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WEEKEND IN THE TANQUA KAR00

Posted on the 21st August 2009

BIRDLIFE OVERBERG BIRDING (AND BUNDU-BASHING) THE TANQUA KAROO (23-26 AUGUST 2007)

The Karoo has always been our favourite destination, so it was with enthusiasm that we packed our trusty sedan, and convoyed our humble way among the 4 x 4’s into unknown territory, led by the Odendals, hot in pursuit of the Karoo Eromomela. (Not a flower, you dummy, it’s a bird).

Greened up by prodigious rains, the Karoo lay golden, its ancient rocks hidden under a carpet of daisies and gazanias. Encouraged by our identification of the botterboom (Tylecodon paniculatus)and the deep red clumps of rabas (Pelargonium magenteum) on a very scenic kopje, but woefully short of birds, we arrived at the Tanqua guesthouse and a magic feast of cakes which kept us gorging for days. Rock martins and sparrows flew about a brown, fort like house which might have fitted into Mali.

The Tanqua area is unique, a scientific park visited by geologists keen to study its neatly layered rock formations usually found deep under the sea where the oilmen drill expensively. There’s oil in them thar 250 million year old rocks- if it hasn’t been boiled out. Some of its deepwater sands came from what eventually became the Andes, and there are scratches on the rocks made by the glaciers. These left behind deposits which eventually formed the tillite hills of the Tanqua. Fossils abound, and implements of the San-Bushmen, mostly Middle Stone Age, lie about. It is a Succulent paradise, including lithops to delight the specialist botanist. Much of the land, degraded by overgrazing, looks like a polished moonscape, but is recovering. Bird life is tricky, but with luck and a lot of time one might spot more of the 18 endemic species than we managed.

Greater Flamingos taking off

Next day, in idyllic sunshine, down to the huge dam we went, to be greeted by the usual suspects, Red-Knobbed Coot, African Black Duck and Egyptian Geese among others. But the real excitement was on the far side. Scooting round, we were thrilled to see a stately pink flotilla of Greater Flamingos sailing along parallel to the shore, their ancient, enigmatic heads turned slightly in our direction. My best, though I did manage to identify Red-Capped and Karoo Larks. The afternoon was interesting. En route to the naughtily named Pramberg, we managed to get ourselves lost, and ended up among brilliant fields of gousblomme and oxalis. Well, one farm road looks very like another, and our trusty Hyundai, piloted by my imperturbable spouse, went where none had gone before.

The last day saw us in the Tankwa National Park, where a majestic flock of Ludwig’s Bustards flapped across the sky, while one posed next to the road, unlike a Double-banded Courser which took one look at us and fled. Namaqua Sandgrouse nestled photogenically among the flowers, and a Booted Eagle floated on the thermals, framed by the dramatic Roggeveld Mountains. High up on the incredible (and unmissable) Gannaga Pass, the vast distances of Africa lay below us. We wondered at the talent of Thomas Bain, the brilliant engineer. The stonework supporting the road, built by convict labour, is still perfect. Both Bain and his father, Andrew, avid fossil collectors, pioneered palaeontology in the Karoo, and helped to change the accepted theories about the origins of life.

There was a final evening, sundowners on the dam wall, songs about bundu-bashing, and far too much food. We identified the beautiful, and rare Karoo violet (Aptimosum indivisum) right next to the house. After a last look at the blue velvet and diamond Karoo night sky, we slept in the silence of space.

The jury is still out on whether we were more impressed by the birds or the flowers. Next time, I’ll take a geological, botanical, mammal, insect and avian library, and stay longer. It’s very difficult to identify a flower when everyone else wants to chase Eromomelas. And yes, we did get it!

Bird Sightings:

On the Road: Forest Buzzard, Reed Cormorant, African Darter, Common Moorhen, Common Quail, Red-Winged Starling, Pin-Tailed Whydah, Secretary Bird (Onrus)

Some birds seen in the Tanqua: Pied Avocet, Southern Red Bishop, Bokmakerie, Cape Bulbul, Lark-like Bunting , Jackal Buzzard, Black-Headed Canary, Cape Canary, Yellow Canary, Familiar Chat, Sickle-Winged Chat, Cloud Cisticola, Grey-Backed Cisticola, Le Vaillant’s Cisticola, Zitting Cisticola, Red-Knobbed Coot, Long-Billed Crombec,

Familiar Chat

Pied Crow, Cape Turtle Dove, Laughing Dove, Namaqua Dove, Red-Eyed Dove, Rock Dove, Fork-Tailed Drongo, African Black Duck, Yellow- Billed Duck, Booted Eagle, Greater Flamingo, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape Francolin, Grey-Winged Francolin, Egyptian Goose, Spur-Winged Goose, Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Helmeted Guinea Fowl, Black Harrier, Black-Headed Heron, Grey Heron, African Sacred Ibis, Hadeda Ibis, Rock Kestrel, Black-Shouldered Kite, Blacksmith Lapwing, Cape Clapper Lark, Large-Billed Lark, Grey-Billed Sparrow-Lark, Karoo Lark, Red-Capped Lark, Spike-Heeled Lark, Cape Longclaw, Brown-Throated Martin, Rock Martin, Speckled Mousebird, White-Backed Mousebird, Ostrich, Barn Owl, Speckled Pigeon, Plain-Backed Pipit, Common Ringed Plover, Three-Banded Plover, Karoo Prinia, White-necked Raven, Cape Robin-Chat, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Streaky-Headed Seedeater, South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveler, Common Fiscal Shrike, Black-Chested Snake Eagle, Cape Sparrow, House Sparrow, African Spoonbill, Common Starling, Black-Winged Stilt, African Stonechat, Malachite Sunbird, S.Double-Collared Sunbird, White-Throated Swallow, Alpine Swift, Cape Teal, Olive Thrush, Chestnut-Vented Tit-Babbler, Layard’s Tit-Babbler, Cape Wagtail, African Reed-Warbler, Common Waxbill, Swee Waxbill, Cape Weaver, Southern-Masked Weaver, Capped Wheatear, Mountain Wheatear, Common Whimbrel, Cape White-Eye, Black-Headed Canary, Pririt Batis, Karoo Eromomela, Karoo Long-Billed Lark, Double-Banded Courser, Karoo Chat.

- Cristene Cleal

Southern Pale-chanting Goshawk

Photo credit: Mark D. Anderson

Large-billed Lark