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Trip Report - Kimberley Weekend 21-24 September 2007

The Kimberley weekend, was run as a field course on Larks and Pipits in the Kimberley area, which offers an excellent variety of both larks and pipits. However the weekend was not only about LBJ's and a special effort was made to find some of the other birding gems, which occur in the area.

Participants:

Etienne Marais (Leader)
Henry van Wyk (Local guide and co-leader)
Don MacGillivray and Allan Ferraris
David and Margie Taylor
Hajo Schulz
Frank Timmins
Ulrich Schäckermann
Justin Babaya and Cristian Cottino Koos & Rianda Pauw
Lisl van Deventer
Tim Hobson
Gustav de Muelenaere
Rick Shuttleworth

Friday 21 September

The group gathered at Dronfield during the course of the afternoon. Dronfield is set in beautiful camelthorn savannah and although very dry, offered some good afternoon birding, including many Kalahari Scrub-Robins, Ashy Tit, Pririt Batis and a small flock of Swallow-tailed Bee-eater.

The chalets are very well equipped with large fridge, comfortable lounge area and private porch/braai area.

Saturday 22 September

At 6:00am we meet up with Henry van Wyk and collecting the rest of the group, made for Benfontein Game Farm, SE of Kimberley. This area offers wide-open spacies with a mosaic of grassland, pans and karoo scrub. The chosen approach was to walk the veldt in search of Larks and Pipits, and we were soon looking at Eastern Clapper and Red-capped Larks. The first pipits we encountered were African Pipits, but soon afterwards, three pipits were seen chasing each other around - they were clearly larger with longer tails and a more stocky build, but were heavily marked in the facial and malar area. One bird took off and performed a flight display - uttering a repeated single note. Following the birds through the open terrain, some of the group managed to get satisfactory distant views of one bird which showed heavily marked upperparts, broad dark streaking above, particularly on the neck area, dark ear coverts which borders a broad, long creamy supercilium. These features, combined with the distinctive behavior were enough to confirm the ID of a Kimberley Pipit. Further on, we searched for more pipits and along the way saw a variety of other birds, including Large-billed and Spike-heeled Larks, Blue Crane, and SA Cliff Swallow.

After a stop for breakfast, we did a drive down to a large pan was productive and along the way we saw a covey of Orange-river Francolin, sheperding a small chick across the plains. We saw a flock of the breeding race of the European Bee-eater, at their nest burrows and twice encountered Double-banded Courser on the scrubby areas. Around a large pan, we located several Pink-billed Larks, which eventually offered superb views as they came to drink at a small waterhole. Around the Waterhole we also saw Lark-like Buntings and many Red-capped Lark. The route back took us past a small bare area, where a Burchell's Courser proved to be very confiding. Here we also had excellent views of a classic Buffy Pipit. Several small flocks of Stark's Lark were encountered, but these proved difficult to pin down as they kept moving just out of sight.

Heading back towards the northern side of Kimberley, we stopped to look at the incredible spectacle of 50 000 lesser Flamingos as Camphers Dam. The breeding island built on Camphers dam is visible on the far side of the lake, but due to concern about disturbance of the flamingoes, visitors cannot approach the island closely. Also seen here was a single Chestnut-banded Plover, and a number of Little Stint, Ruff, Black-necked Grebe and LeVaillant's Cisticola.

In the late afternoon once the oppressive heat had settled, a drive with some short walks, under the capable guidance of Henry van Wyk proved quite productive as we located a nice Fawn-coloured Lark and Plain-backed Pipit. Mammals included a pair of curious White Rhino, Red Hartebeest, Eland and others. The drive also provided views of Secretarybird and White-backed Vulture, which breed in the reserve.

Sunday 23 September

We made an early start for Marrick Game Farm, 10km from Kimberley, which offers excellent woodland and panveld birding. We headed for the wide pand of scrub First up was the scrub adjacent to the pan, where Rufous-eared Warbler and Sickle-winged Chat were quite obliging. A bevy of Eastern Clapper Larks here provided a spectacular display as they clapped above us, and there were many of the charming Spike-heeled Larks in evidence around the pan and in the scrub alongside.

We then walked the pan, which provided many pipits, some larks and a large flock of Namaqua Sandgrouse - probably in excess of 130 birds. Here we also saw Capped Wheatear and a pair of South African Shelduck. Marrick also has an excellent area of acacia woodland and karoo scrub up against a rocky hill and species recorded here included both Kalahari and Karoo Scrub-Robin, Black-faced Waxbill, Grey-backed Cisticola, Fairy Flycatcher, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Great Sparrow, Southern Pale-chanting Goshawk and many others. In the afternoon we headed back to Kimberley. Some of the group spent time at the Camphers Dam again, recording Turnstone, Grey-headed Gull and some other waders. In the reeds we had superb scope views of African Reed Warbler.

The afternoon activities were somewhat disrupted by the fact that the last group of birders was locked out of Dronfield for some time by an overzealous De Beers employee. As a result most of the group birded the reserve on their own, before all meeting up for another visit to the "koppie" just before sunset. Highlights of this area included Short-toed Rock-thrush and Yellow-bellied Eremomela.

In the evening, some of the group were lucky enough to see Rufous-cheeked Nightjar in the road near the camp.

Monday 24 September

We made an early start to cover the 70+ km westwards to Rooipoort NR. This is the biggest of the De Beers game reserves in the Kimberley area, and is more remote and wilder than the others. The reserve also has 32km of Vaal river frontage, but our trip was mainly focused on the open Vaalbos scrub and pans of the south of the reserve. Birding around the "Shooting Box" (A national heritage site) was excellent as assorted birds came into drink at a small pond in the front garden. These included Golden-breasted, Cinnamon-breasted Rock and Lark-like Bunting, Violet-eared and Black-cheeked Waxbill and several non-breeding indigobirds with whitish bills.

We then headed towards a beautiful open area of the park called Volstruispan. En route we had good views of Southern Pale-chanting Goshawk and Chat Flycatcher.

The Volstruispan area is characterized by superb open country, with excellent visibility. We were able to see several Bat-eared Foxes cavorting over the plains, and the entire pan seemed to be covered by the pale Stark's Lark - a bird which not everyone had seen well the first day. Heading down towards the western end of the pan, we had several good looks at Sabota Lark, and enjoyed the spectacle of large numbers of game animals, including a herd of the eccentric Black Wildebeest cavorting in the dry pan. Other birds seen in the area included Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark, Lanner Falcon, Kittlitz Plover, Plain-backed Pipit and Double-banded Courser. A stop at a waterhole produced large numbers of drinking birds, including such gems as Violet-eared Waxbill and Yellow Canary. Large numbers of Lark-like Buntings were visiting the waterhole and we also had a number of Red Bishops taking advantage of the water supply. From there it was back to the "Shooting Box" base, and most of the group departed directly for home.

Some of the group stopped to look at a Sociable Weaver nest on the way back to Kimberley and were lucky enough to see a Pygmy Falcon perched in a tree nearby. The spot where this was seen was exactly 30km from the R31/R64 junction west of Kimberley, and is about 1km beyond a big radio mast on the right hand side of the road.

Overall 4 species of Pipit and 10 Larks were seen, with the species total for the weekend being around 140 species.



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