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Eastern South African Rocks!


This is a summary report of an 8 day customised trip around Eastern South Africa with Richard Rowland, who passed the 6670 mark along the way. We were focused mainly on finding some of the rather few birds missing from Richard's mammoth list - most of which would be regarded as "difficult birds". At one stage he got quite concerned with the fact that he was "stuck" on 6666 for over 24 hours!!

Birding the grasslands just outside the Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve produced great views of the "eastern" form of Cloud Cisticola, a nice male Cuckoo Finch, a male Montagu's Harrier, Melodious, Eastern Clapper and Spike-heeled Larks. Here too we saw several European Sand Martin.

In the Benoni area we saw Ovambo Sparrowhawk, Fan-tailed Widowbird and Marsh Owl, while in the Cullinan-Bronkhorstpruit-Wilge River Valley area in North-eastern Gauteng we recorded Eastern Clapper, Melodious and Fawn-coloured larks and another Cuckoo Finch. Further down the valley in the Amanzintaba area we saw Coqui and Shelley's Francolin and African Grass Owl.

A nice pair of Cuckoo Hawk were seen near Rayton and Mabusa NP produced Bushveld Pipit. In the de Tweedespruit Conservancy we saw Tinkling Cisticola.

The De Wagensdrift road (reached from the Hammanskraal-Rust de Winter Tar road) produced Monotonous Lark, Temminck's Courser, Buffy Pipit, Flappet Lark, Barrow's Korhaan and nearby, large numbers of Black-winged Pratincole, another Purple Indigobird, Common Whitethroat and a further Bronze-winged Courser. We failed to relocate the Dusky Larks (two of them) seen on Sunday Morning.

The Zaagkuildrift area was birded at night and here we picked up Southern White-faced Owl and two Bronze-winged Coursers. Morning birding towards Kgomo-kgomo produced White-backed Mousebird (uncommon in the region), many Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters, Temminck's Courser and the usual floodplain species like Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark, Red-capped lark and Red-headed Weaver. Further back towards Pienaarsriver we had a Great Sparrow, all three local Whydahs with males in display plumage and Village and Purple Indigobirds. The floodplain at Kgomo-kgomo is looking encouragingly green, and the Zaagkuildrift area had just had a fair bit of rain, so the Warbler season is looking up.

Sandton Bird Club's Feather River camp near Graskop is a superb locality where no-less than 7 Male-Buff-Spotted Flufftails serenaded the night - but we were unsuccessful in getting any sort of view of the birds. Other birds recorded here included Orange-Ground-Thrush, Olive Thrush, Brown Scrub-Robin, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Scaly-throated Honeyguide and African Emerald Cuckoo.

A visit to Weni Farm near Melmoth produced several flight views of Short-tailed Pipit (now finished breeding at this locality), and a fly past of a family group of Southern Ground Hornbill. Weni Farm is a reliable spot for Short-tailed Pipit, and Bertus de Waal who farms there is happy to keep monitoring the state of the habitat and let you know whether conditions are good for breeding pipits. Thulasikhela Pan at Richard's Bay failed to produce the usual Lesser Jacana's, and neither did "Colin's Lake", just outside Mtubatuba (where an Osprey caught a fish right in front of us). However we found a pan with about 20 Lesser Jacanas, 1 km north of the Umfolozi River bridge over the N2. This pan can be reached if you turn right off the N2 3.6km north of the Umfolozi River Bridge.

Between St Lucia and Oribi Gorge we saw Rufous-winged Cisticola, Croaking Cisticola and all three species of Turaco and at Oribi Gorge had to work fairly hard to eventually get good views of the elusive Knysna Woodpecker, despite recording this species at 5 widely scattered localities up and down the gorge (including around the camp area!) Also seen here was a nice Southern Tchagra and a pair of African Crowned Eagle, African Goshawk and a variety of forest species.

At Sani Pass we explored only the bottom end of the pass, where we saw species like Buff-streaked Chat, Ground Woodpecker, Gurney's Sugarbird, Cape Grassbird and African Black Swift. Stuart McLean, reports that a Leopard is currently present in the lower Sani Pass area. The Pevensey road proved reliable for Pale-crowned Cisticola which danced on the fence only meters from us. We made an early morning visit to Xumeni Forest to see the Cape Parrot's and were successful almost immediately with excellent scope views of a pair close up, while others wheeled overhead. This gave us time to "relax" in an Underberg Garden, where fantastic close-up views were had of a male Buff-spotted Flufftail as it sauntered down the path in bright sunlight!

If you are in the Underberg area and you see an Open-billed Stork, you should not really "tick it" as this bird is apparently a released bird that was captive raised by a construction worker who then released it in the area. It is apparently quite tame and odd in its behavior. So if you are in Underberg and you see an Open-billed Stork peering through the window, don't worry, you are only just as mad as the rest of us birders!

In Himeville were able to once again marvel at the incredible migration feats and eccentricities of the Amur Falcon. Himeville has a large "Kestrel" roost - perhaps 5000 birds, and I wonder if the Himeville Arms is not the only Pub/Hotel in the country which is blessed with this presence? Stuart Maclean has vowed to get around to trying to do a count at the Kestrel roost, but took a photograph a while back which has 3500 falcons visible. On the Amur's it is rather difficult to provide information for Anthony's project on the Kestrels, but since a slow start to the Amur Season there now seem to be plenty of them about. In fact from Kgomo-kgomo in North-west Province through to Lydenburg, down through the eastern highveld to Piet Retief and again around Melmoth and between Oribi Gorge and Underberg, and all the way back to Gauteng, we saw thousands and thousands of Amur Falcons, with not too many breaks in their presence. However at present they seem to be scattered almost evenly across the higher lying grassland and open woodland regions of the country.

For Gauteng-based birders who have not got out and witnessed the amazing sight of Amur Falcons en masse, a good place is the Rust-de-Winter area, and also the road from Pienaarsriver to Rust de Winter where John McAllister today reports the presence of Red-footed Falcon as well.



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