A Little bit of Larking about in Northern Cape, South Africa

I took a group of   clients birding at the end of April to the Northern Cape to locate some of the endemics and other   local birds. After planning it, it turned out to be a 10 day trip which went as   far east as Kathu! The weather was great as were the birds, plenty of water and lush vegetation for   that part of the world as they had had good summer rains for a   change!

We travelled up the west coast to Springbok for two nights and stayed in the Goegap Nature Reserve so that we could travel down to Alexander Bay the next day for the Barlows Lark as well as do a night drive in the reserve. Once there we had great views of Barlow’s Lark on the ground as well as a long aerial display which was fascinating to watch! The area had had some of its first winter rains as well before we arrived there! Many plant species were either flowering on producing new leaves.

A  Black Spitting Cobra and Dassie Rat were seen in Goegap Reserve and the night drive produced Aardtwolf, Aardtvark and Smith Rock Rabbit. Cape Long-billed, Karoo and Spikehealed Larks were seen on the way up there and both forms of the Black-headed Canaries were seen together in a flock near Kammieskroon.

Great news is that Goegap Nature Reserve now has 5 new self-catering thatched huts which are all tastefully hidden amongst the thorn trees on the dry river edge near the entrance gate. Each hut can sleep 4 (mattresses only), and own braai area. The communal ablution block a little way away is good.

After our stay at Springbok we moved on to the Aggeneys red dunes area for the Red Lark. The Klein Pella Guest House, where we stayed overnight has reasonable rates, and the veld was looking great after the rain and birds were displaying all over.

Larks seen at cattle kraal near Aggeneys were: Red (dune form), Starks, Fawn-coloured, Karoo Long-billed and Sabota (large-billed) with plenty Greybacked Sparrowlark at the waterholes. Numerous Pigmy Falcons were around, in fact we saw more than 60 over the trip! A roadkill of a Red/Karoo group Lark was collected near Pella which was excellent to see closeup (now in deepfreeze!).

Augrabies Falls National Park, our next overnight stop, was spectacular with the huge volume of water flowing over it. Birding around the camp was excellent as always, and birds such as Brubru Shrike, Goldentailed Woodpecker, Pied Wagtail, Red-eyed Bulbul, and the cute Black-chested Prinea and Orange River White-eye were seen. The only Lark species which we added to our list was Red-capped.

The route east to Kathu/Kuruman was new for me and after a quick shop at Upington to buy supplies we drove on to our first overnight stop at Witsand Reserve, a well run reserve near Groblershoop. A few stops were made along the route and 2 African Jacana and Fish eagle were seen at a big pan and marsh area next to the road. Witsand has a variety of places to stay from classy chalets, rondavels and camping (no restuarant there) and also has an interesting half underground hide which is level with the waterhole, but unfortunately the support pillars are not well placed for wide viewing, but still Yellow Canaries, Namaqua Dove, Violet-eared Waxbill amongst others came in to drink. One night there was not enough and the accommodation and scenery was great. Birding produced excellent views of Violet Eared Waxbills, Melba Finch and Shaft tailed Whydah, Long-billed Crombek on our morning walk into the dune veld. Saw an Eastern Clapper Lark next to the road whilst driving out of Witsand but did not have time to view it properly unfortunately.

The next day on to Winton Guest House for three nights, which is 27k from Debeng (near Kathu/Sishen). Here I had my only lifer, a Pied Babbler which is the southern limit of their range and plenty were seen over the next 3 days.l They look just like a piece of paper stuck in the trees! We birded at the Kathu Golf Course which produced more Babblers, Golden Tailed Woodpecker, Black Cheeked Waxbill, Red Billed Francolin (also limit of its range) and a few Brubru all moving through the big camel thorn trees. Great place to bird in the woodland between the fairways. Fawn-coloured and Sabota (small-billed) Larks, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Lilac-breasted Roller, Pale Chanting Goshawk and Black-breasted Snake Eagle were added to the list on our drive home via Hotazel.

After Winton we made our way back to Upington and slept over at the Kenhardt Hotel. Saw Kori and Ludwig’s Bustards along the way. We arrived in a brewing thunder storm, but fortunately had already seen many of the nomadic Black-eared Sparrow larks (lifers for a few clients), Large-billed, Sclaters, Karoo Long-billed and Red Larks (plains form) along the road and at water troughs. No Red-crested Korhaan were found this time although they are very sly and will sit down and hide when you spot them and stop!

We also had some exciting mammals, reptiles, butterflies and dragonflies on the trip and not to forget the discussions over all the animal tracks in the wet mud at Klein Pella next to the Orange River! All in all 16 LARKS and but only 2 owls, but I suppose you can say we were not OWLING around but LARKING around.

Next trip up there in July, anyone interested?