Karkloof Birding February 2014

This post is rather overdue and has been incomplete in my drafts for a while now. But I do hope you enjoy it nonetheless!


The Karkloof is one of those areas that should be on every birder’s list of places to get to. It’s a real gem packed full of some great specials and scenery to boot!


I’ve been privileged to be invited up to Mbona Mountain Estate twice in the last 6 months to join in some bird ringing and atlasing in the area and it is definitely worth putting the proverbial pen to paper about.


We set out from the north coast very early on Friday 7th February – I mean VERY early. I’ve always been a crazy bush person who wakes up early on Kruger trips but birding has taken that to a whole new level! It’s about a 2 hour trip to the Karkloof area and we wanted to get to the Karkloof Conservation Centre at sunrise.


This centre is a joint-venture that has been set up on the McGillvray’s farm, Gartmore. There is one hide on this farm and another on the adjoining farm owned by Stuart Mackenzie. The hides are not far from one another and we took a stroll from one to the other to see what birds we could find. Unfortunately it was a bit too early for the cranes that we were hoping for (go figure!) but we did get some nice water birds, including Common Moorhen and Black Crake.


After about an hour here, we made our way to Benvie Farm. Along the route we picked up our first Forest Buzzard, the first of my 8 lifers for the weekend.

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Benvie Gardens is well known in gardening circles and it is becoming renowned as a birding hot-spot too. The owners were away for the weekend so we met the house-sitter who gave us a friendly welcome. We spent the next couple of hours enjoying the gardens and managed to find some good birds, the highlights being the Orange Ground-thrush (right next to the car park) and Half-collared Kingfisher, both lifers for me.


After a successful time at Benvie we we slowly made our way to Mbona, taking in the magnificent views over the estate


Mbona is a Private Nature Reserve in the Karkloof, owned by 180 shareholders in a shareblock agreement. The 750 hectares of land include 450 hectares of mistbelt grassland and 135 hectares of eastern mistbelt forest, making it a choice reserve with over 200 species of birds recorded on the SAPAB2 database.


We arrived at the Mbona entrance where our host and a friend of hers met us, both full of excitement at having just located the Broad-tailed Warbler up a nearby path. After a quick greeting and arrangement to meet a bit later, we set off on said-path to hunt for this elusive warbler that we had looked for on our previous visit and not found. The red-hot pokers were full of Malachite and Amethyst sunbirds and did produce my first sighting of Cape Grassbird but there was no sign of the warbler anywhere along the path. We gave up after a thorough search and decided to come back later in the weekend to try our luck again.


We joined up with our host and friend and went on a lovely walk along the edge of a couple of the trout dams on the estate, managing a very brief sighting of Guerney’s Sugarbird, another lifer that I had been wanting for a while.

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The nets were set up for bird ringing on both the Saturday and Sunday morning. On Saturday around the garden of our host’s cottage and on Sunday in a more forested area elsewhere on the estate. Both days were fairly fruitful, with the highlights being the Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler (so cute!), White-starred Robins and a male and female Bar-throated Apalis. On the Sunday, we were joined by the new estate manager and his family as well as another owner and his son. It’s always lovely to have kids along for the morning and to see the interest that it builds in them. We look forward to returning to see how this interest has grown!

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On Saturday afternoon, we set out to attempt to find the Broad-tailed Warbler that we had missed around the entrance gate on Friday. Armed with the Roberts app on our phones, we set out and located the warbler fairly quickly! A really beautiful looking warbler that stands out quite well against the long dry grass; one wonders how we had missed it previously!


All-in-all, it was a successful birding weekend on both the atlasing and ringing fronts. Although we were disappointed not to get the Bush Blackcap and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher that we had caught on our previous visit, it is always good to have a reason to go back 🙂

Drakensberg Prinia
Drakensberg Prinia
Cape White-eye
Cape White-eye
Cape Batis
Male Cape Batis
Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler
Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler
Sombre Greenbul
Sombre Greenbul
Male WS Robin
Male White-starred Robin
Male Collared Sunbird
Male Collared Sunbird
Male Cape Robin-Chat
Male Cape Robin-Chat
Male Bar-throated Apalis
Male Bar-throated Apalis
Lemon Dove
Lemon Dove
Juv WS Robin
Juvenile White-starred Robin
Juv Cape Robin-chat
Juvenile Cape Robin-chat
GB Camaroptera
Green-backed Camaroptera
Female Collared Sunbird
Female Collared Sunbird
Female Bar-throated Apalis
Female Bar-throated Apalis

Our atlas list for the Mbona pentad:

  • Bulbul Dark-capped
  • Fiscal Common
  • Camaroptera Green-backed
  • Olive-Pigeon African
  • Oriole Black-headed
  • Drongo Fork-tailed
  • Canary Forest
  • Buzzard Jackal
  • Buzzard Steppe
  • Widowbird Red-collared
  • Boubou Southern
  • Ibis Hadeda
  • Dove Red-eyed
  • Mousebird Speckled
  • Weaver Village
  • Kingfisher Giant
  • Kingfisher Half-collared
  • Duck African Black
  • Mannikin Red-backed
  • Kingfisher Malachite
  • Flycatcher African Dusky
  • Wagtail Cape
  • White-eye Cape
  • Goose Egyptian
  • Batis Cape
  • Ground-Thrush Orange
  • Turaco Knysna Turaco
  • Weaver Dark-backed
  • Robin-Chat Chorister
  • Puffback Black-backed
  • Buzzard Forest
  • Whydah Pin-tailed
  • Greenbul Sombre
  • Swallow Barn
  • Canary Yellow-fronted
  • Saw-wing Black (Southern race)
  • Brownbul Terrestrial
  • Waxbill Swee
  • Eagle Long-crested
  • Weaver Cape
  • Sunbird Amethyst
  • Widowbird Fan-tailed
  • Sunbird Southern Double-collared
  • Stonechat African
  • Prinia Tawny-flanked
  • Grassbird Cape
  • Sunbird Malachite
  • Cisticola Levaillant’s
  • Grebe Little
  • Duck Yellow-billed
  • Turtle-Dove Cape
  • Robin-Chat Cape
  • Swamp-Warbler Lesser
  • Swallow Lesser Striped
  • Weaver Thick-billed
  • Swallow White-throated
  • Waxbill Common
  • Sugarbird Gurney’s
  • Bishop Yellow
  • Warbler Dark-capped Yellow
  • Fish-Eagle African
  • Kingfisher Pied
  • Cormorant White-breasted
  • Cormorant Reed
  • House-Martin Common
  • Thrush Olive
  • Sunbird Collared
  • Robin White-starred
  • Apalis Bar-throated
  • Parrot Cape Parrot
  • Woodland-Warbler Yellow-throated
  • Prinia Drakensberg
  • Eagle African Crowned
  • Warbler Broad-tailed
  • Wagtail Mountain
  • Weaver Spectacled
  • Martin Brown-throated
  • Dove Lemon
  • Woodpecker Bearded
  • Tit Southern Black
  • Cuckoo African Emerald

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