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|Thursday 13th April 2006, 06:27||#1|
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Daintree Australia
Birding Skills Course - Makulu Makete - South Africa Feb06
The course was a fantastic experience and was part of our 5 week "self drive" birding vacation through the northern regions of South Africa.
Further reports will posted as they are produced by Red Mill House scribe, Trish Forsyth.
BIRDING SKILLS COURSE MAKULU MAKETE JAN/FEB 2006
Makulu Makete is a 5000ha wildlife reserve situated in the Limpopo Valley of north-east South Africa, 2.5 hrs drive north of Polokwane. It consists of several properties bought since 2000 for a bushveld regeneration project, wildlife reserve, game farm and tourism enterprise. The project is to restore the bushveld to its original state, before overgrazing, to provide sufficient grass cover to sustain the game population. Recently predators have been introduced into the system to maintain balance. The property is fully fenced with high, electric fencing to keep animals both in and out of the property. There are several habitats on the property, including extensive dry bushveld, riverine, rocky outcrops and Mopane woodland. Water from the river is supplemented by man-made waterholes at various locations. The variation makes for good birding and the property has a bird list of 200 plus species. The advantage of this location is that it is at the eastern edge of the range of many dry country western species, and also has species from the wetter areas to the east.
The Birding Skills Course is a 7 night, 6 day fully catered course in very pleasant surroundings and with a maximum of 6 people. In our case, it was only three. The course had both formal sessions of birding theory, plus daily birding excursions into different habitats. Conducted by avitourism consultant and excellent birder John Isom, from Pretoria, the aim of the course is to bring some order and structure to our birding so that we may become better birders. Talks included and ‘Eye Language’ module which involved field observations skills – field notes and sketches, general descriptions of birds and accurate, detailed descriptions of head, body, wing, legs, tail and behaviour of birds in the field. Another session took this information a step further, using images to practice these identification skills. Much time was spent in the field, following through with the descriptive processes and using correct terminology. Further sessions included understanding migration patterns and taxonomic groupings and relationships. Field sessions visited various habitats on the property with time spent applying the observation skills as well as seeing as many birds as possible. There were plenty of opportunities to get good looks at birds and to start recognizing the groups to which the individual species belong. Being new to many of these families it was important for us to take that time and it was an excellent introduction to South African birds. Generally the days started early as it became very hot, very early (5-5.30am departures) with a field birding session, then brunch at about 10am, followed by a theory session in the afternoon, then late afternoon birding again. A couple of the days were full day excursions away from the property, however.
5am start, off exploring the property and birding – low bushveld, riverine habitat and waterholes. Back for brunch at 10am, then out birding again until 1pm as cloud cover had kept the temperature down. Being a bit jet-lagged, we enjoyed an afternoon rest and then a lecture at 3.30pm, followed by a short walk before dinner. 81 species for the day, and all new for us! Highlights of the day being Giant Kingfisher, Carmine Bee-eater and Goliath Heron.
5am start around parts of the property again – Mopane woodland, waterholes, open fields, bushveld and the Mogalakwena River which had flooded after a massive thunderstorm up stream the night before, causing damage to fences, tracks and equipment on the property. Out all day until 3pm as again, conditions were cooler. A night drive followed. 112 species for the day with good eagles, vultures and nightjars.
5am start, driving around to the back of a mountain on the property and to the bush camp at the base of the mountain. Back for an afternoon and then evening lecture as it was too hot to continue birding into the afternoon. Good looks at Black Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle as the day started to heat up. Spotted eagle-Owl, African Hoopoe, Pearl-spotted Owlet, all highlights.
5am departure for a big day out to Mapungubwe National Park on the Limpopo River, both also Denstaat and Ratho overlooking the Limpopo. Because of local flooding and road damage, it involved detours and three hours of driving. Excellent variety of habitats and 121 species for the day, including many new ones. Home, exhausted at 7pm. A full report on the day accompanies this report. See BIG DAY OUT report below
Another 5am departure to bird on the Williams property at Platjan, another farm on the Limpopo River, then returned home to the Makulu Makete to visit Dottie, the (hopefully pregnant) Cheetah with the ecologist Rox, using radio tracking equipment. An evening lecture on the very interesting ecology of the property and the revegetation project. Lots of waxbills and firefinches, Eastern Red-footed Falcon, Kori Bustard, a range of cuckoos and bee-eaters, Golden-tailed, Cardinal and Bearded Woodpeckers all highlights of the day.
A sleep in! 6am start, visiting the irrigated farmlands on the opposite side of the property. Because of continued local flooding, quite a lot of driving was involved. Back for brunch then an afternoon lecture and late afternoon birding by the river. An evening quiz and a bit of fun finished off the week which we thought was well constructed and well worthwhile. Highlights of the day included both Dark and Pale Chanting Goshawk, Bateleur, African Harrier-Hawk, Malachite Kingfisher, Lilac-breasted Roller, Kalahari Scrub Robin and Caspian Plover.
Packing, breakfast and goodbyes was really all we had time for before the long drive back to Polokwane to pick up our hire car for the next month of touring north east South Africa. We were both very pleased with how the week went and how we thought we had progressed with our birding in that time. The course will stand us in good stead for the future. John Isom was kind enough to offer to take us for a couple more days birding around the Louis Trichart and the Soutpansberg Mountains area which we proceeded to do. We would recommend the Birding Skills Course and Makulu Makete to anyone interested in birding, particularly if they are coming to this part of the world. By the time the week was over, we’d had 208 species of birds, all of which were new to us, so we were more than pleased. Thanks to John and also Jane and staff at Makulu Makete.
DAY 4 - THE BIG DAY OUT
A 5am departure from the lodge, taking 30 mins driving through bushveld to leave the farm, before daylight. This gave us an opportunity to see Mozambique and Fiery-necked Nightjar and Double-banded Sandgrouse before light, and then in the early morning light Crested Francolin and Helmeted Guineafowl. The plan was to drive straight to Mapungubwe National Park knowing that if we stopped to look at birds on the way, we’d never get there. Local flooding and road damage slowed the process, but we still made reasonable time.
Mapungubwe NP is bordered by the confluence of the Limpopo River and the Shashe River, thus overlooking the South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe borders. This is a new National Park with good infrastructure, famous for its significant stone-age and iron-age archeological sites. It has bushveld, Mopane woodland, some spectacular rocky outcrops with lookouts overlooking the river confluence and an excellent aerial forest boardwalk through the yellow barked Fever Trees to the Limpopo River. From this vantage point raptors including Shikra and African Fish Eagle could be seen, plus along the rivers, Saddle-billed Stork, Yellow-billed Stork, African Spoonbill and Egyptian Goose. We were fortunate enough to see Elephant, White Rhino, Rock Dassie, Oryx and Impala on the drive into the park.
From Mapungubwe we drove to Denstaat to a private farm on the Limpopo River with aquaculture, dates and field crops. The large fish ponds for Tilapia fish farming contain water pumped from the Limpopo and provide a large permanent, artificial wetland approximately 2 square kilometers, in an area that has no other wetland. There are reed beds, water lilies, open ponds, roadways, drain and plenty of fish to sustain the birdlife. It is an excellent area for birding, but not always open to, or inviting to, birders. Along with Nile Crocodile and Leopard Tortoises there were many waders using the ponds – Black-winged Pratincole, African Jacana by the tens, White-fronted Plover, Three-banded Plover, Crowned Lapwing, Blacksmith Lapwing, Common, Wood, Marsh and Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stint and White-winged Tern. Herons included Green-backed, Grey, Squacco and Goliath, plus African Darter and White-breasted and Reed Cormorants, Sacred Ibis and Hamerkop. There were not many ducks and sitting water birds, presumably because of the numbers of crocodiles present. Yellow and Pied Wagtails, White-winged Widowbird and Red Bishop and Yellow Bishop also about.
Next stop after the Denstaat Fish farm was Ratho Bush Camp, another diverse, productive farm along the Limpopo River, being a game (Sable and others) and crocodile farm with vegetables and citrus. On the way to the farm we saw various Bee-eaters – Southern Carmine, European, Little and White-fronted, and Rollers – Lilac-breasted, Purple and Broad-billed. Approaching the farm we had our first good looks of the Red-billed Oxpecker as several explored the ear cavities of the local cattle. A classic photo opportunity. One of the features of Ratho is the ubiquitous ‘Vulture Restaurant’ where animal carcasses are left out for vultures, and in this case, Maribou Stork as well as White-backed Vulture. A bit disconcerting seeing giraffe heads and zebra legs for dinner. A Maribou Stork nest with two three month old youngsters standing on top, on the highest tree on the ridgeline was a highlight. Poor unattractive things!
The Limpopo River was in flood, so no Pel’s Fishing Owl, for which we came. At the dam however, there were more sandpipers and Ruff. Tawny Eagle was also found near the river. An enormous razor-wire fence followed the river, being the border with Botswana. Two electric fences, 1.5 m apart, 3 m high and with two rolls of razor-wire piled up between them. You’d have to keen to emigrate! The elephants cross the river nightly from Botswana apparently to feed, and return each morning.
It was almost dark by the time we headed home to Makulu Makete, managing to get Bateleur and Wahlberg’s Eagle as well as White-backed Vulture on the way home. An exhausting, but fascinating day with 121 species seen.
Last edited by redmill : Thursday 20th April 2006 at 01:12. Reason: removed link - insert actual report
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