2007-12-12 - 7:21 a.m.
all photos � 2007 by elaine radford
Note: Don't miss my trip report from Madagascar. To my knowledge, we are the first tour to see Madagascar Serpent-Eagle, amongst other brags. To start with part one, Ranomafana, click here. To continue with part two, Ampijoroa, click here. Part 3, Masaola, is here. Part 4 is right here. Here's the bird list, and here's the lemur list.
After I typed up my J'burg adventures of December 2, I hurried outside. It was just 7 PM, the sun had just set, and the owl was not there. Had I missed him? As I ate my picnic at the table by the pool in the growing darkness, I began to worry. On the other nights, he had appeared immediately at sunset and before full darkness. It would be too bad if I didn't get to see him on my last night. Fortunately, he did not disappoint me, although once again, he disappointed the camera, since by 7:20 it was too dark to attempt a photograph, even when he perched relatively close. I enjoyed my final views in the binoculars though. "I knew you would come!" I told him. Weird lady, talking to an owl. He was carrying prey, but I'm not sure what.
As I noted, I was scheduled to be picked up by the bird guide at 4:30 AM. Well, what I never thought of was, what do I do if I was awakened by a horrible thunderstorm at 3:30 AM? I sort of thought it was a desert and had not even considered making any fall-back arrangement. So I went ahead, dragged my suitcase up to the front of the hostel, and hoped for the best. As the rain kept falling, I worried that he just wouldn't show up. But he was only a little late -- and this, not because of the rain, but because of a flat tire. It was a gray day, but it was my only day, so we were off to the races. In the end, I think the rain was probably lucky, because it turned into a mild and pleasant day, and I didn't have to worry so much about the chance of being badly sunburned. Also, with it never getting really hot, there was never a time when the birding slowed down, which was really advantageous when you've only got one day to get a good list.
Oh, and also worth mentioning, on a Monday morning in December (their late spring?) after a crazy, noisy thunderstorm, we had both reserves virtually to ourselves. At Marievale, we saw one other birder as we were leaving. At Suikerbosrand, arriving around lunchtime, we saw people using the picnic areas and a small school group of Jewish schoolboys (complete with yarmulkes) studying the example farm buildings. But the "tourist route" itself? Ours, all ours.
It would be so overwhelming to make notes of the impressions made on me by the various birds that I almost didn't make any comments at all. However, I can't resist a few random scribbles, bearing in mind that I simply don't have time or space to comment on all 125 species seen in a day. (And the guide saw more, I'm a s-l-o-w person.) So just a few birds crying out for comment:
I'd met some of the birds earlier, but I think I got every bird on my South Africa list today, with the exception of the Spotted Eagle-Owl, which I saw only at the hostel. I took fewer pictures than I planned, considering the beautiful scenery, but it was a whirl-wind day of birds, birds, birds, getting as many species as we possibly could. Whew!
Our first stop was Marievale Bird Sanctuary, an atmospheric wetland. In addition to good views of good birds, we also encountered a good close sighting of a Black-Backed Jackal, who paused while crossing the road to give us a very nice look. We spent the rest of the day at Suikersbosrand, which included a scenic "tourist route" for cars, making it very easy to cover a lot of ground. Lots of mammals there -- Chacma Baboon, Black Wildebeest, Zebra, Red Hartebeest, Eland, Common Duiker, Springbuck. The guide brought a cooler full of drinks and treats, so other than a brief lunch stop, we went full-bore all-out birding all day. (Yes, a cooler. With actual ice. We're not in Kansas, I mean, Madagascar any more, folks.) At times I was spinning. The birds kept coming so fast that I just didn't see all of them. But I saw a heck of a lot.
At the end of the day, with a pink sunset in the sky, we went to the new addition at Suikerbosrand to wait for the Marsh Owl. It didn't come immediately. Like the Spotted Eagle Owl, it decided to wait a few minutes after sunset to start flying. But when it did -- wow! A big finish to a big day.
atmospheric mountain landscape of suikerbosrand, near johannesburg, south africa
Would you believe I flew all the way back, JNB-AMS, AMS-MEM, and MEM-MSY, and I never watched a movie? Here is where business class really proved its value, because I could sleep, sleep, sleep, and sleep some more. Alas, only one of the planes was operated by KLM, so I collected only one more little Dutch house with gin in it. AMS-MEM was NW operated, so no cute little souvenirs. Boo hiss. I did have time to visit the KLM clubroom in AMS though. The soup wasn't half-bad although I'm not sure if the glass of wine followed by a half jigger of Cognac was a wise decision. But it isn't every day you're flying back from seeing the Madagascar Serpent-Eagle.
By the way, just so you'll know, I learned that in business class, you are welcome to help yourself in the galley. But what really happens is that you never do, because you just stretch out and go to sleep. I think once in four trips I went back and got some extra water, but I never did really investigate the bar. I hope I didn't let the team down too badly.
Back at home, I gave DH the little Amsterdam house with its little ounce of gin, as well as a golf shirt from a snooty J'burg mall. There just weren't any shirts of the kind he wears in Madagascar, at least not where I was looking. I also learned that our former neighbor is being transferred to South Africa. Hmmm. Wonder if they want a house guest. Tee hee.
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