Limpopo Expedition25th February to March 10th
|Southern Pied Babbler|
Leader Malcolm Wilson
The team all met at the airport without problems and we set off to the North as quickly as possible, picking Debora up in Pretoria en route.
At midday we turned off the highway to work the back roads for raptors, and tried for a few Lesser Kestrels among the many Amur Falcons, which came into the trap but frustratingly just to hover a meter or 2 above. However we were rewarded soon after with a great catch, and first bird of the trip, a 2nd year Brown Snake Eagle!
Not 20 minutes later I spotted another big Eagle further down the line of pylons and went to see. Turned out to be another gem, an adult Black-chested Snake Eagle which we caught in no time at all!!
Continuing North West, we dropped for 3 Steppe Buzzards, all of which came in over the trap, or landed next to it and that was all! They can be very frustrating and difficult to catch sometimes. Also tried a Greater Kestrel which showed no interest, possibly full up! Then an adult male Lanner which came in over the trap 5 times, hitting it once, but not caught. It soon lost interest.There was lots of migrant action in the area with Black-winged Pratincoles in the ploughed fields, European Rollers on the phone wires, White Storks in the fields, Lesser-grey Shrikes on the wires and thousands of Barn Swallows.
We were seeing quite a few raptors, African Hawk Eagles, Black-chested Snake Eagles. Kept on plugging away at the Steppe Buzzards to no avail and dropped for another BC Snake Eagle which came in off a pylon onto a fence above the trap, but that was it!Got to our Bush Lodge and set 380 feet of nets in nice thorn scrub. First bird we caught was a large adult female Gabar Goshawk in a 60’ net! As well as this we caught numerous species including Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, Red-backed Shrike, Willow Warbler and Southern Pied Babbler.
|Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, a Sylvia too!|
That night we set an owl net in a likely spot and using the sound system soon had a Spotted Eagle Owl sitting on the fence not too far from the net!
|Great little owls these|
Meanwhile we had a Bal-chatri trap out under a tree which we had pulled a Southern White-faced Scops Owl into. In no time the bird spotted the mouse in the trap and was on! Such stunning little birds.
The Spotted Eagle Owl got closer and closer but was too wary for the net and disappeared before we could get a BC down.
There were a pair of Pearl-spotted Owlets and African Scops Owls calling back and forth and did react to the calls, but no luck.
Mist netted a few more nice birds, Crimson-breasted Shrike, more Red-backed Shrikes, a family of Long-tailed Shrikes, a few beautiful Violet-eared Waxbill and Green-winged Pytilia.Went out on a raptor run and first off got a stunning adult Black-shouldered Kite, followed not long after with a first year bird.
Came across a Brown Snake Eagle which came into the trap and after a while looked caught so we went in to get it, but it got away!!! Tried again and back it came and this time we got it, a large adult of 2kg.We then had a ‘good run’ on Steppe Buzzards, catching an adult and a 2nd summer bird. Why this species is so wary above all others, I can only guess, is that they are full and just not hungry only reacting to the mice from pure instinct.
We then dropped for a juvenile lanner which buzzed the trap a few times, eventually landing next to it only to walk around it till eventually it lost interest.
In the afternoon, we did a circuit and got another adult Black-shouldered Kite before finding two Black-chested Snake Eagles, dropped for both and got one, not a bad return! Only this one nailed Nigel in the throat with its beak, nice souvenir!
Tried for owls again in the evening and the Spotted Eagle Owl returned still very interested, but suspicious!
Set off for the top of the Eastern escarpment and en route got a Black-shouldered Kite and a Greater Kestrel then late morning got a stunning sub adult African Hawk Eagle, not bad for most to see this bird for the first time in the hand(s)!
Go to our log cabin overlooking the valley in the afternoon where there was a good stream of Steppe Buzzards and Black Kites and a single Honey Buzzard heading north on passage.Nigel got his nets and dove system set up immediately and had a few curious birds come in to look at the stuffed owl we set in the nets but just not that hungry.
|Female Narina Trogon|
Netting in the forest was slow as usual for forests and a strong wind did not help. However we were rewarded with some gems such as Bar-throated Apalis, Green-backed Camaroptera, Lesser and Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Cape and Chorister Robinchat, Lesser Honeyguide, Cape White-eye but the best of all was a stunning Narina Trogon!
One night we got a Wood Owl to sit directly above a trap and mouse, but it was too wary to go the final distance!Went out for a Raptor run and got a sub adult Jackal Buzzard, also flushed a Long-crested Eagle before we could drop a trap for it and saw a few Forest Buzzards out of trap range.
Set of North and first bird was a Greater Kestrel by the roadside. We found a huge female Lanner on a pole devouring a Laughing Dove, so missed a chance there.
We transferred from our minibus to a formidable 4x4 and made the very bumpy journey up into the mountain and were greeted by a pair of Magnificent Verreaux’s Eagles soaring overhead. We set Nigels Dove net system up in a clearing between two forested gulley’s and 7 other nets in the area.
The next morning Nigel was rewarded with a juvenile Rufus-chested Sparrowhawk which came into the dove, a great bird and a ringing tick for me! Amazing to see the very long middle toes of this species.
A bit later Nigel was rewarded again from his Raptor nets with a beautiful adult Jackal Buzzard which spotted the struggling dove from miles above the cliffs and came in a very fast stoop to actually grab the dove, which was unharmed as the buzzard was flushed into the big nets.
All the while the pair of Verreaux’s Eagles sat up on the cliffs watching all the proceedings below, so not much chance of tempting them.
At a tiny dripping spring next to the stone cottage we were staying in was a regular stream of Willow Warblers coming into drink, over the afternoon we caught a dozen birds with a small net. Other interesting catches were a Rock Martin, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Cape Batis, Dusky Flycatcher and several Tambourine Doves.
We put the sound system on one night under the raptor nets and after a lot of hooting and whooing, we caught an adult Wood Owl, such a beautiful bird. It was great to see the different ages of feathers under the UV light which Nigel uses in Canada.
Set of north again toward the Limpopo River and got an adult Black-chested Snake Eagle off a Baobab tree en route. We also got our first Dark-chanting Goshawk a big adult female.At camp we set nets around the site and sat on the terrace with a stunning view over the Mopane and rocky terrain and watched a pair of Lanners feed on thousands of small free-tailed bats which were roosting in the rock crevices.
The next morning Nigel set his raptor net for the Lanner, not before trying to tempt them with a Bal-chatri which they came in and inspected but then disappeared. He did get a juvenile Shikra which was about the same size as the dove!That night we mist-netted a Pearl-spotted Owlet with the sound system, talk about wound up! It took a few layers of Nigel’s hands off before it was duly ringed and released.
Went out on a raptor run into the Mpangubwe National Park and got a Brown Snake Eagle, dropped for a couple of Black-chested Snake Eagles to no avail and had another Brown Snake Eagle get off the trap! Also had a Shikra get off the trap as well, so not the best run! But we did get another Dark-chanting Goshawk on the way back. That afternoon we caught a Meyer’s Parrot, incredibly powerful bite for such a small bird! We also got a Red-winged Starling and Brubru.
Lions were roaring in the night and a Leopard was coughing nearby as Nigel opened his dove net up. There was only one Lanner which didn’t show any interest or just didn’t see the dove.
Off now to the south and west, still in the Limpopo valley, to another bush camp on the River. On the way got 2 more Dark-chanting Goshawk, 2 more Pale-chanting Goshawk a Rock Kestrel and saw Brown Snake Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle and Steppe Buzzard. Had an Amur over trap but not interested enough.
At the new camp, we set nets for the morning whilst seeing a huge amount of Barn Swallows heading to a roost somewhere and I managed to get a sizable amount of them over the nets with the sound system but we were in a too enclosed area. I realised they were all going into a Maize field about 1km away!
Africa Scops Owl, Verreaux;s Eagle Owl and Firey-necked Nightjar were calling but were not responding to tape.Next morning’s catch included, among others, Little Sparrowhawk, White-throated Robinchat, Meve’s Starling, Red-backed Shrike, Brown-hooded Kingfisher and Crested Barbet. A remarkable and wonderful record was hearing the call of a Southern Ground Hornbill not far away. We took a drive through the bush to try and see this huge terrestrial and increasingly scarce bird but not seen.
Went on a raptor run and got one Pale-chanting Goshawk and dropped for loads of Steppe Buzzards, but they are just too wary of the trap, possibly fed up already.We got back and set a line of nets alongside the Maize and hoped the swallows would come back. Unfortunately the wind got up just as some Barn Swallows started to appear. We had a bit of trouble with bishops and quelea going into the nets despite a Lanner doing its best to harass them.
Eventually we ended up with 138 swallows which was great considering the wind.
Next morning we got, Tropical Boubou, Black-backed Puffback, a few Willow and European Marsh Warblers. Raptor run late morning produced a Gabar Goshawk which came in for a quelea, both released unhurt and Pale-chanting Goshawk. Interestingly we had dropped for a Black-chested snake Eagle when a family of 3 Pale-chanters drove it off, catching the youngster. Later on we finally caught a Lanner, a young male with a quelea in trap.
|At last! young male Lanner|
Back at camp we opened the nets and got a Woodland Kingfisher, and Red-chested Cuckoo among others. Nigel managed to attract a Fish Eagle over his dove nets! Had an interesting movement of Marabou Storks at noon, 52 Birds flying North East!
Back at the Maize field we waited for the swallows and watched the field as the Lanner chased the quelea up and down. There were a few Temminck’s Courser and Black-winged Pratincoles on the ploughed field.The wind had died down somewhat and this time we managed to get 186 swallows, a staggeringly large roost of which we all estimated was at least 1 Million birds.
Set off for the south-west, to a Lodge in the foothills of the Waterberg Mountains. We caught a Shikra and Black-shouldered Kite before coming across a huge adult Martial Eagle on a pole. We dropped for it and with baited breaths, waited for 10 mins before it flew over the trap to a pole for a better look for another 10 minutes until eventually flying off! What a shame, but all the same good to see this largest of African Eagles.Not much around en route to next Lodge, saw a huge Kori Bustard by the roadside and a few distant raptors including Wahlberg’s Eagle and snake eagles.
We got a good number of nets up before dark and were rewarded with a few Spotted Flycatchers, Red-backed Shrikes and migrant Woodland Kingfishers. Set a couple of walk-in traps and got Crested Francolin and Natal Spurfowl before dark.The Owl nets produced a good first round catch of 2 Pearl-spotted Owlets and an African Scops Owl, such tiny little things!
Next morning we continued to catch several more Spotted Flycatchers, Woodland Kingfishers and an unusual amount (12) of Juvenile Pygmy Kingfishers, obviously migrating. That night we set a Spotted Eagle Owl tape on with a Bla-chatri near the system and within 20 minutes caught an adult bird! What a treat, such awesome birds in the hand and we used the UV light to good effect to see the subtle difference of feather ages. We also had Firey-necked Nightjar over the net a few times in response to the call.Next morning we got a few African Paradise Flycatchers, Willow Warbler and a Red-billed Hornbill. But we really had our hands full with a party of 12 Arrow-marked Babblers in the nets!
Next stop was further south and to a Wetland reserve on the Highveld. Arriving there we got nets up in the reed and before long were busy extracting weavers and bishops by the armful! We ringed a sample but were more focussed on the different Acrocephalus warblers as well as a few Little Rush Warblers. We got Great, European Marsh, African Reed and Lesser Swamp Warblers.
All in all a record trip with 606 birds ringed plus 10 retraps and exactly 100 species!
1. Brown Snake-eagle
2. Black-chested Snake-eagle
3. African Hawk Eagle
4. Steppe Buzzard
5. Jackal Buzzard
6. Little Sparrowhawk
7. Red-chested Sparrowhawk
9. Gabar Goshawk
10. Pale-chanting Goshawk
11. Dark-chanting Goshawk
12. Black-shouldered Kite
13. Greater Kestrel
14. Rock Kestrel
16. Lizard Buzzard (retrap)
17. Blue Waxbill
18. Violet-eared Waxbill
19. Willow Warbler 16
20. Bar-throated Apalis
21. Green-backed Camaroptera
22. Southern Double-collared Sunbird
23. African Firefinch
24. Red-billed Firefinch
25. Green-winged Pytilia
26. Collared Sunbird
27. Orange-breasted Waxbill
28. Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler
29. Rattling Cisticola
30. Amethyst Sunbird
31. Greater Double-collared Sunbird
32. Cape White-eye
33. Barn Swallow 324
34. Cinnamonn Rock Bunting
35. Golden-breasted Rock Bunting
36. Cape Batis
37. Chin-spot Batis
38. Dusky Flycatcher
39. Spotted Flycatcher
40. African Paradise Flycatcher
41. Marico Flycatcher
42. Long-billed Crombec
43. White-throated Robin-chat
44. Cape Robin-chat
45. Chorister Robin-chat
46. Great Reed Warbler
47. Lesser Swamp Warbler
48. European Marsh Warbler
49. African Reed Warbler
50. Little Rush Warbler
51. Lavillant’s Cisticola
52. Lesser Honeyguide
53. Lesser-masked Weaver
54. Southern-masked Weaver
55. Spectacled Weaver
56. Thick-billed Weaver
57. Sombre Greenbul
58. Yellow-streaked Greenbul
59. Yellow-bellied Greenbul
60. Dark-capped Bulbul
61. Terrestrial Bulbul
62. Yellow-crowned Bishop
63. White-winged Widowbird
64. Grey-backed Camaroptera
66. Crimson-breasted Shrike
67. Orange-breasted Bushshrike
68. Black-backed Puffback
69. Red-backed Shrike
70. Common Fiscal Shrike
73. Arrow-marked Babbler
74. Southern Pied Babbler
75. Tambourine Dove
76. Emerald-spotted Wood Dove
77. Meyer’s Parrot
78. Meve’s Starling
79. Red-winged Starling
80. Crested Barbet
81. Southern Grey-headed Sparrow
82. Rock Martin
83. Greater-striped Swallow
84. Brown-hooded Kingfisher
85. Woodland Kingfisher
86. Malachite Kingfisher
87. Pygmy Kingfisher
88. Diderik Cuckoo
89. Red-chested Cuckoo
90. Narina Trogon
91. Red-billed Hornbill
92. Crested Francolin
93. Natal Spurfowl
94. Purple Swamphen
95. Black Crake
96. Spotted Eagle-owl
97. Wood Owl
98. Southern White-faced Scops-owl
99. Pearl-spotted Owlet
100.African Scops Owl