The Limpopo Bird Guides under the guidance of Joe Grosel undertook another challenging atlassing session in the southern reaches of the Limpopo Province. The target area is situated in the largely rural but fairly remote south-western Sekhukhune district which lies east of Marble Hall and west of the Jane Furse settlement. Several coordinated atlassing sessions earlier in 2014 greatly reduced a large ‘un-atlassed’ gap in this region however at least 16 'virgin' and isolated pentads remained. The Greater Limpopo Birding Routes committee consequently decided to tackle these pentads with the help of some of its members and several established and trainee guides.
Lisa Martus of the GLBR secured a generous offer from the manager of the Sabella Private Retreat http://www.sabella.co.za Mr. Gerrit Booyens to host the atlassing team. Sabella is a stylish new lodge located in the hills north of Marble Hall overlooking the vast 'Springbok Flats'. The lodge is situated in attractive bushveld woodland and as the name implies each suite is privately positioned under a canopy of large Marula trees.
The modis operandi for the atlassing assignment involved systematically placing groups of bird guides in the target pentads which were covered on foot allowing two teams in vehicles to reach and cover more isolated pentads. This allowed the atlassing team to cover three different pentads at the same time for a minimum of two hours in order to complete full protocol observations. The habitats covered were diverse for such a relatively small area and included sandy bushveld, granite outcrops, Sekhukhune mountain bushveld, Turf thornveld and Highveld grassland. Subsequently a large diversity of bird species was recorded. Interesting species seen in the shrubby grasslands within the southern confines of the province were Cloud and Tinkling Cisticola, Pink-billed and Spike-heeled Larks and Pearl-breasted Swallow. Typical arid thornveld species such as Ashy Tit, Southern Pied Babbler, Crimson-breasted Shrike and Kalahari Scrub-Robin were recorded on the Springbok Flats while most of the bushveld representatives including varieties of Bee-eaters, Hornbills, Weavers, Barbets and Starlings were listed in the wooded areas to the north-west of the atlassed region. Several species of conservation concern such as Barrow’s Korhaan, Secretary Bird, Cape Vulture and Lanner Falcon were also recorded in some of the pentads.
A total of 16 pentads were atlassed of which 15 were previously 'un-atlassed'. The average number of species recorded per pentad was 58 with the highest in a single pentad being 115 in the 'Sabella pentad'. A rather significant combined total of 211 species were recorded in all sixteen pentads.
With the completion of this atlassing bash one of the largest 'coverage gaps' in the Limpopo Province was firmly shut and also pushed the coverage percentage for the Limpopo Province to beyond the 85% mark.
Thanks must go to: Mr Charles Hardy and David Letsoalo for providing valuable assistance in the form of transport and shuttling observers between the pentads; to our generous hosts Gerrit and Cecile Booysens and the Sabella team for spoiling us during our stay; to the Limpopo birding guides David Letsoalo, Paul Nkhumane, Samson Mulaudzi and trainee guides Lucas Lekoto and Joseph Moema for their enthusiastic participation and to Lisa Martus for engaging the bird guides and for securing and administrating the sponsorship and accommodation for the event. Lastly our sincere gratitude goes to BirdLife South Africa for the kind sponsorship that made this atlassing event possible.