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Magic morning birding at Gubu Dam - Stutterheim,South Africa

Updated on May 19, 2012
Grey Crowned Crane, mating dance
Grey Crowned Crane, mating dance
Trio of Pied Kingfishers
Trio of Pied Kingfishers
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
Greater Double-breasted Sunbird
Greater Double-breasted Sunbird

Magic morning birding at Gubu Dam S A

One of the pentads that I bird is in the Amatola Mountains near Stutterheim. A pentad is a 5 minute by 5 minute area that designates a specific area on a 1:50 000 topographic of South Africa. Over a thousand volunteers all over S.A. (so called Citizen Scientists) visit these pentads on a regular basis in their areas to record the birds that they see or hear on that specific date. All this information is then sent in to the University of Cape Town where it becomes a part of the South Africa Bird Atlassing Program or SABAP2. In case you are interested this area is designated 32 35 27 15 and includes the beautiful Gubu Dam. The dam nestles in the mountains overlooked by Mt. Gubu to the N.W. and Mt. Thomas to the N.E. It covers 124 hectares and is very deep so it holds a lot of water. It is also stocked by the Stutterheim Trout Club with Rainbow and Brown Trout. As a member of the club I enjoy access to the fishing and accommodation in the clubhouse on the bank of the river. It is one of my favourite places and I try, without much success I may add, to get here once a month.

But this week I finally made it and after a quiet evening with a few hours fishing from my two- man rowing boat and a supper of potato fritters that I brought with from East London I enjoyed an interesting sunset with storm clouds building up over the Amatolas and then had a good night in one of the bunkhouse type rooms. At about 7.30 pm another car pulled up and I thought I would have company in the clubhouse but it turned out to be youngsters from the nearby Rance Timbers Company coming for an evening swim.

This morning dawned sunny but windy, and as I was debating what to do the local water bailiff, Robin, pitched with a worker to mow the lawns and so that made up my mind. I packed the car and did a morning birding to fulfill my commitment to SABAP2. It proved to be a good choice. My first stop was along one of the inlets that feed the dam near the clubhouse and there I spent about 10 minutes watching a Pintailed Whydah surveying the area that he guards with ferocious determination, his long tail blowing in the wind. A Speckled Mousebird landed next to him with a red berry in its beak and the Whydah seemed to be unconcerned. Put them on my list and then moved on towards the campground on the other side of the dam. On the way I was distracted by some flowering aloes and so I stopped to take a couple of photos to perhaps add to my Gubu portfolio. On approaching another inlet, known as the causeway, I noticed a pair of Grey-crowned Cranes next to the road. As I stopped the car to take some photos a Fish Eagle flew down into the water at the inlet about 20 meters away. This was a serious dilemma as I had to decide which way to go, the mind boggling at the photo opportunities. I chose the cranes as they were in view and every decent birder knows that a bird in sight is better than one out of sight, even if only temporarily, as the Fish Eagle was probably catching a trout for breakfast, but was obscured by the weedbeds. The trouble with not having Audrey with me at such critical times is that she can hop out of the car quickly, but I cannot! After I have opened the door and levered my legs out onto mother firma and found my camera the birds have usually already flown.

Anyway all is well that ends well and not seeing the Fish Eagle any more I followed the Cranes across the veldt and took a few photos as they did a mating dance. I hope to catch the Fish Eagle later as this is one bird that you are guaranteed to see at Gubu. With these two big ticks on my morning list and a new screen saver for my computer, I continued to the absolutely beautiful campground on the northern bank


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    • unknown spy profile image

      IAmForbidden 5 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      Wow! This is really amazing! I love the trio kingfisher. very cute pic!

    • Johan Smulders profile image

      Johan Smulders 5 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Thanks Teresa, you must visit Gubu. Talk to Gill about it.Good to hear from you.

    • Teresa Schultz profile image

      Teresa Schultz 5 years ago from East London, in South Africa

      I hope you get to see that fish eagle later. I don't recall ever having been to Gubu Dam, and that seems like almost a sin when it sounds so beautiful, and not that far from East London. My eldest son recently did the Amatola hike with his school grade 9 class, and (some of) the photos he brought back were stunning. I hope you carry on enjoying photography, birds, and the outdoors for a long time yet!