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Report-back on Larks, Pipits and Cisticolas Weekend at Ezemvelo

20-22 October 2006

Next Larks, Pipits and Cisticolas
Weekend - 26-28 October 2007

10 Keen birders assembled at Ezemvelo Nature Reserve on Friday 20 October to participate in Etienne Marais' annual LBJ "Field Course". The focus of the course is on field observation of most of the Pipits, Larks and Cisticolas, which occur in the wider Gauteng - a region which is particularly rich in these groupings, boasting no less than 11 Larks, 11 Cisticolas and 7 Pipit species. As was the case in previous years, participants were able to observe in detail (through a scope) no less than 6 larks, 9 Cisticolas and 4 pipit species over the course of two days.

A two hour illustrated talk on the Friday evening covered the pitfalls and challenges of LBJ identification; it also presented a framework for the identification and classification of each of the three difficult groups of birds - namely Pipits, Larks and Cisticolas. This was followed by a braai at Ezemvelo.

On Saturday morning we headed out early into the grasslands, and after enjoying a full close-up display by an African pipit, we got to work on the challenge of getting good views of the remarkably energetic Cloud Cisticolas. The charming behaviour of small family parties of Spike-heeled Larks, was, noted, particularly the birds habit of almost over-shooting their intended landing spot before diving down in a kind of dramatic aerial "U-turn" manoeuvre. A Clapper Lark obliged with frequent fly-overs and low altitude clapping displays, and the group was able to note the bill variability in Rufous-naped Larks, which were also common in the area. African Pipit was also common and young birds provided an example of just one of many pitfalls involved in identifying these difficult birds.

Up onto a small flat-topped hill in search of Long-billled Pipit, our quest was interrupted by an array of passing swallows and swifts, including a number of Common House Martin. A plain-backed Pipit carrying nesting material landed close to its nest and allowed 11 birders to circle it completely - without moving! Also seen in this area were very close up views of Desert Cisticola (feeding young) and Wailing Cisticola, with its wonderfully rich and strong notes.

We then moved back to the camp area, where we had excellent views of Le Vaillant's Cisticola, perhaps the one LBJ that everyone felt most comfortable with!! Our quest to get good views of Lazy Cisticola was interrupted by several other good birds, including Brown-backed (Sharp-billed) Honeybird, and Violet-backed (Plum-coloured) Starling. The Lazy Cisticola's then obliged and sat out in the open for a while. A session of individual observation allowed participants to test out their observation skills, before we headed out the Wilge River for a session of general birding. Along the Wilge River we recorded African Firefinch, Lesser Honeyguide and others. The discovery of a small vlei near the river with resident Red-chested Flufftail was certainly one of the highlights of the weekend, as those who made the river crossing were rewarded with excellent close-up views of a stunning male Red-chested Flufftail. At dusk several nightjar species were in evidence. Most notably the Rufous-cheeked which flew around the huts.

Sunday involved a trip to areas outside of Ezemvelo, and here we were able to see several other species, not recorded in the reserve. These included Wing-snapping Cisticola, Long-billed Pipit (also nest building), Mountain Wheatear and Melodious Lark - the latter not calling on this hot and dry day. Most notably we had excellent comparative views of male Cloud Cisticola together with Desert Cisticola. In the vlaklaagte area the group obtained excellent close up views of Fawn-coloured Lark, and saw many Capped Wheatear. A highlight was a pair of Temminck's Courser with a tiny fluff-like baby. A moment of hilarity prevailed as the leaders announcement that he had Red-capped Lark in the scope was drowned out by the braying of donkeys - The lecture had included the "hint" that Red-capped Lark is often associated with donkeys in the region north of Pretoria!!

The grassland session was concluded on several more highlights, including the summers first Western Honey-Buzzard, a Kurrichane Buttonquail and a mystery call which was believe to be that of a Striped Flufftail! The latter was heard emanating from grasslands adjacent to a vlei where Red-chested Flufftail are also in evidence.

Our final birding took place in the Seringveld Conservancy, where we had great views of a pair of Tinkling Cisticola, which were joined shortly afterwards by a group of Green-capped Eremomela.

On the mammal front, species seen included White Rhinocerous, Black Wildebeest, Klipspringer, Rock Elephant-shrew and Black-backed Jackal.

In terms of the LBJ's most of the group obtained excellent (mostly scope) views of the following species:

  • Cloud Cisticola
  • Wing-snapping Cisticola (Ayre's Cisticola)
  • Desert Cisticola
  • Zitting Cisticola (Fan-tailed)
  • Neddicky
  • Wailing Cisticola
  • Le vaillant's Cisticola
  • Lazy Cisticola
  • Tinkling Cisticola
  • Eastern Clapper Lark
  • Rufous-naped Lark
  • Spike-heeled Lark
  • Fawn-coloured Lark
  • Red-capped Lark
  • Melodious Lark
  • (also recorded: Eastern Long-billed Lark)
  • African Pipit
  • Plain-backed Pipit
  • Long-billed Pipit
  • Striped Pipit
Overall 167 Species were recorded on the weekend. A full annotated trip list is available for download here.

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