AUTUMN IN THE TANQUA KAROOPosted on the 29th April 2010
(Also read a similar report written around this time last year elsewhere on this website. - Ed.)
Did a trip which was specifically for our local endemics last weekend for a Canadian client, in fact he is no 6 in Canada!
Called on Rooi-els early, for a change with out wind! Orange-breasted and Southern Double-Collared Sunbirds and Cape Sugarbirds were very active in the fynbos in their new breeding colours. Familiar Chat competed with Neddicky for the top spot on top of the boulders, whilst Ground Woodpecker were still making their way down to the really big “mountain chunks”. Cape Rockjumpers were fairly numerous, at least 3 different families seen, even displaying fairly close to the road.
Cape Buntings were their unobtrusive self with their French communication call…..wee-wee…wee-wee, emanating from the low shrubs. Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Prinia and Cape Grassbird were not into their full song yet, but great views were obtained as they sat in the morning sun. Victorin’s Warbler also did not give its full call but also did not appear. (Logged on pentad though! ) A lone Jackal Buzzard cruised in from Pringle Bay side very wary of being in the Black Eagle’s territory. Did see them both as we left and I suppose they will soon start to refurbish their nest on the cliff face.
On to Betty’s Bays Stony Point for the African Penguins and White-breasted, Cape and Crowned Cormorants which all breed or roost there. A scan of the sea had Cape Gannets foraging far out with White-chinned Petrels skimming the swell.
No sign of the Skua this time, maybe he was further out amongst the Gannets. A lone Little Egret was feeding near a noisy pair of African Black Oystercatchers. On the washed up kelp a number of Sacred Ibis were joined by Hartlaub’s Gull and Grey Heron searching for and seafood that was on offer! Greater Striped Swallows were still twittering around near the harbour.
Moving on to Harold Porter Botanical Gardens Cape Bulbul, Sombre Greenbul and Cape Robin-Chat welcomed us in. Interestingly a Fiscal Flycatcher was joined by a Fiscal Shrike. This is the first time that I have seen Fiscal Shrike inside the fynbos Gardens, normally they are in more open shrubby terrain. The resident Cape Rock-thrush called from his usual spot on the electricity pole, always a smart guy! All three Sunbirds were in attendance at the Ericas and Proteas, with the Malachite still looking very bedraggled before getting his full green dress-suite on. On our way to the forest a small flock of Swee Waxbills entertained us on the seeding grass, sitting on the tops and eventually hanging upside down as their weight changed the balance a bit! A pair of Boubou Shrikes made a fleeting appearance for us on their journey through the undergrowth. A lone Black Eagle cruised by with a Jackal Buzzard and White-necked Ravens in close attendance. Where do these Eagles breed one wonders? Lucky for the raptors the 4 Fork-tailed Drongos were busy preening after their baths in the river otherwise they would have I am sure joined the fray. Also saw them splash into the pond to bath, first thought they were after floating insects but maybe not.
Just before we entered the forest a lone Familiar Chat guarded the bridge, maybe also to bath? Olive Thrush and Red-winged Starlings were frantically eating red berries and were rather noisy, but the call of the Olive Woodpecker was loud enough to catch our attention. Great bird to see here, albeit scarce. The Cape Batis and Dusky Flycatcher were quietly going about their business and gave close views.
We then travelled over to Ceres for the night, but before that we called on a Protea Seedeater site. Firstly had to clean my bird bath of grass and moss and also to clear the view. They were not long in arriving (3) but Cape Robin-Chat, Streaky-headed Seedeater, Olive Thrush, Cape Canary, Cape Bulbul, Cape White-eye and Cape Sugarbird preceded them. Not a bad group at a small bird bath. Always great when a plan comes together. Strangely this client like LBJs and Larks! We then decided to go to the mountains to see if Cape Eagle-Owl was around as it was now 6.30pm. No luck with CEO but Cape Rock-Thrush called from the rock ledges, definitely an area to follow up on. On to the Guest House for a lovely meal in their in-house restaurant and the night.
An early start, after seeing African Goshawk chipping from the church steeple, with a packed breakfast took us up Therons Pass and the beginning of Karoo vegetation on the 1000m plateau. On the way we had Black-shouldered Kite already out hunting from a post. Here we had Yellow Canaries, Cape Sparrow, African Stonechat, White-necked Raven and the first of our Larks, Red-capped. A Large-billed Lark gave his squeaky gate call with a few other bird calls mixed in! We don’t normally associate a lark as a mimic, but they have been recorded as copying 10 or more. I have been caught by this guy a few times when you hear and look for a Grey-winged Francolin and there is not a blade of grass or shrub in site. Guess who called? A small stretch of water off an obscure road had Spoonbill, Grey and Black-headed Heron, Egyptian Goose and SA Shelduck, Yellow-billed Duck and a fleet of Common Waxbills looking like a small dark cloud. Two Hamerkop flew over leaving Red-billed Teal and Cape Shoveller, Black-smith Lapwing and Three-banded Plover on the shore. Moving up to the mountain slopes Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Scrub-Robin and Cape Bunting were more vocal. A lone Rock Kestrel hovered over the scrub and a Cape Crow made it’s appearance. This is a strange place for this Crow as they, to me anyway, as they are not seen in the Tanqua or at Op-die-Berg only here. Strange to have all 3 “corvids” in the same valley, would have thought someone would have been chased out.
Down into Hottentotskloof and our first Pied Staling and also where we regularly see Rhebok, never close enough to see if they are Mountain or Grey though. And then we were in Karoo Poort, the portal to the Tanqua, my favourite area but now the serious birding started! The fragmites reed beds were still green from the first rains of the season, although the river was not flowing. Southern Red Bishops were moving around in large flocks but still in their dull plumage. Our first Chat, Mountain called from the rocky outcrop but a grey form unfortunately. Another Hamerkop flew over with Bokmakierie dueting and Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler and Cape Bulbul feeding in the shrubs. Olive Thrush, Common Starling, House Sparrow, Masked and Cape Weavers were around the farmhouse. No Pale-winged or Red winged Starlings were seen, maybe as there are no figs to eat in the grove. Red-faced Mousebirds, Streaky-headed Seedeater and White-throated Canary were in the Pomegranate trees, I suppose the red fruit was the reason. Namaqua Warbler were very quiet here, but further along a pair gave half their call and they were seen fairly well. Fairy Flycatcher was more accommodating and even sat on the fence wire! Too fast for pics though! At the picnic spot Rock and Brown-throated Martin and Greater-striped Swallow cruised over the rocks. Black Eagle was a strange one here but the nest was apparently not far away. The target was Layard’s Tit-babbler which appeared very quietly and continued doing his business with much chirping. Once in the open Tanqua it became a little more chatty, with Karoo Chat in the mixed scrub and Trac-trac Chats in the shorter or nearly non existent growth. Karoo with it’s white outer tail showing well against the smooth grey body and Trac-trac being tame for a change and showing it’s white flanks and upper from the side. No Sickle-winged this time though.
The Cinnamon-breasted Warblers were being very quiet and non showing even though we were there early and I whistled their communication call. Maybe they are already breeding? Don’t think so though.
Inverdoorn Dam was still quite full with a large flock of Greater Flamingos, Avocet, Glossy Ibis and a host of ducks and geese and the resident Fish Eagle was sitting on a dead tree in the dam. A small group of Karoo Eremomela moved swiftly through the short shrub with 3 Spike-healed Larks being rather skittish, very unusual. Their short white tipped tail very distinctive as was their chattering call. Pale Chanting Goshawk still had a sub-adult in tow and always interesting to see how different they are from the adults. No sign of the Black Harrier, maybe gone walk-about as some of them do! A Southern Black Korhaan drifted crackling into the sky as only they can do, rather unusual for this part of the world, especially next to the dampness of the dam. My favourite Rufous-eared Warbler did not disappoint and great views were had next to the road giving it’s excited dee dee dee dee call. The aerial display of the red coloured form of the Karoo Lark and it’s display from a shrub was enjoyed by the client.
A dry riverbed had it’s resident Pririt Batis who responded and displayed well when I called it. A number of Rock Kestrels were seen and a lone Jackal Buzzard drifted across Perdekoppies. Amongst the sand dunes Southern Ant-eating Chats with their strange hovering flight always bring a smile. It must be quite dry in the north of the Tanqua as Grey-backed Sparrowlark were feeding amongst the larger shrubs and not as per normal in very sparse vegetation.
We did an about turn as we still had to get to Swellendam for our overnight stay and the trip through the Koo Valley was normally slow.
Thanks to Birdwatch Cape for tour.