Carryblaire River Retreat, near Parys, Free State.

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7 years 4 months ago #32392 by Dave Shedman
Dave Shedman created the topic: Carryblaire River Retreat, near Parys, Free State.
We decided on this destination for two reasons. Firstly, this time we wanted a real ‘get away from it all’ break, so no self-catering or bed and breakfast. It wasn’t cheap, but it was definitely worth it. Secondly, location. This is a small farm on the banks of the Vaal River, 14km from Parys, the last 9km of which is dirt road. It’s pretty remote but the surroundings are awesome and all you ever hear is the sound of birds and the river. Also, the island in the river opposite the property has been declared an official bird sanctuary. It’s only reachable by canoe but since we were really there to relax rather than do serious birding, I didn’t bother to make the trip – this time!

That said, the birdlife is abundant and although there are no outright specials on their list (which now stands at about 124 thanks to the six we added during our stay) there are birds to be seen and heard everywhere you go.

The dawn chorus on day 1 was wonderful. We’re still not the world’s best birdcall experts but we do recognise some of the more common ones. Most pleasing was the call of the Red Chested Cuckoo which was the first one we’ve heard this season, though we didn’t see it as it confined its activities to the island and the far bank of the river. There was also a pair of Burchell’s Coucals calling nearby, punctuated by the baboon-like grunts of the Goliath Herons currently nesting on the island. Egyptian Geese, Yellow Billed Ducks and Hadedas joined in the chorus, as well as a multitude of LBJ’s whose calls we didn’t recognise, though one or two such as Tawny-flanked and Black-chested Prinias could be picked out, along with the whirring and clattering of a million Southern Masked Weavers nesting by the river. Both Red-eyed and Laughing Doves were also heard.

Coffee on the verandah as the sun came up brought our first sightings of the day. Several Karoo Thrushes were scuffling about in the foliage, joined by Cape Robin Chats singing their lungs out and a Brown Hooded Kingfisher swooping down on unsuspecting insects on the manicured lawns, sometimes in competition with a Fiscal Flycatcher. We made the mistake of ignoring the Bulbuls flitting about in the trees, assuming them to be the ubiquitous Dark Capped variety, only to discover later that they were African Red Eyed Bulbuls, a species I had not yet managed to photograph with the SLR. That situation was rectified during the course of the weekend. Both Crested and Black Collared Barbets were also heard calling but we didn’t see those until later in the day.

A walk down to the river’s edge where the canoes and boats launch from produced more nice sightings. A Goliath Heron flew gracefully just above the river, its wingtips occasionally breaking the surface of the water, and alighted on a tree opposite me on the island. This was the first time I’d ever seen one in flight so that was quite special. In some reeds below some weaver nests I spotted a pair of chattering Lesser Swamp Warblers. African Darters and Reed Cormorants did some early morning commuting back and forth up and down the river too. Three Cape Wagtails also chased each other about on the rocks.

A stroll along the ‘river walk’ later in the morning produced our first sightings of the barbets as well as what we later identified as both Speckled and Red Faced Mousebirds in the top of a very tall tree. An African Fish Eagle was calling from further along the river though we never saw it. In a small woodland clearing at the end of the walk the sound of tapping on wood led us to a Golden Tailed Woodpecker, only the second one I’ve ever seen and Mariana’s first. On the way back to the room we encountered a pair of Groundscraper Thrushes on the lawns, as well as some Little Swifts swooping above our heads.

I went for another walk later in the afternoon and as well as seeing some of the multitude of Prinias, both Black-chested and Tawny-flanked, I picked up our first lifer of the trip, a group of four Common Scimitarbills. Sadly, they flew off before my camera could focus. Other species located that day included Amethyst Sunbird, Black Shouldered Kite, Common Fiscal and Cattle Egret.

Day 2 brought two more lifers. The first one was calling and chattering above our heads in the trees outside our door. After finally locating it with the bins we discovered it was a Chestnut Vented Tit Babbler. I did eventually manage to get a few shots of it but none of them are great because it stayed in the higher, shadier branches and didn’t sit still for long. There were several of them around and they were very vocal so we’ll recognise the call next time we hear it. Sparrows seemed to be the order of the day with Cape Sparrow, Southern Grey Headed Sparrow and White Browed Sparrow Weaver adding themselves to our list. We also saw Greater Striped Swallows building a nest under the eaves of an abandoned building. Others spotted included Bronze Mannikin, Cape Glossy Starling and Red Winged Starling. Later in the afternoon, outside our room, I managed to photograph a species that has eluded us for quite some time now, a Lesser Honeyguide. Considering we weren’t there specifically for birding, three lifers in two days seemed a good return.

We only had a few hours to kill on day 3 as we were due to check out at 11am. However, we still managed another eleven species including African Hoopoe, Rock Dove, Cardinal Woodpecker, Bokmakierie and Levaillant’s Cisticola. It was such a peaceful, beautiful and relaxing place that we really didn’t want to leave but we dragged ourselves away reluctantly just after 11am. It’s become a tradition, since our trip to St. Lucia, to say “Come on, just one more lifer before we leave!” whenever we’re about to go home. It worked in St. Lucia (a Tambourine Dove appeared five minutes after I said it) and it worked here too. About a minute after we exited the gate and turned onto the dirt road we came across a pair of Red Breasted Swallows sitting on a barbed wire fence by the road, our fourth lifer in 2½ days.

The trip certainly served its purpose in relaxing us and chilling us out, but it produced 59 species with 4 lifers which, considering it’s a relatively small property, was very pleasing indeed. I’m not going to post any scenery pics here as you can see some on their website <!-- w -->[url=" onclick=";return false;][/url]<!-- w --> but I’m attaching some of our bird photos as well as our species list for the trip. For birders seeking peaceful, relaxing surroundings with plentiful birds within an hour’s drive of Johannesburg, this is the place and we both highly recommend it. The owners, Dave and Tess, are great people and very attentive to your needs. They’re always happy for birders to add to their species list (we added six) so what are you all waiting for??? <!-- s:lol: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_lol.gif" alt=":lol:" title="Laughing" /><!-- s:lol: -->


Full species list, followed by photos. Those with 'H' after them were heard but not seen and those with 'L' are lifers.

Egyptian Goose
Southern Masked Weaver
Brown Hooded Kingfisher
Red Eyed Dove
African Red Eyed Bulbul
Yellow Billed Duck
Red Chested Cuckoo - H
Hadeda Ibis
Crested Barbet
Tawny Flanked Prinia
Cape Robin Chat
Goliath Heron
Karoo Thrush
Cape Wagtail
Speckled Pigeon
Lesser Swamp Warbler
Burchell's Coucal - H
Laughing Dove
African Darter
Black Collared Barbet
Common Myna
Black Shouldered Kite
Cape White Eye
Amethyst Sunbird
Crowned Lapwing
Common Fiscal
Groundscraper Thrush
Golden Tailed Woodpecker
Fiscal Flycatcher
Southern Red Bishop
Cattle Egret
Reed Cormorant
Black Chested Prinia
Southern Grey Headed Sparrow
Common Scimitarbill - L
Little Swift
Cape Glossy Starling
Speckled Mousebird
White Browed Sparrow Weaver
Cape Sparrow
Greater Striped Swallow
Chestnut Vented Tit Babbler - L
Bronze Mannikin
Red Faced Mousebird
Red Winged Starling
Blacksmith Lapwing
Cape Turtle Dove - H
Lesser Honeyguide - L
African Hoopoe
Rock Dove
Cardinal Woodpecker
White Breasted Cormorant
House Sparrow
White Bellied Sunbird
African Fish Eagle
African Sacred Ibis
Red Breasted Swallow - L
Levaillant's Cisticola

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