An Owl of a weekend – that’s the only way I can describe this past weekend. With great sightings of Marsh Owls along with a good few Pearl Spotted Owls as well as an unsuccessful search for a White-Faced Owl, I just had to say this was a weekend of owls.
Our weekend started with a two-hour drive from Johannesburg to Zaagkuilsdrift in the Limpopo Province. Just off the N1, with another 24 km of dust road to the lodge, it felt like it was raining birds. The treat for me is that I saw many birds that are not common in Durban/KZN, so I enjoyed an absolute feast. The first bird for the day was a Magpie Shrike and the second bird … Yes, you guessed it. A Marsh Owl.
What a fantastic sighting to see this magnificent bird scouring the farmlands in search of breakfast. My problem – no camera!!
Always have your camera ready
Still under pressure not to be late, we then found a Pearl Spotted Owl being bombarded by a very angry Go-Away Bird. I just couldn’t miss another opportunity and scrambled to get my camera ready. All the while this tiny cute owl posed patiently with his attacker viciously trying to chase him away.
Finally, I’m ready to take an award-winning shot. As I raise the lens, the owl took off. How do birds know when you are ready to take the photo? They wait until the last minute and fly off probably thinking “Fooled you again”.
This happens to me far too often.
Being so rich with birdlife, the lodge was a good choice to host a bird photography course I was attending. My problem was that I found it extremely difficult to sit in a darkened room listening to words such as f-stop, iso, speed, aperture and other photography jargon when outside it was a beautiful day with magnificent birds flitting around. As a result, I wasn’t the best student in the class.
Our practical session was held around a waterhole near the lodge. Fatal mistake. I clean forgot about the camera in my hand when I found myself surrounded by black-faced waxbills, a Crimson Breasted Shrike, Blue waxbills and a large flock of Red-billed Buffalo weavers. With my feeble attempts at applying what I had just learned, I think I came last in the class. I did, however, get 100% for my birdwatching efforts.
After a scrumptious brunch, we then followed the Pienaars River to a bridge in Kgomo Kgomo, to once again apply what we had learned. Along the road we found Chestnut-vented Tit-Babblers, Scaly-feathered finches, Capped Wheatears, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Marico Flycatchers to list a few.
Sunset over an African Waterhole – the best place to be
Is there any place in the world as good as a waterhole in Africa as the sun sets? I’m not sure. We ended the afternoon sitting around the waterhole near the lodge sipping gin and tonics. Our companions were a large flock of Double-Banded sandgrouses – I think I went to bed dreaming about them.
Sunday proved just as exciting
Once again, we were treated to several Marsh Owls and the best was another Pearl-Spotted owl. This time, being harassed by 15 different species of birds. Try to picture a tree alive with tiny, brave birds such as blue and violent-eared waxbills, finches, weavers, drongos as well as a Kalahari Scrub-Robin yelling and performing to get the unwanted visitor to disappear.
At least I had my camera and was able to get reasonable photos of both owls.
A good start to our early morning birdwatching – Another Marsh Owl, this time a little more obliging so that I could get a photo.
We recorded 110 different species in our Owl of a Weekend
Zaagkuilsdrift Bird Sanctuary and Lodge is a wonderful place to visit for all nature lovers. It’s even more attractive to birdwatchers and bird photographers. The lodge is deep in a thornveld attracting hundreds of finches, raptors (we counted nine different species), brown-hooded kingfishers, waxbills, hornbills, francolins and spurfowls and lapwings. With the huge wetland area not far from the lodge in Kgomo Kgomo, the entire area is alive with birds.
We recorded a grand total of 110 different species and this was in winter. Just imagine what summer is like with all the migrants visiting us.
Zaagkuilsdrift Bird Sanctuary & Lodge
Don’t be put off with the word ‘Lodge’ which conjures up places that stretch your budget to the edge of a precipice. Zaagkuilsdrift is for the budget tourist but provides comfort, a well-equipped bar at reasonable prices, warm friendly staff, and much to see and do. A great place to spend a few days when you want to get away from it all.