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Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Crested Honey Buzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus): A new record for South Africa

Originally photographed over Lourensford Estate, by Kate Morris on 30th January 2021 at 10 am and identified as a Crested Honey Buzzard.


Crested Honey Buzzard
(Crested Honey Buzzard)



Crested Honey Buzzard
(Crested Honey Buzzard)

Later in the day news filtered through that, it was a hybrid European Honey Buzzard X Crested Honey Buzzard. This find was submitted to the National  Rarities Committee for clarification as this would be the first encounter of this species in South Africa.


Crested Honey Buzzard
(Crested Honey Buzzard)





Crested Honey Buzzard
(African Harrier-Hawk: Gymnogene)


Hybrid or not most birders across the country were making their way to somerset West to see if this local celebrity could be relocated. The Spanish Farm view site just at the foot of the Helderberg Mountain was the second recording for the CHB.

Crested Honey Buzzard
(Crested Honey Buzzard twitchers)


Official Confirmation registering the CHB as the first record for South Africa, making this raptor from the orient the highest priority amongst the birding fraternity. Saturday 6th February was our first opportunity to get onto the view site and hopefully get a glimpse of this famous buzzard. Several birders were already on-site and waiting by the time we arrived. We settled down and were more than pleased with the variety of raptors on view, some had recorded twelve for the day and were searching for that elusive thirteenth, but alas the CHB didn't show.


crested honey buzzard, oriental honey buzzard, bee eating raptor, alex aitkenhead, south african raptors, first recording in South Africa,
Crested Honey Buzzard - credit Shantanu Kuveskar


Crested Honey Buzzard
(Distribution map for the Crested Honey Buzzard, the first record in South Africa 30 January 2021)


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Crested honey buzzard

Scientific classification

Species: P. ptilorhynchus


The crested honey buzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus)[3] is a bird of prey in the family Accipitridae, which also includes many other diurnal raptors such as kites, eagles, and harriers. This species is also known as the Oriental honey buzzard.


Despite its name, this species is not related to Buteo buzzards and is taxonomically closer to the kites.[4] It appears long-necked with a small head (resembling that of a pigeon) and soars on flat wings. The head lacks a strong superciliary ridge, giving it a facial appearance very unlike a raptor. It has a long tail and a short head crest. It is brown above, but not as dark as the European honey buzzard, and paler below. A dark throat stripe is present. Unusually for a large bird of prey, the sexes can be distinguished. The male has a blue-grey head, while the female's head is brown. She is slightly larger and darker than the male. The male has a black tail with a white band.


It breeds in Asia from central Siberia east to Japan. It is a summer migrant to Siberia, wintering in tropical Southeast Asia. Elsewhere, it is more-or-less resident. It is a specialist feeder, living mainly on the larvae of social bees and wasps, and eating bits of comb and honey;[5] it takes other small insect prey such as cicadas.[6]


The crested honey buzzard breeds in woodland and is inconspicuous except in the spring when the mating display includes wing-clapping. The display of roller-coasting in flight and fluttering wings at the peak of the ascent are characteristic of the genus Pernis.[7][8]

It is larger and longer-winged than its western counterpart, the European honey buzzard, Pernis apivorus.






Crested Honey Buzzard
(Crested Honey Buzzard)



Crested Honey Buzzard
(Crested Honey Buzzard)


Returning on the 12th, we set up in the blazing heat of February and scanned the skies for our celebrity. Once again, we had excellent raptor sightings by still no luck with our target raptor. Friday and on-site for our third twitch, and the pressure was on to find this new record, we departed the scene feeling a little depressed about dipping on this bird.


Crested Honey Buzzard
(Crested Honey Buzzard)


Crested Honey Buzzard
(Booted Eagle)


We decided that we would commit the time to locate the bird with the weekend ahead as it had now become an obsession to get this record. Arriving early, the day's heat was oppressive, but we were resolute and on a mission to tick off this CHB. Elated when on review we could confirm that the distant showing of another raptor was indeed our bird, excited and now very content we hoped for a closer flyover to photograph this fantastic bird.


Crested Honey Buzzard
(Crested Honey Buzzard)


Trembling with excitement, Tracking the bird right above us, we could not believe how fortunate we were to have such an excellent showing of the CHB. Along with a large group of birders, the star of the show rewarded us in a very hot Somerset west.


Crested Honey Buzzard
(Crested Honey Buzzard twitchers)


Our focus turned to the images taken and hoping for that one perfect photograph. Content with the results, a reward for our patients and a commitment to getting this record. New friends were made, and we connected with old acquaintances, learning so many interesting facts about the CHB.



Crested Honey Buzzard
(Crested Honey Buzzard)


Crested Honey Buzzard, Bird, raptor, Alex Aitkenhead, South African Rare Birds, Oriental Honey Buzzard,
(Crested Honey Buzzard)


The Crested Honey Buzzard twitch must rank as one of my birding career highlights and one we will never forget.


Crested Honey Buzzard
(Cape Times Newspaper article, Wednesday, February 17 2021)



Crested Honey Buzzard



Crested Honey Buzzard, Bird, raptor, Alex Aitkenhead, South African Rare Birds, Oriental Honey Buzzard,

(Crested Honey Buzzard)


Crested Honey Buzzard
(European Honey Buzzard was seen on the same view site, image courtesy of Halima Beale Photography)


Crested Honey Buzzard
(Yellow Billed Kite: image Courtesy Stephan Wolfart)

Crested Honey Buzzard
(Black Sparrowhawk: image Courtesy Stephan Wolfart)

Crested Honey Buzzard
(Rufous Breasted Sparrowhawk: image Courtesy Stephan Wolfart)

We would appreciate any additional photographs taken of alternative raptors on the Spanish Farms Viewpoint during the Crested Honey Buzzard twitch.  We would love to add them to this article.  Please email Alex.   


Please LIKE and SHARE this article if you enjoyed reading it too.  Thank you.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Goukamma Nature Reserve and Marine Protected Area

Tranquillity and solitude in the heart of the Garden Route:

Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge
(Sunrise over the Goukamma estuary)

Deciding on our holiday adventure in the garden route required careful planning. We wanted to experience the Ancient Knysna forest, surf the warm waters at Buffalo Bay, see new forest bird species, yet miss all the crowds. With the new lockdown rules in place and the closing of the beaches as a result of the second wave of the COVID 19 pandemic, how would our Garden Route experience be affected?

Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route
(360 views across Groenvlei and looking towards Sedgefield)

Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun
(Sunrise over the entrance to Goukamma Nature Reserve) 


Would Goukamma embrace all these requirements and more?

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Tranquil waters along the Goukamma River)


Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge,
(Fish Eagles Loft and the sweeping views over the estuary)


This charming nature reserve is managed by Cape Nature, situated on the Cape south coast in the Western Cape. With Sedgefield and Knysna just a short drive away, this made for the ideal getaway. The Reserve covers an area of 2500ha, while the Marine Protected Area extends along approximately 18km of coastline from Buffalo Bay to Sedgefield. With extensive Dune fields and some of the highest vegetated dunes in South Africa. Wide, unspoilt beaches, coastal dune forests and the Goukamma river estuary all compressed in one small area.  A paradise for walkers, hikers with more than six listed trails to choose from, depending on your fitness and time constraints.


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Coastal forests in the Buffalo Valley section) 

Goukamma, Nature reserve, Kelp Guls, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds
(Sunrise in Buffalo Bay: Kelp Gulls talking)

Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail,
(Coastal forests on the Porcupine Trail 13,5km)

Searching for Nightjars in Goukamma from Alex Aitkenhead on Vimeo.

Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail,
(Almost at the summit of a large vegetated sand dune above Groenvlei)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Public Boat launch site to Groenvlei)

On the coastal side of the vegetated dune field, we were fortunate to secure five nights at the Fish Eagle loft, located above the Otters Rest main house in the reserve's Goukamma section. Sweeping views across the valleys in the west and the estuary mouth in the east, dramatic sunsets are the rewards for this unique setting. 

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Otters Rest and Fish Eagles Loft as seen from the coast) 

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Large sundeck with braai area, you can witness the best sunrise and sunsets in comfort)

If you're looking for complete privacy, consider the River Lodge, Forest Lodge, or the Vlei Lodge. They are situated in the Buffalo Valley section, far away from the main Goukamma operational offices. Three recently renovated luxury lodges overlooking the scenic Goukamma river and estuary is another excellent offering. 


Cape Nature has two accommodation units available in the Groenvlei section, the Mvubu Bush Lodge and the rustic Groenvlei Bush Camp (due for an upgrade this year). All the accommodation units are self-catering.


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Forest Lodge set deep in the Coastal Forest and right on the river's edge)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Vlei Lodge on the edge of Bird Vlei)

Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail, Groenvlei,



Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail, Groenvlei,
(Bird Vlei and the private Vlei Lodge)

As an avid birder, we were impressed with the variety of bird species we recorded during our five-day stay. We can recommend with confidence that Goukamma as a birding destination is outstanding. Although Goukamma diverse habitat supports many animal species, it was disappointing that we did not encounter any animals over this period.


Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail, Groenvlei,
(Dramatic sunsets from Otters Rest accommodation high on the dune ridge)


Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail, Groenvlei, Buffalo Bay, Camping,
(Crashing waves at the Buffalo Bay Campsite)

If listening to the early morning call of the resident Fish Eagle or the quiet hooting at dusk by the Spotted Eagle owls, then this is Heaven on earth.

Up early for some of the unique forest birds and at night, we searched for Owls and Nightjars. Due to the natural environment's diversity, more than 200 birds have been recorded in this nature reserve. Birding being my main priority, we were very impressed by the variety of birds encounter in each ecosystem. Some of the notable birds we recorded were:


Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail, Groenvlei, Buffalo Bay, Camping,
(It doesn't get more picture-perfect than this) 


Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail, Groenvlei, Buffalo Bay, Camping,
(Enjoying Sunset after a relaxing walk on the Galjoen Trail) 


Along the coastline, Kelp Gulls, Swift, Sandwich, Caspian and Common Terns.




Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail, Groenvlei, Buffalo Bay, Camping,
(Juvenile Kelp Gulls at the Goukamma river mouth)



Goukamma, Nature reserve, Marine Protected Area, Sunset, Knysna, river lodge, hiking Garden route, River Fun, Fish Eagle Lodge, Birding, Seabirds, Porcupine Trail, Groenvlei, Buffalo Bay, Camping,
(Tern roost, Greater Crested, Sandwich and Common Terns)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Breading pair of White-Fronted Plovers)



In the estuary, Cape-, reed-, white-breasted and darter Cormorants, common greenshank and common sandpiper. 

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(White Breasted Cormorant)



Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Common Sandpiper)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Surprised to find this Cape Cormorant on the estuary)


 

Coastal Forest, recording Knysna turaco, Cape batis, Black Cuckooshrike(male and female), Southern Boubou and the African Paradise Flycatcher.


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Paradise Flycatcher found at the Forest Lodge)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
( Elegant Knysna Taraco in the coastal forests) 

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Cape Batis captured at the Forest Lodge)


Coastal Fynbos, Bar-throated Apalis, Nedeky, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Red-necked Spurfowl and Forked tailed Dorongo.


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Karoo Prinia)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Bar-Throated Apalis)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Forked Tailed Dorongo)


Vlei and marsh, Common Moorhen, Malachite Kingfisher, Western Marsh Harrier, Jackal and Common Buzzard.


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(One of many Forest Buzzards)


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Marsh Harrier over the Vlie section)


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Juvenile Malachite Kingfisher at Bird Vlei)

Goukamma River, African Fish Eagle, Pied and Giant Kingfisher, Common Weavers, Grey Heron.

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Resident Fish Eagle, seen on every day of our stay)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Hunting Pied Kingfisher, a good number of birds seen on the estuary)


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Giant Kingfisher with a decent size catch)


Groenvlei Section
, Little Grebe, Red Knobbed Koot, Green Woodpecker, Olive Thrush, Speckled Mousebirds.


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(The very busy Green Woodpecker)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Little Grebe: Dabchick at Birdvlei)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Speckled Mousebirds enjoying some early morning sun) 


Intermediate Zones, Blue Crane, Red Billed-Teal, Purple Heron, Diederik Cuckoo and a host of Sunbirds.


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Grey Herron on the prowl)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Another odd find, Red-Billed Teal)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Disturbed this regal Purple Heron at Bird Vlei)


Time seemed irrelevant in this setting, surrounded by the Indian ocean and the Goukamma river, the crashing waves and sounds of the dark water lapping on the shore: two powerful forces of nature controlling our mood. Goukamma is the Khoisan word for "dark waters" in reference to the rivers' water being coloured by natural occurring tannins in the soil.

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(African Oystercatchers along the coastline just before estuary mouth)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Surfing in Buffels Bay)

Take the Blue Ferry and cross over the Goukamma River, to explore one of the six-day trails, experience beautiful coastal fynbos together with dense concentrations of milkwood, yellowwood and candlewood found in the coastal forest. Soak up the solitude of miles of unspoilt beaches as the powerful waves chase the rare African Black Oystercatcher. We hiked some of the shorter trails on the Goukamma side, the scenic Blombos trail at Groenvlei is a must if you are feeling energetic. 

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
( The little blue ferry will get you across the river to enjoy the solitude of the coastline)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(The start for the Blombos Trail on the Groenvlei side, this trail comes highly recommended)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Some of the largest vegetated sand dunes in South Africa, on the Blombos Trail)


Hire a canoe and take a slow meander up the river, one can picnic, swim and fish in the lagoon. Head down to Buffels Bay and surf in the warm water or work on your tan, if this is too stressful, kick back and enjoy the views from the large sundeck while relaxing. The reserve welcomes day visitors and one can braai and picnic right on the water's edge.  Goukamma has it all.


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Rough seas near the Goukamma River mouth)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Hire a canoe and take a slow boat up the Goukamma River, we were hoping to find the Finfoot)

Undoubtedly, we will return to complete some of the walking trails that we didn't have time to appreciate and hopefully record some of the rare birds we missed. 


Leaving the coastline and heading deep into the Knysna forests, the tented decks in the Diepwalle section would be our next destination. No holiday experience in the Garden Route is complete without exploring these lush green forests.


Look out for our next adventure as we encounter numerous champion trees, unique forest birds and various walking trails.


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Use this Map to plan your Activities)



Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Another great find the Fiery-necked Nightjar on the road towards the Vlei Lodge)


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Yellow-billed Ducks  at Sunset, and the supporting cast of Blacksmith Lapwing)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Forest Buzzards in an atrial display at sunrise)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Great Egret with small fish)


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Grey Heron at Sunset)


Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Spotted Grunter caught at the entrance gate by the local fishermen)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area
(Scorpion crossing the road on a hiking trail)

Goukamma Nature reserve and Marine Protected Area

( The rare African Black Oystercatcher)