Found on the SA Birdnet Archives
Subject: TR: Short visit to the new Mokala National Park (long and chatty)
While visiting our folks near Hartswater, northern Cape, we quickly dashed off for a day visit (4 July 2007) to the latest addition to our national parks list, Mokala NP. What a pleasant surprise!! We predict that this park will become a birding hotspot in the Northern Cape .....
Mokala NP (Mokala is the Setswana for Camel thorn/Kameeldoring) has just recently been opened and is the "replacement" for the de-proclaimed Vaalbos NP, which never really got going due to prospecting rights in the park, a successful land claim and monotonous habitat (from a birding perspective). We visited Vaalbos about 8 years ago and were hugely disappointed, so it was with a sense of anticipation that we set of for Mokala NP, which is about 70km due south of where Vaalbos used to be. According to SANParks, they have done their homework on Mokala and the same fate as Vaalbos would not befall this gem of 20 000 ha.
Mokala is about 80 km south-west of Kimberley, but be warned: at this stage there is no signposting from the N12 and this resulted in us overshooting the turnoff to the park by more than 50km's! Even the Tourist Information desk in Kimberley initially gave us wrong directions. After Mokala we still had to show our teenage daughter the Big Hole in Kimberley and this 100km+ "detour" seriously impacted on our time in the park.
Directions: from Kimberley, take the N12 towards Hopetown for 58 km until you reach the Hayfield turnoff to the right. Take this gravel road (some stretches badly corrugated) for about 20km to reach the entrance to the park on your right. Ironically, after 3km on the Hayfield road, we started getting minute signposts indicating the remaining distance to the park! Hopefully the authorities would soon be putting up the necessary roadsigns on the N12.
The entrance gate is remotely controlled from the main office, which is 7km into the park in an easterly direction. One has to contact the office by means of an intercom at the gate.
The friendly and helpful staff provided some answers to our questions at reception. Apparently the park used to be a hunting/game farm and therefore there are some lovely infrastructure/facilities at the main reception in the form of two camps with semi- to luxury chalets, restaurant, swimming pool, conference centre, bar, etc. The chalets of Mosu Lodge overlook a waterhole where some excellent birding and game-viewing should be had. We did not have time to visit the other lodge, called Mofele.
The rest of the park is still in the process of being developed and road-markers have just been erected (the typical stone markers like in the KNP), but no names/directions have been attached to them yet, so one has to follow numbered beacons for the time being. All the routes are clearly indicated on a fairly detailed park map, with about 70km of accessible roads. As there are dangerous game in the park, one is not allowed to leave your vehicle, except in designated spots. The camps and campsite are not fenced, adding to the wild ambience.
The "Haak en Steek" campsite (referring to the scrubs) is rustic (no power) and has 5 shady campsites with a small ablution: toilet, basin, shower with gas geyser. There is a single chalet at the campsite. We met the park manager, mr Joubert, at the campsite and he feels that this campsite has huge potential, because it overlooks a waterhole and has a lovely, remote setting. We fully agree and are already salivating about something like a viewing hide on the waterhole.
The good diversity of habitats (e.g. thornveld, rocky koppies, arid scrubland, karoo grassland/plains, dry watercourses) in the park will surely add to its appeal and its birdlist. There are also some nice red sandveld, smacking of the kalahari.
We could not nearly cover all the roads and tracks in the 3 hours at our disposal, having reached Mokala only at 11:30 after all the searching for the park. The time of day, cool to cold weather and breezy conditions were not optimal for birding, but we still had a good time, recording 65 species in the park. We have no doubt that a list of 100 species is possible on an extended visit and the park should eventually boast a list of close to 200 species. The high endemicity of the species recorded should also add to the attraction. We saw 68 species and could easily have reached 80+ if we had more time and better conditions. So much more reason to return ...
A very southern Purple Roller on the access road set the tone for some nice avian highlights for us NFS/Gauteng highvelders. Soon after that we were delighted to find a confiding female Pygmy Falcon near one of the few Sociable Weaver Nests in the vicinity of the main office. Short-toed Rock-thrush were wall-to-wall, as were Kalahari Scrub Robin. One of these delightful little blighters foraged less than 2m away in the campsite. Karoo Scrub-Robin were also present in good numbers and we saw a single Rufous-eared Warbler in scrubland near the campsite. The ubiquitous Cape Wagtail was joined at the main camp waterhole by African Quailfinch and Red-headed Finch.
Grey Hornbills were plentiful and we were lucky to first hear and then see a single male Red-crested Korhaan. A brilliant crimson flash and then good views had us agape for the umpteenth time on seeing a Crimson-breasted Shrike. Can you ever get enough of these beauties? The somewhat melancholy call of Pririt Batis was in direct contrast to its lively foraging in the mid stratum, sharing foraging trees with the delightful Fairy Flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Ashy Tit, Chested-vented Tit-babbler and Long-billed Crombec in a nice mixed party. Acacia Pied Barbet chose to do their own thing outside the bird parties. The fluttery and somewhat lopsided flight of Chat Flycatcher drew attention to this giant of the flycatcher family.
Larks were represented by Sabota, Bradfield's and Fawn-coloured. To the ornithologists out there: c'mon guys, surely Bradfield's Lark is an obviously different bird from Sabota, let's have them split again, please...
A large flock of Pied Starlings were just another addition to the endemic list. Only Buffy and African Pipits were seen, but there is nice habitat for Kimberley and Long-tailed as well and we would not be surprised if these will also feature on the park list as more birders visit.
The chilly conditions prevented big raptor sightings and in addition to the rather shrike-like Pygmy Falcon, the raptors were represented by Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, an immature Black-shouldered Kite and a single Greater Kestrel. Mountain Wheatear were common around the many rocky outcrops and a pair of Capped Wheatear was seen just before we took our reluctant leave of the park.
As you leave the park, you once again contact the office by intercom to get the gate opened. The box containing the intercom is locked, but there is an inconspicuous silver button (looking more like a big pop-rivet or a self-taping screw than a button) on the box cover that you need to press to activate the intercom. The last addition to the list before we left was Pied Crow.
Mammalian sightings included Warthog, Roan Antelope, Gemsbok, Kudu, Hartbees, Springbok, Impala and buffalo, but we dipped in giraffe and the 2 rhino species.
Currently buffalo and rhino are the only big 5 species in the park.
We did not have internet access at the time of writing, so we could not check on other vital pieces of info on the SANParks website, like central booking etc. The park can be contacted at 053-2040158, 053-2040164 or 053-2040168 and faxed at 053-2040176.
All indications are that Mokala is on the right track and would become a world-class facility. Birders should not miss this park on a visit to the arid western interior. We will definitely be back.....
Regards and good birding.
Dawie and Sarieta Kleynhans