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Wakkerstroom is still giving some great birding despite being very wet and VERY cold for this time of year - no snow though so the Drakensberg and the famous Sani Pass have the edge over us in this department.
I had my non-birding in-laws up here for the festive season. While we did have a number of outings and they were quite keen to look at some of the more noticeable birds they are definitely not twitchers - well perhaps I should exclude my 12-year old niece - she is certainly a twitcher and kept on reminding me that she had already seen Ground Woodpeckers and was not too interested in seeing them again.
In spite of no walks in the cold, blustery weather we still got wonderful views of Blue Korhaans, Grey Crowned Cranes, Blue Cranes, Yellow-breasted Pipits, Ground Woodpeckers, South African Rock Pipits, Sentinel Rock Thrushes, Southern Bald Ibises, Eastern Long-billed Larks, Amur Falcons, Lesser Kestrels, etc. The roost at the nearby town of Volksrust once again has thousands of Amur Falcons and 50 to 100 Lesser Kestrels - nothing like the Lesser Kestrel roosts in the Karoo in the drier western areas of South Africa where the Lesser Kestrels are counted in thousands (the record is held by a roost at the town of De Aar with 16 000 birds), but great to see all the same.
The Montagu's Harrier is still around and we had great views of a male quartering the grassland along the Amersfoort road. We also saw a female "ringtail" on a few occasions that may well have been a Pallid Harrier. Unfortunately we were unable to get good enough views of this to be certain that it was not a female Monty's.
While out with some birders from Durban on 16th December we did get crippling views of Botha's Larks although we dipped out on Rudd's Larks unfortunately. I didn't even try and get my in-laws out of the car over the Christmas season to look for these again though.
It was interesting that when we arrived there (at the Botha's Lark field) there were 20 or so Amur Falcons hawking insects overhead. There were no larks in evidence at all then - not even the usual Spike-heeled Larks or the ubiquitous Red-capped Larks. After walking around the field quite despondently for half an hour or so the falcons decided to push off to more productive places. Suddenly there were larks all over the place includingfour or five Botha's Larks. Obviously they weren't going to take any chances on the falcons being only insectivorous.
The New Millennium started out on a far superior birding note compared to the year 2000 when my first bird of the year was either a House Sparrow or an Indian Myna. This time I was woken up (a bit too early for New Year's Day I must confess) by a duetting pair of Bokmakieries. After getting everyone out on the road for a rather late start we were rewarded with great sightings of two rather rare species in this part of the world. The first were two Black Egrets feeding with six African Spoonbills in a roadside pond - only the second sighting I've had here in five years. The first lot were around for two or three weeks so perhaps these will stick around for a while. The next really exciting sighting for me was a single male and two female Parasitic Weavers. This was only the fourth sighting of this species in five years for me. We had absolutely marvellous views of these birds feeding at the roadside and all commented on how different they were to the illustrations in the Field Guides. The Sasol Guide depicted them as being sort of dumpy little canaries while in fact they were quite elegant slim birds. My Newmans (admittedly an old copy) did not indicate any difference between males and females while in reality the male was a brilliant yellow bird with a massive black bill and the females were drab, brownish birds with the same heavy bill, but a pinkish horn colour (shown as blackish in Sasol). Other exciting birds of the day included a pair Blue Cranes with two really cute youngsters which couldn't be much more than a few weeks old. The adults often pranced up and down with outstretched wings and it was very amusing to watch the youngsters emulating them with their short, stubby wings.
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Beautiful Just Birding