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Bush Baptist's MZNP & Camdeboo for the first time - birding guinea pig. April 2015.

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Bush Baptist
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Bush Baptist's MZNP & Camdeboo for the first time - birding guinea pig. April 2015.

Unread post by Bush Baptist » Sat Apr 18, 2015 5:44 pm

I leave tomorrow morning early for for the above parks.

I have offered to be a guinea pig for a university's ornithological department for 6 days - 3 in each park, so I am going up 2 days early to acclimatize and get in some practice.

I will report as and when I can.
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Re: MZNP & Camdeboo for the first time - birding guinea pig

Unread post by Bush Baptist » Sun Apr 26, 2015 6:18 pm

Just got back after an amazing time in these 2 gems of parks. Will get to expounding soon. Let me check my pics.
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Re: MZNP & Camdeboo for the first time - birding guinea pig

Unread post by Bush Baptist » Mon Apr 27, 2015 3:45 pm

Firstly, a bit of background.

I saw on the social media that a university orn dept was looking for Eastern Cape birders to help them with a study in MZNP & Camdeboo. I approached them and said I was from the Western Cape if they needed my assistance. They took up my offer, so having never been to those 2 parks before, I booked myself into MZNP 2 days beforehand to acclimatize and ramiliarise.

Just as well I did, because on the very first day I got a MEGA sighting. Next time I will elaborate and post pics.
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Re: MZNP & Camdeboo for the first time - birding guinea pig

Unread post by Bush Baptist » Tue Apr 28, 2015 2:26 pm

I arrived at the lovely Mountain Zebra National Park at 16h00 after a long drive from Cape Town. Birding at 120 kph is not easy but I managed to spot various raptors en route, including lots of Cape & pied crows, pale chanting goshawks, rock kestrels, jackal buzzards and a lovely immature martial eagle.

After 45 minutes the tent was up and I was ready for a 75 minute foray into the park. I was told that a lot of animals were on the Rooiplaat loop, so I headed off in that direction. I had to ascend Kranskop first and onto the grassland plateau to Rooiplaat.

Sure enough, I could see quite a lot of game dotted around in the distance. Various mountain zebras, with their much more plentiful midriff stripes, blesbok, red hartebeest, and the local black wildebeest, which has a white tail and runs differently from his blue counterpart.

At one point, I saw something that looked odd. I thought it was a hyena, but the park has only brownies, and this didn't look like one. Suddenly, I realized I was looking at an aardwolf :big_eyes: Yes it was! I have been going to national parks since 1956 and NEVER seen an aardwolf. I have seen the occasional one languishing in some far off zoo, and even road kill but never a free live one. As I fumbled for the camera, it hunkered down in the grass and was just about invisible. I switched off the engine and waited. I had visions of gate time problems, but it stood up and sauntered off, allowing me some not so great shots, but evidence they are.

Welcome to MZNP. :dance:

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How fantastic is that. So I drew an X on the side of the bakkie to mark the spot and carried on. Birding was a bit slow at that time of the afternoon, and as I approached the camp, I received a call from reception telling me that the night ride I had booked was off because the other 4 participants had cancelled, so I asked for one for the following night. (Just as well - will tell you why hen we get there.)

As the tin of meatballs & spaghetti that my wife and I had decided I would have for supper would have been an anticlimax, I decided to spoil myself at the restaurant, and what better than a reasonably priced filet steak. Good decision! It was very tasty and good value. I prepared for bed in the tent and got a very good reminder of how cold autumn Karoo nights can be. This was a very good example of one.
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Re: MZNP & Camdeboo for the first time - birding guinea pig

Unread post by Bush Baptist » Mon May 04, 2015 12:33 pm

Thank you everyone for joining me.

@Kaapsedraai - I left Cape Town at 6h00 and took a relaxed drive in the N1 to Beaufort West, checking out all the raptors I saw. I stopped at 10h45 and had brunch at a local food chain. Thus fortified, I turned onto a road I have never before travelled, namely via Aberdeen to Graaf-Reinet, both of which I have not been to before. From G-R I took the Middleburg road and turned off towards Craddock. There were 2 stop/go road workings on this stretch.

@MM - If you want to see aardwolf, now you know where to go, AND MZNP is a smashing little park.

After surviving the Karoo night, I made myself some coffee in the best camp kitchen I have been into in a national park. Firstly it was enclosed and had a door and was warm. Sheesh, if I had known, I would have slept in here. There was a fridge, deep freeze, cupboards, microwave, kettle and boiling water unit in addition to the washing up areas. I had instant coffee - literally.

I turned right out of camp and made my way along the main road, hoping to get a sighting of the large mammals that inhabit this park. After a short while, I decided to try the Umgeni 4x4 trail. After all, the Fire Engine in a 4x4 twin cab bakkie (pick-up) and it told me it was tired of driving on smooth tar roads and craved a bit of excitement. OK, I get it! After a short while the FE was in its element as we climbed the mountain in small 'hops'. We woke a Verreauxs' eagle, that shot off too quickly to be photographed, but this secretary bird was more sedate at waking up in the gloomy light.


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Then I suppose I must show the reason for the park's existence, which is saving the mountain zebra from extinction. Evidently there were 6 animals when the park started, and through the generosity of farmers others were added to create a sustainable gene pool. Now there are lots, and there are more in parks such as Bontebok & Karoo. The Burchell's zebra were all relocated for fear of hybridization.

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The mountain zebra has more stripes than its Burchell's 'cousin'.

This next pic speaks for itself. The scar can bee seen just left of centre on the first hill after the one this tablet is on.

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This trail turned out to be quite tough, but we managed it It exited on the Rooiplaat loop, but I was too late for aardwolf, and looked for a place to have breakfast. Strangely the only 2 picnic spots in the park are less than 5 km from each other on the Kranskop Loop, so I set off there. I picked up some mountain species like Cape & cinnamon breasted bunting, common fiscal, fiscal flycatcher, (distant) African rock pipit and Cape wagtail in a stream I crossed.

This is some of the stunning scenery on the Kranskop loop that distracts you from driving. At one point you are driving on the ridge and the mountain top.

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See the road to the picnic sites below.

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These pics do not do the view justice. After descending into the riverine forest, I came to the entrance to the picnic site. It was an automatic gate, that opened when I pressed the button on the pad. It was deserted, so I pulled into a spot and saw this magnificent brown hooded kingfisher. After a quick pic, I left it alone and sought out another site where I had my cereal.

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Re: MZNP & Camdeboo for the first time - birding guinea pig

Unread post by Bush Baptist » Fri May 15, 2015 3:34 pm

Hello anne catherine :D

Kd, get there sooner.....

Nobody else? ok let's proceed.

I went back to camp and showered. I decided on this time of day because it is rather cold at night, and there are other things to do. In the morning I like to get out there, so mid morning onwards it is warmer, the showers have been cleaned and I have the place to myself.

Now that the inner man was satisfied and the outer man cleaned, I decided to try to find one of the lifers on my park list, so I headed for the Ubejane loop that I had heard was the favourite haunt of the blue korhaan, an endemic found in the park.

In the grassland I found some African pipits

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some ant eating chats

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and this of many crowned lapwings on a piece I named Lapwing Corner

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And there they were, Mr & Mrs blue korhaan.

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I am not superstitious, but it was nice to get off the devil's number to 667.

Another juvenile Southern pale chanting goshawk

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Somebody told me that there was a herd of buffs in the area, but they managed to hide from me. Not so this (of many in the park) kudu with magnificent horns.

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Re: MZNP & Camdeboo for the first time - birding guinea pig

Unread post by Bush Baptist » Wed May 20, 2015 4:47 pm

Thanks those who are aboard, and for the comments.

Not much excitement on the way back to camp where I prepared for the night ride which was cancelled last night. The night ride was due to start half an hour after gate closing, and it was getting dark as I arrived at reception twenty minutes before the scheduled start. Surprisingly I was the last to arrive and slotted into the passenger seat in the cab. With the customary briefing over, we were out of the camp gates before the appointed time.

The diurnal animals were already tucked up in bed, and looked relaxed, seemingly knowing that the lions were in the area around the northern fence. We were told that 3 had been recently imported but the female had already been moved on to another park, so the 2 males had to hunt for themselves.

We were headed for the Ubejane loop, which was on the way to the main gate. It didn’t take long before we saw one of the predators of the night, a black backed jackal that was on the lookout for a scrap or unsuspecting victim. I was surprised that there was a lack of nocturnal birds although we did see a pair of spotted eagle owls. I was later to discover that there were a few in camp from the calling at night.

Just before the Ubejane turn off, our guide, who was informative and knowledgeable, and whose name escapes me at the moment, spotted a pair of eyes under a tree. With great excitement we discovered it was a cheetah that had bedded down for the night. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get the camera to focus on the dimly lit figure that looked a bit peeved at the extra ‘daylight’. Still, it was my first night time cheetah. I have seen others on night rides, but before it was dark.

Unfortunately my camera didn’t play along for the whole night ride, so sorry, no pics on this bit of the report. On the loop, we had sightings of 2 families of bat eared fox. These are funny animals, whose little legs seem to carry them faster than they are able, and they seem to be ready to fall in a heap at any given moment, but they don’t.

We also saw a few duikers, more jackals and steenbok, before the ubiquitous spring hares became a bit of an excitement frustrater. It was a pleasant if not stunning night ride, with the highlight obviously the cheetah.

It was getting rather cold as I prepared for bed in my two man tent. Last night the blow up mattress had been less than successful in keeping me off the ground. I had tested it before I left and it seemed not to be leaking, but I hadn’t allowed for the cooling and ‘shrinking’ of the air, but I don’t think that was a major factor. I had brought an electric blanket along, but it hadn’t been used in more than 5 years so I decided to brave the cold rather than become as warm as toast – or toast itself!
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Re: MZNP & Camdeboo for the first time - birding guinea pig

Unread post by Bush Baptist » Fri May 29, 2015 10:17 am

Barryels & Hilda, you need to get to MZNP!

The night was rather chilly and the mattress played up again, so it was not the best sleep I have ever had.

I got up to the hooting of spotted eagle owls as they were preparing for bed and I had a cup of coffee.

As soon as the gates opened, I was out and saw some of the usual plains game that seemed to be quite plentiful in the park.

There had been rumours of some larks I was missing from my list on the Juriesdam 4x4 loop, so that is where I headed. Once again, there was a steep incline that tested my fire engine, but the fire engine won quite comfortably. I reached the summit if the mountain and came across this lovely waterhole.


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and the surrounding scenery.

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It was so fresh, quiet and lovely that I decided it was a great spot for breakfast. I had just started eating when I heard the sound of another vehicle. To my surprise, it was a SANParks vehicle with 2 armed men in fatigues in the back. They must have had fun on the ascent. Anyway I waved at them as they passed and assumed (to be confirmed later) that they were the local anti rhino poaching unit on patrol. It made me happy to see they were protecting the black rhinos in the park, but sad that they have to.

I saw this little birdie and some sparrowlarks that wouldn't sit still long enough for a pic, but no larks on my list. I think it is a streakyheaded seed eater.

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Brimstone canary.

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There was the occasional plains game on the mountain and I made my way down to the main road. My companions were due to arrive later, so I made my way to the admin offices to see the camp manager, Megan Taplin, whom I has met last year. We chatted and I complimented her on winning the best park award at the Kudu evening, and told her I could see why they won. The park is very well run and has a committed team.
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Re: MZNP & Camdeboo for the first time - birding guinea pig

Unread post by Bush Baptist » Thu Jun 11, 2015 7:37 pm

My 'streaky headed seedeater' is in fact a white throated canary. :redface:

ah well.......

Thanks everyone....let's get a move on.

After my now usual midday shower and lunch, I decided to try for the black rhinos where others had seen them. No luck, so I went looking for aardwolf, and somebody told me of rock pipits on the way. I was lucky enough to get the pipits, but they were too far up the rocks for a photograph, but no aardwolf. Just some plains game.

Red harties with a stunning backdrop

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The black wildebeests all kept a good distance away,

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and this guy desperately tried to get away.

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It soon became time for me to go and meet my companions for the next few days. They were 3 young ladies from the avian unit of a SA university who were driving the study, 2 'expert' local birders, and a couple from Cape Town who were going to do the same job as I was to do. I will explain that in the next section.

The young ladies arrived last and quickly set up camp and we had a braai for supper while discussing tomorrow's strategy.

The night was the coldest yet.
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Re: MZNP & Camdeboo for the first time - birding guinea pig

Unread post by Bush Baptist » Tue Jun 16, 2015 5:00 pm

Thanks everyone.

Over breakfast and coffee, the leader explained the drill to us. There were 2 'birders' and 2 'expert birders' in whose territory we would be 'working'. The birders had to drive a unique 5 km route (i.e. one that had not been driven before for this purpose) and write down each and every species that they saw. At the end of the route we filled in a questionaire about the experience, with questions like "What were your expectations, what was the best bird you saw" etc and handed it in with our list. A bit later, the expert drove the same route and stopped every 500 metres for few minutes and counted all the birds that they saw and heard.

So I set out with an expert for company and to record what I saw, along the road to the Kranskop loop, and the couple took the road to the Ubejane loop. The birds must have known what we were up to and made themselves scarce. But we did grind out some of the more common ones and near the end of our stint we found a pair of rock thrushes. We deliberated on their ID for a while and decided on Cape, but I am not so sure. Maybe they are short toed or even sentinel. Decide for yourselves and if you can guide me please do.

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Re: MZNP & Camdeboo for the first time - birding guinea pig

Unread post by Bush Baptist » Sun Jun 28, 2015 3:42 pm

Yeah, it is definitely not the Cape, which has a definite line where the rufous and grey meet, and not the short toed which has a lighter cap.

Thanks Barryels & Hilda.

We drove around a bit more and then returned to camp for lunch and I had my (by now, usual) shower.

Some of us went looking for rock pipits, which I had only seen once before briefly. We found them high up on the Kranskop Loop on some rocks, calling and displaying, but too far for a photo.

Then it was 'back to work'. In the late afternoon I was assigned a section of Ubejane Loop, where the birds seemed to have abandoned, but we did get to see some meerkats and blue crane.

My partner and I decided to look for the aardwolf again, and first we got a poor pic of a distant jackal buzzard

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but cut my legs off & call me shorty, we got another aardwolf, my second in 3 days. This one was a bit more shy.

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Later we all had a meal at the chalet of the couple who were doing the same as me, and everyone was primed to go aardwolf 'hunting' tomorrow evening.

The night was a bit warmer, but the floor was just as hard in the tent.
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Re: MZNP & Camdeboo for the first time - birding guinea pig

Unread post by Bush Baptist » Thu Jul 09, 2015 3:01 pm

Thank you all for still being aboard this slow train. I hope to pick up the pace as I leave for the north soon.

This being the last counting day in MZNP, I had to do 2 routes in the morning, so I set off at the crack of sparrows with Judith, one of the organizers as my scribe. We did 2 sections of the Rooiplaat loop and immediately heard the mewing of a cat. Since I hadn't heard it before, I found out that the call belonged to this Cape longclaw.

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Birding was quite good and we came across Jacky, who after this pic, swooped down to grab a rodent. A kill!

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More blue korhaans.

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and a secretary bird.

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With a decent haul of birds we returned to camp and after my now customary shower, the team was sitting around having lunch, when one of the experts spotted a small raptor. What he thought it was, was unticked on my life list, so it got my attention and we scampered off in search of another sighting. There was a bit of a birding commotion at the reception building so we went there in time to get a couple of good looks at a little sparrowhawk. When the excitement had died down, the same expert told me of another sighting not on the park's list that he had seen on his stint during the morning, that would be a lifer for me, so I bribed him to take me to the site, where sure enough, a pair of red necked wrynecks cavorted.

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Well and truly off the devil's number now, 669. In the afternoon, the whole team went looking for the aardwolf, but as you would expect it didn't put in an appearance.

We braaied and got ready for an early start tomorrow. The ordinary birders would leave early in the morning for Camdeboo, while the experts would verify today's routes before joining us.
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Re: MZNP & Camdeboo for the first time - birding guinea pig

Unread post by arks » Tue Jul 28, 2015 2:46 am

Bush Baptist wrote:Red harties with a stunning backdrop

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Just catching up with your MZNP adventures BB, and I think that your 'red harties' are in fact blesbokkies -- but still stunning!
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