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Text and Pictures Peter Chadwick. www.peterchadwick.co.za
Source: This articel is taken form the September 2011 issue of Country Life.
After the successful and energetic day’s birding at Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge and Hangklip Mountain in the Soutpansberg (described in last month’s issue), bird guide Samson Mulaudzi was determined to show me still more gems in the area – and promised me the chance to add a new ‘lifer’, the Orange Ground-Thrush, to my list.
Although we’d agreed to meet before daybreak, there was no need for me to set my alarm clock as a magnificent dawn chorus roused me from my sleep.
White-browed Robin-Chat were the lead singers, accompanied by Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Dark-capped Bulbul and the harsher calls of a flock of Arrow-marked Babbler.
After a short drive, Samson and I were soon at Roodewal scrubland forest, and we’d scarcely alighted from the car when the call of a NarinaTrogon had us scuttling through the thickets to locate it.
As we came upon a brightly coloured male, two shadows passed over us and we glimpsed the pale underbellies of a pair of Forest Buzzard.
Wandering deeper into the forest towards the source of the Luvuvhu River, we passed endless orb-spiders hanging in their webs in the hope of catching flying insects. The smaller males could be seen sitting dwarfed next to the fat and much larger females and, in a few of the webs, another species sat in parasitic anticipation of benefiting from the efforts of the webs’ owners. In one patch of scrub a whole batch of Citrus Swallowtail butterflies were busy emerging from their cocoons and drying their wings in the morning sun, while numerous other butterfly species flittered past.
In an acacia thicket a birding party caught our attention and we soon ticked off Green-backed Camaroptera, Bar-throated Apalis, Terrestrial Brownbul and Yellow-bellied Greenbul. In the rank grasses, Tawny-flanked Prinia, African Stonechat and Red-faced Warbler were plentiful.
We broke out of the thicket into an opening that ran adjacent to a crystal-clear stream and, above the gurgling noise of flowing water, the sound of tapping against dead wood drew our attention to a second birding party in which both Golden-tailed and Olive Woodpecker were present, together with Black-backed Puffback Spectacled Weaver, Purple-crested Turaco and – a real highlight – a threesome of Green Twinspot. Sitting quietly in the opening for half an hour or so, we saw African Olive-Pigeon, Yellow-spotted Nicator, Red-capped Robin-Chat and White-bellied Sunbird passing close by.
Returning to the deep shadows of the forest and stooping constantly under low branches, we flushed out a bushbuck that barked in alarm before crashing off into the undergrowth. This panicked a troop of baboons and soon their barking calls were echoing across the forest.
We soon completed the forest section of the trail and wandered back towards our vehicle along an open path adjacent to a pine plantation. Here, heavily seed-laden grasses hung bent over with feeding Common Waxbill, Pin-tailed Whydah, Blue Waxbill, Jameson’s Firefinch and Purple Indigobird. Crested Francolin and Natal Francolin hung to the edges of the thicket and, in the skies above, Lesser- striped Swallow and White-rumped and Black Swifts swooped after flying insects.
Our next destination was the Muirhead Dams, where Samson has special permission to show birding enthusiasts around. The dams are set among macadamia and banana plantations, and around their edges fishermen were patiently trying to catch tilapia with reed rods.
As we wandered along a trail around one of the dams, Blue-spotted Wood-Dove and Lemon Dove erupted at our feet.
A Lesser Swamp-Warbler called from deep within the reedbeds and a Black Cuckoo-Shrike flew across an opening towards an African Pygmy Kingfisher that we had not yet seen. In a large fig tree, Olive Bush-Shrike, Cape White-eye, Brubru, Yellow-breasted Apalis and four Purple-crested Turaco were either feeding on the ripened fruit or gleaning insects.
Sitting patiently in the hide on the dam’s edge, we watched a Little-banded Goshawk fly in silently with the hope of being able to ambush any small birds that came down to the water’s edge. Cape Grassbird, Rattling Cisticola and Croaking Cisticola pairs all fed in the reeds and sedges, while on the muddy flats Hadedah Ibis probed their long bills deep into the wet soil. Little Bee-eater hawked insects low over the water and the goshawk launched into action as a flock of Yellow-fronted Canary came down to drink. The canaries were way to wary to be caught off guard, but the disturbance flushed out a Water Thick-knee and a male Fan-tailed Widowbird.
By this stage the heat of the day was well upon us and Samson and I decided to retire to cooler parts until the late afternoon, when we would head to Entabeni montane forest where the elusive Orange Ground-Thrush were supposed to be a guaranteed sighting.
We reached the outskirts of the forest in late afternoon and wound our way ever upwards along dirt trails and beneath towering gumtrees where a pair of Bat Hawk sat motionlessly in the upper branches. At a fast-flowing stream we took a brief detour to see Mountain Wagtail and searched unsuccessfully for ellusive African Finfoot.
In the forest itself we reverted to locating the birds in the limited visibility by their calls. Chorister Robin-Chat were the most easily found and next came Scaly-throated Honeyguide and Yellow-streaked Greenbul. Black Saw-Wing and Little Swift circled above the forest and were soon joined by a swirling flock of Barn Swallow. Samson tried to call the Orange Ground-Thrush to us at three different locations and, having ‘guaranteed’ a sighting, his expression became ever more worried as the birds eluded us.
We decided to give it one last try right at the crest of the mountain, by which time the afternoon was moving well towards dusk.
Samango monkeys alarm-called nearby and we were privileged to catch a brief view of a Crowned Eagle as it headed towards its night-time roost. A Grey Cuckoo-Shrike and a Dusky Flycatcher were the next two birds added to our list. Then, just as we were about to give up on the ground-thrushes, we heard one call close to us. It was immediately joined by several other birds and, after a quick search, we managed to track down an adult on the ground – but which quickly climbed ever higher towards the canopy. We finally managed to get a clear view of the bird as it sat and called again.
I turned to thank Samson for adding this lifer to my list and was greeted with a broad grin that showed the immense relief he felt on being able to live up to his promise. It had turned out that Entabeni was a guaranteed spot to see these elusive birds, after all.
Season and Weather Extremely hot in low lying areas in summer with afternoon thunderstorms, but the montane forests are often cool and misty, requiring a wind and rainproof jacket. Winters dry with mild temperatures.
Habitats A wide variety, from savannah bushveld through to lakes and wetlands, with the highlight being the Afro-montane and scrubveld forests.
Specials African Cuckoo-Hawk Bat Hawk African Finfoot, NarinaTrogon, Orange Ground-Thrush, Mountain Wagtail, Green Twinspot.
GettingThere Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge lies about 20km east of Makhado and adjacent to Albasini Dam. It is best reached via the R524.
Accommodation & Activities Shiluvari Lakeside Forest Lodge offers a range of comfortable chalets as well as an excellent restaurant and a swimming pool. A series of short birding trails are also found at the lodge.
Bird Guide Samson Mulaudzi,
083 662 9960, email@example.com,
10 specials to try to spot in the Soutpansberg on BirdLife South Africa’s Roodewal and Entabeni Birding Route
- Fan-tailed Widowbird males only attain their distinctive black plumage with red shoulder patches during the breeding season. For the rest of the year they resemble the drab-looking females.
- The Water Thick-knee is most easily distinguished from the similar looking Spotted Thick-Knee by its white wing bar It spends the day sheltering in the shade of bushes and scrub close to water
- The NarinaTrogon is one of the most sought-after forest birds as it tends to sit still in the canopy making it difficult to spot. In flight it is easy to identify from its emerald upper breast and back and crimson belly.
- Purple Indigobirds not only mimic the calls of Jameson’s Firefinch, but also parasitise their nests.
- The Lesser-Striped Swallow has a heavily streaked belly in contrast to the Greater-Striped Swallow’s lightly streaked belly.
- The Orange Ground-Thrush is an uncommon resident of montane forests, most easily located by its calls at dusk and dawn.
- Found in dense thickets and forest patches, the Red-capped Robin-Chat utters a distinctive see-saw call, but also excellently mimics other forest sounds.
- Mountain Wagtail inhabit mountain streams where they are usually seen in pairs gleaning small waterborne insects from the fast-flowing shallows.
- The Chorister Robin-Chat has a loud and bubbly call and is also an excellent mimic of other forest birds and frogs.
- The Croaking Cisticola is easily distinguished from other cisticolas by its large size and bulky body. It inhabits grasslands associated with bushy scrub.
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