The best feature of Vaalkop Dam Nature Reserve, 50km north-west of Brits, is the overwhelming sense of peace and natural tranquility you get sitting on the shore of the large dam.
On a steamy hot February morning, it was beautiful just to sit and soak in the clear blue skies, the odd koppie and the sounds of the waterbirds going about their business. I even used the opportunity to indulge in one of my favourite treats – dipping my cap into the cool water and then throwing it over my head … Bliss!
I judged the spot where I tiptoed into the water to be crocodile-free because moments earlier a large carp had come to that spot and briefly frolicked in the shallow water …
February 16 was a very hot day, but nevertheless it was a good birding trip.
I stopped at the little bridge across the Elands River and made a great start – a couple of Blackcrowned Night Herons roosting in the overhanging riverine trees.
It was a good spot, also throwing up African Darter, a fleeing Greenbacked Heron with its orange legs dangling conspicuously, Reed Cormorant, a fleeting glimpse of a Woodland Kingfisher, Cape Wagtail, a large flock of Greater Striped Swallows, Southern Red Bishop, Whitewinged Widow, Southern Masked Weaver and Pied Kingfisher. I also heard some rustling down below the bridge and shortly afterwards a large Nile Monitor came shuffling out with a plastic bag and some vegetable/reedy matter clamped tight in its jaws.
The people at Bushwillow kindly allowed me into their bird sanctuary and highlights there were Scalyfeathered Finch, my first European Roller of the summer (leaving it late!), Jameson’s Firefinch, an Ostrich, a nicely posing Lesser Grey Shrike and Goliath Heron.
I then took a little walk down to the dam and spotted a dashing Bluecheeked Bee-Eater, swooping around like a green bullet, as well as a Whiskered Tern that was meandering across the dam before suddenly changing direction and swooping back into the water to catch something small. A couple of dainty Black Heron were also amongst the waterbirds.
A lovely shaded little pool threw up a brilliant Malachite Kingfisher that posed all-too-briefly on a reedstem for me before vanishing in a blur of dazzling colours.
I stopped for lunch at the picnic site and spotted my second ever Great Sparrow (the first was in November at Mapungubwe), hopping about in an Acacia tree along with a Crested Barbet.
The signs warning anglers about the crocodiles are true because I spotted a two-metre reptile cruising in towards the shoreline before my attention was grabbed by a pair of fairly distant African Fish Eagle.
A very yellow Cape White-Eye also popped in to visit and, just before leaving Vaalkop, I spotted an Icterine Warbler in the thicker Acacia woodland in the southern part of the reserve.
By far the most common bird of the trip was the Spotted Flycatcher … there seemed to be one lurking under a tree ever 50 metres or so! As someone who’s birding foundation was in KZN, I’m used to Blackeyed Bulbuls dominating … in fact I didn’t see a single Toppie!
But another wonderful piece of African heaven discovered not that far from home and definite food for the soul …
Blackcrowned Night Heron
Greater Striped Swallow
Southern Red Bishop
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Greyheaded Sparrow
Cape Turtle Dove
Jameson’s Firefinch (female)
Lesser Grey Shrike
Whiskered Tern (non-breeding)
Great Sparrow (male)
Common Myna (grrrrr)
African Fish Eagle
Waterbuck (pregnant young cow)
Southern Black Tit (female)
Redbacked Shrike (male)