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WILFRED AND MARCIA CROUS IN THE KALAHARI

Posted on the 14th April 2010

TRIP REPORT TO AUGRABIES, KGALAGADI AND AI-AIS, PAST FISH RIVER CANYON

Article and photographs by Wilfred and Marcia Crous – birding beginners

Wed 3 March: Overnight at Springbok

Our trip started early from Somerset West, through Stellenbosch, Malmesbury and the N7 to Springbok. It is always a pleasure traveling through Stellenbosch with its beautiful scenery of vineyards and farmland and the view of Table Mountain in the background. The birds were out in full force as we spotted flocks of African Sacred and Hadeda Ibis, Egyptian and Spur-winged Geese and a couple of Grey Heron around the dams we passed. We also saw a number of Black-shouldered Kites, Steppe Buzzards and the usual crows. We were sure this was a forerunner of a very good birding holiday.

The changing landscape, as we drove further north was amazing, with the lush green valley along the Olifants River, followed by Karoo shrub and then the fascinating Namaqua vegetation and rugged mountainous terrain. The temperature also started climbing, and soon reached 38o, which was typical for the rest of the holiday. Near Kamieskroon we were surprised to see a solitary Blue Crane in this part of the world.

We deviated at Kamieskroon and took a dirt road via Gamoep to Springbok, which was well worth the extra kilometers through bouldered red hills and unexpected green Namaqua shrub and grass. Here we saw our first of many Quiver Trees. The farm dams were full and we therefore saw the usual assortment of common Cape water birds. On this road we also came upon our first Grey-backed Sparrowlarks, Rufus-eared Warbler and Pale-winged Starlings. Southern Pale Chanting Goshawks and Greater Kestrels were in abundance, as during the rest of the holiday.

Our accommodation at Kleinplasie in Springbok was great and we spotted White-backed Mousebird, African Pied Wagtail, Dusky Sunbird and Southern Double-collared Sunbird on the premises.

Thurs/Fri 4-5 March: Augrabies

Martial Eagle

The road from Springbok to Kakamas is wonderful for birding, with the telephone poles becoming part of the habitat for birds of prey and sociable weavers. Here we had our first two sighting of the majestic Martial Eagle. The road is so quiet that it was no problem stopping and taking (dozens of) photographs. We also stopped at some Sociable Weaver’s nests in the hope of seeing a resident African Pygmy Falcon, but were out of luck (this time).

Before reaching Augrabies we took another deviation at Aggeneys via Kao Dunes and Namies to Pofadder. This road is well worth visiting for the experienced birder, hoping to see the elusive Red Lark. Unfortunately we could only find Karoo Long-billed Larks, with an assortment of Namaqua Doves, sparrowlarks and weavers.

Closer towards Pofadder we stopped for a picnic and spotted a flock of tiny Sunbirds cavorting in a tree covered in round-leaved mistletoe (voëlent). These turned out to be Southern Double-Collared Sunbirds, but their colour appeared to be less prominent than in the Cape. On the road to Kakamas we spotted a Southern Red Bishop (still in colour this time of year) and there were flocks of finches (unidentified) flying up as we drove past.

Orange River White-eye

Augrabies is great for birding and around the chalets we spotted African Hoopoe, Pririt Batis, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Orange River White-Eye, Cape Robin-Chat, Southern Masked-Weavers, Southern Grey-headed Sparrows, Cape- and House Sparrows, Karoo Thrush, Glossy Starlings and a Larklike Bunting. The cute little Ground Squirrels were always present. On our walks we also spotted an African Pied Wagtail, Black-chested Prinia, Spotted Flycatcher and Acacia Pied Barbet.

The Falls are quite spectacular on a small scale. We apparently missed the serious flooding by a couple of weeks. On the game drive along the river we saw numerous (unidentified) birds of prey in the distance and circling overhead. Heavy rains during the previous nights made this road virtually impassible for normal vehicles, but our SUV coped well. We had some nice close encounters with Karoo Long-billed Lark, Sabota Lark, Common Shrike, Lesser Grey Shrike, Forktailed Drongos and a Northern Black Korhaan.

There were also Ostriches, Steenbok, Gemsbok, Red Hartebees, Springbok and Giraffe. The changing scenery from red hills to black hills and even a rose quartz hill was incredible. Before we left Augrabies we spotted a flock of Red-billed Quellias chattering away in a tree.

Sat/Sun 6-7 March: Twee Rivieren

Secretarybird

Due to recent rains, the permanent dunes on the road to Twee Rivieren were covered in light green grass interspersed with darker green shrub – a beautiful sight, considering that we expected a desert. Interestingly, the driest places we encountered were the three main camps of the Kgalagadi, which were pretty barren and vegetationally challenged.

Just before reaching Twee Rivieren, we spotted our first Crimson-breasted Shrike and fell in love with this beautiful bird. After settling in at our very comfortable cottage, we were immediately greeted by the local White-browed Sparrow-Weavers and doves, looking for food. Otherwise we were disappointed not to see any significant birdlife inside this particular restcamp.

On our first drive along the dry Auob Riverbed we couldn’t believe the amount and variety of birds in the area. This included the Kori Bustard, Secretarybird, Pygmy Falcon, Crowned Lapwing, Spotted Thick-Knee, (Southern) Ant-eating Chat, Yellow Canary, Black-throated Canary, Scaly-feathered Finch, Lesser Grey Shrike, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Marico Flycatcher and the colourful Swallow-tailed Bee-Eater. We also saw a Marshall Eagle, Brown Snake Eagle as well as the Tawny Eagle in its pale and dark forms.

The next day we drove out to the Kamqua picnic site where a Black Crow flew onto our table and started scolding us with an astonishing array of guttural noises, head shaking and beak clapping. Soon some Sparrow-Weavers and Cape Glossy Starlings joined in to beg for food. In a tree next to us, a couple of very tame Yellow-billed Hornbills provided further entertainment.

The Northern Black Korhaan remains one of Wilfred’s favourites and we stopped every time we heard their distinctive call. We saw the Black-chested Prinia again as well as numerous Crimson-breasted Shrikes, Wattled Starlings and Grey-backed Sparrowlarks. These lovely little birds were common throughout our trip and we often saw them sitting right in the middle of the road.

Mon 8 March: Kieliekrankie

Red-headed Finch

On our way to Kieliekrankie we spotted a bright yellow Cape Cobra in a bush, being chased by a noisy flock of Sociable and Southern Masked Weavers. Along the way we also came across some Capped Wheatear, Sclater’s Lark, Lesser Grey Shrikes, our first of many Lilac-breasted Rollers, and a Common Fiscal, which we could not immediately identify due to its prominent white eyebrow stripe. A female Red-backed Shrike was also difficult to identify.

Kieliekrankie is a fantastic bush camp set on some of the highest dunes about 50km from Twee Rivieren. The accommodation is half building and half tent with a verandah overlooking the distant waterhole. Here we spotted a Leopard at the waterhole after dusk with the help of the ranger’s spotlight.

The birdlife around our verandah was quite hectic with Familiar Chats, Scaly-feathered Finches, Red-eyed Bulbuls, Red-headed Finches and Yellow Canaries making regular visits. There were also a couple of Sociable Weavers making a nest on a pole at the end of our verandah, and it was fascinating to watch these busy, chatty little birds. On the ground below our verandah, a couple of Four-striped Grass Mice were constantly busy with their daily activities.

Tue/Wed 9-10 March: Urikaruus

Temminck's Courser

On our way to Urikaruus we were lucky to come across a whole family of Ostriches. Having taken the long way round (via Dikbaardskolk), we were struck by the large number of birds of prey along the Nossob River. Besides the Martial and Tawny Eagles we also managed to identify the Black-chested Snake Eagle, Brown Snake-Eagle and Lanner Falcon. At the Dikbaardskolk picnic site we also spotted an Ashy Tit among the more common local feathered residents.

Urikaruus is also a bush camp (even better than Kieliekrankie), with a waterhole very close to the attractive stilted units. Here we watched the Lanner Falcons swoop down on the doves at the waterhole. Early in the morning the Burchell’s Sandgrouse would come in flocks to drink, swooping down then flying off again. Beautiful Shaft-tailed Whydah and Namaqua Doves were in abundance, and we also saw a Dusky Sunbird.

On one of our drives we came across a family of Cheetah and the next day the lions camped out at our waterhole. The Black-backed Jackal were plentiful but we were also fortunate to see some Bat-Eared Foxes in the distance. As soon as the sun goes down, the flying insects appear, as well as the (“massive”) Bibron’s Gecko’s, which gave Wilfred the creeps. Not far from the camp we were fortunate to see some Temminck’s Courser on two different occasions.

Thurs/Fri/Sat 11-13 March: Nossob

Striped Kingfisher

At Nossob we were lucky to have a cottage at the entrance gate near the bush hide. The Camel Thorn trees in front of our unit constantly revealed some very unusual birds, namely the Chesnut-vented Tit -Babbler, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Groundscraper Thrush, Cardinal Woodpecker, Striped Kingfisher, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Yellow-billed Hornbill and Common Scimitarbill. Most of these we have never seen before. At the bush hide we spotted some Shaft-tailed Whydah, Cattle Egrets, Yellow-billed Kite, Red-backed Shrike, Brown- and Black-chested Snake-Eagles.

We also frequently visited the water hole at Cubitje Quap, just nort of Nossob, where we once counted 8 eagles in two single trees - most of them Snake Eagles and Tawny Eagles of various colour variations. Two Bateleur Eagles were spotted on separate occasions.

There were always sparrows, starlings, shrikes and Red-headed Finches around when we sat on our stoep and we grew quite attached to one Glossy Starling, which would come and sit on the back of an empty chair and show off the bugs that he caught.

Southern White-faced Scops-Owl

Walking in the camp one morning we were very excited to spot three different owls in the bigger trees near the offices – a Southern White-Faced Scops-Owl, a Pearl-spotted Owlet and an African Scops-Owl. We marveled at how small they were.

On our arrival at Nossob, we were fortunate to see some lions under a tree next to the bush hide. Then, the next day we came upon a lonely lioness trying to stalk some Blou Wildebeest at the Cubitje Quap waterhole. Besides the heat keeping us awake at night it was quite frightening hearing the lions roar at night. Marcia woke up convinced that they were right outside our (open) window.

Sun 14 March: Kalahari Tented Camp

On the way to the Kalahari Tented Camp we saw more lions and cheetah, and then coming over the hill at Sitsas there was a herd of magnificent Giraffe. This bushcamp was also fantastic, and we even had a refreshing dip into their communal splash pool. We soon realized that we should rather have stayed here for two nights, skipping Mata-Mata.

African Scops-Owl

The waterhole was quite far from our particular unit, but we were fortunate to have some magnificent trees next to our verandah, where two Scimitarbills were present for most of the afternoon. Here we also saw the Striped Kingfisher again and managed to get some nice photos. We also watched the antics of the resident White-browed Sparrow-Weavers, chasing away some Southern Grey-headed Sparrows from the food morsels on the verandah.

From the verandah we also saw a Snake Eagle swooping down on an upright fleeing cobra, which eventually managed to escape.

Mon 15 March: Mata-Mata

At Mata-Mata we added the Red-Faced Mousebird to our list and also managed to get a photo of the Rock Martin. Throughout our trip, from Augrabies to Ai-Ais, we regularly saw flocks of Martins, Swallows and Swifts but, being amateurs, we still find it extremely difficult to identify these birds.

Besides the resident ‘mossies’ and squirrels, we also had some Crimson-breasted Shrikes, Kalahari Scrub-Robins, Familiar Chats and even a Forktailed Drongo hopping around in front of our cottage. Marcia felt sorry for a pregnant squirrel and fed her some left-over peanuts, which brought out a whole colony of these creatures, all begging for food.

By this time we were rapidly running out of cash, having miscalculated how much additional purified water we needed to buy. Debit- and credit cards are useless in places where they don’t have cell phone reception. Nevertheless, we soon realized that it is cheaper to buy ice, and use this in the kettle for coffee-making.

Tue/Wed 16-17 March: Ai-Ais

The gravel road from Mata-Mata to Keetmanshoop was good and the scenery along the Auob River changed to a lush green with significantly more plant life. About ten kilometers outside the park, we spotted our first Rosy-faced Lovebirds flying into a tree ahead of the car. Further along, after the turn-off to Koës, we eventually found some Double-banded Courser next to the road. Twice we came across about half a dosen vultures circling above, but they were too far away for positive identification.

Cardinal Woodpecker

When we turned off at Seeheim to the Fish River Canyon, we experienced the real desert for the first time, and managed to get a flat tire on the 10km stretch of rocky road to the viewpoint. Fortunately we took along an extra spare wheel, which is absolutely necessary for long trips into the unknown. Despite this incident, the Canyon is spectacular – not much birdlife however.

Ai-Ais was a welcome sight after a very long and tiring day. Our room had a great mountain view and we could sit on the verandah and watch the sunset. The back-door opened onto this magnificent indoor spa (recently renovated), but unfortunately there was no water in the spa, due to plumbing problems.

The next day we stayed in the resort and came across another Cardinal Woodpecker, Orange River White-eye, Swallow-tailed Bee-Eaters, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Pale-winged Starlings and Red-faced Mousebirds again. We also added all three colour forms of the Mountain Wheatear to our list.

Thurs 18 March: Going Home

We were finally on our way home after a fantastic birding and bushveld experience. Of over 100 birds that we could identify, 62 were new species which we could add to our list, and most of them have been photographed. For beginners to birding we were very satisfied with ourselves, and would recommend the Kgalagadi as an absolute must for bird lovers and adventure seekers.

One of the main lessons learnt is that one should always plan a trip of this nature so that you spend at least two to thee days at any particular destination. This way you get maximum exposure to the local birdlife, while minimizing logistical problems and travel fatigue.


Southern Masked-Weaver



Black-chested Prinia


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shaft-tailed Whydah
 

 

Groundscraper Thrush

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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