WARNING: The following post contains 90% pictures of birds by volume. If you're not interested in birds , check out the post on Guns or the Anniversary Appendectomy.
Last week, my friend Andrew de Klerk took me out for a morning of birding at Marievale Bird Sanctuary. The sanctuary lies about 70km southeast of Johannesburg. Its 2500 acres of small ponds and mudflats are the result of mining operations disrupting the course of the Blesbokspruit, a small stream (by USA standards) that ultimately flows into the mighty Vaal river.
Marievale is one of South Africa's IBAs (Important Bird Areas, not Irritable Bowel). The species list for Marievale is over 280 species, and it's a main feeding area for Eurasian migratory species in the boreal winter. The following pictures show just a few of these bird species I was able to capture using my new telephoto lens.
An African Darter. There are only five species in the darter's immediate family, and like cormorants they produce no oil so their feathers become waterlogged when swimming. Although this helps them dive for small fish, it also requires extended periods of drying in the sun.
This rather emo-looking fellow is a Black Heron. In the picture below, he's making an umbrella of his wings to shade the water so he spot small fish and frogs.
A gorgeous Black Winged Stilt foraging and in flight. Look carefully at stilt's beak on the top photo - you should be able to see a droplet of water between the upper and lower parts. Stilts (and many other shorebirds) actually use surface tension to transport small droplets of water containing their prey up the beak and into the mouth (like capillary action).
A Cape Longclaw, one of my favorite South African birds. It's quite similar but not closely related to the Meadowlark of the USA.
One of the boreal winter visitors (from Siberia), a Curlew Sandpiper.
Unfortunately a rather rotten picture, but this is a Hottentot Teal, a cute little duck that migrates within Africa.
One of the many dead barbels (catfish) seen floating in the wetland. This one was about 2 feet long, but some go over a yard.
A Lesser Striped Swallow, another intra-African migrant. This one is not quite in full breeding plumage.
A Lesser Marsh Warbler defends his territory. The warblers down here are basically all brown and indistinguishable to a novice eye like mine. Calls are quite distinctive though.
Another of my favorite South African birds, this is a Long Tailed Widowbird male, displaying for mates. These guys formed the basis for a classic study in sexual selection, where researchers captured the males, cut the tail feathers off of some and glued additional tail feathers to others. The males with the longest tails mated with significantly more females. The long tail makes them particularly susceptible to wind, and it's funny to see these fellows being blown about like loose kites in the summer breezes.
The Masked Weaver, a ubiquitous garden bird. Although garrulous, they're pleasing to the eye and weave intricate nests.
These may or may not be weaver nests, but you get the idea.
A Red Bishop male in full breeding plumage.
This cover of Red Knobbed Coots filled the lee side of one of the small waterways. Apparently people have spotted upwards of 3000 of these birds at a time during peak season.
The Reed Cormorant, a resident of Marievale.
Here's a little Stone Chat male just getting up to full breeding colors.
This Ruff is a Eurasian migrant, and yet another species that flocks to Marievale in the boreal winter. 3500 were once counted in a single large flock (proper name: a fling of sandpipers).
The above three pictures are of one of my new favorites, the ethereal Squacco Heron. These guys are just wintering here.
A Whiskered Tern on patrol.
A White Throated Cormorant giving a strange display.
A White Throated Swallow chilling out.
The Yellow Billed Duck is a South African local.
Finally, this Yellow Crowned Bishop stands out in the swamp.
All in all, we saw 70 species in a few hours of birding (on a windy, cold, rainy morning), of which 40 or so were completely new to me. All of the pictures above are of relatively common birds. Next time - Kingfishers!