Rufousnaped Lark

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Monday, April 2, 2018

Ezemvelo Nature Reserve

This 4,500 hectare reserve is located just outside Bronkhorstspruit off the R25 towards Groblersdal, a mere hour from downtown Johannesburg and 45 minutes from Pretoria. The eastern boundary of the reserve is the Wilge River, which demarcates the boundary between the Gauteng and Mpumalanga provinces.

The Ezemvelo Nature Reserve is a for-profit business, owned and managed by the students of MERU, (this looks like a great idea to preserve our natural areas), who help to run the business for learning experience and earning a small income, will help contribute to sustainability.

The Reserve is situated on the Bakenveld, which is the transition ecotone between grassland and savanna biomes. Ecologically this is very valuable as elements of both biomes occur within the reserve, creating very rich biodiversity. The reserve is naturally divided into well preserved grasslands and associated rocky outcrops and wetlands. The clear waters of the Wilge River is the boundary and forms beautiful gorges and valleys of colourful Wilge sandstone. The reserve is home to some 268 bird species, and a host of game; black and blue wildebeest, kudu, zebra, blesbuck, waterbuck, steenbok, eland, gemsbok, springbok, civet, caracal, vervet monkey, baboon, aardvark and aardwolf (just to mention a few). 

Well it was for the 268 species of bird that Adolf and I headed out for some bird photography practice that is sadly lacking as far as I am concerned. Lately, all of my images seem to be blurred so I was convinced it was something to do with my camera, unfortunately I can't really say that anymore as I think it is my impatient button clicking that has produces the bad results. So...we set at off at 05:00 along the back roads through Bapsfontein to get to the turn-off just passed Bronkhorstspruit town. The Weather looked ominous and we thought it would rain all day but a thin layer of cloud produced some great photography light.

Suddenly along the 20 odd km access road, a raptor flew low over the road and banked back towards a leafless tree growing next to the road. We turned back and discovered it to be a juvenile Ovambo Saprrowhawk.

Juvenile Ovambo Sparrowhawk
 When eventually reaching the gate to the reserve, the only co-operating bird we had seen along the way was the sparrowhawk. Although lots of euplectids, stonechats and cisticolas offered fleeting glimpses as they flew out of the roadside stands of exotic cosmos flowers and indigenous climax grasses.

We thought we would joke with the guard at the gate and made as if we were going to slip through after the car in front but he was not amused. However we soon had him smiling and believe that all was forgiven. After signing in at the gate we had to report to the reception to pay our reasonable feea and found the staff to be extremely friendly and were made to feel very welcome.

Birding in the reserve proved difficult however and the list of birds seen grew very slowly, mainly due to the season, a few wrong turns and attempting to bird along roads that are now closed to public vehicles, although it is possible to walk passed the boom and bird on foot (heaven forbid). So we had to turn back to the reception to follow the signs to the Northern section of the reserve where the Family and Hikers huts are situated above the river. Up this way it is mainly grassland with a few dead exotic eucalyptis trees covered in perching doves. The grasslands were thick with vegetation after the good rains we received this summer and the lack of avian targets even forced me to photograph a mammal or of these was the Black Wildebeest which, despite its formidable appearance is actually tiny in comparison to its Blue cousin.

Black Wildebeest
Plains (Burchells) Zebra

But after a while we found some lbj's conducting their daily business and allowed us to practice our ID skills. The fact that they weren't calling made the identification more challenging. The Eastern Clapper Lark was one of them, but it has a sort of "grizzled" appearance around the face and chest which gives it away.

Eastern Clapper Lark
African Quailfinch were flying over and calling while one male landed in the road in front of us and proceeded to hop directly toward us. Now I can speak from experience and say that these tiny grassland birds are not easy to see, let alone photograph but this was an opportunity not to be missed. Problem, the bird is directly in front and the windscreen is in the way!! I slowly moved the car across the road and we got one or two pics, with grass inflorescence partly obscuring the little fella, before it turned around, hopped off and flew away.

African Quailfinch Male

In this one spot, we got quite a few LBJ's with two pipits as well, both Buffy and African Pipit although the African was sporting a pink lower mandible and had white outer retrices to prove his identity.

Buffy Pipit
African Pipit

Just as we were about to leave the Pipits in peace, Adolf spots another LBJ sunning himself on a rock close to the car...A Spike-heeled Lark, one of my favourites, mainly due to the fact that they are easy to identify and they can be quite confiding. True to form he ignored us completely and we were able to snap away at our leisure, playing with settings and compositions and just enjoying every minute.

Spike-heeled Lark

Another bird we found to be quite common here was the Banded Martin, a large swallow type of  intra-African breeding migrant in the summer which spends our winters in the Southern equatorial belt. Also a favourite of mine as they were one of my first birds I identified while birding the grasslands around Centurion. They breed in soil banks or erosion gulleys and I had noticed these birds diving into the grass at the same point, so went to investigate and had found an old excavation where they had dug their nest into the wall. As you can imagine, as a beginner birder, I was immensely proud of my discovery.

Banded Martin

Its amazing how time seems to fly past when you are doing something you really enjoy. Anyway, before we knew it, it was time for home again and we made our way back to the gate and home again. As a last note, I have to add a photo of the Ant-eating Chats which are common in our grasslands which have termite mounds scattered about, but here at Ezemvelo they are extremely common and also don't mind posing for a photo or two! They are a bit drab, I suppose, but show white wing and shoulder flashes in flight.

Ant-eating Chat

Tonight I am doing night patrol in the local reserve, so I hope to post some owl and nightjar pics in the next post. Happy Easter !!

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