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AUGRABIES NATIONAL PARK TRIP - OCTOBER 2009

Posted on the 12th March 2010

(This report on our recent visit to the Augrabies Falls National Park in the Northern Cape province of South Africa merely gives an overview of our personal experiences. Visit the Augrabies National Park photo gallery on www.westerncapebirding.co.za to see some great birds, animals, plants and landscapes).

Elaine and myself spent two weeks in the Augrabies Falls and Kgalagadi Transfrontier Parks and are reporting briefly on interesting birds and birding destinations. We started out on Tuesday 13 October 2009 and traveled via Worcester, Sutherland and Brandvlei to the Augrabies Falls National Park. Initially everything went fairly normal and as predicted as far as birds are concerned, but it was when we reached the Northern Cape provincial border some distance before we reached Sutherland that things gradually started hotting up for us. The so-called western species are very interesting for most of us living in the south-western Cape and we suppose should be as well for birders from the southern and north-eastern parts of the country. It was fascinating seeing the variety of species that comes with the name “Karoo” - we were able to identify the chat, korhaan, lark, long-billed lark, prinia, scrub-robin and thrush. Other sightings that we really enjoyed along the way included five canaries, seven further species of larks, European Bee-eaters, several Ludwig's Bustards, our first Common Buzzard of the season, Cape Penduline-Tit, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Great Sparrow, White-browed Sparrow-Weavers, the Sociable Weavers, and a magnificent Martial Eagle.

Orange River White-eye

We arrived at Augrabies with the temperature in the mid-thirties, a rather unique experience after what we had been through at Onrus over the last few weeks. Throw in zillions of crazy little gnats right in your face (and eyes, nose, ears and mouth) and we knew that we were in a different world. It was great fun watching people returning from the falls with the strangest body movements trying to protect themselves against the attacks of these little pests. From our perspective the unique common birds in the rest camp include Acacia Pied Barbet, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Pale-winged Starlings, Dusky Sunbird and Orange River White-eye. Interesting to note that we also saw Crested Barbets several times – look at the distribution map for this bird and see how far it is out of its recorded range. One also needs to keep one's nerve with the variety of martins, swallows and swifts that fly around here. Visit the “Augrabies National Park” picture gallery on this website where we have posted some images taken during our stay there. The accommodation at Augrabies is really well appointed and practical and the staff very friendly and helpful. This place comes highly recommended.

On the first morning I went for an early morning stroll through the rest camp and was really impressed with the quality of birding that is available here, particularly in the densely wooded areas around the camping sites. I had great fun watching Acacia Pied Barbets, Pririt Batises and Dusky Sunbirds tending to their young and picked up Karoo Chats, Lesser Honeyguide, Kalahari and Karoo Scrub-Robins and most of the birds that the staff here regard as “common doppies”. Fifty odd species in a ninety minutes casual stroll in an arid area such as this speak for itself.

We then took a drive to the Ararat and Echo Corner vantage points along the Orange river gorge and our experiences at

Verreaux's Eagle soaring at Ararat

Ararat simply blew us away. Soaring pairs of Verreaux's Eagles and Lanner Falcons, together with many White-backed Vultures, Alpine Swifts, Mountain Wheatears, a Cape Bunting and many more and down below in the gorge both the cormorants and a regal Goliath Heron (and all of this from one physical spot) made for a truly remarkable birding experience.

Unbelievably, it clouded over and by the time we got back to the rest camp it started drizzling and this is where the fun started. A male House Sparrow started inspecting the roof of our chalet and a pair of Rock Martin simply went crazy and attacked the sparrow physically. The poor bird eventually sought refuge in a thorn thicket. We assume that the combination of cloudy weather, a few drops of rain and the mentioned gnats caused a nature show of phenomenal proportions. Literally thousands of martins, swallows and swifts (we estimate eleven species) started spinning above the falls in a drama that we have never experienced in all our years of birding. I have seen mass displays of Barn Swallows at Mount Moreland in KZN and Chimney Swifts in Nova Scotia coming in to roost, but this performance by so many different species was simply awesome.

The weather was bad and we decided to investigate the streams outside the rest camp and were fortunate to find Little Bittern, Black Crake, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Malachite Kingfisher, both geese and the two common herons. Interesting to think that these birds exist in this harsh and arid landscape. All was not yet done though – the weather started clearing and we were entertained with a sunset and a rainbow thrown in that ended a wonderful day in this great reserve. We are reporting on birds here: keep in mind that the Augrabies National Park also offers great experiences related to animals, reptiles, insects and plants and landscapes and landscapes and landscapes ….............................

Augrabies National Park is well situated to be used as a stopover whilst traveling between various points. We believe though that staying here for one night can not possibly do justice to a reserve that has so much to offer, especially as far as birding is concerned. I started Friday with a mission to get clean photographs of Cape Batis and Dusky Sunbird and found both birds in pairs feeding chicks within two hundred yards from our chalet. These birds are normally very active and energetic, but feeding youngsters just seemed to increase their hyperactivity. It took a lot of concentration and patience, but I was eventually able to get fairly decent pics and posted some of these on the photo gallery.

Double-banded Courser in typical rocky habitat

We then decided to do the extended circle route around the park that takes one past the various vantage points over the river and then onto “Fonteintjie” and eventually the picnic site and then back. The road is in a fairly good condition and can be negotiated in a sedan vehicle with ease. We had great fun trying to sort our the various chats and larks that Augrabies has on offer, many of them with cryptic color variations and often messing around in mixed flocks. There were droves of Namaqua Sandgrouses at Fonteintjie and we were hoping that a Lanner Falcon would come and entertain us. This was not to be and we had to wait for one of the water holes in the Kgalagadi to see this spectacle. One of our target bird for the day was Double-banded Courser and we were over the moon when we found a pair with what must be the smallest of chicks. I appreciate that the word “cute” seems inappropriate when describing birds, but hell ,these little ones certainly were. The adults did not move off as they normally do as they were waiting for the chicks and this allowed us to press shutters like it was going out of fashion. What an experience!

The picnic spot was a revelation. Mixed acacia (if one may still use the word in Africa) thickets create a real bushveld feel and the birds are also something else. Common Scimitarbill, Brubru, both Tit-Babblers and Namaqua Warbler were of the first to arrive in the tree under which we were having our brunch and the steady traffic of birds moving through the area was something to behold. This area really adds something special to the park's already impressive birding offerings. This takes me back to a point I made previously – one needs to stay in the Augrabies National Park for more than one night, as trying to fit in this circle route on a one night stay will simply not work.

On our return to the camp we saw some good stuff like Ludwig's Bustard, Chat and Marico Flycatcher, Scaly-feathered Finch (one of Elaine's all-time favorites), Mountain Wheatears and many goshawks. We spent a lot of time studying a family of Karoo Long-billed Larks. The land- and “moonscapes” on this circle route is something to experience though and a birding visit to the Augrabies Falls National Park should become a MUST on the wish list of all serious birders. In the end we saw 118 species over the three days that we spent at Augrabies.

SANParks has a great website – find all information on the Augrabies Falls National Park (and others) on www.sanparks.org.za

Anton


Me and my umbrella

 

Male Pririt Batis   Images: Anton Odendal

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