Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Darren untamed expeditions

Untamed Vidal!! 2013

Just few weeks ago my buddies and i had a very special weekend @ Cape Vidal St Lucia reserve.

Amongst much excitement and anticipation we made the trek 2 and a half hours up the coast!!

Some amazing mammals were seen, incl big male leopard who we've named "Gladiator" and a young black rhino with a gregarious and temperate personality!!

We spend some time around the fire and much banter and meat was njoyed by all aswell as enjoying the sounds of hyenas calling and the resident bush pigs making an appearance:) 

But for me, the best sighting was a very special encounter with 3 honey badgers which were raiding the bins near the beach and marauding through the area with much enthusiasm and comical beahavior!!
It was a real surprise and just another memorable moment for me and i was absolutely delighted with my 1st sighing of 1 of my fav mammals!!!

Some other highlights incl a bit  of " 4x 4 ing" with my "Silverback" stepway ramping over a water section and was witnessed by all and with much laughter and hysteria lol....

WE all spent some quality time in Gods word and encouraged one another and richy ( leopard man) posed a challenge as to what is true masculity!!

A great weekend and more trips to come in 2014!!

Darren untamed

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Future bird-watching tourism leaders

After a trying and tough week of long hours and hard work our guides from Ongoye and Southern KZN completed their first module of the tourism entrepreneur training with Linda McClure from Junior Achievement South Africa (JASA). The course included intensive training on conducting market research through to interviewing existing businesses, which they did covering existing successful businesses in Wakkerstroom. Meeting established players as well as new entrants provided stimulating inputs for the guides, particularly those wishing to pursue the development of their own ideas. A big thank you must go to Wakkerstroom and its wonderfully warm and accommodating business people and residents.

At the end of the module Linda's feedback regarding the guides was objective and refreshing. Ideas for local birding tourism businesses ranged from community guest houses to indigenous nurseries and regional tours. This is the first important step for the guides. They have now returned home, armed with new insights and a project that they must complete before their next closing module in late November. On their return to Wakkerstroom they will undertake the toughest portion of the training, the development of budgets and the financial components. Hold thumbs for them as we hope they all apply their new skills and perspectives to the best of their ability.

Both Kristi, Andre and Thuli made our stay wonderful and certainly went out of their way to get the guides the best possible experience and opportunities for growth. Our training journey did not end their as we managed to squeeze in some bird-watching for the guides who enjoyed the company of the Grey-Crowned Cranes, Black-Bellied Bustard and the various specials of the Wakkerstroom region. I will keep you all posted regarding their development. To S'Bo, Sibusiso, Evidence, Abednego, Simphiwe and Lindalahni thank you so much for your time and effort. Lindalahni who is one of the Network members can be contacted directly regarding his experience on the programme.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wonderful Wakkerstroom and Banded Martins return.

A little positive news for all you. Today BirdLife South Africa with the superb expertise of Linda McClure from JASA, the Junior Achievement South Africa NGO launched the first day of the tourism entrepreneur training programme, helping to bridge the gap in basic business and entrepreneur skill development for our local bird guides. Guides from both the Southern KZN and Zululand Birding Routes travelled up to Wakkerstroom over the course of the weekend. From far afield as Bulwer and the famous Marutswa Board Walk with its well-established Cape Parrots to the famous Ongoye Forest team championing the Green Barbet and Zululand.

Their first day involved engaging pressing debates centred around responsible tourism, bird conservation and community issues such as traditional medicinal harvesting. Quite a rich and interactive first day one might say. Our varied sessions were often interrupted by the antics of the foraging Bokmakierie’s around the training room, the diverting chatter of the Pied Starlings and the various birds that caught our interest as we delved into such key issues.

The guides popped off to research and do some ground work on what kind of tourism ventures are operating in the town for their business planning and market research activities as part of their programme. In order to ensure they received a warm and hospitable reception we caught up with various business owners to prepare them for the visits by our learners tomorrow. It was lovely to see that both André and Kristi who manage the centre have been true ambassadors for BirdLife South Africa and its centre. Townsfolk were friendly and engaging and it seems that old Wakkerstroom charm is still there and thriving.

We ended our afternoon with a wetland birding walk. As usual we were not disappointed. A pair of Grey-Crowned Crane flew in, calling ponderously before they landed delighting us with their proximity and their natural grace. A male Black-bellied Bustard joined the party declaring his availability far-and-wide with much gusto, with his little pop at the end of his call bringing much mirth and enjoyment. A juvenile Black Stork was grooming itself rather nonchalantly towards the Oude Stasie road and we had a terribly humourous view of a pair of Yellow Mongoose searching for nesting birds, only to be collectively pummelled by a flock of Pied Starlings who then promptly handed over their duties to a pair of very accurate Pied Kingfishers who seemed to be quite fearless and finally an African Marsh Harrier adult which the Yellow Mongooses seem to take rather more seriously. On recognising the more threatening harrier they literally turned tail, quickly raised their tails and put on some speed, which even a Cheetah might have been proud of and made as much distance as possible between them and the rather relaxed harrier. That was definitely a first for me in mammal-bird interactions.

On the migratory note, there are a few Barn Swallows lurking around, mainly skimming over the wetland in the late afternoon. Our biggest highlight though undoubtedly was seeing the arrival of a fairly large number of Banded Martins whose plumage was lustrously lit by the late afternoon sun as they flew directly westwards. It’s good to have them back and no doubts the migrants are coming in rapidly. Enjoy the late Spring all.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Signing off David Letsoalo's assessment documentation

Our few days were incredibly fruitful at Kurisa Moya,  we not only spent some productive time with Lisa Martes but also with Limpopo's famous bird guide David Letsoalo. David's hard work in environmental education as well as bird guiding is legendary. His time and effort in developing young children in the local communities as well as other young bird guides is exemplary. He is permanently based at Kurisa Moya but takes tours throughout the region across its various biomes and critical birding spots.

It was a pleasure and a honour to have him join our bird guide training team to assist in coaching the newly trained local bird guides in Limpopo. So next time you are at Woodbush or perhaps Phalaborwa you might see David leading a group of learner guides into the field. Well done David, keep up the good work.

Limpopo leg to bird guide training

Dear All,

We have just concluded a whirlwind working journey across the Limpopo Province culminating in our final stop in the Kruger at Shingwedzi. Our mission was to meet up with the individual guides that have been trained over the last two years or so by BirdLife South Africa and to evaluate their working conditions, assessment readiness and support needs as guides.

We spent a wonderful few days at Kurisa Moya and spend some memorable times birding with Paul who works with David Letsoalo. With poor weather and various meetings to get to, I literally had one hour on our first morning to get some birding in. Woodbush was definitely not on the cards, but the indigenous forest patch Msenge on the Kurisa Moya farm provided more than ample birding as I was to find out. Within 45 minutes of walking into the forest Paul had located and shown me Yellow-streaked Greenbul, two Black-fronted Bush-shrikes, Chorister Robin-chat, a male Narina Trogon perched at a mere 4 to 5 meters away, Forest Canary, a horde of Olive Bush-shrikes, Grey Cuckooshrike, Sombre Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Swee Waxbill, Olive Woodpecker and a run of an amazing amount of birds. We were visited by Samango Monkeys doing their early morning foraging in the trees.

A short trip to visit some guides at the Thabametsi/Georges Valley Canopy Tour was also very rewarding with Southern Double-Collared Sunbird, Cape Batis, Knysa Tauraco, Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk and quick few other birds doing the fly-by. Birding via Canopy tour is highly recommended for the more adventurous of us. Jeremia and Moses the two bird guides have mastered their site admirably and are expanding their knowledge of the surrounding areas quickly with the support of David Letsoalo, their bird guide coach.

A visit down to the Tzaneen Country Lodge netted us African Cuckoo-hawk, Wahlbergs Eagle, Yellow-billed Kite and a few other good local species. Here we saw Sydwell Mkhari who is enjoying the lowveld birding and building his knowledge of the area around Northern Kruger. We then proceeded on to visit Idah at Sefapane Lodge at Phalaborwa and along the we picked up African Hawk-Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Purple Roller, Magpie Shrike, Grey Penduline Tit, our first Wood Sandpipers of year, a deluge of all the hornbills (yellow, red and grey), Dark Chanting Goshawk and Gabar Goshawk. We immediately noticed that the drought this winter has been particularly harsh (perhaps a dose of climate change added to the El Nino mix) with vast tracts of Mopane Shrubveld severely overgrazed and quite a few cattle looking rather forlorn and wishing for greener times.

We returned to the mountain heights and struck out to obtain a long standing bogey bird of mine. The Short-clawed Lark, which thanks to the directions provided by David Letsoalo and Lisa Martes at Kurisa Moya we managed to find on our second attempt. Admittedly my first one took us to the wrong place and the cattle and various members of the community looked at me quizzically. My iShiVenda is not particularly strong so back to David we went and under the guidance of the master we eventually made our way to Mamabolo grasslands where we picked up the Short-clawed Lark within a few minutes of our arrival. David’s inputs were impeccable and we enjoyed excellent viewing of this bird. With much sad feelings at our departure we headed deep into Venda, stopped at Thouyandou picked up Samson Mulaudzi and drove into deep territory amongst those magnificent Soutpansberg mountains and eventually arrived at the famous Golwe-Vhurivhuri camping and picnic site.

Once again the lads were indefatigable and we had saw a pair of Narina Trogon, Pink-throated Twinspots, Collared Sunbird, Cape Batis and tons of birds around us. Our trip through the community area was really enlightening, local Venda people directed us to the Golwe site with many-a-smile and grin. Christopher is an absolute gem and I would really recommend spending time there with him. The facilities are absolutely lovely and the Twinspots and Grey Waxbills literally hopping about the campsite, jostling for space alongside more common birds.

We then pushed on through the normal road through the mountains to Mhinga just outside the Punda Maria Gate and we spent a night at the Punda Guest House, a bird-friendly-establishment run by a local entrepreneur. Self-catering and it was really lovely. In the late afternoon on our way there we got a really diverse range of Fire-finches and a pair of Orange-winged Pytilia an absolutely awesomely beautiful bird. We also were blessed with Retz’s Helmetshrike in the mixed habitats flying in-between a Baobab and open woodland. It was a wonderful day to say the least.

The next day took us into Kruger on our way to visit Phanny the guide based at Shingwedzi. For a change the northern area seemed in a better state than further South. Reminiscent of the drought of the early 90’s. We managed to get Arnot’s Chat outside the Punda Maria Camp and we headed South to Shingwedzi. Seeing lots of Elephants on the move.

Good birding although often sparse and almost unbirdlike for the Kruger. We saw more bird parties than single species sitings. Picking up the usual Kruger bird mix and we noted that very few migrants had made their way back yet. It was a quiet time for the Park. Red-crested Korhaan, African Hawk-Eagle, Tawny Eagle, Red-headed Finches, Brown-headed Parrots and lots of Wahlbergs Eagles already nesting on a variety of Baobabs, Jackalberries and so on. We noted that most White-backed Vulture chicks were well on to the way of fledgling and leaving their natal nests. The raptors seemed healthy as ever with some decent Bateleur viewing all-round.

Our entry to Shingwedzi was a welcome stop and there we spent some great time with Phanny who is doing very well, but the Palm-thrush is not present, but he seems to be high-spirited as ever. Shingwedzi was great, we picked up allot of African Mourning Dove right in the camp and around it. The usual Natal and Swainsons Spurfowl were abundant with a sprinkling of Crested Francolin too. We had a fantastic sighting of 4 Southern Ground Hornbills at perch tucked away from some marauding Lions. We managed to get some decent views of all their legs and did not see any rings and presumed that this was a fully-wild flock. No reintroductions apparent there. We had some lovely bird-mammal feeding associations with Dwarf Mongoose assisting some Natal Francolin and Greater-Blue-Eared Starlings with a few snacks.

Our trip was beginning to draw to a close but we enjoyed our drive out of the Kruger heading to Phalaborwa via Mopani and we picked up Lappett-faced and Hooded Vulture plus a few other mixed savannah birds.

A thanks must go to all the great guides for their input and energy in the course of our time and stay with them. To those of you that have an active interest in the guides development you will be pleased to know that quite a few are ready for their Level 3 regional assessments and even a couple for their Level 4 assessments. Not only that but many of the guides are contributing to education and schools projects as well as environmental awareness and site conservation initiatives. For those of you heading into the Park and the region I really do recommend considering a Mountain, Forest to Savanna combination. A big thank you must go to Lisa at Kurisa Moya and Grace their wonderful chef, Paul as well as David. To Samson, Christopher, Idah, Sydwell, Jeremia, Moses, Phanny and so many others. A big ngiyabonga from myself and the BirdLife team. For those of you interested in more specifics on my trip, on localities, guiding information please do not hesitate to contact Brenden Pienaar on or check out the website or email me and I will assist you where I can.

Kind regards
Ashwell Glasson

A restful yet invigourating stop

Dear All,

Our last stop at Wakkerstroom with André Steenkamp and Kristi Garland has been absolutely great. The Barn Swallows are back and seem to be growing in numbers here. We had several sightings of them flying into the reed beds to roost at Sunset. We also noted the arrival of Ruff, Wood Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper and a Little Stint at the Wakkerstroom wetlands. The paleartic migrants are beginning to match their afro-tropical cousins and are inbound earnestly. Our late afternoon birding yesterday at the wetlands was brilliant, as only Wakkerstroom can deliver. We had African Snipe, a reed bed quartering pair of African Marsh Harriers causing some fuss for their intended prey, a range of ducks and one pair of South African Shelduck, always a lovely sighting for us more easterly birders.

African Rail did a little display whilst nipping between clumps of reeds and our highlight of the day was a sunset interaction between a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron stalking a juicy looking Little Bittern (Payessi race) along a Willow tree overlooking the water’s edge. Our rather nervous Bittern did a slow creep away from the impending threat of the Night Heron who did its very best to look incognito, but was rather unsuccessful. When it got too close for the Bitterns sense of survival it dashed off flying across the road and settled in a stand of reeds in its typical upturned ankle posture watching for reprisals from the now forlorn Night Heron.

Most birds are breeding and we witnessed a few matings of Coots and Ducks. The Wakkerstroom Centre itself is lovingly developing into a new refreshed look under André and Kristi’s care and visitors to the Centre will enjoy the changes no doubts. The surrounding vegetation and fields are a mix of recently burned patches and flush emerald green meadows. The winter rains have certainly ensured a good start to the Spring here.

Kind regards
Ashwell Glasson

Super Sefapane and Tremendous Taita Falcons

Dear All,

After our long trip back towards KZN, we stopped at Sefapane Lodge a Bird Friendly Establishment at Phalaborwa to see Idah, the local bird guide based there and see how she was doing. To our delight Sefapane’s bird list was really good and we managed to pick up on a few extra-birds that we dipped on in Kruger due to the dry-weather. The three dams and the lodge gardens were filled with birds and we managed to get African Mourning Dove, Brown-headed Parrot, Greater-blue Eared Starling, Groundscraper Thrush, Lesser Masked Weaver our first Dierderick Cuckoo of the season. Black Crake and White-faced Duck was also added to the tally. Idah is progressing well and will be taking the early morning bird walks around the lodge and thanks to Brenden Pienaar the Kruger to Canyons Project Manager also getting to know the birds and sites in and around the BaPhalaborwa area.

Evening calls by Scops Owl and the general bird viewing at the dams made for a welcome respite with an early morning cup of coffee to jump-start tired batteries. We proceeded on to JG Strydom tunnel for our longest leg of the trip, which would lead us down to Wakkerstroom via Blyderiver Canyon, Graskop, Sabie, White-river, Nelspruit, Barberton and Piet Retief. It makes for some rewarding back route driving through some spectacular countryside. We stopped at the Abel Erasmus Pass looking for Michael Kumako the local guide with no luck, but managed to track him down at home via cell-phone. Not wanting to disturb him we were going to push on and forego his services and catch up with him on our next training visit in a few weeks. Michael’s unflinching spirit and good nature won as over and we drove up to his home village and picked him up and returned to the site. He sacrificed one of his mornings off for us from his four children, he has two sets of twins unbelievingly, and judging from their fathers influence are fast on track to becoming hard-core Taita custodians themselves. Further conversations with other members of the community demonstrated how almost all adults and a good amount of teenagers knew about the Taita and its importance. That can only be ascribed to Michaels great work and ongoing commitment to the birds, the environment, the area and its people.

Amazingly, without his Bushnell Spotting Scope which is in Johannesburg for repairs, or binoculars he detected the male bird in under thirty seconds at arriving at the viewing site. The male bird was at perch scanning for its staple diet of Rock Martins high above us, but through binoculars and our scope we had lovely clean views of the bird. The birds are nesting and the female is currently out-of-sight unseen waiting for her regular meals to be dropped off by her attentive partner. Interestingly Michael had worked out the average numbers for successful strikes whilst they have been nesting. He witnessed 4 to 7 success strikes per day by the male bird. That is pretty impressive by any margin. Rock Martins feature the highest on the Taita’s diet according to Michael. Michael also showed us the nesting site which for obvious reasons we will not describe and if anyone was actually silly enough to attempt having a crack at it would no doubts be pulled off the mountain by angry stall vendors and local people and would probably conveniently disappear from life. For those passing through wanting to see the Taita’s try and ring Michael (079 261 1559) if you do not find him and check the second stand of stalls after the JG Strydom tunnel. Michael has a stand dead centre amongst the others, with a sign board donated by BirdLife Inkwazi and Bushnell Optics hanging from the roof. Michael also demonstrated his broad knowledge of all the birds in the Abel Erasmus Pass and we completed our pre-assessment planning with him. A short stop at the Blyde River Canyon was a lovely closure to those awe-inspiring mountains. Cape Vulture graced us with their poise and balanced flight and the sight of the Three Rondavels nestled against each other in the early afternoon light was spectacular.

Our journey on to Wakkerstroom was a fairly relaxed drive, although long but we noted the changes in the pasture and vegetation as it transitioned from dry and khaki to light green and eventually deep emerald at Wakkerstroom. Thank you must go to Michael Kumako, Idah, Nelke and Keith Macivar at Sefapane, Brenden Pienaar at Kruger to Canyons and André Steenkamp and Kristi Garland at Wakkerstroom for having us and for all their hospitality and hard work.

Kind regards
Ashwell Glasson

Base Camp Project Management software working for birds1


South African Bird Atlas Project 2