This page (as well as the juvenile African Cuckoo) is from a sunny summer spent at Vaalkop Dam in December and January 2009. I’m sure that older birders will agree that there has been a massive decrease in the numbers of Yellow-billed Kites in the Transvaal (I used to see several individuals every day over Pretoria’s suburbs in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but I doubt if I get 5 in a whole summer nowadays). Anyways, the top image is a study of the head patterns and variations of some unidentified Milvus kites – the difficulty in distinguishing between Black Kite Milvus migrans and juvenile Yellow-billed Kite M. aegyptius in the field is not to be underestimated.

Also featured is a Ruff Philomachus pugnax with unusual spotted chevrons on the flanks. In retrospect I think this was probably a female at the onset of breeding plumage development. Ruffs have a bewildering array of plumage variations and very unusual moults. There are even some males that develop female-like plumage to deceive other males. In fact, one of my talks deals exclusively with Ruffs and their weird and wonderful sex lives. Staying on the wader theme, there is a Marsh Sandpiper Tringa stagnatilis performing some very misleading foraging behaviour: this chest-down, tail-up posture is actually quite characteristic of the lookalike Wilson’s Phalarope!

Lastly, there are always Cape Wagtails Motacilla capensis breeding at the house at Vaalkop, and when the juveniles fledge they can be quite accommodating. This bird allowed me a close approach so that I could take some basic notes on the juvenile plumage of this species. Being in very fresh plumage, the tips of their wing coverts and tertials are very conspicuous (more so than their parents’). Also, their breast bands are more blotchy and not as clearly defined as the adult’s.