Monday, June 13, 2011

Limpopo and Soutpansberg

Limpopo Expedition 22nd to 28th May

Chris Sharpe

Kay Collister

Malcolm Wilson

I set off from Joberg with the usual menagerie of lures, mice, zebra finch and mealworms and associated traps.

Picked up Chris and Kay and headed north to the Limpopo camp.

We dropped for 2 Brown Snake Eagles on the way, neither showing much interest in the mice, but for the first time I actually managed to see a ring on one of the birds! After ringing 30 of these birds over the last few years this was the first time I had seen one with a ring on.

Got to camp and put up several nets and on the first net round took a great catch of a pair of Black-headed Orioles, Fork-tailed Drongo, Meve’s Starlings, Crested Barbet, and Black-backed Puffback.

Next morning was even better, catching a whole flock of 5 White Helmet-shrikes, Red-billed Wood Hoopoe, a female Little Sparrowhawk turned up in the net, probably attracted to the many Laughing and ape Turtle Doves bashing in and out of the nets. Also got Marico Sunbird, and 8 Ashy Flycatchers!

Late morning we set off to find some Raptors and were halfway to the road on the bush track when we came across a large adult Lanner perched up in a dead tree. We set a Zebrafinch and mouse combo for it but after 15 mins of waiting decided it was probably full of Laughing Doves which it had been harassing on the nearby farm.

Managed to get 4 Pale-chanting Goshawk and filmed them on the trap using a bullet cam fixed to the trap, very cool. Got back early afternoon and opened the nets catching Brown Hooded Kingfisher and a Black-headed Oriole as well as a couple of White-browed Scrub-robin.

In the evening took a drive and dazzled a rufous morph Firey-necked Nightjar

Next morning caught a young Grey-headed Bush-shrike and my second ever Common Scimitarbill I had been baiting up a secluded spot with mashed corn and this finally paid off when I found a Natal Spurfowl in the potter trap!

Went for a Raptor Run late morning and found a Brown Snake Eagle on a pylon which when dropped for came in like a shot and onto the trap, must have been starving. Unfortunately the bird flipped the trap over when it got caught briefly and took off, but amazingly came back in again but onto the wrong side of the trap. Got another trap down for the bird and was caught but got off, very unlucky.

Managed to catch an adult Gabar Goshawk further on which came in like a shot for the zebrafinch. Spring-trapped 2 Lilac-breasted Rollers but the Purple Rollers were playing very hard to get despite dropping many times for them.

That evening we had a tape on for owls and were rewarded with a retrap Pearl-spotted Owlet which Chris had ringed in March 2006!


Set off early and first up caught a Greater Kestrel off of a pylon which I had ringed 8 months previously. Tried for a Brown Snake Eagle but too far. Came across an African Hawk Eagle which had just dropped off a pylon onto something. We waited and it came back up empty clawed! Got the trap down and it came in fairly quickly but was very wary of the trap, hovering over it and flying in and off onto a nearby tree to watch. We waited probably 30 mins until it eventually landed next to the trap where it eventually got caught.

It was a sub adult male in tits second year, very smart bird.

Dropped for an adult Black-chested Snake Eagle but was not having it, and then 2 Brown Snake Eagles together, neither of which showed any interest in the mice.

We put down a few miles now and arrived at the next site following a 3km 4x4 drive up into the Soutpansberg Mountains where we were greeted to the spectacle of a Peregrine mobbing a Verreaux’s Eagle! Got a few nets up before dark catching in the last hour, Cape Batis, Bar-throated Apalis and African Firefinch.

Next morning we heard Narina Trogon and Gorgeous Bushshrike calling close by the nets but very little movement. We caught Sombre Greenbul, Lemon Dove, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Lesser Honeyguide, Green Twinspot, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and Green-backed Camaroptera.

We took a drive further up the mountain to the summit where we found breathtaking views and stands of flowering Aloes including Aloe vogtsii a Soutpansberg endemic.

We managed to locate a pair of Gurney’s Sugarbirds feeding in a stand of Proteas but the wind was too strong and had to leave it for today.

Had an amazing moment when we had four Verreaux’s Eagles in the air above us at once! Also had Lanner and Jackal Buzzards. We were on the lookout here for a particular special in the form of Taita Falcon which I have seen further to the west in this range, the farmer has seen it here.

Next morning the wind had dropped off to virtually nothing and so I was keen to get back up on top for a crack at the Sugarbirds. We opened the nets for an hour or so but it was slow, only new species were Striped Pipit and Lazy Cisticola.

Back on the top of the mountain we got a 60’ net in a gap between the Protea trees and set the ipod under it, then sat some 100m away to wait. It took about 30 mins before on bird flew fast straight out of the Proteas and into the net! Great little bird, such sharp claws and the face covered in purple protea nectar stains!

After another 30 mins we got another bird and comparing biometrics, decided the first was a male and the latter female.

We tried for a 3rd for Kay but only succeeded in catching the first bird again!

We tried taping for Long-billed Pipit which were in the area, but not interested.

Set off on the way back to Johannesburg the next morning, trying unsuccessfully for the numerous Black-shouldered Kites in the area, until finally we caught a juvenile bird.

Found a Rock Kestrel which we duly dropped for and caught, then found a juvenile Jackal Buzzard which obliged us by coming to the trap and getting caught despite a huge bulging crop full of road-killed Guineafowl! Tried for another Black-chested Snake Eagle which came in over the trap several times, until we eventually left it.

Spotted a Tawny Eagle just north of Polokwane which was good for this scarce species.

All in all a great week, 97 birds caught of 48 species.