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Punda Maria Report: Big Bird Day 2007

26 April 2007

Background: West Rand Honorary Rangers Big Bird Day 2007

For the 9th consecutive year the Honorary Rangers West Rand Branch hosted the Kruger Birding Day in the last weekend in January and the first in February.

The demand for this event is such that it now involves 16 of the rest camps as bases and as indicated above has now been extended to include a second weekend at some of the more popular destinations and to include a couple of the smaller bush camps that surrendered the use of their vehicles and guides during the first weekend.

The number of public participants was over 600, plus the organising Honorary Rangers, SANParks staff and other invited experts. This is a tremendous growth from the inaugural year back in 1999 where 150 people took part in just 5 camps. The event can now lay justifiable claims to being an institution on the South African Birding calendar.

As always a big thank you must go to the sponsors who help make this event possible. SASOL continues to be the premier sponsor, but the number of support sponsors has grown considerably.

Punda Maria Big Bird Day 2007

Last night my partner and I returned from 4 days of birding based in Punda Maria and what a great time we had. Having arrived ealry we had a couple days of 'private' birding before the birding weekend started and despite the very limited line of sight from our rented Corolla (which made us really appreciate our old and (t)rusty bakkie), managed to get our trip list up to only one short a hundred by the time we met our fellow weekend birders. At that time we were already quite happy with the trip so far, but had no idea yet about how great an experience the Saturday would turn out to be!

Included in the 99 species were great views of a Bateleur in the grass in front of the Punda Maria bird hide and amongst others a Village Indigobird and a Cardinal Woodpecker in the trees in the camp. On the road during the days we managed to see (amongst many others) African Hawk-Eagle, African Goshawk, Wattled Starling, Common Scimitarbill, Steppe Eagle, White-crowned Lapwing, African Openbill, Marabou Stork, Eurasian Hobby, Southern Ground Hornbill, and Mosque Swallow. And we finally got to SEE a Red-chested Cuckoo (at the Pafuri picknick spot). After hearing it's call in so many places and so often it was great to finally be able to add it to our life lists! The Thursday evening drive, expertly led by Mathuel, iced the cake with Fiery-necked and Square-tailed Nightjars and a great lion sighting. Unfortunately we did not get to see the Pennant-winged nightjar though, but unbeknownst to us at that time we would get another chance to search for it. After the welcome speeches and dinner on Friday it was off to bed as we were to leave camp at 0300 sharp!

On Saturday morning (…) we met up with our vehicular companions whose general expertise (especially Tertius Gous's) would prove to be a great help in spotting and identifying 'new-for-us' birds. The drive started with to separate Small Buttonquail sightings, and after enjoying the dawn course from the Luvuvhu bridge we arrived at Pafuri picknick spot with another cuckoo (an immature Diederick's) on our life lists.

After some picknick spot birding netted amongst others a Striped Kingfisher to (only my partner's as I did not see it) list we switched vehicles and left with Dr. Ian Whyte of Kruger elephant fame as our guide. Under his guidance and with the added benefit of some very experienced birders in our vehicle we were in for what must be one of the greatest days of birding we've had sofar. The highlights included Mottled Spinetail (again not me as I was on the wrong side of the vehicle, @$#!@!), Lemon-breasted Canary, Narina Trogon and Brubru, but the most special sighting must have been the bird that we spotted in the extreme NE part of Kruger, where the North-South fence meets the Limpopo river. While at first thinking it might be a Yellow-bellied greenbul, a closer look and confirmation by both Ian and Tertius, ID'ed it as a Golden Weaver! A very rare sighting for Kruger according to Ian. On the way back we then unfortunately dipped on Arnot's Chat, despite hard calling work by Ian. When he finally had to admit there were no chats today, we were more than consoled by a White-breasted Cuckooshrike sighting!

Back at camp we relaxed a bit, quite chuffed about adding another 34 birds to our trip list and some very special ones at that, but this turned out not to be the end of the day's successes. One more was in store!

As there had been some confusion over the afternoon/evening drive, those that had not been aware of them were given the chance to go out after dinner. And of course, despite it being after 2200 and having had a long day we joined Don English and 8 other birders. After about half an hour, just as Don was going to turn left, some eyes were spotted in one of the vehicle's spotlights. A quick jerk to the right on the steering wheel led us closer to a ….. Pennant-winged nightjar!!! It had only one pennant (?) left as the one on it's right wing had already been shedded. After a great demonstration of stalking Don managed to catch the bird and showed it to us up-close! What a beautiful bird it was. After we had a look he released and we got to see it in flight as well. In high spirits we turned back to our original course and, would you believe it, spotted another Pennant-winged. This one's single pennant was on the other wing, clearly making it a different individual. What a perfect end to a magnificent day.
So, on Sunday morning we left the park, adding four more birds to our life list on the short way out, and bringing our trip total to 139, including 41 we had not seen before!

Thanks to the Honorary Rangers and all others who helped make this possible! It's been a weekend we will not easily forget.

Peter Baart

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