Karoo National Park Birding Weekend (15-17 September 2006)
A Worm’s Eye View By Christine Cleal
By no stretch of the imagination can the Cleals be described as expert birders, but an enthusiasm for things environmental has now extended into the avian arena. So this is very much an amateur’s view of BirdLife Overberg’s venture into the
interior. Accompanied by a varied selection of birders, varying from the expert to the ignorant, and led by the intrepid Odendals, we descended on the Karoo National Park.
The park has scenery of solemn grandeur, gaunt mountains and kopjes rearing above arid plains. In spring, however, the veld is covered with flowering plants, and the Karoo acacias scent the air. Fossils and Stone Age implements, important clues to the planet’s past, are found in abundance. The accommodation is comfortable, the Park staff friendly and helpful.
Armed with massive and ancient binoculars, and several bird books, the Cleals amiably bickered their way down the Lammertjiesleegte loop on Friday afternoon. Noticing three small birds posing beside the road, we got out the books and were thrilled to identify them as very patient Double-banded Coursers. Sometimes the best moments come by chance. Others identified specials that included Long-billed and Spike-heeled Larks, Karoo, Sickle-winged and Ant-eating Chats, Ludwigs Bustard and Karoo Korhaan, Rufous-eared Warbler, as well as Short-toed Rock-Thrush! The Lammertjiesleegte loop is highly underrated and an extended visit to the picnic area is strongly recommended.Saturday the party ascended the Klipspringer Pass, and was entranced by the sight of a pair of Verreaux’s Eagles sitting preening on a cliff face. We also saw a little blue-grey job Anton is still trying to identify. (# See below). Nice for those of us who struggle to separate the sparrows. Then the Bokmakierie fanned its yellow tail and sent us into orbit. A Booted Eagle and a Black-Shouldered Kite completed our short list of birds of prey. A solemn Grey Heron gloomed amongst the reeds. Other birds identified on the Pass by the group included Red- and Pale-winged Starlings, all three Mousebirds, Short-toed Rock-Thrush (again!) and African Red-eyed Bulbul. We missed out on both the African Rock Pipit and the Cinnamon-breasted Warbler.
Verreaux's Eagle pair
In the camp site, possibly the most attractive I have seen, three Honorary Rangers awaited, and did we learn! This area set along the river is dominated by dense acacia (sic) thickets and this habitat brings many new species. In the short time available, we saw four species of Canary (Black-headed, Black-throated, Cape and Yellow), and three of the Sparrows (Cape, House and Southern Grey-headed). We also identified, with MUCH help, the Bar-throated Apalis. Now there’s a lot of noise from a very small bird! If you ever venture to Beautiful West try to get hold of Marie and her cohorts. Enthusiastic and helpful, they are real bird missionaries. Others had good sightings of Pririt Batis, Acacia Pied Barbet, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Fairy Flycatcher and Dusky Sunbird in this area.
A lot of time was spent birding around the chalets. We were baffled by at least four colour variations of the Mountain Wheatear (Chat), and were able to get to study very tame and timid birds representing species such as
Grey-winged Francolin, Cape Bunting, Familiar Chat, Southern Masked-Weaver and many more. Rock Kestrel, Black-breasted Snake-Eagle and an immature Martial Eagle added real spice to birding from the stoep.
There were braais, huge breakfasts and cameraderie, starlit nights of incredible beauty, and a night drive where the kudu and the Cape Mountain Zebra stood right beside our vehicle. A little reedbuck hid in a thicket, and the clouds parted to reveal a great owl flying against the moon.
Of the 200 species in the Park, we, alas, identified only 84, leaving more than 110 for our next visit. And there will be one. The group identified 142 species on the entire trip.
# (We were unable to identify this bird due to its general blue-grey appearance and sent pics to Trevor Hardaker and received the following reply: Hi Anton, Thanks for sending through the photo. The bird is a young male Mountain Wheatear (Chat). These birds are extremely variable in colouration. If this were a Karoo Chat, I would expect to see the white in the tail quite obviously. Also, the habitat does not sound right for Karoo Chat. Kind Regards. Trevor)