Thursday 19 Feb - It was a balmy Waterberg afternoon when an eager group of birders and nature lovers from Gauteng met Joe Grosel and Derek Engelbrecht from the Greater Limpopo Birding Routes at the lovely Shondoro Mountain Retreat. Shondoro is situated east of Vaalwater in a shallow ravine at the foot of the southern Waterberg. Our hosts, Rory and Yvette Muldoon went to great lengths to make our stay there as enjoyable as possible. The first afternoon was spent setting up eight camera traps along the walking trails near the camp in the hope of getting 'sneak pics' of nocturnal birds and animals. This was followed by a leisurely walk to the south-western corner of the property. Some of the significant birds seen on the first afternoon included Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Woodland Kingfisher, Lazy Cisticola, Greater Double-collared Sunbird and Crimson-breasted Shrike. After enjoying sundowners at the farmhouse Joe gave a colourful presentation about the ecology and birds of the Waterberg before we were treated to a Waterberg-style braai.
Day-two started early as we set off to the Marakele National Park via the grasslands and marshes of the Alma Valley where the likes of Montague's Harrier, hundreds of Amur Falcons and a single Red-footed Falcon were seen. On entering the park the vegetation was dominated by Acacia woodland typical of the Thabazimbi region. Here many of the distinctive bushveld birds were encountered before we stared driving up the narrow, paved road that leads to one of the highest points in the Waterberg. As we ascended the vegetation quickly changed from wooded thickets to open, grassy, Protea-covered slopes, rocky crags and eventually alpine-like shrubland at the summit. At around 2000 masl we encountered the Mountain Cypress Widdringtonia nodiflora the only native coniferous tree in the Limpopo Province. There were good views of Mountain Reedbuck, Klipspinger and Verreaux's Eagle on the way up the pass and at the lookout point, large numbers of Cape Vulture using the updrafts to soar over the peaks. Other interesting birds seen here included Gurney's Sugarbird, Malachite Sunbird and African Black Swift.
During a picnic brunch at the radio masts we were joined by very tame Buff-streaked Chats, Cape Buntings, Mocking Cliff-Chats and Cape Rock-Thrushes all hopping around at our feet. On our return journey to Shondoro the planned atlas session along the northern boundary of the Marataba section of the park was curtailed by a bridge that was washed away. This however allowed us to spend some time in Vaalwater to browse through the ‘Black Mamba’ curio shop and to enjoy some home-made 'curly cones'. Back at our base the late afternoon was spent at leisure before the customary sundowners, campfire chat and another delicious dinner.
Day-3 was dedicated to bird ringing and atlassing around the Shondoro property. Early on several mist net arrays were erected and it didn't take long before the first birds were captured. The group were richly entertained throughout the ringing session which lasted until the late afternoon. They were particularly enthralled by having the opportunity to view the birds at close quarters and by getting involved with the capturing of morphological data. Derek also imparted a great deal interesting information about each species including anatomical adaptations and examples of the different colour morphs in certain species such as the Red-billed Quelea. Mocking Cliff-Chat, Black-collared Barbet, Grey-go-away Bird, White-throated Robin-Chat, Lesser Honeyguide, Southern Black Flycatcher, Woodland Kingfisher and Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird were some of the species ringed on the day. The late afternoon was spent in the large grassland and vlei near Shondoro’s entrance gate. Here Cape Longclaw, Banded Martin, Fawn-coloured Lark, Long-tailed and Red Collared Widows and Ant-eating Chat were added to the bird list while a pair of Marsh Owls entertained us with flypasts during sundowners. A fabulous night sky and good company around the braai fire was the perfect way to round off a perfect day.
The last morning saw the team explore and atlas the agricultural fields and grasslands around the settlement of Alma before breakfast. The camera traps were also collected and their contents eagerly downloaded by Derek. Highlights were photographs of a beautiful African Civet and Water Mongoose. The last formality of the event was collating the bird and atlas lists before all the participants reluctantly bid the Waterberg goodbye. Four atlas cards were completed for the Shondoro area with a few more for the Marakele National Park. Close to 160 birds were seen and heard during the weekend of which 103 were recorded in the Shondoro Pentad.
The Greater Limpopo Birding Route wishes to thank our hosts at Shondoro and our loyal participants for making this another great birding event.