The club’s 2017 Challenge is not a competition, unless you are RH or MF!
Mike Ford, the forerunner at the end of February, left on Sunday for 3 months to man the Aras bird ringing station in Turkey for the 3rd time. In a last minute effort to get as many species as possible for his challenge list, Graham and I were invited to join him and Valerie on an overnight trip to Vrolijkheid Reserve near McGregor. The aim was to get as many Karoo habitat species as possible.
We knew we were in the Karoo when we saw our first Pale Chanting Goshawk. We stopped along the road, picking up good species like Cape Long-billed Lark and Karoo Chat and arrived at the reserve just before 10:00. The day was warming up and we immediately set off to the hides, being greeted by an Acacia Pied Barbet. Along the way we picked up Dusky Sunbird, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler and White-backed Mousebird. The waterhole at the first hide was pretty empty but there were a couple of waders about, including Black-winged Stilts and Little Stints. This was also where we saw our first Fairy Flycatcher, one of my favourite little birds.
The day was getting unbearably hot so we checked into our chalet, Jakkalskuil, and tried to keep cool. This proved just about impossible and the ceiling-fans did little to help. A cold shower was the answer. Eventually we could bear it no more and opted to go for a drive so that we could use the car’s air-conditioner. The next day we heard that the temperature was 42°! A huge fire in the Langeberg did not help.
At the Robertson water purification plant we saw a number of ducks, including a pair of South African Shelduck, Cape and Red-billed Teals and Lesser Swamp-Warbler. Next on our list was a spot under a bridge where we had previously seen Barn Owls. We made a hasty retreat as we encountered first a group of guys loitering and then a group seeking respite from the heat, including a stark naked man!
Back at Vrolijkheid we drove to the dam at the left of the main entrance but there wasn’t much of interest, except a pair of Water Thick-knees. Home for a rest and a braai.
Thursday morning was very overcast with bad light but we were up at dawn and went for a long walk, first to the dam on the left, then to the first hide by which time it started to warm up. Karoo Scrub-Robins were everywhere. Highlights of the morning were Pearl-breasted Swallow, Rufous-Eared Warbler, a Layard’s Tit-Babbler identified on call and a Klaas’ Cuckoo. While looking at the Cuckoo, a Spotted Eagle-Owl flew by!
Mike added 12 species to his challenge list and Graham and I double that to ours.
The dip of the trip was a Namaqua Dove and I have a feeling Mike boarded the plane on Sunday still moaning “I want a Namaqua Dove”! Mike, I hope you see many beautiful Lifers at Aras to make up for the dip.
In conclusion I would like to have a word with the newer, less experienced birding members of our club. The only way you will learn about birds and birding spots around you is to go out there and find them! Join the club’s First Thursday outings. Enter the challenge for your own enjoyment. Enter Mini Birding Big Day, go out and have fun with a friend or two and train yourself in identifying the species. No, you probably won’t win, but you would have learnt an awful lot. Truth: when I went on my first ever MBBD, I was lucky to be in Mike’s team, but when he called a ‘crow’ a White-Necked Raven I thought he was bonkers. I’ve learnt a lot since then. See you on the 2nd at the MBBD braai!!