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Puff Addy's A Nine-Night Stay in Cloud Cuckoo Land. MZNP, Nov. 2015

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Puff Addy
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Puff Addy's A Nine-Night Stay in Cloud Cuckoo Land. MZNP, Nov. 2015

Unread post by Puff Addy » Fri Dec 11, 2015 10:56 am

Hi all,

My wife and I have just returned from our second trip to South Africa and the Eastern Cape. Unlike our first trip last year, over half of this one was spent outside the national parks and as such will not feature in our upcoming report, which will strictly be about our nine-night stay in Mountain Zebra National Park.

And what a stay it was.

Our five-night stay last year yielded us 80 species of birds. This year we racked up 122 and actually saw Cloud Cisticola and most of the possible cuckoos, hence the title of the report.

We went on two night drives with two different guides and had two completely different experiences. We did not do the Cheetah-tracking this year (despite there being a litter of young cubs in the park) as we didn't think our experience last year could be topped.

We were up at 5 and in the sack by 8 (when we weren't out on a night drive). We drove all the loops at least twice. We did a morning walk on the Black Eagle Trail this year instead of the late-afternoon hike we did last year.

We saw the friendly old faces we remember from last year as well as a couple of friendly new ones.

We stayed in Chalet 20 just like last year. This year, though, we had forum members HiggsieNJules as our neighbors for four nights in number 19.

All in all, it was absolutely great. Stay tuned for the trip report and see why we love this park so much!

Kind regards,

Adam
Last edited by Puff Addy on Mon Dec 28, 2015 4:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: MZNP - A Nine-Night Stay in Cloud Cuckoo Land

Unread post by Puff Addy » Sat Dec 12, 2015 3:06 pm

Thank you for your interest, CoS and Hilda.

Here is the first instalment of my wife Lida's trip report. As we are birders, the report will be bird-heavy, but all of our other sightings are noted as well.

I did not have the camera out on our arrival day, so unfortunately there are no pictures to accompany this first "episode".

Hope you enjoy the report.

Kind regards,

Adam


Day 1 - November 26, 2015

After getting groceries in Cradock we drove to the MZNP gate and were welcomed by Mhlabantu, the same friendly attendant who greeted us last year. We officially entered the park at 12:03.

Since check-in time was 2 PM, we decided to drive the Ubejane Loop from marker 1 to 4 (i.e. counter-clockwise) and then get back on the main road and go to reception. Before we got to marker 1, we could add a Common Fiscal, Barn Swallows and an Ant-eating Chat as well as seven Black Wildebeest and one Red Hartebeest to our list. Just after turning off the main road onto the Ubejane Loop, a pair of Rufous-eared Warblers, a Neddicky, more Barn Swallows and three Pied Starlings flew in to greet us.

In what we call the Northern Ground Squirrel Area (NGSA), three Helmeted Guineafowl were foraging in the grass, several Ant-eating Chats were perched waiting for their lunch, and three Ground Squirrels were seen. A small flock of Cape Sparrows was mixed with a few Grey-headed Sparrows, while four Red Hartebeest were resting alongside the road.

Past the NGSA, five female Kudus were browsing the vegetation as we ticked off a Fiscal Flycatcher and a Karoo Prinia. Then we reached the first dam, which we thought would contain some water, only to find that it was dry and hosted only a pair of Ostriches, an African Pipit, two Pin-tailed Whydah males and one female, and a Grey-headed Sparrow flock with some Cape Sparrows mixed in. Dozens and dozens of Barn Swallows were flying above the dry dam and feeding. At 12:32 we saw our first Mountain Zebra of the trip. Just after the dam area, we encountered a mother Red Hartebeest with a ‘teenager’.

As we passed the turn-off for the Link Road (3), we saw another Mountain Zebra, a female Namaqua Dove, three female Kudus, and more Barn Swallows. Three Scaly-feathered Finches were flushed on the side of the road and two Red-eyed Bulbuls were spotted in the vegetation. In the open area towards the end of the loop (known to us as the Southern Ground Squirrel Area or SGSA), we saw three Ground Squirrels, three Mountain Zebras, nine Red Hartebeests, a Fork-tailed Drongo, and a pair of Lark-like Buntings.

When we returned to the main road, we heard Neddickies singing, saw a Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk near a telephone pole, heard a Red-chested Cuckoo calling from the Wilgerboom area, encountered a Vervet Monkey with a little “Vervelet” attached, spied a blue-throated agama at the top of a dead tree near the place we saw a pair of Red-throated Wrynecks last year (none there this year, unfortunately), and saw five Mountain Zebras just before the Wilgerboom bridge. As we neared the reception building, we met a small troop of Vervets.

Adam went to check us in, which took a while as there were a few visitors ahead of him, but half an hour later we were bringing our things from the car into Chalet 20, our old/new home for nine nights. To celebrate our return to MZNP, we had a small Windhoek lager each and later coffee with rusks. The wind picked up at around 5 PM, clouds came in to cover the mountain tops, and it suddenly got very chilly.

The first chalet birds we could tick off were a ringed White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, a Southern Masked Weaver, a singing Neddicky and a Cape Robin-Chat, and our first chalet mammal was a Rock Hyrax.

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Re: MZNP - A Nine-Night Stay in Cloud Cuckoo Land

Unread post by Puff Addy » Sun Dec 13, 2015 1:03 pm

Day 2 - November 27, 2015 - Part I

It was decided to do the Rooiplaat Loop as our morning drive. As we loaded the car, we saw a Speckled Mousebird and heard a Black Cuckoo. We left the chalet at 5:56 to get to the rest-camp gate as soon as it opened at 6 AM. Just after turning left onto the main road, we saw a Brown-hooded Kingfisher. As we climbed up to the plateau, we saw an Eland, two Pied Crows, the first Bokmakierie of the trip, a Red-winged Starling, and an African Pipit.

From the first lookout point we heard a Black Cuckoo down in the kloof and saw a Rock Kestrel kiting in the wind which hadn’t abated since the previous evening. After the second lookout point, an Acacia Pied Barbet flew across the road and a pair of Common Fiscals was perched in an acacia tree.

At 6:30 we turned off for the Rooiplaat Loop (marker 9) and saw a few Blesboks and 15 Black Wildebeests, a few of which were running and that were later joined by 15 more. We also saw a pair of Large-billed Larks, one of which was taking a dust bath. At this moment, the designated photographer found out that the rear windows did not go down all the way and had to return to the co-pilot’s seat, angry at the fact that he now only had one side to shoot from.

A singing Cloud Cisticola didn’t want to be seen, a Cape Longclaw was singing from a little acacia, and another pair was seen further down the road. Another Large-billed Lark showed itself to us.

At the beginning of the Rooiplaat Loop (8), we saw three Blesboks and 16 Springboks grazing by the road. We could hear Clapper Larks as Adam was photographing Springboks. There were at least 20 Black Wildebeest on our right, and Adam photographed a Blesbok nursery containing 13 adults and nine young. What a lovely sight!

Springy-dingies up close and personal

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Blesboks and their young further away

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A real cutie-pie!

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Two African Pipits, at least two displaying Clapper Larks, two Long-billed Larks, a Cape Longclaw, and Sickle-Winged Chats could be added to our loop list. We saw 17 more Black Wildebeest, 12 Blesboks and three Springboks on either side of the road. We stopped to look at and photograph a couple of pipits which turned out to be African and Plain-backed (a lifer), respectively. During shooting, a Sickle-winged Chat flew in to participate but wasn’t an ideal model. Two Blue Cranes were seen “grazing” in the distance.

African Pipit

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Plain-backed Pipit

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As we passed the turn-off to the Link Road (7) and stayed on the Rooiplaat Loop, Springboks and Black Wildebeests were there and so were an adult and a young Ant-eating Chat. There were 34 Black Wildebeest with a lone Blesbok as we drove straight towards the Saltpeterkop “triplets”. Further on, 50 Springboks and another lone Blesbok were grazing. A pair of Ostriches was encountered next and one of them got really close to the car. Then we strained our eyes at a large, pale-looking raptor that appeared high in the sky and identified it as an immature Jackal Buzzard. It dwarfed the Steppe Buzzard that appeared near it.

Driving further on, Adam photographed a cooperative Long-billed Lark and we saw a procession of 13 Black Wildebeest (including one still light calf), eight Blesboks and nine more Black Wildebeest making its way across the road en route to a waterhole. Just as we got back to marker 8, we saw a Large-billed Lark pounding at a snack on our right.

A lovely Long-billed Lark

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We began our descent back to the main road and past marker 9 saw a Fiscal Flycatcher and a Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler in the same acacia, a Common Fiscal perched in another tree, and an Ostrich in the road. A Rock Kestrel swooped down for breakfast, which turned out to be a small brown bird and which it started eating in the top of a tree on our right. Below to the left of the road we could see 11 Blesboks and at the beginning of the paved section of the road, four Mountain Zebras casually walked by.

On our descent, we saw a singing Fiscal Flycatcher, a Cape Bunting on a rock, two Speckled Mousebirds and a pair of Southern Double-collared Sunbirds in their respective trees, and four White-necked Ravens soaring above us. At the bottom of the descent, we saw a pair of Red-eyed Bulbuls, a singing Neddicky, and two Common Waxbills.

At the junction with the main road we turned right towards the day visitors’ picnic/pool area, which is gated and where one can walk without fear of running into predators. Since it was still a bit chilly, it was absolutely empty, save for a troop of Vervets that included one very fresh baby. We parked the car in the shade, walked around and saw an African Hoopoe, Grey-headed Sparrows, a Fork-tailed Drongo, a Cape Bunting, a Golden-breasted Bunting, a Familiar Chat, Helmeted Guineafowl, a Red-winged Starling, a Karoo Prinia, a singing Neddicky, a singing Willow Warbler, and a Long-billed Pipit, the last of which frustratingly ran just in front of a pursuing Adam and refused to fly and show its outer tail feathers. It eventually gave in.
Last edited by Puff Addy on Sun Dec 13, 2015 1:22 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: MZNP - A Nine-Night Stay in Cloud Cuckoo Land

Unread post by Puff Addy » Mon Dec 14, 2015 10:36 am

Day 2 - November 27, 2015 - Part II

We returned to our lodgings and during lunch on the terrace, some visitors arrived. A Southern Boubou was cleaning the braai and circled the table more closely each time. A pair of White-browed Sparrow-Weavers even hopped on the table hoping for some bits, which forced me to go back into the chalet. A Karoo Prinia sang for us from a nearby acacia.

Despite our ‘Housekeeping Not Required’ sign affixed to the outside handle of the front door, our door was knocked on, and when I tried to explain that we had just arrived the day before and therefore did not need anything exchanged/tidied up, our mostly empty garbage bag was exchanged for a new one and an exterminator came in to spray against cockroaches!

This put an end to any napping attempts and we ventured onto the terrace again to see what was happening around us. Adam found a very emaciated Eland out in the veld, a Rock Agama basking in the sun, a pair of Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, a Neddicky, and a small striped lizard that was light yellow with dark stripes and a light red-orange tail.

I spotted a lizard (later identified as a Western Rock Skink – we think!) sunning itself in front of the chalet and Adam went inside to fetch the camera. As I was walking towards him from around the corner of the house, I didn’t realize that I had company. One of the cheeky White-browed Sparrow-Weavers was hopping along right next to me! We had opened two windows to help the cockroach spray dry out faster and my stalker decided to have a look inside the house. I could only hear it flapping its wings in distress when it couldn’t find its way out. Before Adam could rescue it, it flew out the same way it flew in and we closed the windows.

Western Rock Skink – we think!

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For the afternoon drive, we decided to do the Ubejane Loop clockwise and left the chalet shortly after 4 PM, knowing that the rest-camp gate would close at 7 PM. A Rock Martin was seen just beyond the reception parking area and when we got past the rest-camp gate, we heard a Black Cuckoo calling very close. We stopped and Adam was frustrated because we couldn’t alight from the vehicle anymore. The only bird we saw in the spot was a Bar-throated Apalis. When we set off again, we encountered some Red Hartebeest grazing near the road. A Steppe Buzzard was perched in a tree near marker 6 and on the other side of the road we saw a Red-backed Shrike on a wire. A Mountain Zebra was standing in last year’s ‘Springhare’ field, while a White-browed Sparrow-Weaver was in a tree with a few nests and then there was another in an acacia tree before another tree full of their nests. A Brown-hooded Kingfisher was sitting contently on a wire as we stopped to take a photo of two agamas who were sunning themselves, while a Red-chested Cuckoo was calling behind them and later two Red Hartebeests were walking (one of them in the road). That was probably the closest we’d ever been to one.

Just before marker 4, which was our turn-off for the Ubejane Loop, we saw a Fiscal Shrike, a Fork-tailed Drongo, a Fiscal Flycatcher on a wire, and a low-flying Barn Swallow. An adult Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk was perched on a pole in the company of six Pied Starlings who sat on the wires. At the first dam we saw a Pearl-breasted Swallow, a Familiar Chat, at least two Cape Sparrows, and five more Barn Swallows (one flew by and four were perched in some low shrubs).

As we continued on, half a dozen Scaly-feathered Finches on the left side of the road and one Rufous-eared Warbler on our right were flushed. We saw the goshawk still perched on the pole as we came to the drift. As we entered the Southern Ground Squirrel Area, three Ground Squirrels were eating in the middle of the field together with one Yellow Mongoose. Ant-eating Chats started appearing periodically, and a Spotted Thick-Knee was snoozing on the ground. A Great Spotted Cuckoo (a lifer for me) flew past us low over the field. There were several more Ground Squirrels, with one acting as a sentry. Two Red Hartebeest were spotted, one of them ‘sheltering’ in the shade of a tiny acacia barely higher than its horns.

At least five more Scaly-feathered Finches were seen, one of them quivering its wings, alongside a pair of Ostriches and an African Pipit. There was another munching Ground Squirrel and then a young one was seen sunning itself near its burrow. A pair of Spike-heeled Larks was a nice surprise, one of which was taking a dust bath.

Then came the time for another lifer for the both of us, a completely unexpected Common Scimitarbill. What a great-looking bird, hopping between the trees and going up and down them. What a bill shape! To embellish this sighting, Adam spotted a male Dideric Cuckoo that flew over the road from an acacia with food in its bill. In the distance, we could see six Mountain Zebras, two Red Hartebeests and an Eland.

After crossing another drift, we saw four Mountain Zebras, one of them dust-bathing, and three female Kudus. As we were watching them, a Karoo Bush Rat was foraging under an enormous bush. Just before the Link Road turn-off (3), we saw an Acacia Pied Barbet. A Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk was perched in a dead tree, while a Neddicky was singing nearby.

Before we turned towards the second dam, three Mountain Zebras came from the left and had a drink. In the dry dam was the resident male Ostrich, while two Barn Swallows, a Laughing Dove, and a Pin-tailed Whydah flew by. Somewhere close by we heard calling Hadeda Ibises and closer to us saw a pair of Cape Sparrows.

At the dam drift, we saw four Scaly-feathered Finches and a not-quite-adult Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk perched in a tree. Further on, we stopped by a tree when Adam heard a bird singing and were happy to have found a Chinspot Batis (a species we missed last year). In the Northern Ground Squirrel Area, we saw a pair of Crowned Lapwings, followed by three more later on, and a Yellow Mongoose with a baby who was falling asleep as Adam photographed it. Before turning onto the main road, we saw two female and one male Kudu, two Mountain Zebras and two Red Hartebeest.

A Yellow Mongoose is never very far...

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... from its drowsy mongosling (okay, pup!)

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From the main road, we saw three female (all with young) and one male Mountain Zebra with another ‘teenage’ zebra on our left and Adam photographed them in the beautiful light. What a pity that we were pressed for time as the rest-camp gate would close in 20 minutes. We made it with time to spare and as we got out of the car at the chalet, Adam heard an African Rock Pipit singing from the rocky slopes above.

Mountain Zebra and foal in the evening light

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Re: MZNP - A Nine-Night Stay in Cloud Cuckoo Land

Unread post by Puff Addy » Tue Dec 15, 2015 11:49 am

Day 3 - November 28, 2015 - Part I

We left the chalet at 6:02 with a Cape Robin-Chat singing in the top of a nearby tree and an Eastern Clapper Lark clapping in the distance. When we got to the gate, we saw two vehicles in front of us and a closed gate. The drivers of the vehicles were trying to get the gate open by fiddling with the box, while we were thinking that their ‘heroics’ would keep us locked in the rest camp for the day. Luckily, a park officer arrived and after a few attempts managed to open the gate and keep it open. Our first bird after leaving the rest-camp premises was a Familiar Chat perched on a wire.

Our morning drive was to be the Kranskop Loop and just past marker 15 we heard a Black Cuckoo calling. Before we made it to the Doornhoek Dam, we encountered two Common Fiscals (adult and juvenile) and one male and seven female Kudu. We drove into the dam pull-off and observed two Little Grebes, three White-breasted Cormorants (two perched and one swimming), two Greater Striped Swallows and three Pied Starlings, and heard a Red-chested Cuckoo. A Green Wood-Hoopoe flew by, a Red-eyed Bulbul was spotted, a Willow Warbler was heard singing, and a not-yet-adult African Fish Eagle was perched on a branch. A Cape Wagtail flew closer to us and struggled with a long stem of grass that eventually fell from its bill into the water. A Pin-tailed Whydah flew over as we spied a swimming Red-knobbed Coot.

We drove a bit further to a pull-over from where we added two Yellow-billed Ducks into our notepad and another Red-knobbed Coot with a chick. We continued on and met three Helmeted Guineafowl before the Wilgerboom drift. At the turn-off for the Doornhoek Guesthouse, a Neddicky was singing. A stop below a rocky hillside only yielded a Fork-tailed Drongo, a Familiar Chat and a singing Karoo Prinia.

Before we got to the Weltevrede picnic spot turn-off, we saw a Pied Starling and a Bar-throated Apalis and heard some calls and songs here and there. Two Hadeda Ibises were calling and a Cape Turtle-Dove was foraging in the road. Five Pied Starlings were seen in a dead tree. Just after the Berghofkloof we saw two Eland from quite close.

Shortly after marker 10 we saw a female Kudu browsing, a Black Cuckoo was doing its ‘crazy call’ and a Red-chested Cuckoo was heard. In the top of one tall tree we saw two Yellow Canaries, and a pair each of Golden-breasted Buntings and Red-winged Starlings was spotted as well. Three Kudu crossed the road in front of us, a pair of Neddickies was raising at least one young, a Cape Bunting was singing in a tree, and a Karoo Prinia was heard singing.

At the beginning of the first ascent on a paved section of the road we encountered a female and male Kudu, a pair of Familiar Chats, two fly-by Pied Starlings, a Neddicky, and a Cape Turtle-Dove. Between the stream and the road we saw a Streaky-headed Seedeater, a Neddicky, a Bokmakierie, a pair of Cape Robin-Chats, three Eland and two Mountain Zebras.

Upstream from the reedy Langkloof drift, we saw three Eland and two Mountain Zebras and then four more zebras on a ridge to our left. Two more Eland, a pair of Cape Longclaws, a male Malachite Sunbird and a pair of Red-eyed Bulbuls were seen before the Wilgerboom hairpin. This is also where we saw a striking male Yellow Bishop, a new bird for us. We stopped the car in the river for a while and saw two Rock Martins, a Southern Tchagra, a Bokmakierie, a Cape Bunting, and a canary which was really greenish-yellow.

We started our ascent from the Wilgerboom River following the contours of the mountain and observed a pair of Greater Striped Swallows, a male Malachite Sunbird, and a lone Mountain Zebra above us on the grassy slopes. Along our 30-minute climb to the lookout point at the top of the mountain, we encountered another Streaky-headed Seedeater, a Karoo Scrub Robin, a Neddicky, a soaring dark-morph Booted Eagle, a Rock Kestrel, and a Familiar Chat on the steep paved section.

At the lookout point we got out of the car and shared one PB&J sandwich and after we made a picture of ourselves we looked up into the sky to see a Black Stork (!) soaring above us. An African Rock Pipit was heard singing below us, while two pipits landed in front of us and a Cape Bunting was singing nearby.

We started descending and saw a pair of Ostriches, a Common Fiscal, a pair of beautiful Grey Rheboks on the grassy slopes to our left, a Barn Swallow, a pair of Familiar Chats, and a Blesbok below us. As we got to the area of acacias and the false plateau, we met a Cape Turtle-Dove and heard a Neddicky singing. Two Bokmakieries were singing shortly after each other and a Rock Kestrel was flying near the viewpoint where we saw Grey Francolins last year.

In the boulder section of the paved descent road, we saw three Rock Hyraxes, a Red-eyed Bulbul, a Mountain Zebra, a Familiar Chat, a singing Southern Double-collared Sunbird, a Barn Swallow, a Rock Martin, and another Neddicky. At the end of the boulder section, ten Vervet Monkeys were alongside the road or in the trees next to the road. Already in the rest-camp area, we saw a Pin-tailed Whydah.

We stopped at the camping area to see whether the token-operated washing machine was free and were happy to see that it was. Adam thought about the last time he did laundry ‘American-style’ as both the washer and the dryer were made in the United States. Our load of whites was now set to do the twist for forty-five minutes as we headed home for a cup of coffee and our second PB&J sandwich. We then took our amassed glass and plastic to the camp’s recycling station and waited for a few minutes in the laundry room for the washing machine to finish. The wet items were transferred into the token-operated dryer and we ventured to reception to enquire how long the drying cycle was (45 minutes) and to buy two more tokens to do a load of darks later during our stay. We also got the first souvenirs of the trip, a locally knit zebra he-doll in red overalls and a super-cute zebra scarf.

As we were waiting in the camping area and then in the reception parking area, we saw five White-rumped Swifts, a pair of Cape White-eyes, a singing Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, a Red-winged Starling, a Cape Turtle-Dove, a Neddicky, a pair of Greater Striped Swallows, a Pied Starling, a Laughing Dove, two Yellow-throated Petronias eating seed pods in front of the reception building, a Karoo Scrub Robin, and a pair of White-browed Sparrow-Weavers, and we heard an African Hoopoe.

Some 30 minutes into the drying cycle Adam was dispatched to check on the laundry and before he got to the laundry room he discovered an active Rock Martin nest. Since our load wasn’t big, he came back with it done and we went home to relax before our afternoon drive.
Last edited by Puff Addy on Tue Jan 26, 2016 12:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: MZNP - A Nine-Night Stay in Cloud Cuckoo Land

Unread post by Puff Addy » Tue Dec 15, 2015 1:16 pm

Don't forget the Grey Rheboks! :wink:

The afternoon found us back on the Ubejane Loop, which was essentially a replay of the previous afternoon done in the other direction. We did run into a pair of eremomelas, however, and a couple other bird species were kind enough to pose for the camera.

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Re: MZNP - A Nine-Night Stay in Cloud Cuckoo Land

Unread post by Puff Addy » Tue Dec 15, 2015 1:26 pm

Day 3 - November 28, 2015 - Part II

Shortly after 4 PM we were off to visit the Ubejane Loop again, this time in a counter-clockwise direction. At the reception building we spotted a Familiar Chat and a Common Fiscal flew across the road shortly after turning on the main road from the rest camp. A lone Mountain Zebra was grazing just past marker 6. Five Mountain Zebras were feeding in last year’s ‘Springhare field’ with a female Kudu for a company closer to the road. A small troop of Vervet Monkeys decided the road was their playfield for a while, causing a rare traffic jam (of three vehicles) on the main road. A Red Hartebeest walked near the edge of the road, an adult Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk was perched in a tree on our left, and a Steppe Buzzard was seen soaring just before marker 5.

Still on the main road before our Ubejane turn-off for the day (marker 1), we saw a pair of Ostriches and a Common Fiscal, a Barn Swallow, five Mountain Zebra with two young on our right together with a Black Wildebeest and two Black Wildebeests on our left. A lone Gemsbok with really long horns was spotted further on to our right, while two Scaly-feathered Finches and a Rufous-eared Warbler were seen in a small dead tree.

Beginning the Ubejane Loop with the Northern Ground Squirrel Area, we saw two resident Ground Squirrels, an Acacia Pied Barbet, three Ant-eating Chats, two Crowned Lapwings, a Fiscal Flycatcher, a Barn Swallow, another Crowned Lapwing, and two young Ground Squirrels and another adult one who sprinted towards the car. A low-flying Pearl-breasted Swallow escorted us from the area into some acacias. There we encountered a Cape Turtle-Dove, a small flock of Cape Sparrows and a Fiscal Flycatcher in a dead tree.

When we reached the first dam, we spotted three male and two female Ostriches, a Cattle Egret, a Pied Crow, and a Gemsbok walking for a drink, while a Steppe Buzzard was seen flying over. A pair of Pin-tailed Whydahs, Cape and Grey-headed sparrows and a pair of Yellow Canaries all occupied one acacia tree. After the dam it was back into some more acacias, where we saw a Karoo Bush Rat, a singing Neddicky, a Fiscal Flycatcher and a pair of Yellow-bellied Eremomelas. After coming out into the open again we saw six Mountain Zebras.

Past the Link Road turn-off (3), we saw a sub-adult Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk (the same one as the previous day), three White-browed Sparrow-Weavers and a Common Fiscal. In a more open area we saw at least a dozen Scaly-feathered Finches, a roadside African Pipit, a female Ostrich, and a perched Ant-eating Chat. We stopped at the spot where we saw the Common Scimitarbill and Dideric Cuckoo the day before, but had no luck. We only sighted two Pied Crows.

Ant-eating Chat

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We entered the Southern Ground Squirrel Area and a male Pin-tailed Whydah flew by, while a flock of Cape and Grey-headed sparrows and an Ant-eating Chat were feeding on the ground. A baby Ground Squirrel couldn’t decide whether it wanted to stay on its side of the road or cross it, causing a few tense moments for the car crew – all ended well with it crossing safely. Seven adult Ground Squirrels were out and about, a Black-headed Heron flew by, two Crowned Lapwings were walking on the ground, an Ant-eating Chat was waiting to find something to eat, and 14 Helmeted Guineafowl ran away from the car. An African Hoopoe’s call escorted us from the area.

Crowned Lapwing

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We were back out in the open and saw four Eland under the power/telephone lines, passed another dam, and saw only a Familiar Chat before we got to the main-road junction. As we joined the main road, four Mountain Zebras were crossing the road, followed by two more later on, as they made their way up into the hills to spend the night. Two Red Hartebeest and a Common Fiscal were seen and seven Mountain Zebras were foraging in the ‘Springhare field’. Just before the Wilgerboom drift, two female Kudu were grazing at the edge of the road alongside one Mountain Zebra. We flushed an African Hoopoe as we entered the reception parking area and saw two Laughing Doves there as well.

The night was pleasantly warm and we could sleep with the sliding bedroom door open. The stars shined brightly in a sky not affected by light pollution.

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Re: MZNP - A Nine-Night Stay in Cloud Cuckoo Land

Unread post by Puff Addy » Thu Dec 17, 2015 9:32 am

Day 4 - November 29, 2015 - Part I

Our Sunday plans were grand. In the morning we wanted to do a loop consisting of part of the Rooiplaat Loop, the Link Road and part of the Ubejane Loop. We had a reservation for the buffet lunch at the rest-camp restaurant and for a night drive.

So it was out of the chalet at 5:58 and a pair of Cape Wagtails was sitting on the wall above the recycling station near the reception. We were out of the rest-camp gate and turned right at marker 15. During our ascent through the boulder section, we saw a Mountain Zebra and three female Kudu. After reaching the false plateau, we saw a Long-billed Lark singing from a shrub, another one from a small acacia, and five adult and one young Mountain Zebra. A Barn Swallow and a Familiar Chat flew over the path, while a Common Fiscal was perched roadside. Between the second lookout point and marker 9, our totals were increased by three Mountain Zebra, seven Red Hartebeest with two young, two Red-winged Starlings, two Common Fiscals, and a pair of Bokmakieries.

Once we turned right at marker 9, we saw an African Pipit, a Cape Longclaw perched and calling, five Springboks, seven Blesboks with three young on one side of the road and three more with one young on the other side, while there were eight more further on, together with one Black Wildebeest and two Mountain Zebras. Two Crowned Lapwings flew low past us, while three more were walking through the grass alongside the road. A pair of Spike-heeled Larks was spotted on the ground, while a Large-billed Lark was feeding and another one was perched and singing. Cloud Cisticolas were singing as well. Before the beginning of the actual Rooiplaat Loop, we saw a pair of Rufous-eared Warblers.

At marker 8 we veered off right and heard yet another airborne Cloud Cisticola –not all was lost, however, as we did actually manage to see it shortly afterwards when it landed on a shrub. A Cape Longclaw was calling from a bush, while three Mountain Zebras flanked the road in the company of a Rufous-eared Warbler. There were three Black Wildebeest in the distance on our left, while eight Blesboks and one young were grazing to our left. Further on, there were 19 Black Wildebeest and two Blesboks on our right. At least 10 White-rumped Swifts were flying above us when we spotted eight Mountain Zebra on our right.

An adult Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk was perched in a tree on our left, while a White-necked Raven flew by from our right. While we stopped for Adam to photograph two Black Wildebeest before the Link Road turn, we heard Blue Cranes calling but didn’t see them. A Mountain Zebra pair were having a dust bath in the distance to our right, sending the dust flying quite high up. Other animals on that side of the road included nine Springboks, 3 Blesboks, 22 Black Wildebeest, and one more Mountain Zebra. Close to the road, we saw a Sickle-winged Chat, heard another Cloud Cisticola, and spotted two pairs of African Pipits. There were also four Mountain Zebras, 14 Black Wildebeest and another group of 11 of them.

Black Wildebeest

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As we turned right at marker 7 onto the Link Road, we saw 19 Blesboks, 11 Springboks and a lone Black Wildebeest to our left. Near the small, almost dry dam, five Blesboks and one young, 10 Black Wildebeest and seven Springboks had congregated, while a Rock Kestrel was sitting on a post. Driving on, there was a male Ostrich and a Barn Swallow, and we could hear another Cloud Cisticola. We stopped at the wind pump to share a PB&J sandwich and were rewarded with the sight of 11 Black Wildebeest and 11 Blesboks with one young.

We started moving again and saw two Blesboks with one young, heard a Cloud Cisticola, spotted a male Ostrich and nine Mountain Zebras on our right, and saw a perched Common Fiscal and a walking African Pipit. There were 10 more Mountain Zebras on our right and we heard an Eastern Clapper Lark and a Neddicky and saw a female Ostrich.

We then descended on a short paved section of road and crossed a drift before we were back on gravel and in an area with acacias. Just before another drift we saw two Chestnut-vented Tit-Babblers singing in acacias on either side of the road and three Mountain Zebras on the left. There was a little bit of mud and some water in a dam with a new pull-off adjacent to it from which we observed a Common Fiscal in a tree, three Three-banded Plovers (two adults and a juvenile), two Cape Wagtails, a Vervet Monkey coming for a drink, a Familiar Chat flicking its wings, four weaver nests and one Southern Masked Weaver hard at work on one of them, three Red-faced Mousebirds, and a pair of Greater Striped Swallows scooping and gathering mud.

We left the dam area, saw an African Hoopoe in an acacia tree, drove through another drift, saw a Red Hartebeest, passed another wind pump, and a Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler saw us off from the area of acacias. We were now in the open at Graham’s Corner where we encountered a total of 24 Mountain Zebras in four separate groups. A pair of Ant-eating Chats was perched in an ‘olive’ and in an acacia. There were seven more Mountain Zebras in the distance.

Closer to us, just at the edge of the road, we discovered a family of Spike-heeled Larks with four young and saw four more Mountain Zebras. We drove through a drift in an acacia thicket and then were out in the open again. A Red-eyed Bulbul was calling while an Eastern Clapper lark was displaying and perched on a shrub for us, with another one doing the same thing on the other side of the road. A Rufous-eared Warbler was singing from a shrub and a Rock Kestrel was hovering to our left and then flew further and landed in a nearby tree.

We began the first steep descent into the valley on a paved section of the road and saw another Rock Kestrel. At the bottom, we saw one perched, singing Bokmakierie and a Red-winged Starling flew by. We were back on the gravel road and saw a Red-eyed Bulbul in an acacia tree. The second steep descent came up in an area of many flowering acacias and we saw another Bokmakierie. Back on the regular gravel road, we saw an Acacia Pied Barbet, a Common Fiscal, a Red Hartebeest, eight Gemsboks in the shade, and a singing Bokmakierie. An area full of termite mounds yielded us a Karoo Scrub Robin.

At marker 3 we turned right onto the Ubejane Loop and enjoyed a view of six Chacma Baboons and at least 15 Scaly-feathered Finches. A Common Fiscal and another Chacma Baboon were spotted near an earthen dam, while a Bokmakierie and three Common Fiscals were encountered at another drift. A pair of Pied Crows flew by, while two Laughing Doves were seen at the ‘Scimitarbill’ spot.

We entered the Southern Ground Squirrel Area and saw three Ant-eating Chats, a pair of Ostriches and one more male, two Ground Squirrels in a mad chase, a few more Ground Squirrels foraging on the ground, a Rufous-eared Warbler, and three Mountain Zebras on the ridge on our right. A pair of Spotted Thick-knees was on our right, one of them sitting and giving us a dirty look and the other standing with its eyes closed. A pair and a few more Cape Sparrows were flushed as we drove on.

Since there was no possibility of disembarking from the car to make a pit stop, I started to feel my bladder filling up (Adam has the advantage of using a lidded cup for relief in the car) and we continued back to the chalet without stopping for birds, but still managed to see a Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, another Chacma Baboon and an adult Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk.

We got home, had a coffee, took a shower, and left on foot to the rest-camp restaurant for our buffet lunch. On our way we saw a Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler and a Chinspot Batis. At the restaurant there was a choice of three main courses – chicken thighs, beef stew or fish – with sides of spiced rice, mashed sweet potatoes, roasted vegetables, fruit salad and Greek salad with feta and black and green olives. While we were lunching and enjoying a break in our pasta-with-tomato-sauce monotony, we saw a Rock Martin and a White-browed Sparrow-Weaver.

After lunch we dropped off our indemnity forms for the night drive and paid for it and walked back home, spotting a Bar-throated Apalis near the turnoff for the swimming pool, four White-browed Sparrow-Weavers (one ringed) in the driveway of one of the chalets, and a Southern Boubou. An agama visited us on the terrace as we were having coffee with rusks at home.

A very hot afternoon was spent in bed (Adam) and catching up on our trip report (me). As soon as the sun disappeared behind the western mountain ridge, it got cooler and the wind picked up.

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Re: MZNP - A Nine-Night Stay in Cloud Cuckoo Land

Unread post by Puff Addy » Thu Dec 17, 2015 10:03 am

Hi Umtali,

Yes, we were always making notes and wonder sometimes if during making them we didn't miss something!

According to the issue of the SANParks Times we picked up during our visit, the Black Wildebeest is the most numerous herbivore at MZNP. We noticed this year that they are usually in groups of 10-20 individuals when they are not congregating at a drinking site. I was very happy to get the photo that I did as a lot of the time they are too far away for a decent picture.

Kind regards,

Adam

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Re: MZNP - A Nine-Night Stay in Cloud Cuckoo Land

Unread post by Puff Addy » Thu Dec 17, 2015 4:17 pm

Day 4 - November 29, 2015 - Part II

We took the car to the reception parking area and positioned ourselves strategically near the front row of the jeep. There were two more couples joining us for the night drive, a younger English-speaking one from South Africa and an older European one with limited English.

Our guide was ranger Dan who had an introductory speech reminiscent of a drill sergeant and we left at 7:20 in pleasant conditions. Dan mentioned the wind as a factor for probably not seeing too many active animals as wind carries too many scents and too much noise which makes the animals a bit uncomfortable. It was getting dark quickly as Dan entered the code for the rest-camp gate and turned right onto the main road. He soon took out a powerful torch to sweep the landscape and pick up the animals’ reflective eye membranes. We saw a female Kudu, a Hadeda Ibis and Mountain Zebras and heard a Black Cuckoo. And then further on, Dan spotted an animal in front of the thicket to our right – I couldn’t believe we were seeing a Black Rhino! It just stood there, facing us, and we had the feeling that its horn was darker than the skin colour. When it got bored with being in the spotlight, it moved right and vanished into thin air.

We moved on and spotted a Common Duiker, two Black-backed Jackals, an enormous Eland, Red Hartebeest, Kudu, and Mountain Zebras, all settling in for the night. We saw another Black-backed Jackal before another highlight ensued. Dan stopped the vehicle and pointed his torch at the top of a telephone pole to our left – hello, impressive Spotted Eagle Owl!

We turned off the main road at marker 1 to do the Ubejane Loop. We started seeing hopping eye reflections all over the place as the Springhares ventured out for the evening around 8:30 PM. These animals are really cute with their long hind legs and shortened front ones and a long, balance-aiding tail that has a dark tip. Other animals illuminated by the torch included Gemsboks and Springboks, and then we saw a Crowned Lapwing in the middle of the road that looked like its wing was broken. It was just a mechanism to distract our attention from the fact that there were four very young chicks with it! The other parent was called for help and we didn’t disturb them for much longer, as Dan said they could be pretty aggressive when it came to chick protection.

Then came highlight number three of the night drive – Dan found us a Fiery-necked Nightjar in the thicket, perched on a low, dead tree. We heard it regularly while at the Matyholweni rest camp in Addo (it was our bedtime lullaby) last year, but up until now we hadn’t seen one. As we completed the Ubejane Loop, we picked up a Scrub Hare as a new mammal species and drove through a Springhare-o-rama in the Southern Ground Squirrel Area. After joining the main road at marker 4, we saw a Gemsbok, a Kudu, a Porcupine, and a casual Black-backed Jackal.

We got back to the reception parking area around 9:40 and went straight to our chalet and the terrace to admire the star-studded sky, especially the constellation of Orion which was upside down to the orientation we know from the Northern Hemisphere. The night was pleasantly warm and we slept with the sliding door open.

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Re: MZNP - A Nine-Night Stay in Cloud Cuckoo Land

Unread post by Puff Addy » Fri Dec 18, 2015 4:37 pm

Day 5 – November 30, 2015

We woke up one hour later than usual as we were ‘only’ going for a hike on the Black Eagle Trail above the rest camp. We did this hike last year in the afternoon heat and wanted to try it in the morning. Before we even finished our breakfast, we had managed to see a Southern Tchagra in the tree next to our driveway.

We left the chalet at 6:50 and before we made it to the turnoff for the hiking trail we saw a Cinnamon-breasted Bunting singing from a boulder, a Southern Double-collared Sunbird singing from a treetop, and a Greater Striped Swallow flew over our heads. A Familiar Chat was sitting on the roof of Chalet 8. As we turned off towards the swimming pool, near which the trailhead is located, we saw a Speckled Mousebird in an acacia, two Yellow-throated Petronias were sitting on the swimming-pool fence, an Acacia Pied Barbet flew over, a Red-eyed Bulbul landed in a bush, and a Karoo Prinia was hopping from one tree to another while a Cape Turtle-Dove was calling somewhere in the background.

As we started walking on the narrow path, four or five White-rumped Swifts and at least two Little Swifts were flying high above our heads. Past the junction where the shorter Imbila Trail peels off from the Black Eagle Trail, we heard pecking first and then caught a Cardinal Woodpecker in the act, soon followed by its mate. We spotted a Yellow-throated Petronia, heard a Cape Robin-Chat, and saw a Cape Bunting singing from a boulder above us. A pair of Bar-throated Apalises landed in a bush briefly, while a pair of Cinnamon-breasted Buntings was seen in a dead tree (the male was singing). A Rock Agama was sunning itself on a rock, while another Cape Robin-Chat was singing for us.

As we walked over a flat rocky section, we saw seven Rock Hyraxes on a rock above us accompanied by a singing Neddicky and African Rock Pipit. As we turned right to climb higher and got to the level of the dassies, Adam took some time to photograph them before they all disappeared as quickly as they appeared. During the photo-shoot, a Red-eyed Bulbul and a Bar-throated Apalis were spotted, while a Bokmakierie was heard singing from an area below us. When we looked behind us, we saw six Mountain Zebras grazing in a high field that one can’t otherwise see from the loops or the main road.

Rock Hyrax

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Slogging upwards, a White-necked Raven’s call got our attention and a pair of Southern Double-collared Sunbirds were seen in a bush. A silent Neddicky was sitting in a tree while another, unseen one was singing somewhere close. When we finally got to the top and started our descent to the rest camp, we found a shady spot and had a snack. We could see our chalet below us and a pair of Ostriches beyond it. A Cinnamon-breasted Bunting was calling from a boulder below to the right of us and subsequently flew lower to join his female counterpart and to croon for her. An African Rock Pipit was heard singing, but we couldn’t spot him. We were luckier with another bird species, though, as I discovered a Mountain Wheatear on a boulder and alerted Adam to its presence. As we were walking further downwards, I spotted a huge grasshopper, which Adam duly documented for later identification (it was a Toxic Milkweed Grasshopper Phymateus leprosus). We were back at the chalet shortly after nine and it was already pretty hot.

Toxic Milkweed Grasshopper

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We needed to get toast bread at the shop and wanted to check whether the washing machine was occupied, so after a quick stop at home we hopped into the car and dropped off a load of hiking pants and shirts that didn’t need to be dried afterwards. We were told that the bread would be brought from Cradock after 1 PM, so we went back to the laundry room to await the end of the washing cycle with another washing-machine token to do the rest of the dark items (which needed drying). We returned to the chalet to put our hiking clothes on the terrace to dry and then went to the laundry room to throw the finished laundry into the dryer. Forty-five minutes later we picked up the dry items and relaxed until the evening. It was just too hot and we didn’t want to bake in the car.

At 5:30 we set off for the swimming pool as I had brought a swimsuit and wanted to stretch and cool off. Adam accompanied me with a pair of binoculars to occupy himself while I was doing my laps. There was another couple at the swimming pool, sitting in the shallow area with drinks, so I just did ten laps (the pool is probably 10 metres long) and hopped out again. It was still quite refreshing. We walked back home and had a light dinner on the terrace while watching an Eland and a Mountain Zebra being serviced by two Red-billed Oxpeckers and two Pale-winged Starlings. A Grey Tit made an appearance and when Adam heard an African Rock Pipit again up on the hilltop, he found it with his binoculars and then trained the spotting scope on it. Eureka!

A Little Swift, an Alpine Swift and White-rumped Swifts were catching their own dinner above us. When darkness started to set in, we saw a herd of Red Hartebeest in the veld beyond our chalet which consisted of at least 16 adults and four young. A bat flew over the terrace a bit later. Another warm and starry night allowed us to have the sliding door open again.

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Re: MZNP - A Nine-Night Stay in Cloud Cuckoo Land

Unread post by Puff Addy » Sat Dec 19, 2015 4:44 pm

Day 6 – December 1, 2015 - Part I

Before leaving for our morning drive, a Speckled Pigeon landed on the chimney of Chalet 17 and a Jacobin Cuckoo (a lifer for Adam) flew across the road into an acacia. Before I could see it too, it had flown away.

On the night drive we got some tips on where two elusive bird species, the Blue Korhaan and the Secretarybird, might be seen, so we went straight to the Ubejane Loop and didn’t really start birding until we hit marker 1 at 6:30. A Scaly-feathered Finch welcomed us together with a male Ostrich and a Familiar Chat. A Common Fiscal dived to the ground and then flew off to perch in a dead acacia. A Neddicky appeared to say hello to us.

As we entered the Northern Ground Squirrel Area, we had our eyes on the left to see the baby Yellow Mongoose we had seen a few days earlier and were rewarded with a parent and two babies! While Adam was photographing one of them, I counted seven Springboks and four Cattle Egrets. As we drove on, a pair of Spotted Thick-knees (one sitting and the other standing) were seen on our right. On our left, we saw an African Pipit, a pair of Spike-heeled Larks and a Cape Turtle-Dove, while there were seven Ant-eating Chats on our right.

A 'mongosling' outside its burrow

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When we got to an area with acacias, we were happy to see another Red-backed Shrike, a Karoo Prinia, and a singing Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, while we heard a Chinspot Batis. A Fiscal Flycatcher was perched in a tree as we came to the dam area through a flock of Cape Sparrows and passing a troop of six Vervet Monkeys.

At the dam, we heard an African Hoopoe, Karoo Prinia and Chinspot Batis and saw a Neddicky, an adult Pale Chanting Goshawk in a tall tree, an Ant-eating Chat, and a Familiar Chat. When we rounded the dam for our second stop, the resident pair of Pin-tailed Whydahs flew across the road, there were several African Pipits, and we heard a Dideric Cuckoo above the dam to our left and a Black Cuckoo behind the dam on our right.

After the dam we entered an area with scattered acacias and saw a male Ostrich, a Yellow-bellied Eremomela singing in an acacia tree after being seen pecking around in the soil, a couple of Scaly-feathered Finches, and a troop of nine Chacma Baboons with one piggy-backing.

As the acacias got thicker, we saw a Karoo Prinia and a beautiful Gemsbok grazing close to us (unfortunately in adverse photographic conditions) and heard a Neddicky. A White-backed Mousebird was sunning itself in a dead tree on our right, while a Golden-breasted Bunting was singing in a tree to our left.

When the area became more open again, three Red Hartebeest with two calves crossed the road in front of us and we saw a Common Fiscal, a pair of White-browed Sparrow-Weavers, a Fork-tailed Drongo, and Ant-eating Chats.

We passed the turnoff for the Link Road (3) and the earthen dam and saw a White-browed Sparrow-Weaver next to a tree full of its nests. When we had driven through a drift, we spotted a pair of Rufous-eared Warblers (the male was singing), an Eastern Clapper Lark, four Mountain Zebras, one Springbok, and three Red Hartebeest with one calf. We found a shady spot next to a tree and stopped to have a PB&J each. While we were eating, a Bokmakierie landed in a tree to the left of us and a pair of Ostriches walked across the road.

Before we entered the Southern Ground Squirrel Area, we saw a singing Karoo Scrub Robin. Then came five Ground Squirrels and seven Ant-eating Chats and three Mountain Zebras, one of which was dust-bathing. An African Pipit and a male Ostrich were duly noted and then we encountered a pair of Spotted Thick-knees who crossed the road right in front of us from the left and found some shelter from the sun under a low acacia shrub. They have really long, slim yellow legs and as they were walking without being puffed-up, they looked really elegant.

Spotted Thick-knees in the 'shade'

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At the next drift, we saw two Grey-headed Sparrows and at the dam before marker 4 we could add Black-headed Heron to the list of species for the day, with three Ant-eating Chats, a pair of Rufous-eared Warblers and a Fork-tailed Drongo for company.

As we drove slowly homewards on the main road, we ticked off a Pied Starling in a tree, a Brown-hooded Kingfisher and a Fiscal Flycatcher on a wire, several Barn Swallows, an adult Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk on a pole, and a Familiar Chat in an acacia. Two Egyptian Geese flew low past us. Closer to home we saw a Yellow Mongoose standing on its hind legs and three Mountain Zebras at the waterhole before we crossed the Wilgerboom River. Just as we were turning left into the rest camp, we saw five Red Hartebeest on our right.

Since our arrival on Thursday we had been putting the ‘Housekeeping Not Required’ sign on the door, but we needed fresh towels and the tiles needed mopping (we were always bringing sand from the driveway into the chalet), so shortly after 10, a young woman arrived to tidy up. We sat on the terrace while she was working inside and added a Malachite Sunbird and a pair of Bar-throated Apalises to our chalet list and saw a Karoo Prinia and a White-browed Sparrow-Weaver.

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Re: MZNP - A Nine-Night Stay in Cloud Cuckoo Land

Unread post by Puff Addy » Sat Dec 19, 2015 9:44 pm

Day 6 – December 1, 2015 - Part II

The heat had a fatiguing effect on us to which we succumbed and after lunch we were observing the clouds that had started to appear and were growing bigger in the sky and noticed that the wind had picked up. We were wondering whether we would get a convective thunderstorm as it hadn’t rained since our arrival and when Adam was checking us in, he overheard the receptionist saying that it hadn’t rained for a week.

After 4 PM it wasn’t raining yet and therefore we decided to go to the lookout point on the Kranskop Loop to do some landscape photos with a dramatic sky in the background. We didn’t pay much attention to birds and other animals on our drive up, but we did notice the pair of African Stonechats from our earlier loop drive some 1.2 km before our destination.

We could get out of the car and the strong wind was warm but very welcome. It was a bit cooler up there than in the rest camp which we could see, including our chalet. Two Chacma Baboons were sitting to our right on top of a hill. We saw a pair of Ostriches as we began our descent and a White-necked Raven was kiting in the wind at the level of the ridge. A Common Fiscal was perched in an acacia tree and at another lookout we saw a Rock Kestrel kiting, and further on two more. A Bokmakierie flew across the road as we neared the ‘francolin’ viewpoint.

The Rooiplaat area from the Kranskop Road

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As we continued down a paved part of the steep descent, a female Mountain Wheatear stood on the road curb before it flew uphill again and two Pied Crows were circling upwards.

We stopped at the shop for beer and as we were driving home, we saw a dark grey snake crossing the road. It was at least a meter long and was pale underneath. We had our beer and toast on the porch before five drops of rain forced us to retire inside. We then ventured out again when we saw 23 Red Hartebeest with five calves in the distance.

Later, Adam went outside in the dark with his headlamp to investigate the wildlife in the vicinity of our chalet and came back to report that he thought he had seen the back end of a Red Rock Rabbit!

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Re: MZNP - A Nine-Night Stay in Cloud Cuckoo Land

Unread post by Puff Addy » Sun Dec 20, 2015 11:33 am

Day 7 – December 2, 2015

Before we even left for the morning drive, Adam spotted the same rabbit munching on grass amidst the rocks near the corner of our chalet and it was indeed a Red Rock Rabbit (later identified as Hewitt’s, a species split from Smith's). He spent some time photographing it and the rabbit was very co-operative. It was really cute with its long, translucent ears and reddish tail. It also had a scar on its right side that suggested a predator had once tried to have it for dinner.

Who could this be at 5 o'clock in the morning?

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Oh, it's you!

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Look at that lovely red tail

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When we left at 5:59, we heard a Black Cuckoo singing and thought it was very close when we got to the reception area. A white Honda SUV was standing in the road and we later found out from the female driver that she had been looking at a Jacobin Cuckoo on a wire. Oh, well. Two Hadeda Ibises were flying over and a Neddicky gave us its trademark raspberry as we passed through the gate at 6:04.

It was a much cooler morning and with all four car windows open, we were both wearing our fleeces. What a change from the previous two days. It was quite cloudy when we began our ascent through the boulder area, encountering a Familiar Chat, a Red Hartebeest running in front of us on the road until it found a path on the left, and two Red-winged Starlings. Leaving the boulder area we saw a Red-eyed Bulbul and a pair of Pale-winged Starlings.

When we got to the false plateau, we stopped because there was a dark green Defender in front of us with people making photos. When they left, we saw they were photographing Mountain Zebras, including, sadly, one limping youngster. As we entered the acacia area, we temporarily renamed it Common Fiscal Territory, as apart from three representatives of this species we only saw three female Kudu and one young male browsing on our right and two adult male Kudu doing the same further on to our left.

The Defender turned right onto the Rooiplaat Loop and we stayed straight to do the Kranskop Loop counter-clockwise. An African Pipit was singing in a small acacia, while a Long-billed Lark was first heard and then seen. Three Cape Turtle-Doves were foraging in the road, while five Mountain Zebra were grazing on the left. A female African Stonechat and a Familiar Chat were seen before the turn-around viewpoint on our right where we saw two young African Stonechats.

We got to the lookout point we had visited the day before and heard an African Rock Pipit, a Cape Bunting somewhere above us and a Black Cuckoo from somewhere below. When we drove on, we stopped quite quickly because we had spotted a female Buff-streaked Chat.

As we started our descent on a paved section of the road, we stopped several times to add a pair of Familiar Chats, a pair of Greater Striped Swallows, a calling Cape Longclaw on a rock, a male African Stonechat, and a Rock Kestrel to our list for the day. Back on the gravel road, descending less steeply, we stopped to observe and record a Grey-backed Cisticola on our left, until it flew off, and then spotted two male and one female Buff-streaked Chat, one Karoo Scrub Robin and that aforementioned Grey-backed Cisticola a bit higher up the slope on our right, all around one bush. Two Bokmakieries flew across the road in front of us.

The descent got a bit steeper, with undulations in the gravel road acting as speed bumps, and we stopped at a pull-off to admire the view before continuing. The road levelled off a little and we recorded a singing Bokmakierie and saw another raspberry-giving Neddicky. We were alerted to calls coming from the slopes below and scratched our heads as to what they could be until Adam guessed that since we couldn’t see them, they were on the ground, and if they were ground birds then they might be Grey-winged Francolins. We recorded them and later confirmed that Adam’s identification was correct.

As we continued our descent towards the Wilgerboom, five Speckled Mousebirds and a pair of Greater Striped Swallows were spotted. A pair of Cape Buntings, a Bokmakierie and a Yellow-throated Petronia welcomed us at the river itself. We stopped the car in the river and saw several Greater Striped Swallows scooping mud for their nests, heard a Neddicky, a Karoo Prinia and an African Rock Pipit, and spotted a chase between a Yellow Bishop and a Fiscal Flycatcher.

Upon leaving the river, three Red-eyed Bulbuls flew over the road and near the Laaste Kloof we counted 10 Mountain Zebras. One Bokmakierie was seen as Adam was photographing a Mountain Zebra grazing near the road. At the reedy Langkloof, we observed a pair of Southern Masked Weavers and Greater Striped Swallows and saw a pair of Olive Thrushes, one of which had a bill full of food. A pair of Cape Buntings flew into the thicket as we left the drift.

Another paved section of the road for a steeper descent was breezed through and back on the gravel we saw a Yellow-throated Petronia calling from a dead acacia and flying off, a Common Fiscal, and a Cape Robin-Chat. The Bakana Mountain Cottage turnoff yielded five Red-winged Starlings and a pair of Pied Starlings to the sounds of a Karoo Prinia.

We turned off to the Weltevrede picnic spot at marker 11 and could hear a Red-chested Cuckoo before we made it through the gate. Last year we heard and saw one in the huge eucalyptus tree and guess where it was calling from now? What we didn’t count on was hearing a Black Cuckoo calling from the same tree. We only saw it fleetingly before it flew off, but did see its white tail spots. The same tree was also occupied by a Speckled Pigeon, a Red-eyed Dove and a Cape Turtle-Dove that took turns accompanying the never-tiring Red-chested Cuckoo.

We walked around the picnic area and saw seven Helmeted Guineafowl, a Pied Starling, two Speckled Mousebirds, a pair of Karoo Prinias, a Yellow-throated Petronia, and a Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler. High above our heads, we saw a mixed flock containing at least three Alpine Swifts, one Little Swift and a number of White-rumped Swifts. Two Southern Double-collared Sunbirds were heard singing and Adam saw one, and there was also a Golden-breasted Bunting singing in a tree. A Southern Masked Weaver was spotted in the vicinity of a nest near the rock pool.

When we left the picnic area, we heard a Black Cuckoo again and to our surprise saw two at once (one was probably the one that had flown from the eucalyptus) briefly, with one flying into a position very close to us. We stopped the car and delighted at the sight of this singing (if you can call it a song) bird until another vehicle came from the opposite direction and we had to move aside. An African Hoopoe was calling and so was a Hadeda Ibis in flight.

We turned right at marker 11 and continued towards the Doornhoek Dam pull-over with the sight of a soaring sub-adult African Fish Eagle. At the pull-over, we could note three Red-knobbed Coots, two Egyptian Geese, a White-breasted Cormorant perched on a tree, a Reed Cormorant flying low above the water, an African Darter in a dead tree preening behind its neck, and a Yellow-billed Duck. We moved a bit further to the dam pull-off and added another White-breasted Cormorant (this one was hunting, while the other was still perched), a Cape Wagtail, a Little Grebe, a Pearl-breasted Swallow, a pair of Greater Striped Swallows with mud, and a Speckled Mousebird.

On the road back to the rest camp, we saw a Common Fiscal, one singing Neddicky and an Alpine Swift flying over the road and heard a Chinspot Batis. Two Red Hartebeest were seen just before marker 15.

Back at home, Red-faced Mousebirds and a Long-billed Crombec were added to the chalet list as was a Dideric Cuckoo as a heard bird.

We had a nice nap after lunch and in the afternoon I went to swim my ten laps and Adam walked the short loop around the swimming-pool area. On his own, he got to see a Common Waxbill, a Common Fiscal, a Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Red-eyed Bulbuls and a pair of Karoo Scrub Robins, while together we spotted an adult Jackal Buzzard, a pair of Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, a Barn Swallow, a Bar-throated Apalis family, and a pair of Red-winged Starlings.

We sat on the terrace and got to see the resident Four-striped Mouse in a tree and a pair of White-browed Sparrow-Weavers and Southern Boubous came to see what was happening. The wind had picked up and clouds had formed around the highest mountains surrounding us, but there was still no rain.

A Southern Boubou in the wind

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Puff Addy
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Re: MZNP - A Nine-Night Stay in Cloud Cuckoo Land

Unread post by Puff Addy » Sun Dec 20, 2015 11:51 am

Thank you, Pumbaa!

By the way, I think Guinea Pig also saw one on her recent trip to Mountain Zebra: http://www.sanparks.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=27&t=89285&start=240


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