Easter at Wakkerstroom, South Africa

To: "Birding-Aus" <>
Subject: Easter at Wakkerstroom, South Africa
From: "John McAllister" <>
Date: Sat, 18 May 2002 11:59:59 +0200
Hi everyone

Just a short note to let everyone know that things are still happening in
Wakkerstroom, South Africa - not about Oz birds I know, but maybe still of
some interest if you ever think of birding over here.

Easter Weekend saw the Utaga 4x4 rally in the mountains of the area - not
really a rally just an outing through some spectacular country.  We went on
out with friends - Joan and Andrew Squelch from Benoni near Johannesburg.
The route passed through areas noted  for their scenery rather than their
birds and the route was quite rugged so there was did not much time to do
much birding.

Joan and Andrew had not seen a Buff-spotted Flufftail so I very nonchalantly
said "Oh, I'll take you to some after the post rally braai (barbecue for you
non-South Africans) at the Retirement Village."

Late Saturday afternoon saw us going out to Koos and Marietjie Boshoff's
Guest Farm (not mine so I've no problem advertising it) where a pair had
bred in their garden in early March.  I sat them and Elize down on the lawn
with strict instructions not to move and to keep staring into the shrubbery
until the flufftails appeared.  I left them on the pretext that if I moved
off the birds might be fooled into thinking that the danger had gone.  The
real reason was that I had seen these birds many times this summer and did
not really want to spend 45 minutes or so straining all sorts of muscles and
bones yet again.

Anyway I was chatting to Marietjie when a small black rat streaked across
the lawn around 3 metres from me and disappeared into some shrubbery - the
surviving flufftail chick.  I duly called "the squatters" and we stood
around a bit pessimistically waiting for the chick to show itself.  Suddenly
I heard what sounded like a chicken scratching in the shrubbery not a metre
from me.  There in all his glory was the male flufftail.  All were
delighted, especially Marietjie who had suspected that her Dachshund had
killed the adult bird as it had not been seen for around a week.

When we got home I learnt that some Brits that I was to take out
on Sunday morning had not arrived.  I suggested to Joan and Andrew that we
take a chance and go and look for Rudd's Lark early Sunday morning.  While
the birds had not been calling for a while now I had been seeing them fairly
regularly at the famous soccer field site.  On all previous visits at
exactly the right times when the birds were displaying very vocally Joan and
Andrew had failed to see the larks.  They were beginning to think that they
were jinxed and would never find one.  I took great pains to point out that
at the end of March finding Rudd's was actually quite a hit and miss
but was still worth a try.  We duly set out at sparrows (dawn if you're not
familiar with the expression) on Easter Sunday.

As we stopped at the site there was a Botha's Lark feeding in the road a few
metres from us - quite a good omen I thought.

"We'll walk across the field in that direction and see if we put anything
up" I said.

"Remember to look for a smallish bird with a really thin tail"  I reminded
them.  "In the air it looks kind of like a 1948 Studebaker - the tail is so
thin you can't tell whether it's going backwards or forwards" I joked.

"If it flushes it won't go very far and just before landing in the grass it
will dip its tail downwards like a kind of air brake, hover briefly and then
drop into the long grass - don't believe all that short grass stuff you read
about :-)"

We had not walked far before a bird flew up and did exactly what I had
predicted.  It did the same thing shortly afterwards and then decided we
were no threat and it just stayed down despite all our efforts to persuade
it to do otherwise.  Desparetely I peered across the soccer field through
the scope at some larks feeding on the other side.  There were two or three
Red-capped Larks and two Botha's Larks - nice but not what we were looking

Wait - what's that heavily marked bird that's quite white below and got a
very upright stance.  Nice eyebrow (supercilliary stripe for the purists)
and quite a bulbous head with almost bulging eyes - can't see the median
stripe but that's it - a Rudd's Lark!  Not only in the same field as Botha's
Lark but in the same soccer field within that field - these birds definitely
do not read the literature!

The bird flew out into the middle of the soccer field and continued feeding
within metres of the two Botha's Larks.  All the birds were quite
unperturbed by our presence.  What a morning!  The Blue Korhaans trying to
attract our attention in the field across the road went almost unnoticed.

We were back at home for breakfast by 8 a.m.  We were very happy that the
Brits had not pitched at the last minute - they were the only losers of the

Cheers to all

John McAllister
South Africa

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