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The Pretoria region produces 281 Species in 24 Hours!In 2004, The Raiders of the Lost Lark, following a similar, but slightly modified route to that used last year, recorded 281 species for the national Birding Big Day. This is now the highest total recorded in the region, and the third highest BBD total of all time (subject to final 2004 results being published)
This year the Raiders of the Lost Lark, made up of Rob Geddes, Louis Heyns and Etienne Marais, built on last years excellent route. Rob and Louis took a good look at refining and modifying the route and timetable and came up with some good modifications which made for a simpler, more effective route with fewer stops and less driving. Time management went very well and we spent a lot less time in the Mabusa area, rather choosing to get to the highest diversity bushveld and waterbird localities earlier - which paid off. Overall the weather was about as kind as one could hope for in late November, with only dawn winds and evening floods to whinge about.
Birding kicked off at 1 am, with some productive owling as Barn, White-faced and Pearlies came to the party. On the busy Moloto road we got lucky with a gap between the diesel trucks which was long enough to add the Truck-noise tolerant subspecies of Freckled Nightjar to bring up the 3 resident nightjar species. Further on we got both Marsh and Grass Owl calling from the wetland edge along the Moses river. Our dawn start proved the most windy stop of the day, and it took a while to get going. Suddently the skies were alive with Eastern Long-billed Lark, and soon afterwards Wailing Cisticola and Redwinged Francolin obliged. Good wishes were exchanged with the team of Celia Human, one of several in action in the area. Our highveld/grassland loop proved to be full of Melodious Lark, seemingly imitating everything but a cursing BBD team leader! The first dam produced calling Yellow Warbler, African Rail, Black Sparrowhawk and Red-chested Flufftail. Soon afterwards, we found Spike-heeled, Eastern Clapper and Fawn-coloured Larks, and had two European Sand Martins and a Black-chested Snake Eagle going by. Rob's sharp eyes picked out Little Bittern in the reeds, and as with last year, the Amur Falcons kept their first seasons appointment with us on BBD. One of the highlights of the day was the good cheer and humour from the other teams we bumped into, and soon afterwards we met Dawie Chamberlains keen crowd, followed soon afterwards by Deon Coetzee and his crew.
We completed our main highveld loop with the list on 106 species, just before 7:00 am. After Louis had skillfully negotiated a shocking piece of road that Etienne thought we should do, we headed into Trichardtspoort and the Wilge River Valley and the bushveld and hillside birds accumulated steadily: Striped and Longbilled Pipit, Brown-backed Honeybird, Grey-headed Bush-shrike, Red-headed Weaver, Mocking Cliff-chat and Greencapped Eremomela. Lanner Falcon and Verreaux's Eagle were welcome raptors, and we headed towards our next locality just after 9 with the total on 169. It seemed a good omen that two shocking dips from last year, Wattled Starling and Red-billed Quelea came past in flocks.
Another patch of highveld en-route provided the missing Wing-snapping Cisticola and we also added Wahlberg's Eagle, Red-throated Wryneck, Greater-double Collared Sunbird and Temminck's Courser, which Rob and Louis had found breeding here a few days earlier. At Mabusa, Etienne insisted that we investigate a strange chorus of distant sound and a fast walk confirmed Monotonous Larks in abundance, instead of a new frog species, as initially thought. Here we again got Tinkling Cisticola and another of last years bogy birds: Striped Kingfisher. En route, we again ran into Deon and his boys, who shared a beautiful Gabar Goshawk with us.
Thembasile Dam produced a cracking pair of Pygmy Geese, along with several other ducks, Snipe and South African Cliff Swallow. This locality brought us up to 200 species at just after 12 noon, and thanks to regular SMS messages, we knew we were running a couple of birds behind one of the other Pretoria teams
Then it was into the Mkhombo area, where a fuel stop allowed us to take stock, and observe the reactions of locals encountering aliens for the first time (try scoping for distant Groundscraper Thrush, while scoffing a squashed ham sandwich next time you fill up). Having recharged the Carbo-cylinders we bravely took on the heat, which had dulled things down. But our patient approach to dry scrubland birding paid off, and we quickly accumulated new birds, such as Titbabbler, Kalahari Robin, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Barred Wren-warbler and Burnt-necked Eremomela. Here we had time to pause and speculate on the PCC Vetting Panel's possible reaction to a report of Tinkling Cisticola in this locality. (We got this species at three widely spaced localities).
The waters edge added a host of new birds, including Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Black Heron, Common Ringed Plover and all the white herons. Louis was very careful this time round to avoid any tyre change hystrionics!!
The drive to the northern section of Mkhombo Dam provided for great variety as we picked up Groundscraper Thrush, Red-crested Korhaan, Cape Penduline Tit and Bennet's Woodpecker en-route. Even more waterbirds included Goliath and Greenbacked Heron, Hottentot Teal and at last - an African Fish Eagle! The woodland was hard-work, but rewarding as we found oft tricky customers such as Violet-eared Waxbill, Acacia Pied Barbet and Yellow Canary. Once again the community of Loding were treated to the Annual Lesser-masked Weavers and Lunatics show which occurs in the pepper trees just opposite the shebeen.
The combined waterbirds and bushveld birds of Mkhombo Dam contributed 61 more birds, in the period between 12:30 and 4:30, which proved to be a big boost to our total. We left Mkhombo with the tally on 262 and plenty of daylight time still to go. What's more we still had a nerve-racking list of "possible dips" staring us in the face, such as Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Redbilled Firefinch, African Hoopoe, Black-throated Canary, Red-billed Hornbill, Common Sandpiper and Yellow-crowned Bishop.
With Buddhist-like zeal, we worked through the harsh african terrain, fanatically scanning Nguni Oxpecker-Carriers for signs of life, and were eventually rewarded with an almost prophetic sequence of African Hoopoe, Redbilled Hornbill, Black-cheeked Waxbill and Black-throated Canary. We then explored some farmlands and the Elands river bridges, both of which proved very productive. A late afternoon termite eruption produced an amazing collection of raptors, and amongst large numbers of Amur Falcons, we picked out a single Western Red-footed Falcon, Lesser Kestrels, African Black Swift and Lesser Spotted Eagle, but no Hobbies! A big bonus in the same area were Chestnut-backed Sparrowlarks, Yellow-crowned Bishop in full breeding plumage and male Pallid Harrier. We also had an unidentified Ringtail harrier, and saw one distant Pratincole - which remarkably resulted in a philosophical debate on the probabilities of ticking Asiatic Dowitchers in Actonville - and the unanimous conclusion that we could not tick a pratincole.
The Elands river bridges produced Giant and Brown-hooded Kingfisher Hamerkop (all still needed!!). A search for Shelley's Francolin near the dam had to be negotiated with the local red-tape brigade, but produced a bonus: Great spotted Cuckoo. We were then off to look for the first of several owls, but instead of Giant Eagle Owl, we found several calling Scops Owls, and another unexpected bonus: Bronze-winged Courser! This was number 281 and proved to be the last bird of the day, as our search for Spotted Eagle Owl was cut short by a massive thunderstorms, which drowned out hopes of realistically adding more birds, and provided the excuse to quit early (by 10 PM.)
SOME BESTS AND LESSONS:
Best thing about this day: Running into other teams and exchanging hearty good wishes and good humour.
Best Bird - as always a toss up between several: Pygmy Goose, Bronzewinged Courser, Pallid Harrier and Lesser Spotted Eagle. Rob enjoyed the Verreaux Eagle, while Etienne (predictably) goes for Monotonous Lark and Louis voted for African Scops Owl (which was nicely seen in an expected locality, just as we were working ourselves up to drive 40km to find it!!).
As in the past, the Raiders managed to keep up our record on Larks and Cisticolas and recorded 10 of each.
DIPS: BIRDS NOT RECORDED - Red-billed Oxpecker, Common Sandpiper, Black Kite (incl Yellowbilled), Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, White Stork, Spotted Eagle Owl, Grey-headed Gull and Thick-billed Weaver !!! Birds that were called by one team member, but did not make it onto our list were Fiscal Flycatcher, Lesser Moorhen, Ovambo Sparrowhawk and Black Crow.
Raiders of the Lost Lark 2003
Raiders of the Lost Lark 2001
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