A Birder’s Take on Nature’s Valley
July 29, 2016

by Ben Lucking

As a birder and photographer, there are few places quite as perfect as Nature’s Valley. Not only is the scenery stunning, the birdlife is diverse and unique. While it is currently winter- a low point for bird diversity here- I have managed to see over 150 species in my first two weeks here.


My first morning was spent working with Daniel on his fynbos distribution study, along the world-renowned Otter Trail. Many of South Africa’s endemic species (species unique to South Africa) are found only in this unique habitat in the Cape. That morning we found many of these, including Cape Sugarbirds, with their impressive streamer tails, and Orange-breasted Sunbirds.

The following day was a different experience entirely, but the birds were equally interesting. That morning, just as dawn broke, I piled into a boat with several other researchers and volunteers, heading out into an icy wind. We were offshore all day, collecting data on fish and bird abundance. This work will help determine whether the area around Plett could support a penguin colony in the near future. Birds nearly never seen from shore were everywhere- Shy Albatrosses, White-chinned Petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, and even a Wilson’s Storm-petrel to name just a few. Counting and GPSing the birds was a real challenge, with hundreds of Cape Gannets, Swift Terns, Kelp Gulls, and Cape Cormorants descending on large schools of fish. The oceans are a whole other world that few people ever get to see.

I spent the next few days in Nature’s Valley, helping out with some studies, as well as hiking the many picturesque trails scattered across the valley. The R102 up to the forest boardwalk, the pump house entrance road, as well as the surrounding trails provided some exceptional birding. Knysna Turacos, Green Wood-Hoopoes, Grey Cuckoo-shrikes, Cape Batis, Chorister Robin-Chats, and many more were common. With more effort, I managed to see a handful of Lemon Doves, Green-backed Camaropteras, and White- starred Robins. I was told that it would be difficult, almost impossible, to find the Narina  Trogon, as they are silent in winter; therefore, I was stunned to see one flushed from the road in front of me one evening. It sat up on a branch about a meter from the road as I tried (and failed) to take good photos in the dying light. Fortunately (very fortunately actually- it can take years to see a trogon around here apparently), I found presumably the same individual a few mornings later, just about a hundred meters from where I had first seen it. This time I managed to spend about an hour watching and photographing it. Much to my surprise, another trogon flew in front of the car on the way out of the valley towards Plettenberg Bay a few days later.

Over my first two weeks here, I’ve had several chances to visit areas outside of the valley. Two of the region’s best birders, Mike Bridgeford and Bruce Ward-Smith, were kind enough to take me on a couple of birding trips around the Plett area, as well as to Port Elizabeth. Thanks to them, I had the opportunity to see such birds as the Blue Crane (South Africa’s national bird), Greater Africa’s national bird), Greater Flamingoes, Damara Terns, Denham’s Bustard, a Half-collared Kingfisher, as well as many more. To find these, we visited a wide range of habitats- from the grasslands of Uplands to the beach at Cape Recife in Port Elizabeth. At a stop on the way to Port Elizabeth, we were also fortunate enough to re-find a group of Temminck’s Coursers, a rarity usually found much further north. They had been seen several times there over the previous week.

Lastly, a few mornings ago I, along with the rest of the NVT team, woke up before dawn to set up mist nets for bird ringing. Bird ringing is an important tool for research, but also an excellent opportunity to see birds much better than you ever could normally. The highlight of the morning was this Malachite Kingfisher. Its colors are simply stunning. Getting the chance to see this amazing bird so close was the perfect way to end a fun morning of ringing.

The weeks have flown by here, and I’ll really miss this place when it’s time to go.

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