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Stiffnecks Newsletter : Volume1, No 5, 2007


Dear Stiffnecks,

This newsletter starts on a high note: the A- Teams expedition to find Pel’s Fishing-Owl and thereby raise funds for Cybertacker proved an undisputed success. Not only did we find the elusive owl, we found a pair of owls, managed to recruit some new birders, and even turned a birder or two into twitchers!

The walk was guided by Frank and Julius, two very able and knowledgeable guides, without whom we may have had far less chance of success. Thank you to these two amazing men, both for taking the time to walk with us, and for teaching us so much about the bush and its occupants. The forum moderators would also like to take this opportunity to thank Admin, Diannet, Wanda, Sandra MacFayden and Rene Travers for making the expedition possible. You are true angels!

So this twitcher can now add Pel’s Fishing-Owl to her list, and with a huge grin on my face, I place a rather large tick on the list.

As per the reults of our poll we'll be producing the newsletter in both pdf and webpage format in the future.

I hope you enjoy birding filled holidays, and look forward to twitching with you all in 2008!

Yours in birding,



An interview with an intrepid adventurer….

Jay interviews Dinkybird on her latest trip to KNP.

Where was the 4x4 trail and over how many days?

The Lebombo Overland Eco Trail runs from Crocodile Bridge Camp in Kruger Park northwards along the eastern border of the Park up to Crooks Corner and ends at Pafuri Picnic site. The trail lasts for 5 days and four nights.

Were all the participants interested in bird life?

No, not initially. There were 3 Stiffnecks on the trail and we were very lucky that our ranger, Jerry, loved birds and knew a great deal. Due to the lack of animals along the trail, all the participants had no option but to 'bird watch'! A good example that there will always be a bird around no matter what!

Were you a good Stiffnecks PR person i.e. did you convert some new birders LOL?

Yes!!! Jacov's brother now knows exactly what a Yellow billed kite, Lilac breasted roller and some other birds look like! I feel satisfied that between Reinette (another Stiffneck) and myself we started Andre on the road to becoming a birder!

How does doing a 4x4 trail, birding-wise, differ from the usual trip through the park?

One may alight from one's vehicle along the way making getting closer to the birds a great deal easier. An example - Jerry, our ranger, spotted Crested Guinea Fowl deep in the Mopani Bush, stopped us and took me on a walk to a position where I could get a good view of them!

So what was the birdlife like? What all did you see?

Highlight for me was Crested Guinea Fowl and Trumperter Hornbill in the Pafuri area and of course at the Pafuri Picnic site, Frank showed Reinette and I a
Black-throated Wattle-eye Flycatcher's nest and we spent a while watching the pair with Frank teaching us what their different calls meant. Along the trail we saw loads of Lilac Breasted Rollers and Forktailed Drongos. Way more than one sees from the normal tourist roads in Kruger. I expected more birdlife along the trail, perhaps I am just not tuned in enough to see birds. Each evening however was really magical because at each camp we heard and saw both a European and Fiery-necked Nightjar.

Would you recommend a 4x4 trail for twitchers?

Oh yes! Not because I found it overrun with birdlife - but for the freedom of being able to get a much better view of the birds we did see, and the over all bush experience!

Rare and Interesting Bird Sightings

Tankwa Karoo sightings

On a recent trip to the Tankwa Karoo National Park, Michele Nel logged her bird sightings with a GPS and forwarded some of the sightings to the newsletter. She commented that the birds were generally rather people shy, and there was some difficulty in capturing the birds front on as most were quite intent on having only their tail ends photographed!

Sandgrouse: S 30° 09.550 E 017°44.272
Malachite Sunbird: S 30° 09.136 E 017° 43.592
Pale Chanting Goshawk: S30° 07.515 E 017° 23.487
Pied Starling : S 30° 09.389 E 017° 44.000
Pair of Ludwigs Bustards: S 30° 08.765 E 017° 41.915

If anyone would like to submit their sightings lists to the newsletter please email:

Bird Identification 101

Words by Deefstes

Two species of Pelican are found in the Southern Africa sub region. Armed with a basic knowledge of these two species the beginner birder can readily separate them from each other.

The Great White Pelican is, as the name suggests, a fair bit bigger than the Pink-backed Pelican. In direct comparison and to those well familiar with both species this is very obvious but to someone not being able to make the comparison, either directly in the field or from past experience, it may not be of any use.

One of the main differences between the two species is that the Great White Pelican is generally a clean bird with white plumage containing traces of pink. The Pink-backed Pelican, in contrast, can appear to be rather scruffy-looking with grey colouration. The pink on the back is not a strong feature and should not be depended upon for field identification.

The Great White Pelican also shows more colour in the facial skin than the Pink-backed Pelican. The former will show a pink (male) or orange (female) facial skin as opposed to the greyish pink facial skin of the latter. Even the bill of the Great White Pelican will be more brightly coloured and especially the pouch which is bright yellow on Great White Pelican while only pale pink with yellowish stripes on the Pink-backed Pelican.

In flight, the two can be separated very easily in that the Great White Pelican has a clear two-tone under wing with white coverts and black flight feathers. The Pink-backed Pelican has a grey under wing with the flight feathers shading to black towards the trailing edge.

If the bird can be seen from close quarters and there is still any doubt as to the species, the feathers on the forehead can provide the clincher. On Great White Pelican these feathers taper to a sharp point meeting the base of the upper mandible a feature which Pink-backed Pelican lacks.

Note: collect these bird pages and compile a bird guide

Birding with a Twitcher:

Words by SP

Going places? I was going places all right… I almost went around the bend, I definitely drove myself up the wall and I’m certain I lost the plot. It’s difficult. It’s frustrating. It’s demoralizing at times. But DARN IT!! What a hobby! When you successfully ID a bird and know it’s a Lifer, wow, the exhilaration of marking that bird off is worth it all. The scorn and teasing of others, the looks you get when you find yourself walking through a shopping center parking lot with your head in the air trying to find the bird that made that sound (it helps if you haven’t tipped your car guard yet, they tend to start looking with you), the wonderment and bemusement of others when you arrive at a Golf course armed with binoculars and a camera instead of golf clubs and a tee. It’s worth all of that when you take that pen and tick that empty box. Addictive. Very, very addictive.

Just this morning, I dropped my little one off at her preschool and heard a very distinctive bird sound. I remember hearing it exactly this time last year but unfortunately I dipped that time (oh hell yeah, I’m into the jargon too) because I just couldn’t find the bird. So this morning I was in my usual rush to get to work and there came the sound again. The beautiful haunting call of my mysterious migratory (Must be? Surely? Or perhaps it’s a breeding season sound?) Bird. I looked around at the other parents dragging kids, coaxing kids and bribing kids to get to class and noticed that not one of them had even taken a moment to hear that sound. It hadn’t even registered in their minds, I realized then, that I was lucky I had such an interesting and time stopping hobby. At the same time, I also realized that I was becoming as obsessed as the Twitcher who had taken me under wing. It was most frustrating (prior to me taking up birding) when having a conversation that would stop mid sentence as a birdcall came from somewhere and I was instantly channeled out so that the bird would be the only sound the twitcher would hear. I would get quite annoyed and sometimes hugely offended and here I was doing the same. I could see another mother was talking to me. I knew she was talking to me because she was facing me and her lips were moving, but push me over with a feather; I have no idea what she said. I was waiting for the next haunting call so I could find some sort of direction. Unfortunately it will have to wait until the next school morning because the bird never called again and I was (as per usual) late for work. I can’t wait to find it though!

I am slowly but surely notching my bird count up. I am not in a race with anybody and enjoy every new bird like it was my first. I now count the sleeps until the next Bird & Birding magazine comes out and until the next Stiffnecks newsletter is published so that I can continue to garner more and more information. I still get my black-headed whatsoface and my white-breasted thingimagie mixed up but I guess that’s par for the course really. The point is not to be shy, not to be embarrassed and don’t be scared to ask questions, shout out suggestions or even argue with a twitcher. They appreciate the enquiry, adore the argument and take heart in the knowledge that there is another potential ‘them’ out there. Anyway, think of it, what a feeling it would be to out twitch a twitcher!! That will be my next goal. Hope I can come back here and confirm the id of my “school bird” and tell you the story of the out twitched twitcher! Here’s hoping to some beginner’s enthusiasm, beginners luck and good old dumb luck!

To be continued:

Just For Interest's Sake

Words by Wildtuinman

Just for interest sake, swans have the most number of feathers of any bird, in excess of 22 000. Hummingbirds on the other hand have the least, just over 900.

There are 2 main pigments out of 4 present in bird feathers, namely melanin and carotenoids. The only other bird with its own two pigments is the turaco, which has green (turacoverdin) and red (turacin) pigments. Melanin as we know is the dark pigment whereas carotenoids produce red, yellow, or orange colors and these are obtained mainly through the bird's diet. A Flamingo is an example of a bird whose pinkish coloration will be enhanced by the algae they consume (Pink would be a red carotenoid on a feather lacking melanin which will be explained in more detail later on, so don't slit your ankles just yet).

Also present in the feather is keratin, a protein which is also found in the beak and claws of birds. Keratin is usually combined in two ways, either scattered or layered. Scattering is present in bee-eaters for instance and layering is present in sunbirds, giving them their spectacular iridescence.

If you were to take this Marico sunbird photographed by Andy Pay, now you would see that their feathers are made up in the following way illustrated by the picture :

1. The green and blue iridescence is created by a very tight layered keratin in the feather that only allows low frequency colors from the sun like the green and blue to "bounce off" or reflect if you like and the rest of the color spectrum being absorbed by the feather. The sun thus plays a vital tole in enhancing these birds' colors.

2. The red scattering is created by the red carotenoid and a scattered keratin.

3. The black is the dominant dark melanin pigment.

If you were to look at the following white-fronted bee-eater (picture taken by CyberRanger) here: will note the following:

1. The white is a result of the lack of melanin.

2. The red scattering is as described above, created by the red carotenoid and a scattered keratin.

3. The blue scattering is once again created by the scattered keratin reflecting blue light from a different part of the feather.

4. The black facial mask is created by the melanin.

5. The orange and yellow are created by the carotenoids.

6. And finally, the green, one of the most complex colors produced by birds, is a combination of yellow carotenoid on a scattered keratin, reflecting blue!

Compare and Contrast

Marabou Stork (Leptoptilos Ccrumeniferus)

Description: size: 120-152cm. A very large stork with a naked head and a large “pouch” at the throat. Grey bird with pinkish pouch and head and white body.
Habitat: Frequents semi-arid areas but is also often found near rubbish dumps or areas with carrion near or in towns
Status: Locally common.
Distribution: Parts of northern Namibia, NE and S Botswana SE South Africa and Zimbabwe and areas of Mozambique.
Feeding Habits: A scavenger at kills and other sources of carrion.

Saddle-Billed Stork Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis

size: 145-155cm. A tall stork with diagnostic red and black bill with yellow “saddle”. Females have yellow eyes, males, brown.
Habitat: Frequents edges and shallows larger water bodies and rivers.
Status: Uncommon
Distribution: Parts of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique and the far SE area of South Africa.
Feeding Habits: frogs, fish, crabs, reptiles, birds and even small mammals.


This newsletter is written, compiled and edited by members of the SANParks web forum community.


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