23 Jun 2009

S Africa. The Karoo.

The final instalment documenting our recent trip to South Africa see's the team heading north onto the gravel roads of the Karoo. The longest gravel highway in South Africa. Over 200 km between the nearest towns and surrounded by arid semi-desert the whole way!

The map we were using in the bird finders guide is wrong so rather than take the risk of getting lost and having nowhere to sleep but in the car we decided to travel as far north as we could in one day and then return to the town of Ceres to find a motel and carry on the next day. A sound plan.

The attraction of the Karoo were the endemic larks and other localised species and although seemingly birdless the area was actually teeming with life if you looked hard enough!

Get a puncture here and your stuffed so we decided that in such an eventuallity we'd change the trye and then head out of the Karoo back onto tarmac roads. The dust was incredible and passing vehicles kicked up a mini sand storm everytiem they passed. The strategy was to stop whenver we saw either interesting birds or good vantage points. Every post seemed to have either a Southern Pale-chanting Goshawk or a Jackal Buzard perched on the top.
Karoo Lark was one of the endemics we wanted to see and after several flight views one obliged right by the side of the road. other larks in the area included Thick-billed and Spike-heeled.

Karoo Lark above, Thick-billed below:
Spike-heeled Lark.
Several small parties of Karoo Korhaan were seen but other species remained elusive until sharp-eyed Mark picked up two Ludwig's Bustards during one of our frequent stops. Our luck continued when the equally sharp-eyed Mr Albatross found us not one, not two but four Birchell's Coursers - another hard bird to catch up with!
Karoo Korhaan
Other good birds found here included Mountain Wheatear, Capped Wheatear, Tractrac Chat, Karoo Chat & Sickle-winged Chat, Chestnut-eared Warbler & Namaqua Warber.

Chestnut-eared Warbler.

Karoo Chat
With time pressing we were determined to find the oddly named Skitterykloof. Funnily enough this name provoked great hilarity although I can't understand why? Once again the directions and road names in our guide let us down and after passing the correct road twice in two days we eventually found it by accident and spent a couple of hours birding this fantastic desert oasis.

This area is supposedly one of the best in South Africa for the Cinnamon-breasted Warbler and the best way to find them is using a tape to call them in. We didn't have a tape and didn't know waht the call sounded like so failed dismally. We did find several new species for the tri plist though includsing Grey-winged Francolin, Long-billed Crombec, Proteas See-eater and Fairy Flycatcher whilst Cape Weaver and Grey-backed Cisticola made up a supporting cast.

Finally we headed out of the Karoo and onto the tarmac roads around Ceres and spent the last few hours of daylight vainly searching for Black Harrier. A bird we failed to see and a good enough reason to return to S Africa in the future. Stopping and scanning at various locations we came across a flock of Cape Sparrows - the final photo opportunity of the trip.

A great trip with great company. What next? Suggestions of Patagonia to watch Killer Whales taking Seals off the beach have been mentioned. Meanwhile its back to more mundane June birding in the UK...................................

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