Hotazel & Molopo Nature Reserve

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11 years 2 weeks ago #3079 by nkgray
nkgray created the topic: Hotazel & Molopo Nature Reserve
Just back this evening from the Kalahari. I had returned to the Hotazel field camp after 3 weeks away to find that the old woodpecker nest-holes in the camelthorn above my trailer that I had hoped might be occupied by the African Scops-Owl had been re-inhabited by a pair of Bennett's Woodpeckers (see Photography Forum). A pair of Cape Glossy Starlings that seem to think the camelthorn belongs to them, chase the poor male unmercifully whenever he puts in an appearance.

On the owl front, though, as I was unpacking my bakkie on arrival, the call of Red-billed Buffalo Weavers caused me to look up into the camelthorn and see that the weavers were starting to rebuild all but one of last summers' abandoned nests - the other already had an occupant! A Southern White-faced Scops-Owl had found itself a very cosy roost (see Photography Forum).

The summer migrants are arriving. In the first half hour after my arrival I'd already chalked up one Jacobin, two African and three Black Cuckoos without even moving from the trailer! I'd also heard a Diederik. I've played cat and mouse with the cuckoos for a week trying to get photos - its actually more like Tom & Jerry, because I now know how poor Tom feels. A whole week and only one photo to show for it (the only one I was able to get!). It shows, well it's a large cuckoo, but not even good enough to tell if it's an African or Black! Unlike the smaller cuckoos and even the Jacobin and Levaillant's (Striped) the Black and African sit inside the tree canopy and not perched in the open, so when you can see it, well it can see you. It then takes off with a giddy weaving flight around trees and it is usually only when it starts to call again that you re-locate it - not just a few trees away but more likely a few hundred metres.

European Bee-Eaters, Common (European) Swifts (lifer) and Barn Swallows are everywhere and I've seen my first Spotted Flycatchers and Dusky Larks of the summer. The joys of the breeding season are also upon us and I've added both Desert Cisticola and Eastern Clapper Lark to my Hotazel list (now at 116, or 50% of all birds recorded for the sheet) due to their display antics. Three weeks away and the Black-chested Prinias are now just that!

Some 63mm of rain in the past few weeks has transformed the winter veld and several species that were absent or only poorly represented through the winter are now proving very common, such as Black-throated Canary (absent), Speckled Pigeon (absent) and Red-headed Finches (sparse) (see Photography Forum). The opposite is also true, with no Black-faced Waxbills in evidence, presumably moving back to drier climes, and the pairs of Short-toed Rockthrush and African Pygmy Falcon that were regular visitors to the exploration yard are nowhere to be seen.

Also, the young of several species are now conspicuous, particularly Swallow-tailed Bee-Eaters (see Photography Forum). A pair of South African Shelduck with 7 juveniles has set up home at the main waterhole. In the same vein, the Springboks are starting to lamb. I had not before realised just how small a newly-born Springbok is. This has led to an increased number of Black-backed Jackal sightings - their entree now being freely available! Also on the Photography Forum is my "shot of a lifetime" - a Pangolin, which I have not seen before outside of the pages of a book or a Richard Attenborough wildlife documentary!

Last Sunday morning I paid a visit to the vulture restaurant at the North-West Parks Board's Molopo Nature Reserve on the Botswana border near Vorstershoop. It was a truly amazing spot, with between 200 - 250 vultures feeding on the carcasses, and sitting on trees around the waterhole nearby (see Photography Forum). Only 4 Lappet-faced among that 200+ (an addition to my North-West list), and I gave up trying to work out which, if any, were the Cape Vultures amonst all the White-backed. Well worth a visit, but really out of the way and its unlikely you'd make a special trip just to Molopo. Must be combined with something else - perhaps that trip into the Botswana side of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. An added bonus lifer (perhaps - see Identification Forum) was a juvenile Burchell's Courser on the roadside in the small dorp (if it even qualifies as that) of Vorstershoop on my way back to Hotazel.

Between a week in Mapungubwe/Kruger, my back garden in Boksburg, a morning at Marievale and the past week and a bit near Hotazel, my species total for the calendar month of October clocked in at 289! This was the first time that I have passed 250 in a calendar month, and there have been several occasions in the past few years when I have combined a week in the Kruger with a week at some other venue. I suppose a good spread across Kalahari, Bushveld, Lowveld, Highveld and wetland habitats is the reason for this high total.

Neil Gray

P.S. I wrote this last night and just to make me eat my words, on the way off the farm this morning en route to Jhb I got a very long shot of an African Cuckoo sitting out in the open on top of a dead tree!

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11 years 2 weeks ago #3103 by gordon
gordon replied the topic:
Hi Neil,

It sounds and looks (from your photo's) that you had an amazing month of birding!

On the Pangolin, I was lucky enough to see one on one of the day walks from Skukuza. At first I did not realise the significance of seeing one of these animals and could not understand why our guide was so excited!

I think the only think that has compared is the recent sighting Doug, myself and Jeremy had of the pair of Honey Badgers in the Waterberg...

I am not sure if I have ever been able to match the number of species you have managed to see, and I have certainly never been able to photograph as many birds as well as you have!

A spectacular effort Neil, thank you for sharing with everyone!

Gordon

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11 years 2 weeks ago #3104 by nkgray
nkgray replied the topic:
Gordon,

Thanks. It was all the more special considering that only for the Mapungubwe/Kruger week was I on holiday, the rest of the month I was working and birding only when and where it could be fitted in. I guess it will only be once I retire and I can set myself a deliberate target to chase full-time that I will top 289 in a month again - I would think then though that I would probably be chasing 350+. I know many of you reading this will say well you can do that in a week in Zululand, but remember my aim these days is to build up a photographic record of what I've seen, so it is not just Big-Birding Day, dashing from spot to spot ticking!

On Honey Badgers, my first and still only sighting was north of Letaba some 20 years ago. It was wandering around in full view in the middle of a large clearing at 10:30 in the morning on very overcast drizzly day. I didn't realise the full significance of that sighting then either. It was also my pre-birding, Kodak Instamatic days, so I don't even have a photo either!

Only thing apart from the Pangolin that is right up there in the "golden memories" is my one-and-only Serval that sauntered across the road just north of Crocodile Bridge, also mid-morning on an overcast drizzly day in January last year.

Regards,

Neil Gray

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10 years 4 weeks ago #6126 by nkgray
nkgray replied the topic:

The summer migrants are arriving. In the first half hour after my arrival I'd already chalked up one Jacobin, two African and three Black Cuckoos without even moving from the trailer!


The date of these sightings was 23 October 2006.

Yesterday 23 October 2007 I arrived at the trailer to the calls of both Black and African cuckoos!!!!!! I located one Black and three African.

Are these likely to be some of the same cuckoos as last year. I know swallows return to the same nests year after year. Do cuckoos return to the same areas?

Neil Gray

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