It's a Great Day to Bird

Wakkerstroom and Memel


This is a quaint little village with a great wetland nearby.  The area is noted for its birding and we stayed at a ‘bird friendly’ B&B.  We got to our accommodations – Wetland Country House and Sheds and immediately set out for the wetlands.  What a great place to spend two nights.  We highly recommend this establishment if you are ever in Wakkerstroom, South Africa.  The owners Phil and Rita were just great.  There was plenty of food to eat for breakfast – too much in fact.  The bird life of the area is great at both the wetlands and in the agricultural (okay cattle and sheep) farms nearby, and at our guesthouse.


Wetlands Country House and Sheds – our accommodations for two nights

There were two hides and we spent about 2.5 hours at both blinds.  We would have stayed longer but the sun was setting. There always seemed to be new birds to see.  I think one of the favorites of the wetland was the Long-tailed Widowbird.  Although it isn’t breeding season yet – and that is when the male has a very long tail – we did find one bird with a relatively long tail.  These birds are quite numerous.


The wetlands adjacent to Wakkerstroom


Red-knobbed Coot


African Swamphen


Black Crake


African (Ethiopian) Rail


Cape Shoveler




White-throated Swallow


Sun setting over the wetlands

The next morning we watched the birds come to the feeders at our B&B.   These birds are used to being fed and were anxiously congregating around the feeder waiting for the food to be placed on the ground.


Red-winged Starling


Black-collared Barbet


Laughing Doves


Speckled Mousebirds waiting on the bird bath


Crested Barbet


Village Weaver


Black-necked Heron. This guy wasn’t at the feeder but a short distance away.


Speckled Pigeon

We took a short walk to a nearby dam in search of birds.


Weaver nest under construction


Three-banded Plover


View of the scenic  hillsides

We then traveled on some dirt roads in search of the Blue and Grey-crowned Cranes, the Southern Bald Ibis, and several lark species found only in this region.  We lucked out with the cranes and the ibis.  We also saw – from a distance – the Blue Korhaan.


African village huts


Ant-eating Chat. There were a lot of these birds. When they fly their wings are white – a very distinctive feature.


Ground Woodpecker


Crowned Lapwing


Mystery Bird


Red-capped Lark


Non-breeding Male Red-billed Quelea.  I read somewhere these birds can number in the millions.


Cape Longclaw


Cape Shelduck


Two Blue Cranes in flight


The countryside we traversed through looking for birds. Lots of cattle and sheep farms.


Sentinel Rock Thrush


A dead fox. Probably left there by a farmer???


Black-shouldered Kite

Our last morning we also saw a Hamerkop (google it) on the dam outside our bedroom patio.  What a cool bird.  The bird was too far away for a decent photo.  The morning started out cool and before we left the wind picked up considerably.  We did however go back to the hides to check out what birds were hanging about.  Got a new life bird – Maccoa Duck.  Sorry no photo.


Weaver nest


Pied Starling


We loved this display. That is my kind of trophy.


After leaving Wakkerstroom we headed to the little community of Memel and more birding.  We did stop at a McDonalds in New Castle hoping for a Mocha Frappe, but they didn’t have them.  Dang.  My one weakness.  What most towns (of decent size) do have are KFCs.  They are very popular in South Africa – at least there are a lot of them; McDonalds not so much.


I wonder if this could work in America?

Our host at the Mahem Country House – Jimmy Saunders  (a very friendly guy) – recommends several places to bird, including the Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve.    After settling into our room, we headed to the Seekoeivlei (vlei means seasonal wetland). The reserve is reached by taking a gravel road.  When we got to the Reserve the gatekeeper (his name is December) said if we drove the roads in the Reserve we would probably end out ruining our vehicle as the roads are quite bad.  So left the reserve and we continued on eventually ending back up in Memel.  The road was decent for the most part and we saw some great birds that we didn’t expect to see – like an up-close view of a pair of Blue Korhaan (these birds are not often seen and  always far away and we generally need our scope to see them well) and the Swainson’s Spurfowl.


African Sacred Ibis


Swainson’s Spurfowl




Area around Memel


Lots of farm lands

Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve (RAMSAR site) is a large wetland complex but since South Africa is experiencing drought conditions there wasn’t much water in the wetlands.  We stopped by one wetland area on private land and saw a large mixed flock of Grey-crowned and Blue Cranes.  Jack likes the Grey-crowned Cranes, but I prefer the elegance of the Blue Cranes (the national bird of South Africa).  Like the Southern Bald Ibis, these birds were too far away to see well without our spotting scope (so glad I brought it).  In this same wetland we saw two Blue Korhaans drinking.  They were a fair distance away so the photo I got isn’t too great.

The Mahem house was very comfortable and our dinner was the best we’ve had yet – true gourmet.  There were some birds on the guesthouse grounds too – always a plus.


Weaver constructing its nest in a tree at our guesthouse


Two Laughing Doves in the tree at our guesthouse

The next day we drove approximately 100 km (60 miles give or take) of gravel/dirt roads – some good, some not so good. But we survived.  The mountainous (2000 meters) countryside was beautiful, but we didn’t encounter a lot of bird species.  We did see a couple of birds I had hoped to see, including the Yellow-bellied Pipit and the Buff-breasted Chat.   And we were surprised at how many Helmeted Guineafowl we saw.  They were always in large groups of 20 or more and at one place over 50.   Another surprise at this high elevation was the scampering across the fields of several Baboon families.


Lark or Pipit


Common Ostrich on a farm


Cape Canary


Red-throated Wryneck


Bokmakierie singing away


South African’s idea of a gravel road. Was much worse than it looks.


The countryside around Memel was beautiful. Although we didn’t see many bird species, the scenery was great.


Memel Countryside

Shortly after we left Memel I spotted a large bird in a burned farm field.  Jack turned around so we could check it out.  The bird (and two others) were Southern Bald Ibis.  This is a “must see” bird and this was the closest we’ve gotten to one to date.  And my photos aren’t too bad either considering I had to use “digital” zoom.


Southern Bald Ibis

We will be happy to be on “tarred” (i.e., paved) roads again. Our next stop are Dullstroom, Lyndenburg, and then onto Kruger National Park.  While in the park we won’t have internet coverage so you won’t see another blog for about two weeks.  Until then, remember “IT’S ALWAYS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD” so get out in the great outdoors.


  1. Betty Siegel

    Hi Michelle,
    I think your mystery bird is a cisticola. You might be able to key it out by habitat and calls. There are so many of those little buggars.

    • alaskabirder

      I think you are right, but I just don’t know which one YET. Never seem to have enough time to look at my “need to ID list”. Aren’t cameras great. Of course it takes the fun out of trying to id them in the field, but then again some of the frustration too.

      When do you leave for Madagascar?

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