Notes from a Birding Trip
5-7 November 2006 - Dinokeng, Polokwane and Soutpansberg
These are abridged notes from a trip conducted with Scott Connop (Turaco Inc) and 4 other birders from Texas.
The birding was focussed on finding a host of specials and covered parts of Dinokeng, the Vlaklaagte grasslands, Zaagkuildrift, Polokwane and the Soutpansberg - the latter with a focus on Roodewal and Entumeni Forests.
Vlaklaagte grasslands provided some excellent birding as always, and cracking views were had of a number of larks, including Clapper and Melodious, which are now in full cry. With the arrival of the rains in the area, Fawn-coloured Larks have shifted up a gear and were now calling from quite high up. We also had a good look at a nice male White-bellied Korhaan. Onto Mabusa National Park, were more Fawn-coloured Lark called from the sky, and were joined by Flappet Larks. We had the good fortune to see one of the latter on the ground and noted it's finely marked feathers and darkish face. Soon afterwards a pair of Kurrichane Buttonquail sauntered into the track, and provided excellent leisurely views as they sauntered on the tracks. Richard Montinaro tells me that this species has not really turned up at Marievale yet, and these birds were the 5th sighting in the Eastern Gauteng/Western Mpumalanga region that I have had.
In the Wilge River Valley area, we located Striped Pipit and also saw a nice male Short-toed Rock Thrush, as well as Mocking Cliff-chat.
The Ezemvelo "Flufftail" vlei has suddenly dried up, despite their being good rains and no flufftails were heard or seen there. We did get excellent views of a Brown-backed Honeybird behind the chalets. Birding at Zaagkuildrift was slowed by cold and windy weather, but Shaft-tailed Whydah was seen having almost completed the transition into their beautiful breeding plumage. While this area provided the usual array of dry thornveld birds, including Barred Wren-Warbler, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Jameson's and Red-billed Firefinch and Marico Flycatcher (seen incubating on a nest in a rather exposed position). A pair of Cut-throat Finches teased us while Pied Crows were seen on the ground apparently picking off termites at the top of their "chimneys".
We spent two hours birding with Joe Grosel at Polokwane Game Reserve, and this is a great locality for Bushveld birding. Other then several excellent views of Short-clawed Lark in one area, we also saw Sabota Lark, Kalahari Robin, Cape Penduline Tit and a group of Great Sparrow. The highlight for most of the group was the delightful mutual preening by a pair of Black-cheeked Waxbill, with visible ecstacy on the face of the bird being preened. The Sabota larks here were doing some interesting vocalisations, which includes mimicry of a number of other species - the most convincing of which was the imitation of Yellow-bellied and Burn't necked Eremomelas!
We stayed over at Khaya Guest House, with African Wood Owls in the garden, and made a pre-dawn start to Roodewal nearby, being rewarded with superb close up views of African Broadbill. As with previous visits this bird was located along the dry stream bed down below. Other birds seen here included African Goshawk, Little Sparrowhawk, Olive Bush-shrike, Narina Trogon, Blue-mantled Flycatcher and Golden Weaver. The Pine plantation adjacent to the picnic site has been cut down and only a few trees which shelter the nest of an African Crowned Eagle were seen. Nice gesture from the tree farmers, but we doubted that the Eagles could take the disturbance of a whole plantation being felled around them!
We arrived at Entumeni Forest at about 10, where we quickly located the nest site of a pair of Bat Hawk, which has recently been discovered. This site offering views which were perhaps even better than the views one gets at the Rooikoppies site (Magoebaskloof). We also had an excellent Long-crested Eagle at the same site. The forest provided good views of Orange Ground Thrush, White-starred Robin, Chorister Robin-chat, Yellow-streaked Bulbul, Narina Trogon, Cape Batis, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Knysna Turaco and also a soaring Ayre's Hawk-Eagle. The most challenging forest bird proved to be the Green Twinspots, which called from cover along a well vegetated stream, but which were eventually seen at the "amphitheatre" - about 500 into the second forest patch, which is about 11km from the entrance gate.
On the way down, a stop at the river which runs parallel to the road produced a pair of nesting Mountain Wagtail (feeding young) and a Half-collared Kingfisher.