Written by Sally Johnson

I have always thought that water birds and man-made disturbance such as water skiing are mutually exclusive. Well, last weekend I was proved absolutely wrong. I was lucky enough to be a guest at Bird Valley Estate, a well-hidden gem just beyond Albert Falls. Here you can build your home on the edge of a long narrow dam that not only boasts an exciting water skiing run, but also a terrific bird list as well. Who would expect to find African Pygmy Geese living alongside humans and their motorboats? These pretty little birds are rarely ticked on my year list but we enjoyed the spectacle of three pairs as we puttered slowly past on the flat-bottomed boat that residents can use. Their small size and colours taken straight from nature allow them to blend easily into the lily-covered bays and inlets that they have made their own in Bird Valley. White-backed Ducks, normally shy and elusive, were also on show.

The White-breasted Cormorants thought that the ski ramp had been built specially for them; the perfect place to dry your wings, have a chat and then pop back into the water to hunt for that fishy lunch. We watched a group of five birds arguing over the large barbel one of them had caught; four against one seemed unfair but in the end someone managed to swallow the prize, but I’m not sure it was the one who originally caught it.

The local pair of African Fish Eagles entertained us with their wonderful oh-so-African calls, each sitting atop a drowned gum tree; former plantations that had been inundated when the dam was build and now rose out of the water like giant pencils. A bird hide has been built overlooking an expanse of water that is made irresistible to many different species of water bird by the scattering of water lilies, clumps of reeds, little islands and shallow edges. African Snipe, African Jacana and Black Crake intermingled with the various ducks, moorhens and coots while thicker patches of reed were home to Cape Reed Warbler (now Lesser Swamp Warbler) and weavers and widows. At times the channel we chugged along was very near to the edge of the dam and we could enjoy the sight of Cape Grassbird, Cape Robin, Stonechat and as the cherry on top, a Greater Honeyguide flashed its white outer tail feathers as it flew across from one bush clump to the next. We compiled a great list of 57 birds in all – not too shabby for a winter’s day. Sadly we had to leave this lovely place but to learn more, please go to their website at www.birdvalleyestate.co.za and perhaps you too could spend your weekends in this valley of many birds.

Back home I was thrilled to welcome a Brubru to my garden. He came, not for the array of food I put out, but because the structure of my garden offers a natural selection of insects, the sign of a true bird garden.