On Thursday night the rain was coming down so hard I could hardly hear the speaker at our local farmer's meeting. In only a few hours time I would be waking up to head east towards Port Elizabeth, together with volunteers Jessy and Adrian to the van Staadens wildflower reserve to catch birds.
At 3.30am the windscreen wipers were still working, but they were also off as often as they were on. By 4.30, with the first glow of dawn on the horizon, it finally looked like our rendezvous with Ben Smit and Jerry Mokgatla would not be in vain after all. We pulled up at the locked gates at 5.30am. Now what!?
Ben arrived a bit later and we scouted around for someone to open the gate – no-one! Only thing to do was set the nets up close to the gate, as the Watsonia's were flowering prolifically and we could hear Cape Sugarbirds among the scattered pincushions.
The reason for our visit was to meet Jerry, who will be doing a Master's with Ben. The target species being Cape Sugarbirds, and the questions being whether there are differences between the sexes in terms of foraging behaviour and physiology.
Our first sugarbirds were in the net before we'd even finished tying down the last strings, and all in all it proved to be worth the drive, with 50 birds processed from a variety of species, including some I had never rung before.
Exhausted by lunchtime from our night drive, we headed to Falcon Rock campsite, where we set up tents and collapsed for a well deserved siesta.
In the late afternoon Adrian and I still had enough energy for the one-hour hike up Lady's Slipper – the hills overlooking van Staden's. We were interested to see if we would be able to spot Cape Rockjumpers, which were know to occur here until recently. We had to settle for lovely views instead.
Saturday morning we set up nets in a patch of pincushions to target the Sugarbirds. However, a stiff easterly wind had me concerned about safety of birds in the nets and we wrapped up the day by 10am. However, again, not a bad haul... below are some of the highlights...
|Black Cuckoo-shrike, male. A ringing-lifer. Amazing orange gape.|
|Black Cuckoo-shrike, female|
|Ringing station, with Jessy, Adrian and Jerry|
|On top of Lady's Slipper|
|Lazy Cisticola, another lifer!|