23 Apr 2008

Grey Grey Walvis Bay

Peregrine's Bird Photographer Recommendations My Recommendation is another South African Nature Photographer Kirsten Frost whose website can be found Here.
Not bad for a Sixteen year old.

Walvis Bay

The Walvis Bay lagoon is regarded as one of the most important wetlands along the west coast of Southern Africa, not only for the large numbers of resident species found here, but particularly for the vast numbers of both intra-african and Palaearctic migrants. It is renowned for the large number of both Lesser Flamingo and Greater Flamingo, and has been listed by RAMSAR as a Natural heritage site. Although the lagoon area does not have any exceptional specials, the sheer numbers and diversity, especially of visiting migrants, is a major attraction. Black-necked Grebe can be observed in rafts of up to 800 individuals, and at times thousands of migratory terns are encountered. The best time to visit the area is between October and April. Damara Tern, Chestnut-banded Plover, Dune Lark and Gray's Lark breed during this time.

I woke up early after sleeping very badly and as soon as it was light I went out of the door of our hotel room onto the deck.The view was very very grey. It remained that way for most of our stay. It also made photography quite difficult as I had to shoot at high ISO and so lost quite alot of detail.

On the shore right in the front of the hotel was a Grey Plover which allowed me to get quite close. Considering I have been trying to get close to one back home for a long time without a great deal of success.

There was also a small plover which I assumed to be a White Fronted Plover even though when looking through the ID book it looked as though it could have been a Kentish Plover, but unlikely as extremely rare vagrant.

There was also a Little Egret on the pier which took off as I approached and landed in the water just in front of me.

Out on the water hundreds of Cape Cormorants were flying low over the water accompanied by hundreds of terns all settling down on the water for a feeding frenzy.

Here is a Common Tern with a prawn.

There were Sandwich,


Arctic,Little,Black and White Winged and new to me the Damara Tern, which is very similar to Little Tern.

There was a Heuglin’s Gull also new to me.

and a Cape Gull
sitting on the pier. It was calling to another gull over and over.

We had our breakfast and decided to go out on a boat trip with Mola-Mola Tours. It was a three hour tour on this small catemeran type boat with two 150horsepower engines capable of nearly 30 knots. We headed to the mouth of the lagoon stopping on the way to look at the way they did their oyster farming and at a Russian Trawler which had been impounded for illegal fishing as was now home to hundreds of Cape Cormorants, the smell of guano was overpowering.
We got to the Cape Fur Seal Colony (I think in the UK we call them sealions) and I took a grabshot of three African Black Oystercatcher passing overhead. I could also see a couple of skuas out further on the water and took a shot but not sure what they were . We were trying to see some Heavy Sided Dolphin and I think I was scanning the sea so hard for birds that I spotted them first. I got a couple of shots but only showing their dorsal fin. We then were joined by a Cape fur seal who came right into the boat and this was a mile out to sea. We then fed it some fish before it was asked politely to leave!!! Here it is looking very affronted that it has been booted off the boat.
After leaving them we went to some calmer water to eat our Oysters and Champagne and very good they were too. On our way back to the dock a few Pelicans flew alongside. I think they are wonderful looking birds.

We got back to the Hotel and there were loads of Common Waxbills feeding on the plants around the hotel.

In the afternoon I had decided to explore the inner lagoon which is a RAMSAR Site for Waders.There are salt lagoons where the salt water is allowed to flood then they are drained to a few inches and the sun does the rest of the work.

In Ireland I might see a few Curlew Sandpipers a year and a few Little Stints here they there were in their thousands .

There were Black Winged Stilt , Pied Avocets, a couple of Redshank which are uncommon here, Ruff and Grey Plover, Curlew and Whimbrel and Flamingos and Lesser Flamingos.

There was also another wader which I had really hoped to see which was the Terek Sandpiper as I have never seen one before but even though I scanned a lot of shoreline could not see the distinct upturned bill.I did see a single Caspian Tern a long way away.Then Penny decided she wanted to return to Hotel so I proposed to go out later on my own when the tide had come in a bit.

When I came out later I met an American Birder who has lived in Africa for the last five years working for the Peace Corps. He had a pretty good knowledge of African Birds. He also had the same problem as me a wife who wasn’t that interested in birds!!! I asked him his name and he said “Craig” what a coincidence. After he left I finally found the Terek Sandpiper which I had wanted to see unfortunately the sun was setting behind it and made it difficult to get a decent shot.

I headed back to the Hotel, and passed all the Kite Surfers who seemed to be having a great time out on the lagoon. The blacked up Mercedes were also returning to the Hotel. They were looking at me with my camera with a certain amount of suspicion until I went and told them that I was interested in birds and not their cars.

My car was making a bad noise when it was turning and I suspected that my cv joint had gone. So Penny called the car hire place and they suggested we went to Swakopmund in the morning to a garage.

We stayed at the Pelican Bay Hotel and the service was dire, not a good choice. I think its saving grace was it's position and that alone.

1 Apr 2008

Finally Catch up with the Dune Lark a Namibian Endemic on a Stunning Morning.

Peregrine's Bird Photographer Recommendations

When I first embarked on Bird Photography I was constantly looking at lenses and the one I thought would be ideal was the Sigma 300-800. Sadly too expensive and even now I am not sure whether I would really like it as it doesn't have image stabilisation. A Canon 500 f4 I think would be a better option using converters when necessary. However there were two Bird Photographers whose work with the Sigma 300-800 that I was really impressed with. Firstly a rarity in the Bird Photography World a lady by the name of Sue Tranter , who is from England and her website can be found Here. The other was a Phillipino Bird Photographer called Romy Ocon who incidentally is colour blind not that you would know it from his photography Here. and his BlogHere. I have recommended him for the Photographer’s Award for Lifetime Commitment to Wildlife Photography. This is a new category in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year
"This award will be given to the photographer whose work and commitment to wildlife photography is considered worthy of commendation. This can either be through the sheer power and beauty of their imagery or the positive impact the imagery has made. All entrants can nominate candidates for this award."

Tuesday 26th February

I got up at 5.30 and headed the thirty minutes to the gate at Sesriem.
I was only a few cars back from the gate and only had to wait for about ten minutes. I had read in Southern African Birdfinder where to look for the Dune Lark and it mentioned stopping at a place to look for Dune Lark.(I have to say I really do recommend this book it is absolutely excellent) I got to the site and photographed my shadow first of all as it was so long.
Then a shot of the contrast between the sky and the dunes.
I then started to look, initially with no luck, until two landed down in front of me. I followed them and tried to take photos.

Feeling quite pleased with myself for having seen this endemic bird I headed further into the park in the hope that I would see the Namaqua Sand Grouse again. The first thing I came across was this lone Oryx or Gemsbok as they are known locally. They really are a magnificent animal. The Oryx has adapted wonderfully to the Desert environment. They can go for weeks without water; They tend to feed at night when the moisture content of the vegetation is higher.Their bodies retain so much moisture that when they urinate it is like treacle. In the evenings they go and stand on top of dunes to pick up the evening breezes and sometimes will run to cool down.

On the other side of the road was this Pied Crow in a nest.

I then set up my tripod to take some more photos of the dunes
and while doing so a flock of sandgrouse flew overhead and then landed a few hundred yards in front of me. I walked very slowly towards them but they were very wary and took off again.

Penny was going for a ride back at the Desert Homestead and I had promised that I would be back by 12.00 in order that we could move onto our next destination and as time was disappearing fast I headed back to the gate and made a quick stop at a dried out riverbed which had a lot of trees alongside. It was to be a fruitful stop. The first bird I saw was an Ostrich walking along the riverbed.Then I saw a Swallow Tailed Bee Eater which is much smaller than the European one. It was flying out from a tree catching flies and returning to its perch.

Much of this trip I have been photographing birds as soon as I see them and after look at them through the binoculars and then later when I download them onto my laptop I can ID them with the help of my SASOL Birds of South Africa. I also saw a Chestnut-Vented-Tit-Babbler, an Acacia Pied Barbet, Rock Dove, Namaqua Dove, a number of Cape Sparrows and a Pale Chanting Goshawk and this Dusky Sunbird which had been singing.

I had spent quite a lot of time here and was annoyed with the time pressure I was under as I was really enjoying my birding.As I got back into the car I saw the moon on top of this tree.

I then headed back to the Desert Homestead and found Penny had had a good ride and met up with another snake this time a non poisonous one!!
This is the Desert Homestead.

We packed paid and headed off to Walvis Bay a five hour journey. We stopped to refuel at Solitaire
and had another sandwich and a massive slice of apple pie which they are well known for plus a couple of soft drinks. This came to about £3 cost for both of us. This country is very cheap for eating out.

It was a long and hot drive and we drove through amazing scenery yet again.We also saw our first Kudu.

The real desert was fairly bleak
and we covered about a 120 kilometres without seeing another vehicle. Then two brand new Mercedes drove past us at very high speed and we thought it must have been some government minister. It wasn’t until we got to our hotel in Walvis Bay that we realized that Mercedes were doing desert testing of their new vehicles. There were about twenty vehicles in the car park some all blacked out and most with covers on.

We checked in to our hotel The Pelican Bay Hotel. It was right on the lagoon.
We then headed out for a bar snack in the Raft restaurant. It was a real treat and we had a fish course which was absolutely excellent. 2 Pints of lager, a bottle of wine , 2 starters and 2 mains came to £18 / $34. We decided there and then to return the following night. The evening was made even better, as the restaurant is built on stilts and sits out over the lagoon, watching the sunset with the Flamingos and Pelicans flying off to their roosts.