Mid-winter’s day proved to be the best winter birding within living memory. The winter species list might be shorter than summer, but if anything the actual head count is greater. Altitudinal migrants and all other stragglers congregate in the Cavern valley at this time of year because of its sheltered warmth.
Fairy Flycatchers are now regular and guaranteed. They never lose their charm – busy and oblivious of all else. They seem to prefer big acacias and the ouhout scrub. Bush Blackcaps too are now a virtual garden certainty, especially in the thicket below the swimming pool.Gurney’s Sugarbirds, sometimes 20 in view at once, dominated the aloes in the garden. Lots of the garden regulars – Cape and Chorister Robin-Chats, Southern Boubou, Fiscal Flycatcher – seem to have multiplied in the short three weeks since the last blog; never a moment without seeing them.
Walking the trail towards top dam offers the best chance for vultures. There were five Cape Vultures circling Sugar Loaf for at least ten minutes, with the bonus of a Lammergeyer at the same time cruising back and forth along the krans edge. This is the time of year when Rock Martins are supposed to vacate the Berg top, and indeed there were lots. They mingle with almost look-alike Brown-throated Martins. The difference is that the Rock is yellowish brown, with white panels in the tail when it’s spread; the Brown-throated is greyish brown, often with a paler belly, no tail panels. They made a fine display skimming at ground level.
Without doubt the highlight was a Sentinel Rock-Thrush, a first at this altitude here. It’s easily distinguished from the regular Cape Rock-Thrush by having a bigger blue-grey hood and a completely grey-blue back. It stayed in a freshly burnt area – perhaps that’s the habitat cue?