Continuing the monthly look at where Atlasing, or Birdmapping as it is also known, took me in July 2020 …..
Albertinia Area – 17 July
I had not atlased in the Albertinia area for a few years, so was keen to see if it would prove to be as enjoyable as before, with its combination of attractive countryside, quiet roads and interesting birds.
Using the analysis of pentads that I had prepared at the beginning of July, I chose one that I had identified as not yet atlased in 2020 and for convenience added an adjacent pentad that had already been atlased by another birder during the year.
I set the alarm for what I thought was 5.45 am but added an hour by mistake (does Freudian slip apply in this case? I am not a natural early riser) so I only reached the first pentad at 8.15 am, well after sunrise, which is around 7.30 am at this time of year.
From Mossel Bay it is an easy 40 minute’s drive to Albertinia along the N2 national road, already quite busy at this time of the morning, At Albertinia I turned off towards the town centre – blink and you miss it in such a small town – and spent a while around the town and surrounds before heading further north towards the main birding route for the morning – a gravel country road signposted Kleinplaas (“Small farm”) that traverses both of my target pentads from east to west.
Bird life was lively right from the start, despite – or perhaps because of – the late start, with a long Vee of Sacred Ibises in flight overhead, setting the scene for another absorbing morning of my favourite pastime – atlasing.
My first stop was at the local golf course – a nine hole, rather basic one set in parkland with “greens” that were in fact made up of bare soil treated with oil or some such agent to keep them smooth and firm. The small dam in the middle was too far from where I could view it to be able to hear calls, but I could just make out Reed Cormorant and Gyppos (Egyptian Goose). A circuit of the road around the course produced Southern Red Bishop (in drab non-breeding plumage), African Hoopoe, Red-knobbed Coot and even a Yellow-billed Duck emerging from a patch of reeds in a stream.
Heading north out of town, I quickly got into my routine of stopping to look and listen every couple of hundred metres and carried on in this fashion until I came to the first turn-off which was the gravel road that meandered through the pentad from east to west.
This road of about 6 kms in length is bordered by farmland for the entire distance and took me close on two hours to complete, with many distractions besides the birds – but more of that in a moment, first the birds, which came in a steady flow at every stop :
Denham’s Bustard (seen twice) flying by majestically
Sheep kraal with Red-capped Larks pottering about amongst the sheep
An unexpected Three-banded Plover in the same sheep kraal
Blue Cranes calling in their guttural fashion
Large-billed Larks calling from sparsely grassed fields in their unique way – sounding just like a rusty gate badly in need of some oil
Cape Crows heard in the distance then seen as they came closer
At least half a dozen Capped Wheatears in a large lightly grassed field scattered with stones – I find them so often in similar habitat that I can only conclude that this is ideal for them
Sharing this habitat preference were several Crowned Lapwings and a few Agulhas Long-billed Larks, the latter a sought after species amongst birders, only because their distribution is limited. In this area they are quite easy to find.
While revelling in this excellent birding, it was brought home to me how much more there is to atlasing than “just” the birds encountered (although that of course is the primary objective of the activity) – it’s also about the whole experience of travelling along routes that most people will never see and the interesting sights and sounds that lie around every bend.
This particular trip stood out in that regard – and here’s why ….
I came across fields of dark green lucerne followed by canola fields in bloom, stretching into the distance and carpeting the landscape in bright yellow.
I enjoyed coffee and rusks on a lonely road where thoughts of the Covid 19 pandemic were far away
I was fascinated by an old “tin” cottage, long since abandoned, with an equally old barn next to it – I couldn’t help wondering what stories it could tell about the people who lived there and tended the small garden or worked in the barn, with pigs and sheep and perhaps a dog or two occupying the yard.
As I approached the fence to take these photos, a Jackal Buzzard flew out of the gum trees beside the house – perhaps to remind me not to get too distracted and to focus on the birding.
But there was more – an incongruous red telephone booth in the middle of an active farmyard had me wondering again – where didi it come from and why was it there?
And with that I came to the end of the first pentad with a total of 48 species recorded. On checking the previous records for the pentad I found that the Red-billed Queleas I had seen was a new record, while Long-billed Crombec was just the second record.
There was more of the same as I continued into the adjacent pentad along the same road, with the time now already 10.30 am, so well past the prime birding time. Nevertheless I recorded 20 species in the first half hour, before stopping for mid-morning coffee and a customary hard-boiled egg – my new list included pleasing species such as Brimstone Canary, never common, Grey-backed Cisticola and Red-capped Lark.
The road left the pentad on its northern bounday so I took the first road southwards to return to the pentad – and this is where the birding slowed down as I traversed less favourable habitat – so much so that it took all of the next one and a half hours (to make up the two hour minimum atlasing required) to push the species total up to a hard-won 33. Blame it on flatter countryside with too much alien bush, pockets of pine and gum trees and overgrown fields
Despite this I had a glorious morning’s atlasing in attractive countryside
Oh… and I also came across this ostrich look-alike – its rather wooden expression had me guessing for a split second….