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Trip Report - Gauteng and Dinokeng - December 29 - 31, 2006

This was a three day birding trip in the Gauteng and Dinokeng areas, guided by Etienne Marais. The objective was primarily to help Owen get to 700 species before the end of 2006, and this was achieved on the morning of the 31st December!

We birded Marievale, Suikerbosrand, the Wilge river Valley, Vlaklaagte area, Mabusa NP, de Tweedespruit Conservancy, Rust de Winter, De Wagensdrift Road and Uitvlugt area. Overall we recorded 250 species, despite the fact that numbers were not chased - at no time did we pay any attention to waders!

The full triplist is available for download here.

Day 1 - 31 December

Marievale is now flooding nicely and was pretty active, with lots of waders to be expected soon in the recently flooded areas. Here we saw large flocks of Glossy Ibis, a number of Fan-tailed Widowbird in full breeding plumage, Sedge Warbler, Horus Swift and several Marsh Owls. A number of Little Bitterns were seen moving between patches of reeds on a regular basis and they might well be nesting in the "bridge hide" area. Suikerbosrand has greened up nicely, and the usual assortment of canaries, buntings and wheatears were seen, as well as a nice pair of Long-billed Pipit.

We then headed north and stayed over at Amanzintaba, in the Wilge River Valley. This is a beautiful setting on the Gouwsberge escarpment, and has a variety of woodland birds, including Bush-shrikes, Honeyguides and Sunbirds. Here large flocks of Bee-eaters, swifts and swallows were seen, including Alpine Swift and House Martin. We also saw a nice family party of White Helmet-shrike. We also heard Shelley's Francolin, Freckled Nightjar, Striped Pipit and Grey Tit-Flycatcher.

Day 2 - 30 December

Birding in the vlaklaagte/rhenosterkop area produced White-bellied Korhaan, Kurrichane Button-quail and a full house of grassveld cisticolas. We also had excellent views of Melodious, Eastern Clapper and Fawn-coloured Larks. The Wilge River valley was as usual full of bird-song with Striped Pipit, Brown-backed Honeybird, African Firefinch and Lazy Cisticola being noted. We then headed up to Mabusa, where Flappet Lark called from the skies and Tinkling Cisticola and Green-capped Eremomela were recorded in the woodlands.

Leucistic Marico Sunbird ? We then headed up to Rust de Winter in search of Falcons. En route, north of Moloto a pair of Blue Cranes were engaged in a courtship dance. At the Elands River Bridge we saw a number of birds including Black Duck, Malachite Kingfisher, Grey-headed Bush-shrike and a leucistic sunbird, thought to be Marico Sunbird. After some searching in the Rust de Winter area we found a moderately sized flock of Amur Falcons. Remarkably after nearly two days of birding in an area where at this time of year one would expect numbers of the Falcon, we had thusfar seen only 3 Amurs. The flock consisted of several hundred Amur Falcons and many Lesser Kestrels. Here we also saw European Roller and a cracking male Montagu's Harrier.

We then headed back to the de Tweedespruit Conservancy, where a late afternoon storm had caused numbers of swallows to roost along telephone wires and fences. In one spot we encountered a flock with 5 species of swallow, including Common House Martin. We stayed over at Kiasoma Retreat, which is actually a bush-spa, and is set in superb surroundings close to Little Eden (but quite far by road).

Day 3 - 31 December

Next morning we headed out into a lightly wooded area just north of the de Tweedespruit Conservancy. Here we had a number of Coqui Francolin calling, but only a distant Shelley's Francolin. Other birds recorded here included Pearl-spotted Owlet, Long-billed Crombec, Amethyst and White-bellied Sunbird, Black Cuckoo-shrike, Wailing Cisticola, Flappet Lark and Golden-breasted Bunting.

On to the de Wagensdrift road that travels north-east between the main Pretoria-Moloto Road and the Hammanskraal-Rust-de-Winter tar road. Along this road we encountered several Sabota Lark, Fawn-coloured Lark and in one area, a number of Monotonous Larks - this was Owen's 700th bird in Southern Africa! On the Uitvlugt Loop we had good birding, with Common White-throat, White-throated Robin-chat, White Helmet-shrike, Burn't necked Eremomela, Chinspot Batis, European Bee-eater, Lilac-breasted Roller and Black Cuckoo.

Notable along the entire route was the non-presence of Amur Falcons, and low raptor count generally.

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