Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A weekend Bird Atlasing in the Memel area
11th and 12th October 2014
Normandien Pass
My friends Niall and his wife Debby arrived in Memel on the Saturday morning to do some bird atlasing and road trapping to for birds of prey. After watching a Red-chested Sparrowhawk circling over the field, we set off up to Normandien Pass, some 45 kilometers away and began logging birds in each different pentad, in this case an 8x8 kilometer square.
After a few kilometers we were rewarded with the beautiful site of a pair of Blue Cranes, South Africa’s National Bird! These two looked like they had pared up to breed. Some few k’s later we really lucked out and came across a pair of Grey-crowned Cranes!! What a treat, Cranes in Africa and the world are severely endangered by a multitude of factors, the main one being land use by farmers and settlements, too frequent grassland burning, direct human disturbance, then collision with powerlines and fences, not to mention poisoning where grain is left for wildfowl which is then eaten by cranes.
Mullers Pass

But what followed next was one of those very rare experiences you only read about, when we came across a flock of 9 Blue Cranes with a single Wattled Crane with them!! A 3 Crane day and it was only 10 am!! All 3 of SA’s crane species!!
Buoyed by this we checked on 3 distant Verreaux’s Eagle nests on the cliffs, one looked like there was a young fledged bird sitting, but too far to be sure.
Verreaux’s Eagles have a hard time in the area being persecuted by sheep farmers concerned for their lambs. No eagle will catch live healthy lambs to the extent that it becomes a problem for farmers, if there are hares, dassies, moles, mongoose, guinea fowl, and tortoises in healthy numbers. If preys habitat is modified to suit sheep, then the eagle is forced into preying on lambs in the absence of its natural prey species.
Kranzkop and the vast grasslands
At the higher elevation near the pass we began to see Long-billed Pipits and another endemic, Long-billed Lark. But the best was a Yellow-breasted Pipit on the side of the road, a male, just coming into breeding plumage. This critically endangered endemic was the first time I have really seen it to be certain and it turned out to warrant filling in a regional rarities form!
We carried on getting some nice species for the rest of the morning including the endemic Ground Woodpecker, Mountain Wheatear, Cape Long-claw, Spike-heeled Lark and Cloud Cisticola. We came across a Jackal Buzzard and tried to get a trap down to ring him, but he took off.
White-throated Swallow
In the afternoon, we drove round the local and famous Seekoevlei (Hippo Pan) Nature Reserve. We came across 6 endemic Blue Korhaan in the reserve, the first we had seen, possibly because the grass was in good condition unlike some of the more over grazed and over burnt farmlands.
We stopped at a bridge which annually hosts several hundred migratory breeding South African Cliff Swallows. So we got a net set in place and managed to catch and ring a few, including a cracking adult White-throated Swallow. Very little is known about where these two species migrate to so hopefully one day we may get a ring recovery.
SA Cliff Swallow
The following day we set off to Mullers pass, and over the morning we did it again and found all three Crane species!! On this route we were lucky to find 3 endemic Buff-streaked Chats and a covey of several endemic Grey-winged Francolins. We then drove up onto a vast grassland area to Kranzkop Mountain. Here the grassland swept away to the horizon, truly spectacular scenery. We were rewarded with a pair of Yellow-breasted Pipits this time a
cracking adult male in full breeding plumage with its mate, we have been very lucky to have found 3 individuals of this species over 2 days. Further on near the rocky slopes of the Kranzberg, we found a pair of another endemic, Sentinel Rock Thrush, very nice birds too.

On the way back we were utterly astounded to see an adult Martial Eagle soaring over the valley. What a find! This very persecuted and vulnerable species is Africa’s largest eagle and only really seen in protected areas and national parks, so to see one here in an area where there are a few unsympathetic farmers was exceptional.

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