Finding the Nothern Pintail Duck

June 23rd, 2007 by Thinus Leave a reply »

Diepsloot Nature Reserve
Near: Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa
GPS: -25.93688, 27.98807
When: 2007-06-23
Who: Thinus, Martin, Hannelie

Finding the Nothern Pintail DuckThe early morning’s thinnest sliver of light appeared silently. Several billion trillion tons of super hot exploding hydrogen nuclei rose slowly above the horizon and managed to look small, cold and slightly damp. There is a moment in every dawn when light floats, when there is the possibility of magic. Creation holds its breath…

This is the scene that greeted us on our important expedition. The mist clung to the surface of the marshes. The swamp trees were grey with it, the tall reeds indistinct. It hung motionless.* Our mission, which we chose to accept, was to find a duck. Not just a regular southern, or down under duck. The Pintail. Northern Pintail.

Quoting Wikipedia, his condensed resume reads as follows:

The Pintail or Northern Pintail (Anas acuta) is a common and widespread duck which breeds in the northern areas of Europe and Asia and across most of Canada, Alaska and the mid-western United States. This dabbling duck is strongly migratory and winters further south than its breeding range, as far as the equator.

Finding the Nothern Pintail DuckThus, the rumors that one was seen in the marsh area of Diepsloot between Johannesburg and Pretoria, South Africa, seemed worth investigating. Martin, Hannelie and me left very early, equipped with our binoculars, beanies, a basket with muffins, a flask with steaming coffee and Martin’s shiny new Swarovski spotting scope.

This is almost as winter as we get and the cold foggy world that we entered as we turned off the N14 highway made us wish that we had coffee. Then we realized that we did. So we drank some.

Diepsloot is known for its informal settlements, crime schools and high-jacking opportunities, but maybe not as well known for its beauty, animal life and outdoor possibilities. Inside the nature reserve we came across a Husky dog club gathering. Each owner brings his overly eager Husky to join in the pulling of a little car/sled. They explained that this is a regular thing, but only done until about 8am, when it becomes too warm again for the dogs to be too active. So we watched as the half-wolfs jump off their 4×4’s or Mercedes seats to go and sit at their positions in the pulling queue, barking with excitement, ready to be strapped in!

Finding the Nothern Pintail DuckDirected by the rumors, we drove to the first dam of the three. Here we spoke to another couple that was looking for the same bird and swapped numbers to help each other find it. After a while, and seeing a few other interesting feather wearers, we drove to the second dam. This treated me to many new birds for my list, including Yellow-billed Egrets, Lesser Masked Weavers, African Swamphens, African Stonechats, Hottentot Teals and the electrically blue Half-collard Kingfisher.

2 other birding guys told us about the Long-crested Eagle that was nesting in a close by tree. We eventually saw her, with the little fringe barely sticking out above the nest. The male was scouting the area in a tree right next door. At the third dam we also saw the Ovambo Sparrowhawk, (both were firsts for me), some Burchell’s Coucals and the king himself – the African Fish Eagle!

Finding the Nothern Pintail DuckWell, after driving up and down for 3 hours, phoning a few times to check Status Quo with the other 2 couples, we eventually heard that the bast…, I mean duck, was seen at the second dam, flying over to the first. We drove there again and waited. Many other ducks and egrets spent their late morning cursing at their no-show celebrity British cousin for stealing their lime light.

And then it happened – from over the dam, in a group of other water birds, a male Northern Pintail flew over! Unmistakable with white breast and lateral neck stripe on its dark brown head. And off course the pinned tail. This is as exciting as something this simple can get!

Finding the Nothern Pintail Duck

So, mission complete. I marked off 39 birds, of which 9 were first timers. And I saw the elusive Northern Pintail duck!

Creation exhaled. Then, blue in the face, it nearly collapsed.

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