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Pretoria area birding still tops!

A few days of Birding in late December, once again proved that the Pretoria area offers suberb birding.

On 30 December, I spent the day guiding a local twitcher in the Pretoria area - Elandsvlei, Grasslands around Bapsfontein, Cullinan, Seringveld, and briefly to Mkhombo Dam

Highlights of the 30th, included a daylight hunt by a Grass Owl - a uncommon and special viewo of this handsome and seldom-seen bird as it quartered back and forth, and the opportunity to compare Grass and Barn Owl, as we had a roosting Barn in the Scope while watching a Grass on it's umpteenth oblivious fly-past. We had a number of excellent views of Cloud Cisticola, just east of Pretoria - off the R50. Near Bapsfontein, we found breeding Temminck's Courser - with the tiniest of chicks. At Elandsvlei, a huge collection of Black-crowned Night Heron was in evidence, along with a bevy of Herons, including 5 Yellow-billed Egrets. Orange breasted Waxbill provided crippling views as large flocks of them fed on the mostly dry main pan. Nearby we found Longbilled Pipit and Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, which have shown a dramatic incursion onto the highveld in the last decade - or perhaps longer?

Roodeplaat Dam provided crippling views of African Sedge Warbler, and a fly-past by a single Green Pigeon! This was my 399th bird in the PRetoria area for the year 2002. In the Seringveld, Fawncoloured Lark were more obliging than the Sharpbilled Honeyguide, which just kept out of sight. Tinkling Cisticola called actively - and must surely rate as one of the most inconspicuous of the Cisticolas. Here we also saw Bearded Woodpecker and Icterine Warbler, while Flappet Lark called overhead.

The plains north of Moloto provided a host of Kestrels: Lesser, Amur and a single Redfooted Falcon, as well as Secretarybird, Blackbreasted Snake Eagle and a Ringtail, almost certainly Montagu's Harrier. We arrived at Mkhombo too late to get into the really interesting habitat, and the overcast late afternoon conditions made for quiet birding, although Pied Babbler, Wattled Starling and Redbilled Quelea were very much in evidence and Great Sparrow and Icterine Warbler were also seen. The condition of the lake verges is however mouthwateringly interesting and earlier in the day, Pieter van Zyl and others found both Allen's Gallinule and Lesser Moorhen in the area.

The next day (31 December) saw us out at Zaagkuildrift early, and the best dawn bird was Eurasian Hobby, which came by several times - providing great views. We also ran into Carmine and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Pygmy Kingfisher, European Marsh and Icterine Warbler, Southern Pied Babbler, Barred Warbler and plenty of Crimson-breasted Shrike. The floodplain at Kgomo-kgomo has some emergent growth and has been partially inundated, but is looking promising, with plenty of Yellowbilled and Abdim's Storks in attendance. A quick stop at Rooiwal produced Yellow Wagtail and a host of waders, ducks and swallows including South African Shelduck and European Sand Martin. We had found the birds we wanted, and were back in Pretoria by 09:30 with a day tally of 168 - quite something for just on 4 hours of birding.

On the 30th, we recorded 208 species - not bad considering that we spent a lot of time working on seeing specific species (such as Cloud Cisticola and Orange River Francolin), and ignored certain habitats that one would normally do on a standard "big day".

The total species count for the one day and 4 hours was 249, which included 12 "ducks", 5 Bee-eater species, 4 Woodpeckers and 6 Kingfishers. My personal tally for the Pretoria area in 2002 was brought up to 401 species.

Regards and best birding in 2003.
Etienne Marais

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