What’s it all about ?
Continuing the story of Birding Big Day (BBD), which is held every year on the last Saturday in November – the event is all about seeing how many bird species can be identified in a 24 hour period from midnight to midnight. Teams are allowed a maximum of 4 participants, of which a majority must agree on each species identification, whether by sight or call.
Birdlasser, the amazing birdlisting and atlasing app developed in South Africa, keeps track of every sighting of every team and can be easily accessed during the day to see where the team stands in comparison with the other 300 plus teams across the country.
Our team was set up by Koos Pauw and included myself, Martin Slabbert and Thinus van Staden to make up our team of four. A target of 200 species was decided upon by the team – only time would tell if this was achievable on the day.
Weather forecasts were looking promising and we hoped they would prove to be accurate, however at this time of year on the highveld extreme heat and afternoon thundershowers are the norm so we weren’t assured of a full day’s uninterrupted birding
This turned into quite a lengthy story so to keep it manageable I have split it into 3 stages – The Start, The Middle and The Finish.
Kgomo-Kgomo (Hour 7)
This was our status at 9.58 am after 6.5 hours – 26th position and looking strong (Team Tuis-Bes)
As we approached the village of Kgomo-Kgomo at the end of the Zaagkuildrift road, the habitat changed to more open, dry countryside. We turned east towards the bridge over the wetlands, which had received a fair amount of water during recent rains. Some time was spent on the bridge scanning the wetlands, while passing locals from the village greeted us in friendly fashion – no doubt used to seeing birders in action at this well-known birding spot.
The somewhat drier habitat near the village produced Cape Penduline Tit and Scaly-feathered Weaver (Finch), while high overhead a soaring Black-chested Snake-Eagle caught our attention and was quickly ID’d.
Great Sparrow also made it onto our list – a scarce bird and one of our birds of the day. We wondered again why this particular sparrow is so scarce, while sparrows in general are such common birds
The wetlands held numerous waders and swimmers such as Black-winged Stilt, Wood Sandpiper, Little Egret, Cape Shoveler and Little Grebe and we added Blue-cheeked Bee-eater and Brown-throated Martin.
Total species : 152 after 7 hours – still looking good for our target
Borakolalo (Hour 8 to 11)
It was 10.25 am when we left Kgomo-Kgomo, full of confidence for a good total, but we knew we were approaching the dreaded “middle of the day” lull when birds seem to go into hiding. New species were becoming more difficult to find, so we used the time to get to our next target spot of Borakolalo Nature Reserve as quickly as possible, stopping only when a potential new species was spotted and to spend about ten minutes at the one dam that we passed
We arrived at Borakolalo Nature Reserve 45 minutes later and spent the next two and a half hours exploring the tracks through the bushveld area and along the shoreline of the dam. Our first glimpse of the dam itself confirmed our one fear – the water level was exceptionally high and not at all suitable for the many waders that usually frequent the muddy shores. This was emphasized when we later passed by the dam wall which was overflowing and sending a surge of water down the sloping wall into the river below
So that left us with the ‘swimmers’, many of which we had already logged – our only chance of adding new species was to cover the bushveld habitat as thoroughly as possible. It was slow going, using the strategy of stopping every couple of hundred metres or so and scanning the bush and sky for birds. We continued with this until we had exhausted most possibilities and headed back to the main entrance to assess our strategy for the rest of the day.
At this stage of the day just about every sighting becomes a highlight and there was no shortage of desirable birds that made it onto our list
African Cuckoo, calling hauntingly as we stopped at a roadside dam, quickly traced to a nearby tree
Sabota Lark, as always, singing from the very top of a tree
African Fish-Eagles for – um – Africa,,,,, We saw up to 5 of this iconic species at a time, soaring above the dam looking for their next meal no doubt.
Red-crested Korhaan calling, several times at different spots in the reserve – the unmistakeable, loud kyip-kyip-kyip that they emit at regular intervals.
We did not encounter many animals but a Giraffe was good enough to cross the road ahead of us and as a bonus had some Red-billed Oxpeckers in attendance
A raptor flew off low just ahead of us and we leapt out to ID it – not too difficult to see that it was a Wahlberg’s Eagle, with a longish, squared-off tail
One of our frequent stops produced a small bird party with Southern Black Tit, White-crowned Helmet-Shrike and Yellow-fronted Canary in the nearby trees
Just after hearing a Pearl-spotted Owlet at one stop, a large bird flew at speed between the trees and we were able to track it to a distant tree – it was a Great Spotted Cuckoo
Heading out of the reserve, we picked up Golden-tailed Woodpecker and Red-headed Weaver before leaving Borakolalo
Our rate of new species had slowed down drastically to between 5 and 8 per hour, to be expected during the middle of the day lull, nevertheless disappointing as we had envisaged more waterbirds to help us get to our target.
Total species : 177 after 11 hours – so near yet so far from our target of 200…..
Our next planned spot was Rooiwal – a Waste Water Treatment Works about 40 kms north of Pretoria, where we hoped to find the balance of the species to take us to our target