Trip Report - Late Winter in western South Africa - Part 4 (Long)

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Subject: Trip Report - Late Winter in western South Africa - Part 4 (Long)
From: "John McAllister" <>
Date: Mon, 21 Apr 2003 17:56:20 +0200
Hi there

Here's the penultimate part of my trip report.


John McAllister
Beautiful Just Birding



3rd August

The first day of our holiday was a travelling day rather than a birding day.
>From Wakkerstroom we crossed into the eastern Free State  and drove along
the entire north-western boundary of Lesotho.  Around midday we turned off
the main tarred road for a kilometre or two and stopped for a picnic lunch
overlooking the beautiful Maluti Mountains of Lesotho.  We reached our
destination, the southern Free State town of Smithfield (named after Sir
Harry Smith, a former Governor of the Cape Colony), in the late afternoon.
Southern Bald Ibis (between Wakkerstroom and Vrede), Common Myna (before we
left Wakkerstroom) and Orange-throated Longclaw (also between Wakkerstroom
and Vrede) were three species that we were not to see again on the trip.
Other interesting birds included Secretarybird and Grey-winged Francolin.

Overnight: Smithfield House

4th August

Another essentially non-birding day.  After a good breakfast and some garden
birding we visited the Engelbrecht family graves on a nearby farm - the main
purpose of our visit to Smithfield.  We finally left Smithfield around
mid-morning and drove via Bloemfontein to Kimberley (named after the Earl of
Kimberley, a former British Colonial Secretary).  Birds we saw today and not
elsewhere on the trip included Red-throated Wryneck (in the garden at
Smithfield House) and an out of range White-bellied Sunbird at Marrick Game
Farm.  Other interesting birds included Rock Kestrel (newly split from the
Palaearctic Common Kestrel) and Greater Kestrel (both near Smithfield)

Overnight Marrick Game Farm.

5th August

Today was our first day where birding took precedence over other activities.
After an early breakfast Elize and I (Elma opted for relaxing at Marrick)
left for Kimberley and Beaconsfield Park sports grounds - the type locality
for the newly described Long-tailed Pipit.  The birds were at exactly the
spot described in ESSENTIAL BIRDING - our first lifer for the trip!  The
first bird was on the edge of one of the sports fields.  The bird had a very
plain back, a noticeably long tail, a very horizontal stance for a pipit
(almost as horizontal as a YELLOW-BREASTED Pipit) and bobbed up and down
continuously while feeding.  The bobbing was very exaggerated and involved
the whole body not just the tail.  It did not dart around like Plain-backed
or Buffy Pits often do and did not stop with an upright stance between
feeding bouts like those species do.  A quick search of a neighbouring field
revealed a second bird, this time conveniently feeding close to an African
Pipit.  It was markedly larger that the African.  Both Bradfield’s and
Alpine Swifts were feeding on aerial plankton above the grounds.

Later we drove out to Vaalbos National Park where we got Short-clawed Lark,
a lifer for Elize and a confirmation for me of sightings made very early on
in my birding life.  Shaft-tailed Whydah (in winter plumage), also at
Vaalbos, was another species that we would not see again on the trip.  Other
interesting birds that we saw at Vaalbos included Little Egret, African Fish
Eagle, the slender-billed form of Sabota Lark, and Crimson-breasted Shrike.

We took time off from the birding to go and look at the accommodation at
Vaalbos.  Once again South African National Parks seemed to have missed the
boat.  The accommodation is in delightful replicas of old diamond mining
shanties.  The problem is that these one bed-roomed cottages are billed as
sleeping SIX people - two in the bedroom, two in the lounge and two on
mattresses on the floor of a sort of loft.  The cottage only has one loo and
bathroom so guests have to traipse past the sleepers in the lounge to get to
the loo in the middle of the night.

Overnight Marrick Game Farm.


6th August

After breakfast we packed up and did some last minute shopping in Kimberley
for supplies for the next two days deep in the Kalahari.  When we finally
got out of Kimberley (remember this was not primarily a birding trip) we
drove via Barkly West, Danielskuil, Kuruman and Hotazel to Ruimsig Guest
Farm some 20 km south of Vanzylsrus.  Birds we saw today and not again on
the trip were Gabar Goshawk (on Ruimsig farm).  Other interesting species
included three Kori Bustards flying overhead on the road from Marrick into
Kimberley, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, African Grey and Southern Yellow-billed
Hornbills, Fawn-coloured Lark, Groundscraper Thrush and the first Sociable
Weavers of the trip near Sonstraal on the road between Hotazel and Ruimsig.
The newly described Orange River White-eye in the Van Eeden’s garden at the
Ruimsig homestead provided confirmation of an armchair tick for both Elize
and I.

Overnight:  The Dune Snooze rustic camp on Ruimsig Guest Farm.

7th August

The day was spent simply soaking up the magic of the Kalahari and most of
the birding was done in the vicinity of the camp and on a short walk that
Elize and I took during the morning.  The only birds that we saw here and
nowhere else on the trip were two Bateleurs.  Other interesting birds seen
include African White-backed Vulture, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, the newly split
Eastern Clapper Lark, Ashy Tit  and our first Rufous-eared Warbler of the
trip.  Other interesting birds that we did not see but that potentially
occur here include Red-necked Falcon, Pygmy Falcon, Southern Red-crested
Korhaan, Southern White-faced Scops-Owl, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater and Great

Overnight:  The Dune Snooze rustic camp on Ruimsig Guest Farm.

8th August

After having a look at the facilities offered by Ruimsig’s two guest houses
we filled up with fuel at Vanwyksvlei, a town with a distinct “frontier”
atmosphere we took the “river road” to the mining settlements of Black Rock
and Hotazel.   We arrived at Winton Guest Farm in the late afternoon after
finding some difficulty with unsignposted sandy roads.  Fortunately I could
get cell phone reception sporadically and managed to get directions from our
hosts.   Birds for the day included the only Red-headed Finch (on Ruimsig
itself) we were to find on the trip.  Among the other interesting birds seen
were Martial Eagle, Red-billed Spurfowl, Southern Red-crested Korhaan,
Southern Pied Babbler and Pririt Batis.   At Winton we saw our first
Sickle-winged Chat, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow and Violet-eared Waxbill.

Overnight: Winton Guest Farm

9th August

Today I did some pre-breakfast birding around Winton.  After breakfast we
were taken on a guided tour of the farm until around mid-morning after which
we followed a circular route through the district that had been suggested by
our hosts.  Birds that we saw today and nowhere else on the trip include
Purple (Rufous-crowned) Roller, Marico Sunbird, Pin-tailed Whydah and
Golden-breasted Bunting.   Among the many interesting birds were Martial
Eagle, Pygmy Falcon, Eastern Clapper Lark, Ashy Tit, Southern Pied Babbler,
Pririt Batis, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow.  We also saw our first Namaqua
Sandgrouse, Red-faced Mousebird, Bradfield’s Lark (or the large-billed form
of Sabota Lark if you prefer) of the trip.

Overnight: Winton Guest Farm

While we thoroughly enjoyed the birding and the legendary Kalahari
hospitality over the last 4 days, based on our experience, I certainly would
not recommend coming to these areas specifically to see raptors (it is on
the much vaunted Kalahari Raptor Route).  The only raptors that we saw were
African White-backed Vulture, Black-shouldered Kite, Martial Eagle,
Bateleur, Gabar Goshawk, Pale Chanting-Goshawk and Pygmy Falcon.  With the
exception of the latter all are
either quite widely distributed in South Africa or very easy to see in less
remote parts of the country.

10th August

Today was not exactly a good birding day (mostly spent travelling or
shopping), but it did get us our first Dusky Sunbird of the trip (on the
road near Upington) and the verdant ribbon along the banks of the Gariep
River were a change from the arid Kalahari.

Overnight: Vergelegen Guest House

11th August

Elize and Elma opted for a rest day today - Elize to try and get over a bad
cold that had been dogging her since before we left Wakkerstroom and Elma
just to chill out.  I left on an early trip to Khamkirri Private Game
“Reserve” - in reality a private game farm utilised as a hunting area from
time to time.   I took the guided game viewing trip through the reserve in a
four-wheel drive vehicle.  The wind was blowing at near gale force which was
not really conducive to good birding or game viewing.  Astonishingly I had
our first Cattle Egret and South African Shelduck of the trip.  Other
“firsts” for the trip  were  Karoo Korhaan, Karoo Long-billed Lark,
White-throated Canary.   A visit to Khamkirri’s very attractive rustic
chalet accommodation on the north bank of the Gariep gave be a very out of
range White-fronted Bee-eater - the only one for the trip.  Later I picked
up Elize and Elma at Vergelegen and we drove to the small Kalahari
settlement of Riemvasmaak.  Spectacular scenery, but a bone shattering road,
heavily over-grazed lands, many donkeys and goats and very few birds.

Overnight: Vergelegen Guest House


12th August

Today we crossed the Gariep and drove southward into the arid gravel plains
country and spectacular rock outcrops known as Bushmanland.  The stark and
bleak scenery with the occasional low sand dune contrasts sharply with the
well-treed sandy Kalahari north of the Gariep.  Next to Wakkerstroom this
has to be my favourite part of the country.  We met up with Jo and Shirley
Johnson, friends of ours from Fish Hoek on the Cape Peninsula, who were to
accompany us on the remainder of our trip.  The drive from Kakamas via
Kenhardt and Vanwyksvlei to Smouskolk Guest Farm gave us our only Rosy-faced
Lovebird of the trip quite close to Kakamas.  Firsts for the trip included
Verreaux’s (Black) Eagle, Ludwig’s Bustard, Three-banded Plover,
Spike-heeled Lark, Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark, an early South African Cliff
Swallow (right on the western edge of it’s distribution - must have used a
very westerly migration route through Namibia or Botswana from its Congolese
wintering grounds), Mountain Wheatear and Chat Flycatcher for the trip.

Overnight: Smouskolk Guest Farm

13th August

The morning was spent birding around Smouskolk and in the afternoon we went
to view the spectacular rock art on the farm Springbokoog.  Here there are
many wonderful petroglyphs on the black rocks of a beautiful range of rocky
hills attributed to three different eras of Khoisan rock art - truly worth a
visit by even the most hardened birder.  On the way to Springbokoog we saw
our only Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Fairy Flycatcher and Cinnamon-breasted
(Rock) Bunting of the trip.  Red-capped Lark, Rock Martin, Karoo Scrubrobin,
Black-headed Canary were firsts for the trip.  Other interesting birds
included Karoo Korhaan, Northern Black Korhaan, Yellow-bellied Eremomela,
Rufous-eared Warbler and Orange River White-eye.  Interesting potential
birds of the area include Ludwig’s Bustard, Double-banded Courser, Cape
Eagle Owl, Rufous-cheeked Nightjar, Freckled Nightjar, both forms of Red
Lark, Karoo Long-billed Lark, Bradfield’s Lark, Sclater’s Lark, Stark’s Lark
and Black-eared Sparrow-Lark, Southern Grey Tit, Short-toed Rock-Thrush,
Karoo Eremomela, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler (on Springbokoog), Namaqua
Warbler, Fairy Flycatcher and the newly split Damara Canary.

Overnight: Smouskolk Guest Farm

14th August

Jo and I paid a very rushed early morning visit to the farm Nuwedam where
Red Larks are reputed to occur.  Unfortunately our time was very limited and
we spent most of the time building up a relationship with the farmer so we
did not spend much time looking for the larks.  The habitat was certainly
right for the dune form of this very special bird - low sand dunes complete
with  Wild Green Hair trees, plenty of large tufts of grass and some largish
shrubs.  I’m convinced that with a bit more birding time we will find these
birds here in the future.

After breakfast we embarked on the long trip to Diepvlei Guest House,
stopping periodically to bird along the Vanwyksvlei-Brandvlei road.  The
last portion of the drive from Loop 10 on the Sishen-Saldanha railway line
is through very sparsely populated country and cell phone signals are
intermittent and weak at the best of times.  Birders are advised to plan the
journey well and make sure that there is always some sort of contact between
vehicles if travelling in more than one vehicle.  Black-eared Sparrow-Lark
between Loop 10 and the Gamoep turnoff and Karoo Eremomela between
Vanwyksvlei and Brandvlei, were not seen elsewhere on the trip. Other trip
birds were Booted Eagle between Brandvlei and Granaatboskolk, Double-banded
Courser near Brandvlei, Pink-billed Lark near Diepvlei, Karoo Chat and
Lark-like Bunting between Vanwyksvlei and Brandvlei.  Potential birds here
include Burchell’s Courser, Stark’s Lark, Red Lark and Sclater’s Lark

Overnight: Diepvlei Guest House.

15th August

Jo and I paid an early morning visit to the Red Lark site in the dunes
flanking the fossil drainage line of the Koa River and birded around this
area before returning to Diepvlei for breakfast.  In the dim light before
sunrise we saw the only Spotted Eagle-Owl of the trip on Diepvlei itself.
The Red Larks (a lifer for Jo, were displaying over the dunes.  Later we
went out with the ladies birding along the back road to Pofadder before
returning to Diepvlei via Aggenys in the late afternoon.   On the way out of
Diepvlei we stopped at a Cape Penduline Tit nest in a lone tree described
for us by
Vernon and the plains prior to the Red Lark gave us our first Tractrac Chat
of the trip.  A roadside borrow pit near Pofadder gave us or first
Black-winged Stilt of the trip while a jumble of rocks near the road
(precisely as described in Essential Birding) gave us our only
Cinnamon-breasted Warbler (a lifer for me, but unfortunately Elize did not
see it) of the trip.

Overnight: Diepvlei Guest House.

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