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Birding and Tour News:

25/11/2001 - Raiders of the Lost Lark get 278 around Pretoria.

2001 was the third serious effort by the Raiders of the Lost Lark, to prove that the pretoria area - and its birders should stand back for no-one!

A fired-up Raiders, consisting of Faansie 'Radar-ears' Peacock, Pete 'vantage-point' Irons and 'General' Etienne Marais, took to the highways and sewage ponds of northeast Gauteng on 24 November, out to prove that Gauteng does not suck the ornithological hind teat. Graham Deverell, an ex-Raider now demoted to driver due to an overindulgence in golf, was allowed a late snooze, which meant he could double up as motivation consultant.

This year we decided to forego an explosive bushveld start in favour of getting a high number of highveld birds early. This strategy was to pay off, as we virtually cleaned up on the highveld species and had progressed to the bushveld by the time rain descended on the highveld.... a cunning plan sneakily cribbed from Stephan Terblanche.

Our 2:00 am start at Moreleta Kloof immediately got the spirits up, as Buffspotted Flufftail, which had been absent the day before, hooted eerily in the mist. Next up was a white faced owl, balancing awkwardly on the Telkom equipment near Roodeplaat dam, and we approached our dawn chorus with the tally on seven birds. The dawn session east of Bronkhorstspruit produced Clapper, Longbilled, Spikeheeled, Melodious, Rufousnaped and Fawncolored Larks, the latter of which appear to have adapted to numerous sandworks in the area. Other notable additions in this period were White-bellied Korhaan, Malachite Sunbird and a Caspian Tern - some way from water, and apparently en-route to Pretoria!

We got to Dickin's pan just before 07:30 with 100 birds under our belt, and somehow lost the plot. A search for several "Missing species" and a discussion about possible European Reed Warbler stretched our session here by 15 minutes, but we did make up for the lack of Black Heron with two surprises: Cape Teal and SA Shelduck!

To make up for lost time we skipped three stops, and at Zonderwater quickly confirmed Redchested Flufftail, Yellow Warbler and African Rail. The Cullinan mine Peregrine failed us this time, but the bushveld birds started coming thick and fast, and we reached Roodeplaat Dam just before 11:00 with the tally on 179. After the Seringveld, which really delivered the goods with the usual specials plus Icterine Warbler and Sharpbilled Honeyguide, we were past 200 at midday.... and still no rattling cisticola!

On northwards to a beautiful kloof area, where Black Widow Finch and Redthroated Wryneck obliged. The bushveld proper was now baking hot, and birding was hard work. Dips like Mocking Chat and Black Flycatcher were whittling away at our morale. This is until Etienne just about left the vehicle through the window at 100 km/hr, having spotted our biggest bonus bird of the day, Dusky Lark. Monotonous Lark added to the Lark feast, and we picked up Little Sparrowhawk while Etienne threatened to ditch his *!*%# minidisc player in the Elandsriver for losing power with so many hours of hard birding to come.

Leaving Rust de Winter with our score on 246 at 15:40 we suddenly realised that we were 28 birds away from the previous BBD record, with red- and yellowbilled hornbills and many other easy species to come.

We arrived at Zaagkuildrift at 4:00pm - exactly one hour late and counting down to 274. Roets dam gave us a few easy birds, taking us to 254. After a hot and quiet lull, we started picking up good birds again: Cape Penduline Tit, Southern Pied Babbler, Eurasian Swift and LESSER SPOTTED EAGLE, number 261. Bennets Woodpecker was number 270 and Kalahari Robin 271- but still no Namaqua Dove!! Kgomo-kgomo revealed the floodplain in all it's glory, and here we added 5 more birds before dusk. The last daylight birds were Fulvous Duck and a family of Capped Wheatear which have retreated off the sodden floodplain onto the new highway being constructed across the floodplain.

Somewhat elated by reaching the target, we set off on a somewhat less well-prepared nighttime mission which involved searching for long shots like Painted Snipe, Goliath Heron and Water Dikkop, whereas Spotted Eagle Owl, Scops Owl or Redcrested Korhaan seemed almost sure to get us close to 280. We later learned that we were neck and neck with the Honeyguides on 277 (after a recount) at this stage. However dark storm clouds gathered, and cool wind and intermittent rain quelled even the Korhaan's hormones. An hour spent searching for Scops Owl failed to produce anything. Freckled Nightjar was also silent, and we eventually found ourselves at Buffelsdrift, with only a few minutes to spare. Amazingly on a day like this, four hours of birding had produced absolutely nothing. At about 4 minutes to midnight, we added Fiery-necked Nightjar - the last bird of the day.

Our bird of the day was a toss-up between Lesser Spotted Eagle and Dusky Lark and our dip of the day was most definitely Namaqua Dove, which Graham saw several of while the team was walking one locality. The list of dips was however long, other "common birds" included Black Flycatcher, Mocking Chat, Great Sparrow, Redcrested Korhaan, Redcapped Lark, Brownthroated Martin and Melba Finch. A startling list, and one which indicates a lot of room for improvement.

278 was beyond our target (by 2 birds). Over the last three years we have recorded 329 species on our BBD route at an average of 265, not bad for this hugely underrated area, which is mostly within the province of Gauteng and includes the whole of Metropolitan Pretoria.

Credit must go to the field sharpness of our teammates and some very useful birding intelligence from Rob Geddes, Selwyn Rautenbach, Mike Pope and Johnny Wilson.

Congratulations on Mike Mills and the Honeyguides for setting a new standard for BBD. It is one we hope to be able to stay with in 2002!

And the Larks? We only missed Redcapped and Pinkbilled, Faansie had the proverbial last lark, Chestnutbacked Finchlark at Kgomo-Kgomo.

Pete Irons and Etienne Marais



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