Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Limpopo Raptor Weekend

Limpopo Autumn Raptor Run 8th to 10th April

Bruce Williamson and Malcolm Wilson

Set of early from Johannesburg to miss the traffic and soon got onto some back roads near Bela Bela. Most surprisingly there was a flock of 6 Amur Falcons between Pretoria and Bela Bela, very late for this species!

Soon found a Black Chested Snake Eagle hunting on the wing and tried to get a trap under it but with no success.

There was a good movement of Barn Swallows, zipping across the road in small groups in a Northerly direction. At Marakele National Park we spotted a young African Hawk Eagle soaring high up over the cliffs. Dropped for a Shikra and was not on the trap long enough before a vehicle flushed it off.

Now we were getting into dry thorn-bush country and started seeing many Lesser-Grey Shrikes with the odd Red-backed too. As well as these migrants there were European Rollers present with a count of 8 for the day.

We found a Pale-chanting Goshawk and duly caught it, a male by the size which took a 10mm ring. Not long after got a female, much larger which took a 12.5mm ring! Got to the Botswana border and carried on along the Limpopo river, spotted 2 Wahlberg’s Eagles and a count of 6 Black-chested Snake Eagles, but most interestingly saw 4 Brown Snake eagles together circling in a Westerly direction, not known as a migrant, more of a nomadic species as well as resident. Could be the all the recent rain we have had that has kept migrants in the area.

Dropped for 3 Brown Snake Eagles, never easy birds to tempt, but finally got one, a big adult bird of 2.2kgs.

Got to camp and made the fire to the chirps of African Scops Owl and in the morning Verreaux’s Eagle Owl!

Just after dawn a massive flock of European Bee-eaters moved slowly over camp, high up and heading north, at least 150 birds and among them were the odd House Martin. A woodland Kingfisher was calling as was an African Paradise Flycatcher, both Afro-tropical migrants. Had a look at the Limpopo river, wary of late returning Hippos, which was in full spate.

Leaving camp we spotted a few Amur Falcons and Lesser Kestrels hunting over the fields, so late, especially for the Lessers, must be the late rain.

Just then we spotted a Shikra on the fence and dropped a mouse. It soon spotted it and came in but over the trap, not entirely convinced! I quickly stuck a Zebra Finch in another trap and dropped it to where the bird had flown. Before we could get 10 yards clear the bird was on the trap in a flash! Helps to use the right lure!

A bit later we found a juvenile Lanner Falcon on a pylon and got a Zebra/mouse trap combo down and very soon the bird had seen the trap and dropped down in an impressive stoop. It first gave the trap a passing wallop and knocked it on its side! But the mouse part of the trap was ok. After several passes over the trap it landed next to it and we waited with hearts in mouths for it to make a decision! But it took ages and eventually a cyclist appeared from the other direction and flushed the bird, such a shame as it would surely have gone for the mouse.

Moving on we got another Shikra with the Zebra Finch / Mouse combo, no hesitation at all! Then on and spotted 3 Wahlberg’s Eagles together and 2 Black Chested Snake Eagles, quite a few birds about. Spotted a Dusky lark, another unusual Afro-tropical migrant. Got into an area now where Euro Rollers were common! Got a Dark-chanting Goshawk at lunchtime, passing many Pale-chanting Goshawks as we were targeting Snake Eagles and other less common species.

Not having a lot of luck in the area we headed back to camp and found a perched juvenile Black Chested Snake Eagle and got a trap down. The bird was hungry and came in immediately and got caught. A nice juv, in its second year, halfway into its post juvenile primary moult.

Back at camp we came across a Bronze Winged Courser but it was too light to dazzle it, tried anyway and got to 2m of the bird!

Set off back to Johannesburg :( and straight off came across a perched Brown Snake Eagle, but was not interested. A minute later we found a Black-Chested Snake Eagle and got a trap down, no hesitation and we had our 3rd Snake eagle! This was a 1st year juv with no primary moult yet and not done the body moult yet.

15 mins later found a Brown Snake-eagle on a pylon and dropped, waited for a while as one does with this species, but eventually it came in, ever wary, circling the trap and eventually on the trap and caught.

Now this bird was a monster!, not only huge (2.58kgs adult) but aggressive, biting for all it was worth! This species is nearly always quite docile in the hand, it must have been furious! By the time we released it I was bleeding and black and blue!

Onwards and tried for an adult African Hawk Eagle but flushed it when we dropped the trap. Tempted a Euro and Purple Roller to a Sombrero trap with a mouse in, but not caught.

Went through the town of Lephelele spotting a flock of Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and were shocked to see the new and huge power station being built, along with the new Madupi coal mine, so much development since I was last here, quite depressing for such a tranquil and beautiful area.

We soon cheered up though when after 1 kilometre of leaving the shadow of Madupi we came across another Brown Snake Eagle, trap down and ‘in the bag’! a far more peaceful bird, a second year in its post juvenile moult and another big bird at 2.4kgs.

All up a very good catch of 11 birds, 10 raptors and a wader!

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