On the afternoon of 15 May seven birders from Gauteng and Polokwane plus Greater Limpopo Birding Routes bird guide Paul Nkhumane joined Joe Grosel and Lisa Martus (representing the GLBR) on a birding adventure to the far north-western region of the Limpopo Province. After meeting at the Polokwane Bird Sanctuary the convoy of three vehicles set off towards the Blouberg Nature Reserve via the small towns of Dendron and Vivo. Several large raptors were seen and ticked en-route and on reaching the reserve the typical dry-bushveld birds started making their appearance. After checking in, the group settled into their accommodation in the Tamboti and Mashatu Camps. Mashatu consists of four self-catering family cottages, a central kitchen and lapa while Tamboti is a lovely tented camp set amongst the beautiful trees that give the camp its name. After a late afternoon drive, sundowners were enjoyed under a large Baobab tree. Then once the baobab emptied out its bat population into the evening sky we returned to camp for a braai and much chatting and laughter around the campfire. During the night the folks staying at the Tamboti camp were entertained by calling Pearl-spotted, African Scops, White-faced, African Barred and Barn Owls while the rutting Impala rams also snorted and roared their way through the night.
Day-2 started off with an early breakfast before the group made their way to the Sycamore Fig forest where time was spent studying the trees, birds and other natural forms in this rather misplaced ecosystem. Then it was time to do some 4x4 driving along a challenging track over a saddle in the mountain and eventually to the base of the cliff where over 1000 vultures breed. The timing of our visit here was excellent because soon after we arrived at the colony many vultures started heading out to forage affording us some spectacular mass displays. A picnic brunch was enjoyed near a natural spring below the colony before we headed back over the mountain to the reserve's vulture restaurant and hide. Once again our timing was impeccable with hoards of Cape and several White-backed Vultures gathering to feast on a carcass which was put out several days earlier. The hide has one-way glass with small windows for photographers and with the cavorting masses of vultures only about 30m away the cameras were clicking away. After all the action and excitement we travelled back to camp to pack up and leave the Blouberg Nature Reserve. The convoy then travelled in a north-westerly direction for about 50km to the Mogalakwena River Lodge. On arrival at the lodge we were welcomed by the manager Anna Venter and her staff who had a late lunch waiting for us on an elevated deck overlooking the perennial Mogalakwena River. After a short siesta the group went for an evening walk along the river and some of us were richly entertained by Lesser Bushbabies leaving their nests to start their nocturnal activities. An alfresco dinner was served before many tired souls retired to their very comfortable suites and rooms.
Day-3 was greeted with a fairly muted dawn chorus from the riverine and woodland birds around the camp. Prior to breakfast some birding around the lodge gardens produced a good list of species including Tropical Boubou, Meves's Starling and Giant Kingfisher. Before departing we took a quick look around the Mogalakwena craft centre which displayed and sold some of the beadwork and embroided items produced by the ladies from the neighbouring rural communities. The route chosen to get to the Makgabeng Lodge traversed through large tracts of land were no previous bird atlassing was done. So, several 'virgin pentads' were atlassed independently by the three groups with the data combined after each session. In the woodland habitats species including Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, African Hawk-Eagle, Lizard Buzzard, Purple Roller, Striped Kingfisher, Retz's Helmetshrike and Yellow-bellied Greenbul were recorded while the arid, rural regions further west produced the likes of Southern White-crowed Shrike, Common Scimitarbill, Black-faced and Violet-eared Waxbill, Crimson-breasted Shrike and Ashy Tit. The third pentad took us through some stunning sandstone rock formations and patches of Acacia shrubland. Notable birds recorded here included Cape Penduline Tit, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, White-throated Robin-Chat and two pairs of Lanner Falcon. The last leg of the day's journey took us through more serene rural landscapes before arriving at the Makgabeng Lodge where owners Fortune and Lorraine Mabeba and their lodge staff welcomed us and proceeded to take excellent care of us. After dinner the participants were subjected to a quiz about all that they had learned and experienced on the trip, so far. Good fun was had by everyone and incredible knowledge was exhibited by the contestants who all walked away with well-earned prizes.
Another early start on the final morning of the trip. After a quick breakfast Fortune and Lorraine lead the convoy up the Makgabeng Plateau via a sandy track and through giant sandstone formations to the home of our cultural and archaeological guide for the morning Jonas Tlouyamma. Jonas wasted no time and proceeded to lead us to several rock art sights depicting San, Northern Sotho and Khoi paintings. His passion for this region, its history and archeology was evident during his accounts about the various sights. The Makgabeng's astonishing sandstone and conglomerate rock formations kept the photographers busy while the strangely gnarled and stunted trees were also studied with much interest. At a large rock overhang at the base of the impressive Thabananhlana buttress Jonas kept the group enthralled with facts about the cultural landscape of the region (past and present) for a good hour. At midday most of the group did the walk to the famous Makgabeng Arch before we all tucked into our lunch packs. After bidding Jonas and his beloved Makgabeng goodbye the convoy headed down the plateau and back to Polokwane via Bochum and Dendron.
The Greater Limpopo Birding Routes team wishes to thank all our hosts, guides and participants for making this a very special event. Great appreciation goes to Mr. Paul Slabbert from our sponsors Edward Snell and Co for his valuable contribution in promoting the lesser-known areas of the Limpopo Province as exciting birding destinations.