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FEATURES SECTIONPosted 1 February, 2005
South Africa's Birding Big Day - a new milestone reached.
The annual Birding Big Day held between 26 November and 4 December, 2005, was a huge success with unprecedented levels of participation in all categories. From a birding perspective, the biggest news was that a new milestone, which some have likened to the "4-minute mile" of birding was surpassed.The Raiders of the lost Lark, led by Etienne Marais, with a team of Richard Montinaro, Rob Geddes, and Faansie Peacock managed the huge total of 302 species, an all time record for the competition.
The Raiders of the lost Lark took part in an area about 50km north-east of Pretoria, with centre point near Moloto. The areas they birded were all within a radius of 43km, well within the 50km maximum as defined by the rules of BBD.This area is undoubtedly much less well-known than other birding hotspots in South Africa, but according to Etienne Marais, the area is quite remarkable for the proximity of some contrasting habitats. Habitats in the south of the area covered include pristine highveld grassland, high ridges extensive wetlands, gorges, well wooded valleys and burkea dominated broadleaved woodlands. The north offers thornveld savannah, sub-tropical wetland habitat, the extensive Mkhombo Dam and the rich mosaic of the Rust de Winter area, which is becoming known for large numbers of migrant raptors in summer.
Some of the unusual and uncommon species recorded included Buff-spotted Flufftail, Pink-billed Lark, Blue Crane, Temminck's Courser, Western Honey-Buzzard, Buff-streaked Chat, Olive-tree Warbler and Lesser Spotted Eagle. As is traditional with the "raiders", Larks were a big focus, and 10 species were recorded. The total also included a number of migrants such as African Cuckoo, European Golden-Oriole, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and Amur Falcon. As is usually the case some common species were missed, most notably African Hoopoe and Comb Duck.The Raiders of the lost Lark have for several years been among the top teams in the country, with totals of 266, 278, 275 and 281 in previous years. Team members felt that the teamwork, rigorous planning and analysis of the route, and kind weather were important reasons for the improved total this year - 21 more species than their previous best. In 2005 the team boasted a collective 101 years of birding experience!
Richard Montinaro, for whom this was the first ever BBD attempt, praised the completely professional attitude of his fellow team mates: "I can't imagine a finer working group of birders. The day was a success because of the many years of planning and intimate knowledge of the area we birded."