Report: Northern Cape birding November 2007

I have just returned from a 10 trip to the dry west and Kalahari Nat Park with South African clients.

The weather was warm with a max of 37C but mostly around 30C which as very pleasant even with a few thunder showers thrown in! Various parts had already had rain and had green grass and yellow flowering "dubbletjies" however the Park was still dry and no new leaves were evident on trees.

We were 6 in all and travelled to Springbok via Kransvlei at Clanwilliam and Port Nolloth on the first day. Black-headed Canaries were present near Kammieskroon. Barlows Lark beyond Port Nolloth was a bit quiet but seen calling from the shrubs a distance away. There were 3 birds of which one was a young bird of about a year which was moving around with its parents - interesting! The cloud and mist had already started to roll in and I think that is why they were scarce. Cape Long-billed Lark was also present as was Cape Penduline Tits, Yellow and White-throated Canaries, Trac-trac Chats, white breasted form of the Jackal Buzzards and plenty Lanner Falcons.

Pofadder produced Chats Fly-catchers, Karoo Long-billed Larks, Sclaters Larks and Red Larks and Pygmy Falcons, Rufous-eared Warblers and Scaly Feathered Finches amongst others. Klein Pella GH where we over-nighted, had its usual Orange River White-eyes, Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, Namaqua Warblers, Karoo Thrushes and white eye striped Fiscal Shrikes and of course great dates!

The Augrabies Falls were still low but Black Stork flew over (not seen for years) Perigrines on the ledges, "Bradfields" Sabota Lark calling from the roadside to Moon Rock. The camp site produced Golden-tailed and Cardinal Woodpeckers, Lesser Honeyguide, Ashy Tit, Pririt Batis, Brubru Shrike, Pale-winged Starling and Black-throated Canary. The best of the day was an Icterines Warbler which gave great views around the bungalows on 2 occasions. The Palm Swifts were breeding in the palm near the office.

Then on to Upington to buy supplies for the Nat Park. We called in on at Spitskop where we had hoped to see Pink-billed Lark but no such luck mostly Fawn-coloured Larks, Lark-like Buntings and Grey-backed Sparrowlarks. The Kalahari GH (50k north of Upington) was our pitstop for the night on our way to Kalahari Nat Park. Next morning on our pre breakfast walk we had a Meercat (Surricat) as company. He was more intent on breakfast than chasing away the birds. The dam still had water and a number of SA Shelducks, Egyptian Geese, Namqua Sandgrouse and Hadeda were around. Kalahari Robins were calling as were Ashy Tits and Pririt Batis. On our way through the red sand dunes we saw some bright Red Velvet Mites walking on the red sand. The Meercat was also interested and ate one, only to collapse in the sand within seconds! I carried him back to the house as he was in no state to walk and gave him some milk, but he was still not well and crawled under a box. I could not find this mite in my insect book but the farmer says that they only come out 2 days after the rain. The author of the book (Field Guide to Insects of SA) says that he has not heard of this happening before. The Meercat(Suricat)was MITEy surprised and maybe in the future he MITE not eat it again. Anyone out there who MITE know more as the internet does not say anything other than some students studying them say they tasted awful?

We then birded to Twee Rivieren and mostly saw Fawn-coloured Larks, Pygmy Falcons and Sociable Weavers. Around Askam vultures were breeding and those in the air were White-backed. Yellow-billed Hornbill and Groundscaper Thrush were seen in the big Camel thorn trees. The new tar from Andriesvale is still only complete for 16km the rest was detours and a dreadful last piece! Twee Rivieren had an almighty thunder storm that night with plenty of rain which closed the lower portion of the Nossop road.

We left at 5.30am and had to travel up the Mata-Mata road to the first dune road and then cross over to get back to the Nossop road. On the first section in the dunes of the Mata-Mata road we had a displaying Eastern Clapper lark (new one for the Park for me), Fawn-coloured Larks, Black-chested Prinia and a large group of low flying Common Swifts. The Nossop road had 4 African Wild Cats (one of which looked suspect to me as it hid in the tree - face was too round and no pink ears), 2 male Lions, Eland, Red Hartebeest, Black Wildebeest and Springbok. The Eland had come in from Botswana looking for grazing and found none and died in droves! Sad to seen so many carcasses lying around half eaten. A Giant Eagle Owl was seen eating a Pale-chanting Goshawk and this at 9.30 am! I know they take other Owls but a PCG in the morning!

A walk about at Nossop in the morning after seeing a Brown Hyena and Ruff at the hide the night before, produced 2 White Faced Owls and 2 Pearl-breasted Owls roosting in the trees near the campsite. A lone Cattle Egret and an unexpected Green-backed Heron flew around the camp! (a first for the park for me). A movement in a small shrub behind the shop produced a European Marsh Warbler! Under the same bush was a suspected Bushveld Elephant Shrew but the warbler was first to be studied. The long bill caught our attention and the shape of the head as well as it was SILENT! Views were good at each bush it went to but no pics were able to be taken. No reeds near Nossop as far as I know, maybe it was moving through but it seemed to find enough food. We also travelled north of Nossop and watched a flock of 200+ Namaqua Sandgrouse come in to drink at Kwang and then at Cubitje Quap waterhole we had 200+ Burchell's Sandgrouse flying in to also drink, what a sight!

The trip to Mata-Mata through the dunes we had Lapped-faced Vulture, Bateleur and Tawny Eagles, Pale Chanting Goshawks, Northern Black Korhaan, Kori Bustards and Secretary Birds. Two groups of Giraffe numbering 11 and 7 were great to see as were Gemsbok, Bat-eared and Cape Fox, Black-backed Jackal and Slender Mongoose. The camp also had a White-faced Owl, breeding Fork-tailed Drongos, Grey-headed Sparrows and Cape Glossy Starling.

The road back to Twee Rivieren had great views of breeding Starks Larks. We were so close that we could see her moving stones around her nest. What was also interesting was that there were 3 birds close to each other and the nest. Were these 2 females and a male? Fawn-coloured and "Bradfields"
Larks were also seen. Two females and 1 male Lion and a Cheetah were seen near to a fairly large group of Springbok. Two more African Wildcats were seen resting in the trees. Striped Kingfisher was at the picnic site with Cape Crow, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Kalahari Robin and Marico Fly-catcher.

It was evident that the many seedeaters we had seen in Feb/March were missing. NO Lark-like Buntings, Red-billed Queleas, Red-headed Finches, Shaft-tailed Whydahs, Waxbills and Grey-backed Sparrow-larks were seen!

On our way out we saw African Cuckoo and Double Banded Courser and a first sighting of the dark grey form of the Slender Mongoose near Kalahari GH where we stayed again.

Next morning on our early walk a Jacobin Cuckoo caught our attention and we heard a Fiery-necked Nightjar in the distance. An Ashy Tit had made a nest in the bottom of a fence post. The nest was on the ground inside the pole and we wondered how the chicks would get out?

A trip around Upington did not produce Abdims Stork, maybe too early but a colony of SA Cliff Swallow caught our attention outside the town and also in such a position that roosting birds could be photographed.

The road to Brandvlei had Chat-flycatcher, "Bradfield" Lark, Karoo Korhaan and Martial Eagles to entertain us in the late afternoon.

An early start had the plains form of the Red Lark and Karoo Long-billed Lark outside the town as well as a flock of 20+ Black-eared Sparrow-larks!
It was great to see that they were still around. Also saw Spike-healed Lark with a well feathered juv chick as well as chick which could only have been a couple of days old. Does anyone know if only one female breeds in the small groups or do others in the group also breed? The small chick looked and matched the short grass stubble, even had white tips to its body feathers to blend in well.

All in all a great 4000k trip which produced 14 lark species (pity we missed Pink-billed), 2 Sparrowlark species, 7 Canaries species and 7 Chat species any many more great birds. Total birds seen from Clanwilliam was 176.