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Birding and Tour News:

Birding the Pretoria area 28 February - 4 March 2004

This is a summary of some bird-guiding we have done recently - all in the Johannesburg Pretoria area:

1. Birding Gauteng and neighbouring North-west/Limpopo Provinces with Susan Clarke

The end of February/March is often regarded as a rather quiet time for birding, and forest and woodland birding is harder now , compared to the heady heights of late November. However exceptional and widespread rains have altered the landscape and birds - the ultimate adapters, have taken advantage of the conditions.

Early on 28 February we started birding at Ezemvelo Nature Reserve, which despite being quieter than in mid-summer, still produced some excellent birds, including a singing Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, and a host of swallows, including Banded Martin, Greater and Lesser Striped Swallow, European Sand Martin and Pearl-breasted Swallow. We had excellent views of Redwinged Francolin, and found a single Lark-like Bunting on the Eastern side of a swollen Wilge River. Redchested Flufftail hooted from the vlei near the campsite. En route to the Seringveld we encountered a host of raptors, including Lesser Kestrel, Blackbreasted Snake Eagle and Brown Snake Eagle. A session of afternoon birding in the Seringveld produced a host of nice birds, including Green Pigeon, Great Reed Warbler, Grassbird and Paradise Flycatchers. The walk to the lodge restaurant was somewhat eventful as a Freckled Nightjar seemed to have adopted the tiled roof as it's calling post.

The next day we headed westwards, a pre-dawn stop on a dirt road west of Boeknhoutskloof revealed a skyfull of Flappet Lark, while Redcrested Korhaan were in full swing. Zaagkuildrift produced the usual stars like Southern Pied Babbler, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Common Whitethroat, Harlequin Quail and Shaft-tailed and Paradise Whydah. Wolfhuiskraal was excellent for bush birds, and a nice surprise was flushing a Monotonous Lark from sparsely treed area. The Pienaars river was in full spate, and at Kgomo-kgomo, the floodplain is a sight to behold, with egrets, storks and ducks dotting the plain, while wheeling Pratincoles and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters avoid flocks of Quelea and Quail finch above. Top wetland birds were Lesser Moorhen, while on the drier plain verges we picked up both Red-headed and Cut-throat Finch, as well as Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark.

Right now this place is quite remarkable, and one is not quite sure where to focus ones attention. Should you be examining floodplain margins for Baillon's and African Crake, Painted Snipe, Allen's Gallinule or Dwarf Bittern? Dry stubble covered plains away from the water offer Caspian Plover while the bush birds include Olive-tree Warbler, Common White-throat or Icterine Warbler, ot does one keep an eye skyward for Lesser Spotted Eagle, Black Stork or Peregrine (All of the above have been seen in the area in the last week!).

On to Borakolalo, were we stayed at the tented camp. Here Red-headed Weaver entertained, and waterbirds were plentiful - one scope view including a mixed bevy of African Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Stork and Black Heron. Bush birds included species like Black Cuckoo-shrike, European Golden Oriole, Monotonous Lark and once the sun went down, African Scops Owlet and White-faced Owl.

Next morning we were out birding at dawn, and found ourselves in some extended bird parties that included Beared and Cardinal Woodpeckers, Southern Black Tit, Brubru and Pallid Flycatcher. Nearby we located Bushveld Pipit, while Grey Tit-Flycather and Meyer's Parrot called nearby. The rest of the day was spent exploring the reserve - which produced a host of new birds, including Redbilled Oxpecker, Great-crested Grebe, Giant Kingfisher, Burchell's Glossy Starling, Greenbacked Heron and Black Stork.

The total list for the three days with Susan was about 265 species recorded, some 230 well seen.

2. Day trip with Delegates from BirdLife Asia

The day started way too late for optimal birding, but it is always a pleasure to go birding with people who are having a "new continent" birding experience for the first time. At Marievale, high excitment at a flock of Amur Falcons - which was a surprise African lifer for several of the asian group! We enjoyed stunners like Cape Bunting, Black-collared Barbet, Redcollared Widow and Cape Rock Thrush. On the game drive we encountered stupendous herds of game - including Red Hartebeest, Black Wildebeest and Eland. Top birds here included Yellow Bishop, Mountain Wheater and Mocking Cliff-chat.

Then onto Marievale which is somewhat flooded by all the water. Nevertherless we enjoyed superb views of Greater Flamingo and Western Marsh Harrier, as well as a wonderful assemblage of herons, ibis and waders, which included some 60 Glossy Ibis, many Squacco, flocks of Ruff and Black Heron, and both Southern Pochard and Fulvous Duck. Land birds included Yellow Canary and Fantailed Widowbird.

3. Day trip for Richard Grimmet

Despite a late start, Zaagkuildrift was pumping with birds. Scaly-feathered Finch, White-throated Robin-Chat and European Marsh Warbler being the early attractions. We found several Village Indigobirds and towards Wolfhuiskraal Harlequin Quail were in full cry. Then a stop for Brown-crowned Tchagra produced the bird of the day, a calling Thrush Nightingale. This species occurs very seldom in our area, but the good rains have produced perfect conditions and this particular bird called from a large thicket.

The call of the Thrush Nightingale is one of those sounds which evokes true birding excitement, and a couple of Gauteng Birders have been able to confirm its presence in the same spot (Charl Weisz, Richard Montinaro and Selwyn Rautenbach). Selwyn is one of the +800 birders who had not yet gripped this elusive bird and who got a good enough look to add it to his lifelist on Sunday!

We then proceeded onto Wolfhuiskraal and had a quite superb session of birding. We flushed Small Buttonquail, and watched as a Willow Warbler chased a resplendent Shaft-tailed Whydah repeatedly. We then found a patch where Crimson-breasted Bush Shrike and Violet-eared Waxbill provided superb scope views. Shortly afterwards we had Barred Wren-wabler, Bennett's WOodpecker, which here seem quite at home in dense acacia. Flocks of Redbilled Quelea wheeled everywhere, and migrant European Rollers and Lesser Grey Shrikes where everywhere in evidence - at one point we had 5 of the former in sight. A brief stop at Kgomo-kgomo produced Kittlitz Plover, including several gawky juveniles, Blue-cheeked Bee=eaters, Jacanas and Yellow-billed Stork, as well as small parties of Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, Redcapped Lark and Redheaded Finch. Here we also go the best views of Harlequin Quail as a male flushed between us.

A final hour at Elandsvlei produced superb views of about 20 Maccoa duck, as well as a host of other species. Also present in the area are large numbers of breeding Whiskered Tern, Orange-breasted Waxbill, Hottentot Teal and as night approached the sight of several Marsh Owls apparently hawking termites some 20m up in the air!

Etienne Marais - 7 March 2004

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Web Site Updated 9 March 2004© Indicator Birding