the Kgomo-Kgomo Floodplain which over the past week had been pumping and countless rarities had been reported which would prove tricky to get later on in 2014, thus connecting with some of these birds would help take some pressure off at the end of the year.
We arrived at Zaagkuildrift and immediately started adding species upon species to my year list, one of the first being this Rufous-naped Lark which was greeting the morning with his melodic whistles:
Rufous-naped Lark (Mirafra africana)
Next up was a male Shaft Tailed Whydah:
Other birds seen on the Zaagkuildrift road included Marsh Warbler, Pin Tailed Whydah, Desert Cisticola, Rattling Cisticola, Hottentot Buttonquail, Black Cuckoo, Red Chested Cuckoo, Diderick Cuckoo, Northern Black Korhaan, White Browed Sparrow Weaver, Village Weaver, Southern Masked Weaver, Red Billed Buffalo Weaver, Red Billed Quelea, Southern Pied Babbler, Crimson Breasted Shrike, Red Breasted Swallow, Brubru, Black faced Waxbill and Violet Eared Waxbill to name but a few.
Village Indigobird (Vidua chalybeata)
We then made our way down to Crake Road (a road which shoots off to the left or right of the Zaagkuildrift road depending on which way you are driving). Here we managed to connect with African Crake, Wood Sandpiper, European Honey Buzzard, Dwarf Bittern, Red Billed Teal, Yellow Crowned Bishop, Barn Swallow, Common Greenshank and Hamerkop. This road is a must do when the area has had large amounts of rain in summer! It's name isn't Crake Road for no reason and the possibilities for a whole host of other Crake species is incredibly high.
Kgomo-Kgomo floodplain was our next stop and here we ticked off Greater Painted Snipe, Sedge Warbler, Lesser swamp Warbler, Woolly Necked Stork and Black Winged Pratincole. We tried to find the Rufous Bellied Heron and Lesser Moorhen which other birders had connected with that morning however our searches were in vain.
We decided to head out towards the Borakalolo Game Reserve area in search of Monotonous Lark and Meyers Parrot so off we went, hopes high, stomachs full and eyes now more than warmed up!
We didn't connect with the Meyers Parrot however we did find Groundscraper Thrush, Red Headed Weaver, Marico Sunbird, Monotonous Lark, Brown Snake Eagle, Pearl Breasted Swallow, Klaas's Cuckoo and Long-tailed Paradise Whydah.
Red Headed Weaver (Anaplectes melanotis)
Upon arrival back home I went in search of the common garden birds in my suburb which pushed my list up substantially. Species recorded were Cape Robin Chat, African Olive Pigeon, Fiscal Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Common Fiscal, Cape Sparrow, Speckled Pigeon, Dark Capped Bulbul and Greater Striped Swallow.
African Olive Pigeon (Columba arquatrix)
I ended day one off on 155 species, 5 more than my target for the day.
I wanted to push for 200 on day two and this was very doable however at the last minute I decided to change my plans and rather wrap up the garden birds and then head through to Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens (WSBG) in search of a few more species for the day instead of heading down to the southern or northern parts of Gauteng.
Birding at WSBG was slow at first however things started to pick up towards the later part of the afternoon when the temperature started to cool down (temps registered in the high 30's today!). Species recorded went along the likes of Cape Bunting, African Black Swift, Bokmakierie, Tawney Flanked Prinia, Black Cuckooshrike, Cape Weaver, Kurichane Thrush, Black Backed Puffback, Bronze Manniken, Bar Throated Apalis, Green Wood-hoopoe, Striated Heron, Streaky Headed Seedeater, Verreaux's Eagle and Red Winged Starling.
Black Cuckooshrike (Campephaga flava)
Cape Weaver (Ploceus capensis)
All in all a fantastic two days of birding and an amazing way to start off my big year! Now it's off to Namibia tomorrow for two and a half weeks. I am aiming quite high for this trip so hopefully my return back home will bring news of a fairly high amount of lifers for the year.
171 species down 629 to go...