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After a long, long time, I have got around to typing up another edition of Bustards Banter. Since the last edition, we've explored Honduras for a rally to help raise awareness of avi-tourism in the country, visited Mozambique a few times, we had cycling legend Phil Liggett and his wife Trish join us for a private trip of Caprivi and the Okavango pan handle, attended more Birding Big Weekends assisting the Honorary Rangers in Kruger National Park, organised numerous pelagics, from Durban, Cape Town, and St. Lucia, taken loads of clients out on day trips, we had Flock at Sea 2017 (who will ever forget that). We also had some very memorable twitches, with a super co-operative Egyptian Vulture allowing stacks of happy twitchers to get a glimpse, a Eurasian Blackcap popping up in a birders garden in Cape Town, in winter!, a budget stretching Ross's Turaco popping down the Kwando to end up near Hippo Pool in the Linyanti concession, Little Ringed Plover attracting a Citrene Wagtail and first confirmed Upcher's Warbler for the country to its unlikely haunt at Tankatara.

The travelling Bustard then set out on a spree of exploratory trips, establishing local partners and thereby expanding our offerings, first to Australia, north eastern Uganda for Black-breasted Barbet, Morocco, a succesful scouting trip to Angola with the chaps from Cheepers Birding and Unearth Safaris, and the latest, a dream trip to Papua New Guinea, seeing no less than 15 species of Birds of Paradise. These locations will be on our agenda in the coming years.

Uganda: Kidepo National Park

The main reason for visiting the remote Kidepo National Park was to find Black-breasted Barbet, Africa's largest barbet, with a massive bill - you have to pity those figs!

We started off, as you do, with a quick trip down to Mabamba Swamp to look at the bizarre Shoebill - after a few misses, we popped up a channel too choked for the engine to work, with the boatman eventually getting into the water to push the boat along. As you can probably guess by the incredibly close up shot, we got the bird! It eventually strode slowly around the boat searching for it breakfast of lung fish.

The drive to Kidepo was eventful, as we managed to spot my nemesis from previous trips, the beautiful White-crested Turaco. At last! Birding was brilliant, with Fox Kestrel, Abyssinian Roller, White-headed Barbet, Pygmy Batis, Yellow-billed Shrike and Superb Starling just some of the birds keeping us entertained. That afternoon, after just about tripping over the numerous Side-striped Jackals in the camp, we hit an area of small hills, with fruiting figs. Hey presto, there they were 5 beautiful Black-breasted Barbets foraging in the fig trees. Magnificent....

Egyptian Plover is incredibly uncommon in Uganda, so much so that our friend on the ground, Harriet Kemigisha, has not set eyes on one. She didn't need to tempt us for too long that we "needed" to go and see this national rarity. It was a lifer for me after all.... Such is the mind of a birder however, that I started to scheme of what else could be around Murchison Falls at this time of year. Standard-winged Nightjar? I asked! "There is a chance..." came Harriet's familiar response.

Indeed there was a chance, we saw them flitting around as we left the lodge to go and look for the plover. Eventually two males landed, giving incredible views, with their crazy extended primary feather.

There was a small chance of the plover too, as after a guarded walk through hippo and elephant droppings along the river, a boat picked us up and dropped us off almost back where we started, to see this crazy patterned Crocodile Bird scratching around next to the boat launch. Some workers were there to pick up a generator, Harriet politely shooed them off as I wriggled along on my stomach to get level with the little beauty.

Although Egyptian Plover is not a guarantee, this is a highly recommended trip, all in less than a week - Mabamba Swamp, Kidepo National Park, Murchison Falls, Budongo Forest, and back to Entebbe - the trip is pretty much tailored to your desires or needs, so pricing is on request. All I do know, is searching for Black-breasted Barbet in January is a great way to bring in a new year.

Send me more info on Uganda trips


Morocco - braving the freezing desert

I've been threatening to do this trip for a few years. This year I finally joined my friends Mark Beevers and Glen Valentine, who were guiding a scheduled Rockjumper tour to Morocco. Mark had given me his 10 pence worth on the best timing, and due to a better chance at a few species in February rather than May, such as African Crimson-winged Finch and Alpine Chough, I decided on February.

Those who know me will know I don't feel the cold too much. I had therefore packed one pair of thermal pants, a pair of jeans, and a light jacket, plus waterproofs. BAD CHOICE!

On our first morning the destination was Oukaimeden, ski slopes in the Atlas Mountains. Of course, although February is very warm in our South African summers, it is the Moroccan winter.

We were lucky with the finch, as well as several Red-billed and Alpine Choughs whirling around the snowy hillsides. The finch was in the most unlikely of places, foraging in rubbish next to busy stalls, where holidaymakers were enjoying the fresh snow on the skislopes. After a tasty lunch we walked the slopes, spotting several of the finches, Long-legged Buzzards, loads of Chough - we ascended a narrow road to a telecom mast, where Alpine Accentor is a regular, as well as a chance of Ring Ouzel on the way up. The snow was too thick for the vehicle to take us up, so we walked it, occasionally disappearing up to our knees in snow drifts. Neither target was obliging, we made do with a Red Fox on one of the steep slopes.

On descent we bumped into another birding group, who told us they'd found Horned Lark on the lake across from the police station - sure enough, there it was! We also found an Accentor a short way down the road, as we stopped at strategic points to try and find a Dipper for our list. As the sun was dipping low, we finally spotted two before going on down to our hotel.

It was a great first day on our trip, where we went to some remarkable sites: Tizi & test pass, the gorges of Boulmaine Dades, a pelagic out of Agadir (on a very flat, lake like surface!), down to the frozen Zaida plains, the Sahara desert, Erg Chebbi, where we saw several special species including the Desert Warbler above, before finally going back to Marrakech where we started and ended the trip.

We will be running group trips in the future, please send us an enquiry if you are interested.


Papua New Guinea - a childhood dream realised


As a youngster, I can remember paging through National Geographic magazines, bird books, and seeing David Attenborough on television, showing the impressive and bizarre Birds of Paradise. It had long been a dream of mine to go and see these crazy birds. Earlier this year, a friend who I only knew through Facebook at the time, sent me two tour itineraries - "what do you think" he had asked. Well, my reply was: I think I'm joining you in PNG!!

It's a long, long slog to get there from Johannesburg, especially when your Qantas flight is delayed by 8 hours. However, 50 hours after leaving home, I was on the ground in Port Moresby! I had the afternoon to kill and was warned against going birding alone, so had some lunch and strolled the hotel grounds, which were pretty large. I found two lifers in Singing Starling and Yellow-tinted Honeyeater, plus a few others I'd seen in Australia, such as a Blue-winged Kookaburra chasing after a Collared Sparrowhawk. Not a bad start. I retired to the bar overlooking the airport, sampling the three most popular PNG beers, South Pacific Export Lager (the label features Raggiana Bird of Paradise - the national bird), Niugini Ice Premium Beer, and SP Lager - my research was spot on, SP Lager, the cheapest, and most widely enjoyed, was the best of the 3!

I met up with the group the next morning, for a short flight to Mt. Hagen - we were going straight to Kumul Lodge - famed for the ease of ticking off Ribbon-tailed Astrapia, as they regularly attend the feeding table there. Ah yes, I've had that one before... But we got there, and within 10 minutes of getting to the viewpoints, there they were too. Fantastic, along with a female Brown Sicklebill, 2 BoP's were on my list.

Kumul Lodge provides relatively easy access to sites that are reliable for several highly sought after BoP's, such as Lesser, Blue, Superb and King of Saxony. The latter, with its crazy feathers protuding from the sides of the head, was one of my most wanted. We got distant views of it displaying, waving the crazy feathers around and giving its crackly static like call. My pictures don't do it justice, but just watch a Youtube clip here, you'll see why I HAD to see one!

Next up was Kiunga, on the Fly River. Here we were hoping to see Greater, Twelve-wired and King Bird of Paradise, Trumpet and Glossy-mantled Manucode, and an "almost" BoP, the crazy coloured Flame Bowerbird. We had success on all counts, also adding one of my personal targets, one of the Paradise Kingfsihers, in this case it was Common Paradise Kingfisher.

Our last destination was Varirata National Park - there is a reliable lek of Raggiana Bird of Paradise - which we had seen in flight over Fly River, but this promised much better sightings. Staying not too far from the park, we wnet there early in the morning to get set up to see these amazing birds. The caw away in the trees around the lek area, and start to move in to claim a prominent perch to show off their gaudy tails. Once a female comes onto the scen, oh boy, all hell breaks loose as the males spin and twist and flair the bright red tails up in a crazy plume over their heads. Photos cannot do these amazing birds justice.

People say, so you've done it. Would you do it again? At the drop of a hat! Indeed we are marketing our 2019 and even 2020 trips already. Prices will be from $3,800 in 2019 and in the region of $4,000 in 2020. Email info@bustardsbirding.co.za for further information. The trip for some "odd" reason is proving to be quite popular!

African Pitta

Central Mozambique and Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. The allure of an African Pitta for one's list is enough to get a person yearning for a trip to Mozambique. Add on Swynnerton's Robin in Zimbabwe, Böhm's Bee-eater in Mozambique, akalats, alethes, apalises, greenbuls as well as a whole host of others, the tiny Suni of the forests, swarms of migrating Snouted Butterflies, and you have a trip of your dreams. We'll be running a trip in December 2019 in search of these gems.

Ethiopia: This is the country with the most endemic bird species of any country in Africa. Our trips travel around the country seeking out these as well as several wonderful mammals, including highly endangered Ethiopian Wolf in the high altitude Bale Mountains. See details on the trip on http://bustardsbirding.co.za/ethiopia-2017/

Nambia draws a lot of interest too, with our scheduled trip from Windhoek up to the Kunene River getting several enquiries, as does the October trip through the Caprivi Strip, helped along of course by another bucket list bird, Pel's Fishing Owl pictured here.

We take tours to just about anywhere in the world, and do not limit our trips to bird watching, we have a diverse range of offerings, whether it be mammals, reptiles, an interest in improving your photographic skills, observing or being involved in bird ringing trips - the Bustards will get you achieving your desires. Our popular trips include Vietnam (first quarter), Ethiopia (first quarter), Caprivi and Okavango (early summer), Papua New Guinea (July), Northern Cape (winter), Zimababwe and Mozambique (December), to mention a few.

Some new trips on the cards are remote India for Snow Leopard, Southern India and Sri Lanka as well as our Tigers and Taj Mahal trip.

Day trips out of Gauteng have proven very popular, whether it be to get to grips with some difficult species, a pre or post trip excursion, a day out from a business trip, or just a day to get out of the city. These are customisable, to extend to multi day trips to get further afield, or even as quick as a few hours when stuck in the airport, as one of our Singapore clients found, far preferable to a 6 hour layover in the airport!

My addiction for pelagic birding has me travelling to Durban, Cape Town and St Lucia running pelagic trips. We get up close and personal with these amazing birds, giving great photographic opportunities. See http://www.niall.co.za/pelagic/KZNpelagictrips.htm for details of dates.