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Endemics and Bird Photography - June 2004 Trip Report.

This was a typical five-day birding tour in the Pretoria/Johannesburg Region from 2-6 June 2004. These "Pretoria" tours have become popular with our clients, as they offer tremendous diversity within a relatively small distance and thus allow for more quality time to be spent on the birding. As this trip report indicates, birding in this region is excellent at any time of the year. This trip focussed on two things: finding a good sample of Southern African birders endemics; and providing opportunities for Bird Photography.

Tour summary

Participants: John and Mary Kormendy; Ken and Margaret Freeman

Guide: Etienne Marais

Localities visited: Suikerbosrand, Marievale, Schurveberge, Vaalkop, Borakolalo NP, Pienaars River, Rust de Winter, Seringveld, Rooiwal.

Species seen: 232
Regional Endemics seen: 43

Top 10 Birds: Cuckoo Finch, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Short-toed rock Thrush, Temminck's Courser, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Martial Eagle, Southern Pied Babbler, Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Crimson-breasted Shrike.

FULL TRIP REPORT

Day 1 Southern Highveld - 2 June 2004

We set out from Johannesburg before dawn, and soon found ourselves in the new "plains" section of Suikerbosrand NR, where a Marsh Owl and Black Harrier were seen quartering over the veldt. Seedeaters were plentiful here and great views were had of Yellow-crowned Bishop, Long-tailed Widow, Quail Finch and Orange-breasted Waxbill. A big surprise for the winter months was the presence of a number of Cuckoo Finch, while Common Quail called from the grasslands. In the hilly part of the reserve we had excellent views of Cape Rock Thrush, followed shortly afterwards by a number of Sentinel Rock Thrush, African Stonechat and Mountain Wheatear. Eastern Long-billed Lark, Bokmakierie, Jackall Buzzard and Southern Ant-eating Chat were all seen before our lunch stop. The picnic site offered a number of interesting species, including Black-chested Prinia, Mocking Cliff-chat, Fiscal Flycatcher and Common Scimitarbill, which John was able to photograph. Long-tailed Paradise Whydah in full breeding plumage was a further surprise at this time of year.

Marievale Bird Sanctuary offered an assortment of waterfowl and marshland birds and we recorded Cape Shoveller, Hottentot Teal, African Purple Swamphen, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Greater Flamingo and many others.

Day total 107 species.

Day 2 Western Highveld and North-west Province.

A somewhat later start saw us in the Schurveberge, west of Pretoria, amidst Aloe covered rocky hills, where we soon found our main target species, Short-toed Rock-Thrush and Lazy Cisticola. Other birds seen here included Black-collared Barbet, Familiar Chat and Streaky-headed Seedeater. A short drive through the scenic Magaliesburg, found us in the North-west Province bushveld, where our first stop was to enjoy great scope views of family groups of the elegant Temminck's Courser. A small dam produced a host of new birds, including Malachite Kingfisher, Lilac-breasted Roller and flocks of Red-billed Quelea. We enjoyed a picnic lunch at Vaalkop Dam, but not before we had added a host of new birds to the list, including Comb Duck, Burchell's Coucal, Greenbacked Heron, Redbilled Hornbill, Brown-crowned Tchagra and Burchell's Starling.

After lunch we encountered several good bird parties, and these included species such as Chin-spot Batis, Southern Pied Babbler, Arrow-marked Babbler, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Cape Penduline Tit, Burnt-necked Eremomela and White-browed Scrub Robin.

We arrived at Mothabeng Lodge with some light still left, and while enjoying the spectactular scenery and views, were able to add a few more birds to our list, including Kurrichane Thrush, Natal Spurfowl and Crested Barbet.

Day total 96 Species

Day 3 Borakolalo National Park.

The drive to the park was somewhat delayed by the number of birds we saw outside the reserve. These included Lilac-breasted Roller, Groundscraper Thrush, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Magpie Shrike and Kalahari Robin. At the reserve, we spend several hours exploring the fine broadleaved woodland, where highlights include a pair of Double-banded Sandgrouse, African Grey Hornbill, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Cardinal Woodpecker and Grey Go-away-bird. After our picnic breakfast, we explore the lower lying parts of the reserve and along the river we saw Giant Kingfisher, Tawny-flanked Prinia, African Black Duck and Pearl-spotted Owlet. A pair of Black Crake appear to dance among the branches of a large dead tree lying in the water. A small wetland produces a juvenile Lesser Moorhen, White-faced Ducks and some excellent photographic opportunities.

The fine burkea woodland provides perhaps the best birding of the day, and here we encounter a roosting Verreaux's Eagle Owl, and a family part of the beautiful Coqui Francolin. In this area we also see Bearded Woodpecker and a fine soaring Martial Eagle. After lunch, we spend some time exploring the lakeshore, and John is able to photograph the stately Goliath Heron, African Darter and Three-banded Plover, among others.

We then head eastwards and a stop in the area of the Pienaar's River Floodplain produces some fine late afternoon birding: Red-headed Finch, Cut-throat Finch, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, African Jacana, African Snipe and Marsh Owl.

We arrived at Genius Loci Game Ranch well after dark, after spotting a Fiery-necked Nightjar in the road, which sits long enough for excellent views in the spotlight. Over a hearty dinner, we go through the days list once again.

Day total 104 Species

Day 4 Pienaar's River Valley

Our first morning stop is for the handsome Northern Black Korhaan, and soon afterwards, we find ourselves close to an extensive wetland, where we see a range of birds: Squacco Heron, Little Rush Warbler, Southern Boubou and Burchell's Coucal. We successfully searched for White-throated Robin-chat, and then travelled westwards and onto a private cattle ranch. This area offered the freedom to move around unhindered, and here John spent some time photographing some of the excellent array of birds on offer. On the ranch, we saw Shaft-tailed Whydah and Village Indigobird in full breeding plumage. Flocks of Red-billed Oxpecker attended to the eco-friendly cattle herd and a host of stunning waxbills was well-seen, including Blue Waxbill, Violet-eared Waxbill, Jameson's Firefinch and Green-winged Pytilia. Other good birds seen on the ranch included Hamerkop, Crowned Lapwing, African Hoopoe and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill.

We returned to the Lodge in time for an evening drive, but not before having a good look at the birds on the feeder. These included Village Weaver and Bronze Mannikin.

The late afternoon drive brought us to the Elands river, where a pair of Hamerkop fished together with a Giant Kingfisher, close to the nest burrow of the latter. For once it was a mammal that provided some excitement as a Thick-tailed Bushbaby - rare in the area - was seen in a small tree. Once the sun was set, we returned via the same route, looking for nocturnals. A magnificent Spotted Eagle Owl was the highlight of this drive and the fourth owl seen on the tour.

Day total 90 Species

Day 5 Rust de Winter to Pilanesburg

An early morning walk in the chilly dawn air was a good way to prepare for a hearty breakfast and allowed good views of Grey-headed Bush-shrike, Yellow-fronted Canary, Long-billed Crombec and Karoo Thrush. At the lodge, Cut-throat Finch were very much in evidence.

After breakfast, we packed up and headed into Dinokeng - or "Place of Rivers" southwards, a stop at a fuel station provided a patch of excellent birding where we saw White-bellied Sunbird, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Speckled Mousebird and Cape Robin-chat. The interesting country to the south-east produced Red-collared Widow and both Brown and Black-chested Snake Eagle. We stopped for tea at Mutango Lodge, the main focus being on enabling John to photograph some sunbirds. He was able to get good shots of White-bellied and Amethyst Sunbird, while we added White-fronted Bee-eater and Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird to the list - which was now well over 200 for the five day period.

Our last birding stop was a Sewerage works, and although we only added Kittlitz's Plover, Ruff and Common Greenshank to the list, we were able to study a wide array of waterfowl, ibis and other waterbirds here. We then took the N4 Highway westwards towards Pilanesburg and Bakubung Lodge. En route we encountered Greater Kestrel and a sub-adult Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk.

Day Total 113 species.

Etienne Marais - 8 June 2004

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