Rufousnaped Lark

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Monday, February 26, 2018

Marakele Birding Weekend - November 2016

Marakele Vistas
Well what do you know, a new blog!! Its about time I know but its been a really busy year again and hasn't it just flown past?? Anyway I have done quite a bit of birding over the last few months so hopefully I will get the chance to tell you all about it!

Two weeks ago I was involved in a birding weekend to Marakele National Park as the bird "expert" :-) . It was with a bit of trepidation that I took on this role as I am by no means an expert on the level of the local experts but I can identify a bird or two and know quite a few calls which helped to me to fake it for the weekend. My wife always uses a quote "Fake it until you make it!" Hahahaha, don't try this at home though...

Home away from home, my quarters were the little add on tent to the right....

Tent set up and settled, the weekend started with a quick drive around to familiarize myself with the habitat and surroundings. Just out of the camp we bumped into a pair of Bennets Woodpeckers feeding in the dry woodland, I managed to get a quick record shot of the male before they disappeared into the bush.

Male Bennets Woodpecker
After the guests had arrived I gave a short presentation on the park, explained the agenda for the next day and went through a list of the possible birds we might see as well and explaining the differences between similar species we might encounter. That done, the two kids in the group set out to look for scorpions with their ultra-violet light. I really didn't think they would find any but was I surprised......and I was sleeping on the ground....I took a photo of one hidden in a tree hole..

No idea what type it was but it looked pretty formidable..
So it was off to bed, I kept the lights off in the tent to keep the insects out and to minimize the potential mosquito attack. Luckily Marakele is not a Malaria area so they would just be an irritation not a danger. Surprisingly enough there were very few mosquitos around the whole weekend, probably due to the late rains that had just recently fallen. I didn't get bitten once.....I think because there were juicier targets around, who wants to chew on an old goat when there is fresh meat about hey?

The best part was falling asleep to the sounds of the crickets and nightbirds calling. Two of my favourite night calls are those of the Fiery-necked Nightjar and the African Scops Owl, both of which serenaded me to sleep.

Violet-backed Starling - Male
 Early the next morning, I had one guest that opted to accompany me in a camp walk, where we found quite a few species like Pearl-spotted Owlet, Violet-backed Starling, Red-billed Hornbill, Bru-bru and Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird.

Red-billed Hornbill

Bru-bru (so nice, they named it twice ;-))

Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird
 After the walk, we were dished up a rather sumptuous breakfast prepared by Wynand, who is quite the chef (his chicken burgers served at the owl events are delicious). Once everyone had eaten their fill and were keen to take on the birds, we headed up the mountain to try and find some of the specials. to get to the mountain you travel through the Big-five area of the park but did not see any unfortunatelky. The road up the mountain is rather hairy with straight drops of about 50-100m close to the wheels of the car with a one way path right to the top and occasional wider sections to let cars on their way down pass on the inside.....needless to say, we still got some birds sitting on branches hanging over the valley. Namely Common (Steppe) Buzzard which is a migrant to South Africa from the Steppes of Russia and a Sunbird that just wouldn't sit still for an ID or photo.

Common (Steppe) Buzzard
 Once at the top there are some unusual birds that are normally associated with the Drakensberg Mountains of Natal. These are the Buff-streaked Chat and the Gurneys Sugarbird that we were assured we would not find as they are attitudinal migrants that spend their summers in the 'Berg. Cape Buntings were common and we found a Male Malachite that was using one of the radio masts as its calling post. Then there are these small lizards running around on the rocks, I call them commando lizards as they seem to be wearing camouflage uniforms but they are actually Rock Agamas. they are really cute to watch as they hunt flies and other insects.

Cape Bunting admiring the view
The View...

Buff-streaked Chat Female

Buff-streaked Chat Male

Gurneys Sugarbird

Malachite Sunbird - Male
The biggest attraction at Marakele is the Cape Vulture colony which at 800 pairs is the largest colony of this species in the world. Unfortunately our timing was out as they had already left the roost to forage and there were only few catching thermals in the skies above us.

Cape Vulture
Rock Agama

Rock Agama

We had a great time on top of the mountain, so much so that we almost missed our bus for the evening drive...where we didn't see that much although the ranger took us to see the overweight Unicorns...who's true names may not be mentioned for fear that someone may crave their appendages for an aphrodisiac.

Purple Roller.
 Back at camp, we were treated to Wynands chicken burgers and sat around the fire chatting about the days birds and enjoying the glow of the fire and the calls of the Scops Owls coming from the darkness beyond the glow of the fire.

African Scops Owl
 Sunday morning and my official duties were complete although I took some of the guests around the camp once more to enjoy the common bushveld birds before we headed back to the jungle, the concrete one that is, where the real animals know, the rat race? The camp is really great, situated on the edge of a large area with a water hole where some of the animals come down to drink and even join you in camp sometimes..

Crested Barbet

Arrow-marked Babbler

Ostrich close-up

Warthog visitor to the camp

Levaillants Cuckoo


Tree Agama.

And so another weekend in the bush comes to an end....happy birding!!

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