It was a stunning Lowveld morning as the sun rose over the plains of Likweti with Zebra and Wildebeest standing majestically in the background. With a start like this we were confident that we would have a beautiful morning of birding at Likweti wildlife residential estate between Nelspruit and White River, Mpumalanga.
We were honored to have Marc Cronjé lead our very first bird walk at Likweti wildlife residential estate for some of the residents and a few avid local birders on Saturday, 24 April 2021.
The walk got off to a great start with the sighting (and calling) of an Acacia Pied Barbet in the parking lot – a good bird for the area. As the walk continued through the grassland and mixed Acacia the bird list grew quickly with some noteworthy species spotted early. These include: Southern Black Tit, Bearded Woodpecker tapping away, Striped Kingfisher, Black-winged Kite, Yellow-throated Longclaw and a very vocal pair of Black-crowned Tchagra of which we had incredible views.
One of the highlights of the morning came in the form of African Hawk Eagles flying overhead and then perching in the distance – this is a great bird to see in the area, as this is not a bird often seen around White River. It is also only the second record for the area based on data from the Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2. One of the interesting things with African Hawk Eagles is that they are normally encountered in monogamous, territorial pairs which often hunt and feed cooperatively. In the breeding season, which starts in winter and extends into spring, they also work together to build and maintain their large stick nest in the canopies of tall trees or, less frequently, on cliffs.
With the walk progressing down a well wooded drainage line the birds just kept on rolling in and some of the highlights included: close views of the stunning Violet-backed Starlings, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, a very vocal White-browed Scrub Robin, Golden-breasted Bunting, a big flock of African Green Pigeons coming to feed on the figs of a Large-leafed Rock Fig, Red-throated Wryneck and a Black-winged Kite chasing a Little Sparrowhawk.
As if this had not been good enough, we were treated to a stunning performance by a Black Sparrowhawk flying overhead and giving the group some great views of this hard to see accipiter. Black Sparrowhawks are always special birds to see as they can be quite shy and secretive. This was also only the third record of the species for the area according to the Southern African Bird Atlas Project 2.
On route to visit one of the dams on the estate, the birders enjoyed a fantastic sighting of a Cape Grass bird calling from a perch offering some great views. The dam provided great sightings of Wire-tailed Swallow, Lesser-striped Swallow, White-rumped Swift, Striped Pipit and a stunning African Hoopoe. Unfortunately, one could not get your binoculars onto the Gorgeous Bush-shrike calling from bush below the dam wall, but this is a good reason to come back. Another great sighting of the morning came in the form of two Greater-striped Swallows skimming water off the dam. This is a great bird to see in the lowveld, as these birds generally occur at higher altitudes and on the highveld. The naming of the Greater-striped Swallow versus the common occurring Lesser-striped Swallow in the lowveld has got nothing to do with the number of stripes on the bird’s chest but rather refers to the size of the birds, with the Greater-striped being the larger of the two. These two birds might possible be on migration and heading for Central Africa.
It was a highly successful morning of birding in the Lowveld and was enjoyed by all. A total of 79 species were seen collectively on the walk, not bad for an autumn morning. We are fortunate to enjoy great birding in the Lowveld throughout the year, so do not be shy to enjoy your birding in winter.
We will be hosting more of these birding walks at Likweti wildlife residential estate going forward so keep an eye on our Facebook Page for all the information.
Marc Cronjé and Rene Rossouw