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Chop Chop: Bird Magicians of the Kruger, So Africa

Updated: Aug 28, 2022

Zino's Petrel 16 June 2022 - endemic. Nests in an extinct volcanic caldera high above eastern Madeira Island

Late SUMMER and Autumn SCHEDULE Bird Walks every Thursday, Fri; Sat; Sun. and Monday. Saturdays and Sundays at 730am and again at 930am - you get two bird walks for the price of one. See here (click on that link!) for complete bird walk schedule. All walks remain $10. Photo above: female Saddlebill Stork on 15 July 2022: note yellow eyes (black on male), and the female lacks the small yellow wattles of the male.

17 August 2022

Birds of THE National Park of Africa

We are just back from The Kruger National Park in South Africa. It is huge, some 220 miles north to south (+ 40 miles east to west). To see nothing but endless savanna, open forest and rivers, with birds and mammals sprinkled in...well that is awe-inspring. Deborah and I drove the length of the park for several weeks in July-August, and are here to report a few highlights. We'd be happy to help anyone interested in doing a self-drive in one of the great national parks of the world: it is not expensive and everything can be arranged on-line. Below is Deborah at a typical lodge within the park (with outdoor kitchenette, indoor air-con and ceiling fan) for about $60-$75 night; and our four-wheel drive (manual transmission six speed) Toyota Hilux ($50-$60/day). In the southern winter, dry season we occasionally saw small cars (eg., one liter engines with two seats/$25 day) easily driving the paved roads, and even the back dusty ones, looking for elephants, zebras and birds with us. But many times, we were the only ones on the road.

South Africa is well-equipped to handle traveler's wishing to see the Big Five. (WAIT! While Deborah and I were there, it became the Big Seven.) What we are trying to say is that our entire experience was safe and fun - and can easily be done by the independent minded people that like our NYC Bird Walks so much. Why spend crazy amounts of money to go on safari with a private agency, when you can determine where and when you want to go every day...and choose how much time to spend at each location?

In this Newsletter we present info on what we saw, most very close: just outside our SUV windows for the birds, and a few meters away for the mammals. For the former, we used our usual methods (sound), with the caveat that birds are very alert to movement, even by those within a vehicle. By contrast the mammals usually viewed our SUV as just another part of the "natural" landscape, even if we were moving or whispering inside. The mother cheetah in this video (click here) was about 30 feet in front of us on the road, calling her cubs from the adjacent savanna. Many animals find walking the few paved areas easier than traversing the wilderness. There is nothing more exciting than to be stared down by an elephant on the road with its ears flapping: just slowly back up.

Our HISTORICAL NOTES are still on vacation - look for them in coming issues of this Newsletter. Instead we send some stories of our recent trip to the Kruger about being attacked by booping Ground Hornbills; meeting up with the little Pearl Spotted Owlet everywhere in the park by day and night; and some "notes" on birds and other wildlife that came closest to us and why. It was truly amazing the proximity many species will come.

Verreaux's Eagle Owl 10 July 2022: note pink eyelids!

(below) Harrier Hawk 25 July 2022

Good! Bird Walks for mid-August (through 31 October 2022)

All Walks @ $10/person - each in Central Park

1. Thursday, 18 August: (8:30am) Dock on Turtle Pond (mid-park at about 79th st.) $10

2. Friday, 19 August: (8:30am) Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Avenue) $10

3!!!. Saturday, 20 August: 7:30am and again 9:30am; Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe $10

4!!!. Sunday, 21 August: 7:30am and again at 9:30am; Boathouse Restaurant/Cafe $10

5. Monday, 22 August: (8:30am) Strawberry Fields (72nd st. and Central Park West) $10

!!!: if you do the 7:30am walk, you can come on the 9:30am for free (two for one).

*For all our walks: no need to book ahead or pay in advance - just show up at the right time and place and away you go with us. Binoculars can be rented for $10.

Deborah and Bob will be heading to Namibia and Botswana starting 1 November so walks will only be on Sundays starting 7 November (until 10 December when we return). The most current up to the minute schedule can be found HERE (click)

Any questions send them our way: or call: 718-828-8262 (home)

Little Bee-eater on 2 August 2022

*No need to book ahead or pay in advance - just show up at the right time and place and away you go with us! In August through October, our walks on weekends meet at 7:30am and again at 9:30am at the Boathouse Restaurant (approx. 74th street and the East Drive) through early June 2022. Please note: the Boathouse is not one of the buildings that surround the nearby Model Boat Pond - people make this mistake all the time! Friday walks meet uptown at 8:30am at Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Ave); Mondays at 8:30am at Strawberry Fields (Central Park West at 72nd street). And Thursdays at the Dock on Turtle Pond at 830am

WEATHER: If in doubt about whether a walk will take place or not the morning of the walk: check the main landing page of this web site as well as the "Schedule" page - if the walk is cancelled, information will be posted there by 6am the day of the walk, and usually by 11pm the night before. If still confused and as a last resort, call us at home (718-828-8262) - if no one answers it means we left for the bird walk. We end all our Central Park walks (except Fridays) at the Boathouse at about 12noon to 1pm; you can get a cup of coffee and a muffin there (around $6 total). Walks last about 3 hrs (less if hot or rainy), and you can leave at anytime - we won't be offended. If you need directions/help to your next destination, just ask someone on the walk - we are a helpful group.

[below] Lilac-breasted Roller on 4 August 2022

[below] White-crowned Lapwing on 15 July 2022

Here is what we saw last week (brief highlights):

Friday-Saturday-Sunday 12/13/14 August 2022.

A strong cold front moved through the eastern USA starting Thursday evening 11 August. Winds were northerly also an indication of a very strong front (and the high pressure that followed behind it). We here in NYC do best during autumn migration when winds are from the NORTHWEST and up to about 10mph ground speed wind. So Friday morning (12 August) we had a nice diversity of migrants (7 warbler species + Scarlet Tanager), but numbers were low. It is not unusual at this time of the year to get 10-15 warbler species on migration in Central Park...but again, our winds were just a bit too northerly so most of the migration headed to our west. However, we found the first Hooded Warbler of the season, as well as Blue-winged Warbler, Scarlet Tanager. (See below for the links to Deborah's bird lists for each day.) The fun continued on Saturday as we found 8 species of warbler including Worm-eating, and the first of the season Magnolia Warblers (2). However, perhaps our best find was a lingering Hermit Thrush (here since 31 July - and

usually not arriving before early October), see Deborah's photo above. On Sunday, we found 6 Red-breasted Nuthatches (a small irruption is happening this autumn) in the Pinetum area (thanks to sounds from my tape!), as well as the season's first Tennessee Warbler (see photo below). Notice the white undertail coverts.

1. Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Friday, 12 August: Click Here

2. Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Saturday, 13 August: Click Here

3. Deborah's List of Birds in Central Park for Sunday, 14 August: Click Here

On Monday (15 August) we headed into the Atlantic Ocean for a pelagic bird trip, sixty miles or so east of the Lighthouse at Montauk. Deborah photographed the southern White-faced Storm Petrel (below):

More Photos from Kruger (July-August 2022)

Kori's Bustard near Satora Camp on 9 July 2022

(below) Bateleur Eagle (adult female) near Letaba Camp on 18 July 2022

(below) Greater Blue-eared Starlings and Crested Barbet Letaba Camp on 18 July 2022

NOTES from Kruger (July-August 2022)

Attacked by Ground Hornbills (10 July). So we were slowly driving along when we found six or so Ground Hornbills making their way on foot single file on the highway. We pulled over to watch them in their black robes inspecting the newly burned ground. They were close so I took the opportunity to use the usual methods to see what, if anything, would happen. Soon boop booping calls of Ground Hornbills were coming from our SUV.

As if in a trance, the single file of these birds walked slowly to our SUV, but we lost sight of them. A sound like hard rain began in front and behind grew into a hammering upon the bumpers and fenders. The Ground Hornbills must have assumed our SUV was some sort of albino Giant Hornbill and were attacking it. Then they began boop-booping back...We were boop-booping...they were boop-booping...everybody boop-booping. It seems that on our truck (that Toyota Hilux above) there is much reflective metal on the grill and other areas - the real Ground Hornbills could see their reflection quite well. Combined with our boop-booping they took note. After a few minutes the Ground Hornbills continued single file back into the savanna, and we slowly drove away transfixed by the experience. Later we had a close look at the bumpers and all fenders: no marks we could see. That alone would make the rental car place happy (no harm no foul). Who could have imagined that these Ground Hornbills with their eyelashes and strange boop-boop calls, who would have guessed one could bring them in with sound?

Everywhere there were Pearl Spotted Owlets. Being from NYC we are not accustomed to seeing owls during the day, and we can even have a hard time bringing them in at night - especially the small owls. Yes there were some owls on this trip to the Kruger we hardly ever saw (African Barred Owlet; Scops Owl), but could hear well as they endlessly called at night. Imagine our surprise when we started to see the diminutive Pearl Spotted Owlet perched by day in trees along the roads. And if we whistled their call, we could easily bring them in to perch nearby. As with any good landscape with

with a known owl, many local birds also came in to find the "evil one." We could then do a pretty good census of what small birds were in the area. The Pearl Spotted Owlet is often active by day, and it looks so different depending upon the pose it struck, or the light at that time of the day. For example here in harsh afternoon sunshine:

or this Pearl Spotted Owlet on a cloudy day:

or this silly pose:

People and Birds Responded to Sound. Wherever we went in the Kruger we tried using sound. When other people were with us, usually South Africans, they were amazed at what we could call in, and how close it came. For example the Giant Kingfisher (below)

came in to perch about five feet away from a couple having lunch at the back of their SUV. (We were all standing on a bridge over a river.) When we talked about calling birds in to the Rangers in the park, they described to us the calls they used to bring in birds (often the Pearl Spotted Owlet call). One Ranger wanted to know if we had lion calls - he wanted us to bring in a pride of lions for his group! All in all the prevailing attitude among the people (and Rangers) we spoke to was "animals are tough...this is wild country and anything goes - just don't feed them." It seemed to us that if people had an open mind, they saw no problem using sound.

My favorite (though undocumented) event occurred one night when I could not sleep. I decided to go outside to see if I could hear/see an African Barred Owlet. I placed the speaker on the ground near a perch, retreated to our porch, and started playing my squeaky mouse call that owl banders use. Almost immediately a Large Spotted Genet ran up to the speaker and sniffed it..then ran away a few feet...then ran back to sniff the speaker again. Finally the genet must have gotten wind of me because it looked up - and then ran off. The squeaky mouse call was also effective in bringing in Hyenas and Dwarf Mongoose...and getting the attention of perched raptors such as the Brown Snake-eagle and the Bateleur (Eagle).

There were some especially amazing birds on the trip, such as this Yellow-billed Stork

that started out 150 feet from us. Upon hearing the call it first walked, and then ran to us (with cocked tail). When it arrived at our SUV, the stork circled our vehicle, and stopped perhaps ten feet away - and began making the same calls as were coming from my speaker.

This Arnot's Chat is described as rare to uncommon. We went went to the habitat the bird

prefers (woodland with very little undergrowth), and started playing the call. We could quickly bring in two or three at a time. When we spoke to birders back at the camp, some told us they had never seen that species even after years of trying (looking) in the same habitat where we had found them. We have many similar stories of bringing in birds that were far away (such as this African Jacana) to a few feet from our SUV, to other birds we

knew must be in the habitat, but could not see. Sound made them visible such as these

Southern White-crowned Shrikes (below), that were hidden in the Mopane tree forest.

Similarly this African Hoopoe (below) was perched not far away, but we wanted a photo on a better perch. We placed the speaker under the stump, and soon had this photo. The bird even raised its crest for us.

My (Bob's) apologies if someone's ethics have been offended here. We'll have more to say (write) next week about our trip - and South Africa in 2022.


Deborah Allen and Robert DeCandido PhD Follow us on Twitter: @DAllenNYC and/or @BirdingBobNYC

E.P. Bicknell's residence on Hewlett Long Island in 1915

(above) central Kruger National Park from the Oliphants Bridge 9 July 2022

(below) north-central Kruger National Park near Punda Maria 22 July 2022

(below) Mopane Woodland in northern Kruger National Park near Parfuri 2 August 2022


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