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VRYSTAAT !! A report and images from a 5 day Free State trip.

30 September 2006

The diversity and beauty of our wonderful country never ceases to amaze me. Living in Gauteng as we do, we often forget just how priveleged we are to have over 600 species available within 4 hours of us. One of the less explored regions is the Free-state, which has the reputation of being flat and boring. Nothing could be further from the truth, and last week, together with Pat Adams from the UK, I had the pleasure of sampling just a few of the delights of this less famous birding province.

Day 1 - 2 October '06 Harrismith to Witsieshoek

We started out in the upland grassland areas near Harrismith,

where thanks to some good gen from Dave Weaver had a few hours of excellent birding in the mid-afternoon. Birds seen included Spike-heeled Lark, an excellent flock of Southern Bald Ibis, low flying Alpine and African Black Swift and over-passing Botha's Lark, which unfortunately did not pause to allow views. We enjoyed a pair of Blue Korhaan foraging in the fields before proceeding further on to the western side of the highway where we found over 70 Blue Cranes congregated around a dam. Beyond Harrismith, on the road towards Sterkfontein Dam a pair of Grey Crowned Crane occupied a small dam close to the road.

Spike-heeled Lark

Spectacular mountains at Sentinel
After passing through the urban areas of Phutidijaba we arrived at Witsieshoek, but not before seeing a pair of close-up Grey-winged Francolin. We had been warned to expect snow and the weather was not pleasant, but we ventured up the spectacular drive to the Sentinel, anyway where the mountains were veiled in mist and the haunting cries of Wailing Cisticola were heard on the cool slopes.
Day 2 - 3 October 2006

Mountain weather is unpredictable and thick mist blanketed the mountain until after 9:00 when we were afforded a few brief breaks in the gloom along the road to Sentinel. White-necked Ravens, Wailing Cisticola and Long-billed Pipit were in evidence on the mountain. We also saw Jackall Buzzard and Rock Kestrel, before coming across a pair of Drakensburg Rockjumper on the last bend before the Sentinel "check-point".

The stunning Drakensburg Rockjumper

The superb Bearded Vulture in flight (Lammergeier)
We paid a visit to the Fiko Patso dam area where Southern Boubou, Rock Kestrel, Jackall Buzzard and many swifts were in evidence. Large numbers of Malachite Kingfisher appeared to be feeding on the hillside and a nice male Buff-streaked Chat was also seen. In the early afternoon we headed up to Golden Gate National Park. En route we encountered several Cape Vultures and a soaring Bearded Vulture. A drive up the feeding station at Golden Gate produced two more soaring Bearded Vultures, Secretarybird, Ground Woodpeckers, Wailing and Le-vaillant's Cisticola and Jackall Buzzard. After doing a drive we returned to the area and saw no less than four Bearded Vultures (1 adult) in the distance, one of which afforded close up views. At the camp Cape Rock-thrush, Cape Canary and Bokmakierie were in evidence and after dark two Cape Eagle Owls could be heard hooting from the mountains above.

Cape Weaver

The Splendours of Golden Gate National Park
Day 3 - 4 October 2006

A windy and cloudy start to the day limited good birding, but we had more views of Bearded Vulture, Secretarybird and Ground Woodpecker. After breakfast we headed westwards and took the very scenic eastern free-state drive via Fouriesberg. We then headed north-west towards Ventersburg, and a stop produced some nice birds including what seem to look and sound like Orange-river White-eye and a nice Fairy Flycatcher.

We arrived in the Sandveld area and were immediately treated to the sight of typical thornveld species such as Magpie Shrike and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, while Orange-river White-eye cheerfully warbled near the chalets.. A drive in the reserve revealed that large areas of grassland had a recent burn - which held a lot of promise for the next morning.

Day 4 - 5 October 2006

A full day was spent exploring Sandveld Nature Reserve. The burned grasslands were alive with activity from Ant-eating Chat, and there was a good chorus from displaying Eastern Clapper Lark, high altitude Red-capped Lark and many Northern Black Korhaan. A pair of Greater Kestrel hunted over the grasslands and quite a few small mammals, including Yellow Mongoose, Suricate Meerkat and several crouched Steenbok were seen. Large mammals were in abundance in this reserve which has a very healthy looking population of Sable, many White Rhinocerous and Tsessebe and Giraffe as well.

Pearl-spotted Owlet

1..2..3..Launch!! - Northern Black Korhaans display flight.
Woodland areas produced birds such as Pririt Batis, Ashy Tit, Common Scimitarbill, Marico Flycatcher, Cape Penduline-Tit, Black-chested Prinia, Golden-breasted Bunting, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Pearl-spotted owlet and Brubru.

We also spent some time watching the feeding activity at one of the many awesome Sociable Weaver nests found in the area.

The amazing communal nest of the Sociable Weaver
The water levels were very high resulting in a disappointing showing as regards shorebirds, but we found a small pond separated from the main lake which was packed with hundreds of birds, mainly Ruff and White-winged Tern, but also large numbers of assorted species including Greenshank, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Common Ringed Plover and others. In an area of more open woodlands we had good views of Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Barred Wren Warbler, European Bee-eater and several of the local race of the African Pipit, that seemed to have a great preference for sitting on trees. We also went in search of the Tinkling Cisticola, and found one in open acacia thornveld with a grassy understory on the far side of the reserve (on the furthest loop from the camp area). A brief visit over the border in the Bloemhof Dam NR produced some great extra birds in the form of Double-banded Courser, Pink-billed Lark and Orange River Francolin.
Day 5 - 6 October '06 Sandveld to Barberspan

Day 5 We travelled north-west- to Barberspan, which can easily be combined with Sandveld/Bloemhof. En-route we had a few good birding stops, including one for a very busy birding patch just outside Schweizer-Reneke, where White-fronted Bee-eaters hawked next to the road.

Near Migdol a road-side pan produced a host of waterbirds including Greater Flamingo, Fulvous Duck and Comb Duck.

White-fronted Bee-eater

Whiskered Tern
Barberspan itself was very windy when we got there and the dam is very full making for reduced mudflats/lakeshore verge birding. Waders seen included all the common species such as Greenshank, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Ringed Plover and others. A pair of South African Shelduck shepherded a large flotilla of youngsters across the rough waters and out in the open waters numbers of Great-crested Grebe were seen.

Other species seen at Barberspan included Goliath Heron, Whiskered Tern, African Fish-eagle, Common Squacco, Brubru, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Cloud Cisticola, Quail finch and Rufous-eared Warbler. A female Northern Black Korhaan was seen sheperding a small bundle of fluff away into scrubby cover. Then it was time to go, and we headed back to Johannesburg, less than 4 hours drive away!

Overall 208 species recorded in five days of birding with 63 endemics and near endemic birds !  
Trip List - number = Roberts (6) number. For full list by locality, DOWNLOAD EXCEL FILE HERE (97KB)

1   Common Ostrich
190   Grey-winged Francolin
193   Orange River Francolin
199   Swainson's Spurfowl
203   Helmeted Guineafowl
100   Fulvous Duck
99   White-faced Duck
102   Egyptian Goose
103   South African Shelduck
116   Spur-winged Goose
115   Comb Duck
106   Cape Teal
105   African Black Duck
104   Yellow-billed Duck
112   Cape Shoveler
108   Red-billed Teal
113   Southern Pochard
480   Ground Woodpecker
486   Cardinal Woodpecker
465   Acacia Pied Barbet
473   Crested Barbet
459   Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill
451   African Hoopoe
452   Green Wood-Hoopoe
454   Common Scimitarbill
428   Pied Kingfisher
443   White-fronted Bee-eater
438   European Bee-eater
425   White-backed Mousebird
426   Red-faced Mousebird
386   Diderick Cuckoo
391   Burchell's Coucal
421   African Palm-Swift
418   Alpine Swift
412   African Black Swift
417   Little Swift
415   White-rumped Swift
373   Grey Go-away-bird
400   Cape Eagle-Owl
398   Pearl-spotted Owlet
349   Speckled Pigeon
355   Laughing Dove
354   Cape Turtle-Dove
352   Red-eyed Dove
356   Namaqua Dove
237   Red-crested Korhaan
0   Northern Black Korhaan
234   Blue Korhaan
209   Grey Crowned Crane
208   Blue Crane
223   African Purple Swamphen
226   Common Moorhen
228   Red-knobbed Coot
286   African Snipe
269   Marsh Sandpiper
270   Common Greenshank
266   Wood Sandpiper
264   Common Sandpiper
274   Little Stint
272   Curlew Sandpiper
284   Ruff
240   African Jacana
295   Black-winged Stilt
245   Common Ringed Plover
248   Kittlitz's Plover
249   Three-banded Plover
258   Blacksmith Lapwing
255   Crowned Lapwing
301   Double-banded Courser
315   Grey-headed Gull
322   Caspian Tern
338   Whiskered Tern
339   White-winged Tern
170   Osprey
127   Black-shouldered Kite
148   African Fish-Eagle
119   Bearded Vulture
122   Cape Vulture
152   Jackal Buzzard
118   Secretarybird
181   Rock Kestrel
182   Greater Kestrel
172   Lanner Falcon
8   Little Grebe
6   Great Crested Grebe
60   African Darter
58   Reed Cormorant
55   White-breasted Cormorant
67   Little Egret
68   Yellow-billed Egret
62   Grey Heron
63   Black-headed Heron
64   Goliath Heron
65   Purple Heron
71   Cattle Egret
72   Squacco Heron
96   Greater Flamingo
93   Glossy Ibis
94   Hadeda Ibis
92   Southern Bald Ibis
91   African Sacred Ibis
95   African Spoonbill
84   Black Stork
541   Fork-tailed Drongo
741   Brubru
743   Brown-crowned Tchagra
736   Southern Boubou
739   Crimson-breasted Shrike
746   Bokmakierie
703   Pririt Batis
547   Cape Crow
548   Pied Crow
550   White-necked Raven
732   Common Fiscal
735   Magpie Shrike
612   Drakensberg Rock-jumper
557   Cape Penduline-Tit
552   Ashy Tit
533   Brown-throated Martin
534   Banded Martin
520   White-throated Swallow
523   Pearl-breasted Swallow
526   Greater Striped Swallow
524   Red-breasted Swallow
528   South African Cliff-Swallow
529   Rock Martin
567   African Red-eyed Bulbul
706   Fairy Flycatcher
661   Cape Grassbird
651   Long-billed Crombec
653   Yellow-bellied Eremomela
635   Lesser Swamp-Warbler
643   Willow Warbler
621   Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler
796   Cape White-eye
0   Orange River White-eye
672   Rattling Cisticola
671   Tinkling Cisticola
670   Wailing Cisticola
677   Levaillant's Cisticola
681   Neddicky
664   Zitting Cisticola
665   Desert Cisticola
666   Cloud Cisticola
667   Wing-snapping Cisticola
685   Black-chested Prinia
0   Drakensberg Prinia
688   Rufous-eared Warbler
645   Bar-throated Apalis
658   Barred Wren-Warbler
494   Rufous-naped Lark
495   Eastern Clapper Lark
498   Sabota Lark
497   Fawn-coloured Lark
506   Spike-heeled Lark
500   Eastern Long-billed Lark
515   Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark
507   Red-capped Lark
508   Pink-billed Lark
509   Botha's Lark
581   Cape Rock-Thrush
580   Groundscraper Thrush
0   Karoo Thrush
695   Marico Flycatcher
698   Fiscal Flycatcher
601   Cape Robin-Chat
615   Kalahari Scrub-Robin
596   African Stonechat
588   Buff-streaked Chat
586   Mountain Wheatear
587   Capped Wheatear
591   Sickle-winged Chat
589   Familiar Chat
595   Anteating Chat
769   Red-winged Starling
764   Cape Glossy Starling
759   Pied Starling
760   Wattled Starling
758   Common Myna
775   Malachite Sunbird
787   White-bellied Sunbird
806   Scaly-feathered Finch
799   White-browed Sparrow-Weaver
800   Sociable Weaver
813   Cape Weaver
814   Southern Masked-Weaver
821   Red-billed Quelea
824   Southern Red Bishop
827   Yellow Bishop
832   Long-tailed Widowbird
852   African Quailfinch
856   Red-headed Finch
846   Common Waxbill
844   Blue Waxbill
801   House Sparrow
803   Cape Sparrow
804   Southern Grey-headed Sparrow
805   Yellow-throated Petronia
713   Cape Wagtail
727   Cape Longclaw
716   African Pipit
717   Long-billed Pipit
872   Cape Canary
870   Black-throated Canary
878   Yellow Canary
881   Streaky-headed Seedeater
885   Cape Bunting
884   Golden-breasted Bunting

Web Site Updated 12 October  2006 © Indicator Birding