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Johannesburg, Pretoria and Dinokeng Trip Report

5 days of Birding in May 2003

I spent five days in late may birding with two overseas visitors: Paul Dirdak from the USA and Tony Crittenden from the US. Both were in Johannesburg on Business, and had three days each to spare. The following is a summary account of some of the highlights of the five days:

Day 1 - 17 May 2003 (with Tony Crittenden)

A dawn visit to the dry Elandsvlei Pan produced great views of Marsh Owl, while large numbers of Orange-breasted Waxbill moved in and out of the rank grass around the pan. A nearby farm dam produced Malachite Kingfisher, while a small stream in the area offered excellent views of a stunning Half-collared Kingfisher an adult Jackal Buzzard, African Black Duck and a family of Cape Clawless Otter. On the back roads towards Cullinan, we encountered Southern Pochard, Greater Kestrel and an immature Martial Eagle. The Zonderwater wetland had calling African Rail, Red-chested Flufftail and Dark-capped Yellow Warbler. Here we were also able to study some of the non-breeding widows and identified Red-collared Widow. A stop at the Roodeplaat dam offered excellent views of Little Bittern, and we then headed west towards Borakolalo National Park. En-route we were delayed by a nice Lanner Falcon, and the thornveld north of Jericho offered superb views of Southern Pied Babbler, Crimson-breasted Shrike and Scaly-feathered finch. Towards our bush-camp we encountered Purple Roller, Burchell's Starling and Southern White-crowned Shrike. The peace and quiet of the night was broken by the eerie hooting of Southern White-faced Owl and the trill of African Scops Owl. With some patience we were able to see the former well by the light of a torch.

Day total 118 species (99 seen).

Day 2 - 18 May 2003 (with Tony Crittenden)

We were out early to explore the woodlands of Borakolalo, and soon encountered our first of several bird parties, which included species like Southern Black Tit, Black Headed Oriole, Long-billed Crombec, Brubru, Red-headed Weaver, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Eremomela and Grey Penduline Tit. Small groups of Meyer's Parrot shrieked in the distance and this species was eventually well seen. The area around the lake produced a host of waterbirds including an assemblage of Grey, Goliath and Purple Heron and Great White Egret, African Fish Eagle, Great-crested Grebe, African Jacana, African Wattled Lapwing and Black Crake. Three Banded Martin moved steadily over the lake - quite late for this species still to be present - and the resident Pearl-breasted Swallows were numerous everywhere.

Close to the lake we had Great Sparrow, Southern Black Flycatcher and Golden-breasted Bunting.

In the woodlands in the lower part of the reserve we encountered Coqui Francolin, Bennet's Woodpecker, and African Grey, Southern Yellowbilled and Redbilled Hornbill, Little bee-eater and Redbilled Firefinch. In the afternoon we left the park and moved south-west towards Vaalkop Dam. En-route we saw Buffy Pipit, Green-backed Heron, White-fronted Bee-eater, Chestnut-backed Finchlark and Southern White Crowned Shrike. At Vaalkop dam, we saw a host of ducks, and a range of new waterbirds: such as Comb Duck, Black Egret, White-winged Tern and Giant Kingfisher, The lakeshore provided good views of Kittlitz Plover and a small party of African Pied Wagtail. We also saw Magpie Shrike, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler and a large, lazy looking African Rock Python. A superb sunset heralded the arrival of the Double-banded Sandgrouse, and there was still enough light to scope these great birds as they came in to drink. A magnificent Marsh Owl came sailing past - and a pair of Water Dikkop called in the distance - which was the signal for us to pack up and head back to Johannesburg.

Day total 135 species (117 seen).

Day 3 - 22 May (with Paul Dirdak)

The sunrise of another beautiful autumn day, found us in the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve - some 50 km South of Johannesburg. In the wooded valleys below the high grassy ridges we saw Red-eyed Bulbul, Streaky-headed Canary, Malachite Sunbird, Cape Grassbird, Cape White-eye and Fiscal Flycatcher. Higher up on the game drive, we encountered the first of a number of Rock Thrushes - a nice male Cape Rock Thrush - followed shortly by several Sentinel Rock Thrush. Other common species in this habitat included Mountain Wheatear, African Stonechat, Wailing Cisticola, Cape Bunting, Yellow Canary and Cape Longclaw. Several raptors were encountered on the higher reaches of the park, including Jackal Buzzard, Peregrine and African Rock Kestrel.

We also had excellent views of Eastern Long-billed Lark, Red-capped Lark the diminutive Wing-snapping Cisticola and perhaps the bird of the day - an African Rock Pipit that seemed intent on practising it's song.

Lower down on the slopes we encountered Red-throated Wryneck, Southern Ant-eating Chat, Spike-heeled Lark and flocks of Red-bishop birds - some showing on a trace of summer plumage.

The Holhoek Picnic site was as usual, quite excellent, and afforded great views of Mocking Cliff-chat, Cape Weaver, Lesser Honeyguide and Black-chested Prinia. The lower lying arid thornveld of the reserve is always interesting, and here we saw Violet-eared Waxbill, Green-winged Pytilia, African Hoopoe, Lark-like Bunting - the latter of which is an erratic vagrant to Gauteng.

We then headed over to Marievale Bird Sanctuary which forms part of the Blesbokspruit Wetland, where a large number of wetland species are typically to be found. Here we saw Greater Flamingo, African Spoonbill, Cape Shoveller, African Purple Swamphen, Hottentot Teal and Goliath Heron.

A superb Marsh Owl, sat on a post in broad daylight, and no less than 17 South African Shelduck were counted. A bit of patience was rewarded with a good sighting of African Rail, and we watched as waves of seed-eaters came in to roost in the reeds as evening approached. These included a few Fantailed Widowbird, Red-billed Quelea, and in grassland near the edge of the wetland, Yellow Canary. We enjoyed the sight of a lazy circling African Marsh Harrier - as it took off and disturbed some of the birds in the area.

Day total 127 species (113 seen).

Day 4 - May 23 (with Paul Dirdak)

We were based in Cullinan, and were out before dawn to find a Spotted Eagle Owl, which obligingly posed for us in the pre-dawn light. We headed into the Seringveld, to a rather subdued dawn chorus. However the birds soon started to come, and we saw Striped Kingfisher, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Jameson's Firefinch, White-fronted and Little Bee-eater and Brown-hooded Kingfisher.

A late morning interlude in the Roodeplaat Dam Nature reserve produced quite a range of waterbirds, including Little Bittern, Giant Kingfisher and Intermediate Egret, as well as African Fish Eagle, Grey-headed Gull and African Wattled Lapwing. We then moved back into the woodlands of the Seringveld, where several good bird parties were found. Once such bird parties included Brubru, Puffback, Greencapped Eremomela, Chin-spot Batis and Black-crowned Tchagra.

In more rugged country to the north we found Kurrichane, Groundscraper and Karoo Thrush, Green Pigeon, Southern Boubou and Mocking Cliff-chat. Waterbirds on the small dams in the area included White-backed Duck, African Jacana and African Purple Swamphen.

Day total 127 species (108 seen).

Day 5 - May 24 (with Paul Dirdak and Tony Crittenden)

We headed out to the thornveld in the Pienaarsriver area, where several Northern Black Korhaan greeted the dawn. Further on, we encountered a bird party which allowed for excellent views of Barred Wren-Warbler, Green-winged Pytilia, Lesser Honeyguide, Black-cheeked Waxbill, Chinspot Batis and Puffback. In the dry open areas with lots of seedgrass we saw African, Bluebilled and Redbilled Firefinch and Blue Waxbill in abundance, as well as Scaly-feathered Finch.

At this season, Pearl-spotted Owl are more active than usual, and we had some superb views, including one where an owl was mobbed by a range of birds, including White-throated Robin, Southern Penduline Tit and Southern Boubou. Two Kalahari Robin hopped around on a falled tree, cocking their tails in their extroverted way.

A cattle watering point was full of life, and no less than 20 Redbilled Oxpecker were in attendance, while nearby we saw a noisy flock of Southern Pied Babbler. Dry plains produced some superb birds in the form of several pairs of Capped Wheatear - protecting their anthill burrows, and a pair of wonderfully elegant Temminck's Courser.

On to one of the local sewerage works, and here we saw a host of ducks and herons. Four species of "white egret" stood in one binocular view, allowing a rarely seen chance to compare these species. In addition, ten species of duck were present, including Southern Pochard, Comb Duck and Cape Shoveller.

A brief foray west of Pretoria, produced two more endemics, in the form of the Pretoria race of the Short-toed Rock Thrush, and several Spike heeled Lark, that seemed to want to frolick in the road where we were parked.

Day total 135 species (126 seen).

Etienne Marais

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