(This report first appeared in the May 2015 club newsletter on BidLife Plett and is posted with the permission of the Editor. Images will be added later. - Ed.)
Trip to Tankwa Karoo National Park – Mike and Carole Bridgeford
Carole and I booked for three days in the Tankwa Karoo National Park – a very stark area with some special small birds as a challenge! WE also took a chance on the weather, as it is notoriously cold during the winter months – nearby Sutherland has the reputation as being the coldest place in Southern Africa!!
So, we went prepared – warm jackets, thermal underclothes, hot-water bottles, extra blankets and everything else we could load in the car to keep us warm. The cottages have no electrical power and use solar energy to run the fridge, gas to cook and heat water and paraffin lamps. It was an eleven hour drive from Plett to our cottage at Tankwa. We were pleasantly surprised – we had great weather, and it was warmer than Plett for the three nights we spent there. Never got to use all the warm stuff!!
The birding was good – but not easy. The Larks are very evident in the Park, and a wide variety can be seen – but you need to know your bird sounds as well as the specific features of each bird. They can be difficult. A young Familiar Chat managed to get into our bedroom every morning and fly around until we let him out! There are several Chats in the region, and they are best identified by their tail markings. If you look in your field guides you will see that this is very clearly a Familiar Chat – but without seeing the tail markings the differentiation between the Chats can be difficult.
The Karoo Chat was the most difficult bird to photograph! We identified the bird quite easily by its quite unique call, but it would not allow us to get within fifty meters in the car!! Finally, we went for a drive up a pass, and we found a bird marking his territory by perching on a post at the side of the road. I caught him in the camera as he was about to fly off!! It looks odd, but clearly shows the features of the bird.
This little bird had us confused for some time until we finally worked it out! It was busy making a nest in a low scrub and did not call at all. I took a few shots and we went back to the cottage to work out what we had seen. The feature that confused me was the barring on the underside of the tail – I could not match this to anything in the books. Then we decided to write down feature by feature, and came to the conclusion that it was a Grey-backed Cisticola. We finally also worked out the tail markings. All Cisticolas have white tips to their tail feathers, and when the tail feathers are folded in and viewed from the underside, it appears as barring – I had not realized this!!
We were quite surprised to see a few pairs of Karoo Korhaan, and this pair decided that we needed to be serenaded in the car. They have a very strange deep frog-like duet – the male makes the first sound and the female responds. The male bird is larger and has a larger black throat patch. I was fortunate to catch them conducting a duet.
A pair of Rock Martins was building a nest above the front door of our cottage, and it took a day until they finally ignored us and continued building a new nest whilst we walked underneath them. They are surprising large birds, and of course are readily identified by the row of white dots on the tail feathers. Between our resident Chat and the Rock Martins, we were well entertained at the cottage.