April 21, 2015

Makuleke Consession (Pafuri Area) - A Birder's Paradise

Birding in the bush course: 14 - 20 March 2015

Our clients were picked up at the gate and transferred to camp by our trusty back-ups. It was warm, as only Makuleke can be, but spirits were high as we went through the camp’s safety brief and course structure while a White-browed Robin-chat was doing his utmost to disturb me.

All participants were super keen to get out and do some birding so as soon as the safety brief was done. We headed on a short walk to the Lala Palm windmill. It was hot so not many birds were out, but we still managed to see Long-billed Crombec, White-Browed Scrub-Robin, Meve's Starling, African Palm-Swift, Grey-Backed Cameroptera and Grey Go-away-bird.

At Lala Palm windmill we were lucky to see three Grey-headed Parrots perched in a dead Leadwood tree.  It was the first "special" of the trip and spectacular views to boot. We arrived back in camp after sunset and were led in by the grunting calls of a Verrauxes Eagle-Owl calling from a Mashatu tree in the camp.

After a very noisy night filled with Eagle-Owls, bush babies and Baboons we headed out from the camp on an early morning walk to Hulukulu to do some riparian forest birding. However, before even leaving the camp the birds started going ballistic with their calling. Bearded Scrub-Robin leading the cacophony followed closely by White-Throated Robin-Chat, Terrestrial Brownbul, Natal Spurfowl and the ever present Dark-capped Bulbul.

Not far out of camp in the tortillas woodland, Burnt-necked Eremomela made a very prominent appearance giving us spectacular views. Heading past the windmill into the floodplain we started seeing some open grassland species such as Zitting Cisticola, White-winged Widowbird, and also got other species such as Pintailed Whydah and our first Village Indigobird calling from a perch above his host, the Red-billed Firefinch. Passing a few pans we picked up Three-banded Plover and Wood Sandpiper. I spent some time explaining how to identify the waders apart.
White-backed Vultures with the occasional Lappet-faced Vultures were circling all over the place. 

Once we entered the forest the pace slowed from a slow pace to an almost backward pace as more birds were seen. Southern Black, Ashy, Spotted and African Paradise Flycatchers were soon added to our list. Bearded Woodpecker was tapping from all over the place and Cardinal and Golden-tailed Woodpeckers were also calling. We eventually got to see a drumming Bearded Woodpacker but it did take a neck breaking search. Broad-billed Roller and Greater Honeyguise also showed themselves nicely.

At Hulukulu Pan there was an African Openbill, Yellow-breasted Apalis, African Green Pigeon and a Green-backed Heron visible. Trumpeter Hornbills were calling in the back ground. Three displaying African Cuckoo-Hawks came circling and calling over the forest above the pan which almost sent me over the edge.

That evening we headed down towards the Levuvhu River to try finding the elusive Pels Fishing-Owl. We started a new SABAP pentad card close to the river and soon had a good total going. Birds added were Lesser Striped-Swallow, Mosque Swallow, Red-backed Shrike, European Roller and a large herd of Buffalo. The Buffalo crossed our paths in the setting sun after coming up the bank from a drink. Made for spectacular photography! On the bridge we stopped for a drink and to get a handle on the Swifts flittering around.  Little Swift was the most common species but we also got White-rumped Swift, Rock Martin and Wire-tailed Swallows. The river produced birds such as Goliath Heron, Giant and Pied Kingfishers, White-crowned Lapwing and African Pied Wagtails. A whole swarm of Nightjars came out feeding over the water as it started getting dark.  Two distinct species were visible, the Square Tailed and European.

Unfortunately, the Pels Owl did not make an appearance so we had to call it quits and got back on the vehicle to head back to camp. While turning the vehicle I spotted an odd looking log and on closer inspection with spotlight and binoculars we saw it was an owl.  For how long it had been sitting there we had no idea. Great views were had by all through the scope and we left with a lot more bounce in our step... We had a 2 hour list of just over 45 species which is not bad considering for 45 minutes of that, was in the dark.

One morning we took a drive down to Banyini Pan for some water birds.  En-route at Madwazi Pan we hit traffic and it took us 10 minutes before we eventually got through the herd of buffalo. At Banyini we started a new pentad list which was soon way up there. The lead in walk to the pan is fantastic with huge sandstone cliff faces to the north and open bushveld to the south with the pan to the west. We had a look at the Verruax Eagles nest but unfortunately no bird.

At the water we were not disappointed and the "walkie talkies" were even speechless by the amount of new birds they were seeing. Yellow-billed and Saddle-billed Stork, African Openbill, Grey and Goliath Heron, Egyptian and Spurwinged Goose, Red-billed Teal, Comb and White-faced Duck, Black-winged Stilt were all on display. Black-crowned Night-Heron was spotted and on the waters edge a new bird for me for the concession, Ruff was spotted. Rufous-winged Cisticola and Lesser Swamp Warbler were calling from the reeds below while Blue-cheeked Bee-eater flew around above them. The birds were so good it almost became too much however what did soon become too much was the heat, so we decided to head back to the vehicle and back to camp. On the way to the vehicle we heard a Greater Swamp Warbler calling and after some coaxing got to see it for some great views. A first for the concession, we finished the day on 125 birds.

Lanner Gorge is always a spectacular trip with stunning views of the gorge and new birds to boot. African Black Swift, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Red-winged Starling and Verraux Eagle-Owl were new birds added. Jameson’s Rock Rabbit was a lifer for me which brought out the Jameson’s Whiskey once we got back into camp.

Crooks Corner was another winner where we added Black-throated Wattle-eye and White-fronted Plover on the sand at the corner.  47 Crocodiles were counted on the water’s edge so swimming was out! Not that Crooks Corner is ever a place to swim.

All in all it was a fantastic weeks birding with a very special group of people.  I would like to thank the "Walkie Talkies" for the excellent humour and great fun we had in between the birding.

Report written by Bruce Lawson, EcoTraining Head Instructor
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