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THE MARCH 2009 TRIP REPORT

Posted on the 8th April 2009

(READ THIS FROM BOTTOM TO TOP, DAY BY DAY).  31 March: Total for the month: 407. We were unable to add a new bird for the month as we treated ourselves with our usual drive back home through the Klein Karoo. To crown it all Elaine decided that we should buy a real “Karoo lam” and we did so on a farm just outside Beaufort West. It was frozen, but in a cardboard box, with the result that we had to get home. Meiringspoort and the Huisrivier and Tradouw's passes were as stupendous as ever and the closer we got to home the more we started picking up our Western Cape specials (Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird and even Cape Bulbul) – we were home again! I should add that we did take in lunch at “Clark of the Karoo” in Barrydale though as this is one of our favorite eateries in the world – do stop in there when you get to our neck of the woods.

What can we say of the last month? We had a fantastic time and a new challenge for ourselves to try and see if we can get 408 species in one month. We were really privileged to have been able to visit all of the wonderful places that we have described over the last month. One wishes that there was more time available to give more detailed descriptions of the places and the birds that we have experienced. This certainly illustrates that South Africa is a great birding country and we would like to encourage all to assist and support BirdLife South Africa to market this country as one of the top birding destinations in the world. Join Birdlife now and become involved in the conservation of birds and their habitats.

We include a few last pics of some of the birds that has fascinated us most on this trip.

 30 March: Total for the month: 407. Southern African endemics or near endemics: 61. Special species seen: Pied Avocet, Pririt Batis, Lark-like Bunting, Tractrac Chat, Pale-winged Starling, Rufous-eared Warbler and Sociable Weaver. On habitats and the like: We spent our last evening in the Karoo National Park and can not comment strongly enough about the outstanding professionalism that we once again experienced at this wonderful reserve. By now we were tired and ready to get home and did not put in a great effort birding. We dipped on regular specials that we always expect to find here such as Verreaux's Eagle, Short-toed Rock-Thrush, the tit-babblers and Fairy Flycatcher: the Karoo National Park is an absolute must to visit for at least one evening when birders travel through the Karoo.

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly a magnificent sub-adult Martial Eagle that allowed us to spend about 15 minutes studying it (see pic). This bird has real class!

We found it very interesting that many of the summer migrants had apparently disappeared from last Friday onwards. We found no Greater Striped, Barn or White-throated Swallows, Common Buzzards, Yellow-billed Kites or cuckoos on the entire road from Punda Maria to Onrus. Next year the BLSA AGM will be in Wakkerstroom (21 March 2010) and already the BirdLife Overberg team is talking about doing a similar trip than this year to KZN and Zululand. It seems likely that we will do our birding before the AGM in view of getting as many summer migrants as possible.

29 March: Total for the month: 400. Southern African endemics or near endemics: 61. Special species seen: Purple Heron, Shrika, White-winged Tern and Shaft-tailed Whydah. On habitats and the like: From Pretoria we traveled to the Sandveld reserve near Bloemhof, a site that is very special due to the fact that one finds many of the so-called “western species” here. In the past we have given this great reserve a lot of good publicity in one of my columns. We were expecting to add big ticks such as Tinkling Cisticola, Double-banded Courser, Ashy Tit, Pririt Batis and Crimson-breasted Shrike, as we had found them here previously. We were uncomfortable approaching the reserve as we were unable to make telephonic contact with the reserve over two days. When we reached the reserve (late on the Sunday afternoon) the official on duty was socializing with friends and was completely uncooperative about giving us accommodation. His reasoning was that he is only allowed to give accommodation over weekends to people who have reserved places during the previous working week. How is one supposed to do this if one is unable to reach them by phone in the first place? The condition of the access road was also very bad and we had to settle to spend our night in Christiana. We decided that we will attempt to use BLSA to get these smaller, but extremely underrated little reserves to improve their service delivery and become more professional when handling tourists in general and birders in particular. These reserves could potentially get great benefit and support through the development of birding routes throughout South Africa and it would be sad if they keep on lagging behind by not catering for the rapidly growing avitourism industry.

 28 March: Total for the month: 396. Southern African endemics or near endemics: 61. Special species seen: Wing-snapping Cisticula, Coqui Francolin, Lesser Honeyguide and Marico Sunbird. On habitats and the like: One always leaves Kruger with a heavy heart. To then hit the road between Punda and Louis Trichardt on a Saturday morning is what nightmares are made of. We decided there and then to never use the Punda gate again be this for entering or exiting the park. We were on our way to Elaine's sister and her husband who have a smallholding at Bultfontein to the north of Pretoria. They live close to the Rooiwal sewage works, the Seringveld conservancy and Ezemvelo and there is great birding to be had – it is in fact in this area that teams got more than 300 species in one day during BLSA's Birding Big Day over the last two years. Three years ago I identified 19 species of birds that we have not yet seen on this trip at Rooiwal. We were tired of traveling and traumatized about conditions around what used to be called Venda and decided to chill. The highlight here was undoubtedly more than 400 European Bee-eaters that have been roosting in a massive maroela tree over the last few summers about ten yards from their braai area, I ask you. The play of colour as these birds flew in and out of the tree as they were settling in for the night was a real privilege to experience.

27 March: Total for the month: 392. Southern African endemics or near endemics: 62. Special species seen: Terrestrial Brownbul, Grey-backed Cameroptera, Lemon-breasted Canary, Green-capped Eremomela, Crested Guineafowl, Retz's Helmet-shrike, Bearded Robin-Chat, Böhm's Spinetail, Cape Vulture, Willow Warbler and African Yellow White-eye. On habitats and the like: The cherry on the cake - on our last day in Kruger Anita and Aletta joined us on an outing to the Pafuri. We left when the gate opened and started birding with Frank Mabasa at the Pafuri picnic site. (It's him and his family in the pic). This man's patience, knowledge of his home turf and its birds, eyesight and ability to call up birds must be experienced. He became very systematic and showed us some robins: he called up White-browed, Natal, Bearded and White-throated Robins one after the other and then chipped in with real juicy specials such as Terrestrial Brownbul, Grey-backed Cameroptera and Green-capped Eremomela. After a breakfast we decided to give Frank a break and headed off to Crook's Corner. Here we were again dumbstruck by the extent of water in the Limpopo river, but ran ourselves into major bird identification problems as we found a huge acacia tree that had more than twenty species messing around in it at the same time: Grey-backed Cameroptera, Lemon-breasted Canary, Green-capped Eremomela, Willow Warbler and African Yellow White-eye and weavers, apalis, bee-eaters, flycatchers and Golden-tailed and Bearded Woodpeckers. We also think that we have poor quality pics of at least three other warblers that we still need to try to identify. Add to this all of the region's vultures flying about at random and this caused major neck spasms for all four of us. We then went back to the picinic spot for lunch, but not before we got Gymnogene, Retz's Helmet-shrike and Mewe's Starling on the way. Over lunch it was decided that Frank and myself will do a feature article on his work in the Pafuri over the next few weeks – our morning in the Pafuri certainly illustrated the value and importance of the bird guide training program of BirdLife South Africa. The value added to our birding by Frank Mabasa in this very special part of the Kruger National Park gives great credit to all those who are involved in bird guide training.

Elaine and myself headed back to camp to start packing for our long trek back home and Anita and Aletta traveled back along the Klopperfontein road. On our last evening we all had supper in the restaurant – great food and good value for money. Any questions about birds and birding at Punda and the Pafuri? Do go there.

26 March: Total for the month: 371. Southern African endemics or near endemics: 61. Special species seen: Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Verreaux's Eagle-Owl, Southern Ground-Hornbill, Freckled Nightjar and Orange-breasted Waxbill. On habitats and the like: This was a rest day and we decided to only bird in the camp. I did though go out at 05h30 and drove east as hard as the speed limit would allow in order to drive back with the sun behind me to try and take some decent pics. I was looking for a dead tree to photograph against the rising sun to use in my talks and presentations when one obliged with a Verreaux's Eagle-Owl perched in it! Shortly after that five Southern Ground-Hornbills. Then a very young White-helmet Shrike waiting to be fed and the group of adults coming in doing their duty. And two Tawny's doing tallon grappling – I have a nearly perfect pic, but for focus at the speed that these this happen. Elaine and myself walked the camp and played with a Natal Robin (I don't like the Red-capped Robin-Chat thing) – it mimiced at least the bulbul, thrush and three of the other robin-chats. Great fun. Two observations on Punda and Kruger: Tonight there are at least 18 serious birders in Punda – six from BirdLife Overberg, three from Colombia, two ladies from Ixopo heavily atlasing, and others and that at an average price of R 265-00 per day. Kruger is undoubtedly great value for money and Punda is for wonderful birding. The vegetation throughout Kruger is rank and dense and the grass a metre high in most places. In ten days of birding we have not seen a korhaan, bustard, pipit or dikkop. One wonders what our count would have had the Lowveld been in a drought.

25 March: Total for the month: 365. Southern African endemics or near endemics: 61. Special species seen: Tropical Boubou, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Black Coucal, Crowned Eagle, Mottled Spinetail, Meve's Starling, Grey Tit-Flycatcher and Black-throated Wattle-eye. On habitats and the like: A visit to the Pafuri area is always a must. The Limpopo river is full of water from bank to bank, something neither Elaine or myself have ever seen. This understandably took most waders and other waterbirds out of play, but there were enough other great stories and sightings. The day started with a blast when we found a young Black Coucal right next to the road. The redish throat, together with the very black appearance and rusty wings made this a great start to the day. (See pic herewith). We spent a lot of time on the bridge over the Levuvhu river as the birds are really active here in the early morning. Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Mottled Spinetail, Meve's Starling, Wire-tailed Swallow, Bearded Woodpecker ..................... wonderful place. Frank Mbasa, the BLSA trained guide at the Pafuri picnic site was unfortunately occupied with a group of Colombian ornithologists, but we did book him for early Friday morning. The birding here is simply superb: Four different Bush-Shrikes, Tropical Boubou, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Black-throated Wattle-eye, both Tchagras ................. We'll report further on this birding hotspot on Friday. Then off to Crook's Corner that has in the mean time been developed to allow picnics. The full river was overwhelming. A few highlights of this loop road: a sauring Martial Eagle, a teenage Crowned Eagle being bombed by a Bateleur and a Tawny, a Brown Snake-Eagle diving off the top of one tree onto the top of another taking what we thought was a boomslang, do you need more convincing to visit this northern section of Kruger?

24 March: Total for the month: 354. Southern African endemics or near endemics: 61. Special species seen: Jameson's Firefinch, Yellow-bellied Greenbull, African Harrier-Hawk, Trumpeter Hornbill, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Bronze Mannikin, Purple Roller and Double-banded Sandgrouse. On habitats and the like: Well, there can not be any further debate – we decided that the next time we spend two weeks in Kruger, it will be in Punda Maria. It is strongly advised that the Mphongolo loop should be traveled when going from Shingwedzi to Punda. The birdlife along this loop can not be believed and in retrocpect I counted 127 species that we saw on it. This remains our favourite loop road in the park. Then we hit Punda (and immediately changed our reservation of two nights in Punda and two in Letaba to four nights in Punda). I spent most of the afternoon at a bird bath some twenty yards from our chalet and sat at two yards photographing birds such as Dark-capped Bulbul, Jameson's Firefinch, Ashy and Paradise Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Greenbull and Blue Waxbill. Add to this Trumpeter Hornbills, four different bee-eaters, most available swifts and swallows flying overhead, then this can only be described as birding heaven. This is such fun that we have basically lost interest in our twitching exercise – the quality of birding here is simply outstanding. Punda Maria is undoubtedly one of the ten birding hotspots in South Africa that one must visit before ........... And to crown it all tomorrow we are off to the Pafuri.

23 March: Total for the month: 346. Southern African endemics or near endemics: 61. Special species seen: Lesser Spotted Eagle, Ashy Flycatcher, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, both tchagra's, Golden Weaver and four woodpeckers, including bearded. On habitats and the like: (This is a midday report as we hit our first extremely hot day). Shingwedzi is a must as at least a stopover on one's way to Punda Maria. We were hunting for Collared Palm-Thrust and Bat Hawk specifically, but had fun with a variety of great birds. This looks like woodpecker heaven and we were able to study and compare cardinal, golden-tailed, Bennett's and bearded from up close. The differences in size, knocking rate and the strata of trees that they operate in are simply overwhelming. There are good numbers of waders along the river, although the Kanniedood dam is so full that it only allows access to a few of the larger herons and storks. It is recommended that the area around the restaurant and the picnic area be visited, but we were blown away with the quality and quantity of birds in the camping area and at the swimming pool. Elaine and myself were running each other ragged: me calling her to come and see Ashy Flycatcher, with her trying to convince me to come and see pytilias and all at the same time. This is also a great camp for photography as most of the birds here are timid and accommodating. 

22 March: Total for the month: 341. Southern African endemics or near endemics: 61. Special species seen: Chinspot Batis, Pearl-breasted Owlet, African Scops-Owl, Wood Sandpiper, Saddle-billed Stork and Bennett's Woodpecker. On habitats and the like: The Sunday morning again started with cloudy weather, but we were now officially on a week's holiday and did not bother to much. We travelled from Phalaborwa to Shingwedzi and were only able to add nine new species to our March list. The quality of the birds seen (as mentioned above) was however out of this world and we decided to take a day's rest and only bird in the camp on Monday. Dave de Beer and his mom are also here. He spent the entire day on the road and saw eleven species that we had not yet seen during March. This clearly shows that we could possibly add to our list dramatically if we are prepared to work a bit harder. Lighting a fire and listening at pearlies and scopsies all around us more than makes up for low bird counts though.

20 and 21 March: Total for the month: 232. Southern African endemics or near endemics: 60. Special species seen: Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Temminck's Courser, Village Indigobird, Flappet Lark, Eurasian Golden Oriole, African Pygmy-Kingfisher, White-throated Robin-Chat and Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark. On habitats and the like: A combination of poor weather and having to attend the BLSA AGM in Phalaborwa did not make for great birding. The Letaba restcamp is however a birder's paradise and a short walk along the river's bank presented about fifty species of birds. The new day visiter's picnic area should also be visited as Elaine picked up African Pygmy-Kingfisher, several bush-shrikes and a variety of other bush species. The highlight of our visit to Engelhard dam was an adult African Fish-Eagle taking a young African Jacana and passing it to a youngster in flight. We took a few of the dirt roads from Letaba to the Phalaborwa gate and ran ourselves into serious identification problems with LBJ's. It is interesting that so many of these birds converge on this area – the vegetation here was less rank and overgrown and this could possibly explain this get-together. I was unable to do serious birding in Phalaborwa due to all the meetings that I had to attend. Alletta, Anita and Elaine did go on an organised hike at the Grietjie private nature reserve in search of Pell's Fishing-Owl. They unfortunately dipped on this one, but were delighted with the courser and oriole that they were able to find. My personal highlight of the AGM was meeting up with four birders from the Mafekeng bird club who had attended a Flight for Beginners course that I presented at Barber's Pan two years ago. They came to Phalaborwa to participate in a bird ringing course – real progress if one considers that they started birding only two years ago.

19 March: Total for the month: 316. Southern African endemics, or near endemics seen: 54. Top birds seen: Great Spotted Cuckoo, African Golden Oriole, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Hooded and Lappet-faced Vultures. On habitats and places: Our worst day yet as far as counting species goes, but the quality of what we had seen was outstanding. This was our rest day as we had to do our laundry and so on. It was still totally clouded over in the morning, although the day did start off with a blast when a female African Golden Oriole flew into a Marula tree next to our chalet. This was the first bird of this species that I have seen for 29 years and therefore the weather did not matter anymore. And the plot thickened …... By chance I ran into a Great Spotted Cuckoo chick giving it's Greater Blue-eared Glossy Starling host untold grief for some food. I lost it and the Canon ran out of power – we have about 80 clean pics to choose from! We decided that this was it and settled in for a glass of wine by 13h00. (We have to go to the BLSA AGM in Phalaborwa tomorrow and chilled). Then a group of elephants with a very young calf started crossing the Olifant's river. The manner in which they herded the young one, kept angry hippos away and protected him was simply fantastic. Then we studied what appeared to be a dead hippo half way up a sandbank with a head bobbing up next to it (? croc): then we saw the youngster that was suckling. These are the things that make one feel small about this creation. We won't care about twitching for the next few days and will pick up on serious birding from Sunday. Unless our luck holds …...............

18 March: Total for the month: 309. Southern African endemics, or near endemics seen: 54. Top birds seen: Carmine Bee-eaters, European Bee-eaters, African Mourning Dove, young Crowned Eagle, Wahlberg's Eagle, Spotted Flycatcher, Black-headed Oriole, Yellow-throated Petronia, Lesser Grey Shrike and Spectacled Weaver. On habitats and places: 100% cloud cover throughout the day did not help for birding or photography, but what a day we had. European Bee-eaters sitting in the road, a Xmas tree full of hundreds of Barn Swallows, together with Lesser Striped Swallows, sunbirds and LBJ's was simply brilliant and we must have seen several hundreds of European Rollers along the way. There are a few great

stories to tell though: Elaine spotted an immature Martial Eagle some two hundred yards off the road. At closer inspection, after heavy deliberation and later on studying the pics it turned out to be a young African Crowned Eagle. What a sighting – it was pure white up front and far more mottled, grey and black in the back than the young Martial Eagle. Then we started hitting Carmine Bee-eaters, a lifer for Elaine. She was dumbstruck stating that there can only be a higher hand involved in this. We stopped over in Satara and walked the gardens. Add to this a Yellow-throated Petronia jumping up in grasses feeding her chicks, a black number that still has us baffled (we think an immature Black Cuckoo – Trevor Hardaker's decision pending) and a Black Crake strutting his stuff at the pond outside the restaurant. As we left Satara we ran into one of those traditional KNP traffic jams: a cheetah stalking impalas and unsuccessfully going for the kill. It took about a lifetime for this traffic jam to get sorted out. Then we got hut number 13 when we checked into Olifant's: a vast panoramic vista over a flooding river, with hippos, lions and marauding baboons. Try to get this chalet when visiting this neck of the woods. Elaine is threatening to stay put tomorrow. Kruger is brilliant birding country and one feels blessed when one experiences a day like this!

17 March: Total for the month: 289. Southern African endemics, or near endemics seen: 51. Top birds seen: Bateleur, Baillon's Crake, Martial Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, Green-winged Pytilia, Green Sandpiper, most of the vultures, Great Reed-Warbler and Olive-tree Warbler. On habitats and places: Soft morning's birding. Anita, Aletta and the two of us decided to just drift to Lower Sabie and bird. Beautiful weather and great birding experiences: Green Sandpiper operating on the back of a group of hippos taking (?) ticks. A young Martial Eagle without a left eye. A vulture party with most species in attendance, Gabar Goshawk nailing a mixed bird party, grand debate about a kingfisher's bill colour combination (immature Woodlands) and many other great sightings. We got back to our camp and it drizzled for the rest of the day. Tomorrow we are off to Olifants. Watch this space and we will keep on showing how great birding is in this neck of the woods . Great anticipation for what will happen tomorrow. The Crocodile Bridge rest camp remains one of our special camp in Kruger. It one visits this camp for a few days one can travel west to east in the morning, take in lunch at anyone of Berg en Dal, Pretoriuskop or that other place and then travel back east to west. The sun is behind one most of the way and it makes for great birding and photography. We were to tired after all of our travels and only took a casual drive to Lower Sabie and back. More than 150 species seen without really trying hard and taking in a few glasses of wine, making this makes this truly outstanding birding territory. The birds, together with great game viewing (lots of rhinos) make this a must do.

16 March: Total for the month: 246. Southern African endemics, or near endemics seen: 48. Top birds seen: Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, Jacobin's Cuckoo, Fairy Flycatcher, Red-billed Oxpecker, Woolly-necked Stork, both wood-hoopoes, and many more. On habitats and places: We still experienced bad weather from Ermelo to the Crocodile Bridge camp and were very happy when the weather cleared in the Lowveld. There was a great start as an African Fish-Eagle came in for an extended bath in the river right in front of our chalet to lighten up our lunch. We decided to take it easy after the course and all the traveling. We went for a short drive after 16h00 and were able to add many birds to our list. The next two weeks are going to be great fun.

14 and 15 March: Total for the month: 206. Southern African endemics, or near endemics seen: 55. Top birds seen: Eastern Long-billed Lark, Black-winged Pratincole, Black-chested Prinia, Fan-tailed Widowbird, On habitats and places: We presentedthe Flight for Birders course for BirdLife Vaaldam – unfortunately the weather was such that we were unable to do practical outings with the group and birding was impossible. Representatives from all the towns in what used to be called the Vaal Triangle attended and there is great enthusiasm for birds and birding in the region. Most of the participants felt strongly that this area, together with the Freestate has far greater birding potential than is currently reflected in avitourism publications. The development of a birding route for this region is seen as a critical priority. We traveled from Deneysville to Ermelo as we wanted to try to visit Chrissiesmeer early on Monday morning on our way to the Crocodile Bridge rest camp in the Kruger National Park. The weather was bad, the traffic terrible and the pratincoles were the only highlight. The work is over for the next two weeks and tomorrow the birding will start in earnest.

 

13 March: Total for the month: 201. Southern African endemics, or near endemics seen: 54. Top birds seen: Golden Bishop, Red-eyed and Dark-capped Bulbuls, Western Red-footed Kestrel, Northern Black Korhaan, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Black Stork, Mountain Wheatear. On habitats and places: We experienced a truely spectacular thunderstorm overnight at the Kuilfontein Guest Farm outside Springfontein. This caused great early morning birding around the homestead as many of the birds were preening and looking for sun after the heavy rains. We could not get into the veld to look for the pipit though as it was to wet. A visit to Kuilfontein when the southern Freestate is visited comes highly recommended. Great birding, wonderlike boerekos and old world farm charm with a “nommer asseblief” telephone system thrown in. Call Sandra at 051-7830157. Birding through the Freestate was interrupted with good rains throughout the day and it was only when we reached Deneysville that birding started in earnest. Rosemary Girard's garden is a birding fantasy of note as she has been feeding birds for many years. We are here to present the Flight for Birders course for BirdLife Vaaldam over the weekend with the result that Elaine will do most of the birding over the next two days.

12 March: Total for the month: 175. Southern African endemics, or near endemics seen: 45. Top birds seen: Ant-eating Chat, Karoo Chat, Amur Falcon, Orange-river Francolin, Lesser Kestrel, Greater Kestrel, Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark. On habitats and places: Elaine proposed that we don't fly to Johannesberg and rent a car to go to Kruger, as we had done over the last few years, but rather drive though the Karoo. What a great proposal. The northern Karoo is absolutely beautiful after lots of rain. The morning was drab, but from 16h00 onwards (with the sun behind us) the veld just started coming alive with birds. The shades of blues, greens and yellows made this an amazing experience. We started seeing White Storks and Common Buzzards from Hanover, but the sheer numbers of Amur Falcons and Lesser Kestrels were astounding. Then we checked into a wonderful farm outside Springfontein. Tomorrow morning we will chase Kimberley Pipit and the like, but the “boerekos” and atmosphere here is simply astounding. This place comes highly recommended and it is very affordable. Do spend an evening here when passing through this region. Contact details will follow. The Karoo is great! 

9 to 11 March:  Total for the month: 155. Southern African endemics, or near endemics seen: 42.  Top birds seen: Southern Pale-chanting Goshawk, Giant Kingfisher.  We have been working at our rooms and preparing for our trip to the north. I had to travel to Agulhas for a meeting on Tuesday, where it was decided to form BirdLife Strandveld as a satellite branch of BirdLife Overberg. Only the two species added of which the Goshawk was very special, being so far south and west. Interestingly no White Storks or Common Buzzards were seen at all– have they already started moving north? We will try to get answers to this as we travel through the Karoo tomorrow.

 

8 March:  Total for the month: 153. Southern African endemics, or near endemics seen: 41  Top birds seen: Greater Flamingo, Black-necked Grebe (and Mallard).On habitats and places: The Cape gave us one of its gale-force south-easter days that made birding basically impossible. We decided to return to Hermanus via Velddrif in the hope of adding many more birds to our list, but were only able to get the three mentioned above. The fires in the fires in the mountains above Stellenbosch are simple scary and one wonders where this will end. 

7 March: Total for the month: 150. Southern African endemics, or near endemics seen: 41  Top birds seen: Eurasian Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Cape Grassbird, Cape Longclaw, Fiery-necked Nightjar, Common Ringed Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Little Tern.

On habitats and places: The Wader Bash organised by the Honorary Rangers of the West Coast National Park was once again a huge success and meeting old birding friends in this wonderful reserve is one of our annual birding highlights. A novel new idea for this year was that four of us guided grade 12 pupils selected from the four schools closest to the Park and basically gave them an introduction to birds and birding. I also gave them a talk from the introductory sections of Flight for Birders during lunch and the enthusiasm of these youngsters really encouraged us. It would be interesting to watch their progress in birding as they were invited to attend the Flight for Birders course to be presented at Geelbek in May, as well as CBC's course on owls to be presented by Geoff Lockwood. The West Coast Bird Club also gave them free membership.

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly the visit to the Seeberg hide, where the vast majority of participants gathered after lunch. The sheer numbers of godwits, terns, whimbrels and roughly 20 other kinds of waders was simply breathtaking and the debates on identification compelling and often hilarious. I still have a few hundred photographs to work through and we will hopefully be able to give feedback on this at some later stage.

The gala dinner was great fun and we all agreed that birders and BirdLife SA branches should support these birding weekends presented by the Honorary Rangers for more regularly and in greater numbers.

6 March: Total for the month: 139 Southern African endemics, or near endemics seen: 40 Top birds seen: Cape Gannet, Common Greenshank, African Marsh-Harrier, Red Knot, Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Whimbrel.

On habitats and places: We all agreed that the Geelbek hide with an in-coming tide in the early morning must be one of the top ten birding experiences in our country. Thousands of water birds and waders make this an astounding experience and the constant whining of camera shutters didn't really distract. The debate on identification remains one of the highlights of a visit to the hide – do visit the West Coast National Park when the Cape is visited. We had to attend several meetings through the day with the result that we did not have time to attend to our list of species seen on the day. This evening the Waders Bash starts and we are looking forward to a great weekend's birding.

5 March:  Total for the month: 123. Southern African endemics, or near endemics seen: 38  Top birds seen: Acacia Pied Barbet, Long-billed Crombec, African Fish-Eagle, Spotted Flycatcher, Grey-winged Francolin, Black Harrier, White-backed Mousebird, Osprey, Little Stint, Willow Warbler.

On habitats and places: As Dave says: “ The West Coast National Park is bird-watching heaven”. We spent some time in the two hides near Geelbek. The early morning was fantastic and the wader identification attempts created great fun and games. The 38 degree temperature forced us back into our chalet by 11h00 and we will go out again after 16h00.

4 March:  Total for the month: 95. Southern African endemics, or near endemics seen: 32  Top birds seen: Cape Bunting, Bank Cormorant, Crowned Cormorant, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Southern Black Korhaan, African Black Oystercatcher, African Penguin, Cape Rock-Jumper, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Swift Tern.

On habitats and places: The Terns were back as we left Onrus. We traveled via Betty's Bay and Rooiels to pick a few of the Western Cape endemics. Stony Point remains one of the best sites in our region as one is able to see all five of the southern African cormorants, African Penguin and African Black Oystercatcher there. The Rooiels site is known for the Cape Rock-jumper, but this morning it also allowed us to see other great endemics such the Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Rock-Thrush and Cape Siskin. These two sites, together with the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens makes the area around the Kogelberg Biosphere reserve a must to visit when in the Cape. We will be presenting the Flight for Birders course in collaboration with SANBI during May in the hope of creating BirdLife structures in the area. The trip to Langebaan was fairly uneventful as far as birding is concerned as it was extremely hot and the south-easter was really pumping. Dave de Beer, Hele Oosthuizen, Anita de Jager and ourselves settled into the van Breda house in the West Coast National Park – a two night stay that we won at last year's Feathers, Fossils and Flowers weekend at Velddrif.

1 to 3 March: We spent most of our time at home in Onrus, although Anton did go to Bredasdorp on Tuesday traveling at high speed in extremely windy conditions. Total for the month: 68. Southern African endemics, or near endemics seen: 16

Top birds seen: Denham's Bustard, Forest Buzzard, Cape Cormorant, Blue Crane, African Goshawk, Sombre Greenbul, Cape Robin-Chat, Cape Sugarbird, Capped Wheatear.

On habitats and places: The terns have disappeared from the day-roost at Onrus – this is three weeks earlier than last year. The Overberg wheatfields are beautiful after the heavy late rains that were experienced during November and it is one of those times of the year where one is tempted to take landscape photographs throughout the day. This must be one of the most underrated birding areas in South Africa as the number of southern African endemics boggles the mind. Strangely, no White Storks were seen on Tuesday – there were hundreds last week. We did not have the time to go to Brandfontein to get the Macaroni Penguin, but will try to do so next Tuesday when we will attend the public meeting in Agulhas when BirdLife Strandveld will be formed as a satellite branch of BirdLife Overberg. Tomorrow we travel to the West Coast National Park.

THE MARCH BIRDING TRIP

Elaine and myself have the opportunity to bird in many great birding hotspots in South Africa during the month of March. We will travel by car and will visit the Cape West Coast, the Agulhas region and the Kruger National Park. We decided to report on the birds seen and highlight the potential of some of the places that we will visit on www.westerncapebirding.co.za Reports will be posted roughly every second or third day.


 

 

 

 

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