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.
Borakolalo to Rooiwal (Hour 12 and 13)
A testing time lay ahead as we headed away from Borakolalo towards our final target spot – Rooiwal Waste Water Treatment Works. Slow traffic, substandard roads and many rural villages along the way, clogged with random traffic, pedestrians and animals, proved frustrating as the minutes and hours ticked away, eating into the remaining daylight hours.
Koos remained calm and patient behind the wheel, despite very little to raise our spirits, until an unexpected wetland near the road was cause for a rapid stop. Shouts of Abdim’s Stork went up, followed by White Stork and finally a Black Heron was spotted.
With renewed enthusiasm we carried on and another hour later found the road which would take us to Rooiwal
Highlights (apart from the wetland specials mentioned above) :
Ashy Tit seen just after leaving Borakolalo
White-rumped Swift (at last!)
Rock Dove – yes even this mundane species which is fond of people becomes a highlight when you are getting anxious
Total Species : 183 after 13 hours – our slowest rate of the day, adding just 7 species in two hours
Rooiwal Waste Water Treatment Works (Hour 14)
At last, we turned off the slow road and found ourselves on Piet-my-Vrou Street, which augured well as it is the Afrikaans name for Red-chested Cuckoo.
Koos was right in his assessment that this road would take us through a stretch of highveld habitat, differing from any of the other habitats we had encountered so far – Long-tailed Widowbird in longish grass provided the proof.
30 minutes later we arived at Rooiwal, initially driving the rough track that runs through the adjoining open veld with pans, then entering the treatment works for a rapid ‘whip around’ to see what we could add to our already substantial (by our standards) list.
African Stonechat in the open grasslands
Many Grey-headed Gulls enjoying the several ponds of the treatment works
Cape Teals equally at home on the ponds
White-fronted Bee-eaters – first of the day at the treatment works
Red-collared Widowbirds as we drove away from Rooiwal
Total species : 194 after 14 hours – getting closer to our target but with time running out we still had some work to do
Back to Pretoria for the Final Push (Hour 15 and 16)
With just 6 species to go, we left Rooiwal and were soon back on the N1 heading to Pretoria, our last hope for a grand finish!
The consensus was that we still had not picked up some of the typical ‘suburban’ birds that are common in the leafy suburbs that we know so well. So we made our way first to Meyerspark to the east of the city and explored some of the open spaces between the houses and local businesses
This proved to be a good strategy as we slowly added to our total and excitement mounted with each new species.
Every bird added was a highlight :
195 – Red-winged Starling perched on a tall building
196 – Violet-backed Starling in tall trees adjoining a small business complex
197 – Cape White-eye in the same trees
198 – Bronze Mannikins feeding on a sidewalk lawn
199 – Crested Barbet feeding on an adjoining lawn
The light was fading fast as we headed up a hill past a block of flats with lush gardens – as we stopped to listen, a Kurrichane Thrush appeared in the lower branches of a tree – 200 up !!!
In high spirits we headed through the adjoining suburb of Murrayfield where we added 2 more for luck – Cut-throat Finch and Fiscal Flycatcher – then back to where it had all started in The Glades. There was just time to stop at the dam where we had started some 16 hours earlier and find the Cape Weaver that I know nests there – sure enough it was present and became our last bird of the day.
These photos were taken in The Glades, but not on the day
A final separate count the next day showed just one species had been seen but not recorded, so our final count was 204. This was good enough for 40th position out of over 300 teams, so we were extremely pleased with our effort
Phew, what a day!