Posted on the 7th April 2014

Elaine and myself were invited to act as guides at the third annual SASOL Tankwa Birding Bonanza weekend. This event is organised by the Boland Region of the SANParks Honorary Rangers at the Tankwa Karoo National Park. Jenny and Mike Lodge once again brought their considerable experience of putting together such weekends to the party. Many old friends – and new ones – traveled to the Tankwa between 4 and 6 April. It is significant that more than 20 birders had to be turned away due to the unavailability of sufficient accommodation.










The format for the weekend was the tried and tested one of teams consisting of three or fours members together with a guide competing in a 24 hour birding game. My team consisted of Noel, Jenny and Meryl and the game started at 18h30 on the Friday after a briefing session and welcoming party. My belief is that the success of the weekend was already established on arrival as the welcoming party simply created a wonderful atmosphere. Our team had very little real luck during the hour or so that we traveled around in the dark, although we managed to find both Brown-throated and Rock Martins and a beautiful Spotted Eagle-Owl. Some of the other teams did find Barn Owl, Rufous-cheeked Nightjar, Black-crowned Night-Heron and Black Stork.

It was an early start on the Saturday and we headed straight to the OUDEBAASKRAAL DAM. It was windy and chilly initially, but it seemed as if it would be an ideal day for birding. At the river crossing we picked up lots of Common Waxbills, the Black Stork and a Peregrine Falcon cut through the sky at high speed. Along the way we were entertained by a Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Karoo Long-billed Larks and Capped Wheatears. At the dam we started working the birds systematically and easily worked out larger species such as Yellow-billed Duck, Black-headed Heron, Egyptian and Spur-winged Geese, good numbers of Grey-headed Gulls and South African Shelduck. Smaller species included Kittlitz's Plover, Curlew Sandpier and Little Stint. This dam is water bird heaven in this arid landscape and a great asset for birds and birding in the Tankwa Karoo National Park.

Familiar Chat
Karoo Chat










From here we decided to follow local expert Japie Claassen's example and traveled slowly along a track on the northern edge of the dam. We found vast numbers of Red-knobbed Coots and Greater Flamingos and were amazed at the huge numbers of South African Shelducks, certainly the most that any of us had ever seen in one area. There were many Namaqua Sandgrouses all over the place with the occasional Lanner Falcon giving them a hard time. This is LBJ country however and I spent a lot of time showing chats and larks to my team members. The SASOL IV bird guide has outstanding illustrations of the rumps and tails of chats: Tractrac Chat has a pure white rump, Karoo Chat has white outer feathers to the tail with a grey rump, Familiar Chat has a russet rump and so on. By eleven that morning Jenny was pointing out Sickle-wing's, Karoo's and Familiar's as if she had done it all her life. It is, in actual fact, that easy. Also great excitement and pride when we found a Rufous-eared Warbler. As far as Larks are concerned our morning was dominated by Large-billed, Red-capped, Karoo Long-billed and Cape Clapper Larks.

Capped Wheatear
Karoo Scrub-Robin










We eventually reached the P2250: I believe that this still remains the road representing the best rapid summary of Tankwa birds. We spent a lot of time on the first bridge over the Tankwa River and this certainly was the highlight of our day. Astonishingly we found the following species in the thickets in an area of about twenty yards: Pririt Batis, Bokmakierie, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Fairy Flycatcher, Karoo Prinia, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Cape Sparrow, Dusky and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds and Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler with the Black Stork flying past overhead. An endemic brag session of note! This report might sound like a 'name-dropping' exercise, but this is all in a day's casual birding in the Tankwa Karoo National Park.

We were rather fortunate with raptors and had good sightings of Jackal Buzzard, Lanner and Peregrine Falcons, Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk (the youngsters in many variations of browns being quite a challenge to identify), Black-shouldered Kite, Rock Kestrel and strangely, a family of four Spotted Eagle-Owls roosting in a tree. Other teams added rippers such as Booted, Martial and Verreaux's Eagles, Black Harrier, three African Marsh-Harriers (in this arid region), Secretarybird (Elaine and myself saw these birds on all three days!) and Black-chested Snake-Eagle. Elaine's team was fortunate to see how a Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk caught and killed a Cape Cobra - a sighting that won them the award for the best sighting of the day. The Tankwa Karoo is certainly worth a visit even if one only considers birds of prey.

Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk
Greater Kestrel










We then went back to the Guesthouse for lunch and a well earned rest. The Honorary Rangers were still ever helpful and always ready to assist (and working their butts off to get the food prepared for the evening's gala dinner). From here we headed back to our base at the TANQUA KAROO GUESTHOUSE and started working the acacia-clad verges of the Tankwa River. Most of the doves, mousebirds, sparrows, starlings and weavers to be found in the region were present around the old houses and sheds.

In the end our team managed to get 65 species on the day. Vernon's team won the competition with a smashing total of 78 species. In total the combined score of all the teams ended on 128 species of which astonishingly more than 20 species are endemic or near-endemic to southern Africa. Together we managed to find 68% of all the species to be found in the Tankwa!!!!!!!! Other birds that we did not get, but members of other teams did included Ludwig's Bustard, Black-headed Canary, Karoo Eremomela, Karoo Korhaan, Layard's Tit-Babbler, Namaqua Warbler and many more. Strangely all the groups missed out on common species such as Ant-eating Chat, Namaqua Dove, egrets, African Fish-Eagle, kingfishers, Common Moorhen, Red-winged Starling, African Stonechat and Cape White-eye.

All was not over yet as Jenny and the HR's produced an epic party for the evening – lots of good food and sponsored refreshments, fantastic prizes for the winning teams, a great fun quiz by Mel Trip and lots of merriment. And not to talk of the general buzz – 'die plek het gekook'. On the Sunday most people did their own thing awaiting Vernon and Mel's talk. The HR's should be congratulated and thanked for yet another great event on the annual birding calendar. The message? Pack your equipment for the Tankwa and watch the birding press and websites for the announcement of the dates for next year's SASOL TANKWA BIRDING BONANZA in the incredible TANKWA KAROO NATIONAL PARK.
(Social images to follow later).

Pririt Batis male
Pririt Batis female













JENNY LODGE (posted: 2014-04-13 16:43:49)
Thank you Anton for your article. It certainly was worth all the preparation and to see the guests enjoyment of the weekend made it all worth it. Grateful to say we already have 8 bookings for next year!! Thank you again to you, Elaine, Vernon, Mel, Japie, Ralie and Bev for guiding. Without you guys it would not have happened. Great Birding, Jenny