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Tanqua trip before the snow!!! - 25-27 August 2013

I spent Sun, Mon & Tues in Tanqua Karoo region this past week.

My client was a videographer so plenty of time was spent at each site. Main targets were Victorin’s Warbler, Protea Seedeater, CapeClapper, Namaqua Warbler, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Tractrac Chat and Black-eared Sparrowlark.

Our route through Bainskloof Pass was not succesfull for Victorins Warbler as they were not calling and it was dripping wet along the road. The dammetjie at Ceres proved very successful for Protea Seedeater as it came in and bathed in full view. Someone has cleaned up the gulley of rubbish and stones and made viewing much better.

Next day at Therons Pass the Cape Clappers were displaying next to the road and also in the adjacent renosterveld.  One obligingly settled on the fence next to the car before it did it’s classic display.  One wonders if the primaries take such a hammering in the breeding season that they are “grounded” for the rest of the year as they moult and run around like quails!  

When we arrived at Karoo Poort I noticed that Eskom had cut down all the vegetation under their electricity lines AS well as a number of the Popler trees at the Manor house which are located on the roadside of the fence.  And they also cut down all the fragmites reeds and shrubs that the Namaqua Warblers used on the stream behind the fence by the poplers. WHY??? Did they have an EIA done?  Do they need one?  Anyway Namaqua Warblers were scarce and calling from deep in the riverbed reeds. Some fleeting sightings only. 

Once in the Tanqua one could see that rain had fallen and that the flowers and shrubs were in good condition.  Karoo Prinia, Layard’s Titbabbler and Fairy Flycatcher  were busy in the shrubs at the picnic site.  The ever inquisitive Mountain Wheatear female watched from the boulders as we looked for Cinnamon-breasted Warbler.  They were very quiet and only one partial call was heard.  Were they breeding already?  Books say Jul to Sept but was that applicable here?  We decided to move on to Skitterykloof and along the way Karoo Larks were displaying in the air and a few Sickle-winged Chats were hawking from the taller shrubs.  Inverdoorn Dam was not as full as I had suspected but maybe it will still fill up.  No Flamingos though, maybe they are all in Cape Town!

Skitterykloof proved successful for Cinnamon-breasted Warbler infact two bird were watched for at least an hour.  We decide to move on to the Tanqua Padstal for a coffee and chat with the interesting owners. This seems to be a regular stopping spot for travellers on the R355 as there were 3 other cars there enjoying the ambiance of the Padstal.  On one of the side roads we went looking for Tractrac Chat and Canaries or Sparrowlarks. The former were easily found as they seem to be much tamer here or was it that the fence was closer to the road.  A family group of Spike-healed Larks were also working their way through the small vygies looking for grubs.   A small group ofYellow & Black-headed Canaries was followed by a batch of 10 Black-eared Sparrowlarks flying on a mission northwards. This was a good sign & reason to move on to the P2250 Tanqua National Park road.

On our way there we passed a pair of Karoo Korhaan nonchalantly walking away from the road as only they can do.  Once on the P2250 we flushed a Ludwig’s Bustard, the flight of which was heavy and determined.  How do they see you long before you are near them?  In the right habitat we stopped after seeing a number of  “black butterflys”  hovering a 10 meters above the ground.   These were the elusiveBlack-eared Sparrowlarks in display mode chasing females and this also meant that they would be there for some time breeding.  The vygies were already producing some seeds and there were plenty of flowers still so it was a good time to stop and breed.  Now just need to get back there to take a few pics of them on the nest…..possible?  Will have to wait and see!   Interestingly we saw them pecking at small pale blue ”nemesia” type flowers…..was this a food source or was there an insect that we could not see that caused them to do this?   Must look up he flower.  We spent a couple of hours watching their antics and as they were close to the road, photography was excellent from the car.  What is it about the human shape that disturbs the birds but using the car as a hide always works well…..strange.

As it was getting late and we still needed to book in at Sothemba Lodge we decide to leave the area and maybe return the next day.  En route we saw Greater Kestrel and a sub-adult Verreaux’s Eagle.  We stayed in a self-catering renovated cottage at the back of the farm in an enclosed kloof.  We had a 2 bedroomed house with all the amenities in it.  Lighting & fridge was solar and cooking & showering was gas.  We were also given a small bedside lamp which was made out a solar panel & small light glued into the lid of a jam jar. The on/off  “switch”  was the tightening clamp of the jam jar……extremely good light for reading.  Excellent idea and I must try to source them.  A good meal was had at the lodge which now has 2 renovated houses (which also now have a splash pool which would only be needed in summer, not this time of the year!) and 4 safari tents. or [email protected]  or Bill at 023-317.0023.

Next morning a 2nd call was made to Skitterykloof and on arrival there the Cinnamon-breasted Warblers were already quietly active.  “Why were they flying over the ridge as they normally skulked through the shrubs and rocks” I asked myself? “  Also they did not call much excepting their communication call.  When they did call I realised that the female also called at the same time but in a different tone.  This was easy to pickup as I knew where the 2 birds were.  But after watching them we realised that the reason for all the silent activity and also when we noticed that one had food in its mouth, that they were feeding chicks.  

The nest site was located in an obscure shrub which I did not approach as I will be back there once the chicks had fledged to take a pic of the nest.  This is the 2nd time that I have found a nest in that area.   Good videos were taken and we then decided to check for Fairy Flycatcher in the Acacia Karoo thicket which also proved successful.  We spent 2hrs in Skitterykloof investigating various spots and this is the longest that I have spent there for some time. 

The spring was still spewing water out of the pipes and it is such a pity that because of mans interferance the reeds have overgrown the pond that used to be there causing the few waterbirds to disperse excepting a Common Moorhen and a few Southern Masked WeaversLesser Swamp Warblers.  All the time spent there was worthwhile as we had one dark phase & three pale phase Booted Eaglesoverhead at the same time and also a sub adult Black Harrier fly over.  Wonder where it bred out?

As one of the main target birds was the Sparrowlark we returned to the P2250 and spent another hour there which was not as succesful as the birds were fewer and also the north wind had come up.  Greater KestrelsKaroo Korhaan & Ludwigs Bustard were also seen again.

Other birds spotted were Rock KestrelKaroo Eremomela, Longbilled Crombek, Pririt Batis, Pale-winged Starling, Rufous-eared Warbler & Pale-chanting Goshawk ending another great time in the Tanqua.

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I have been an avid birder in the Western and Northern Cape for over 45 years. Since 1999, I have guided Day trips and Overnight Tours (5 days or longer), as well as organised Birding weekends and Bird Ringing (Banding) outings. Read more...

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