Our Birding Big Day started in somewhat wet conditions as we headed out to our first few spots at 2am. The stop-start rain made finding nocturnal birds sightly difficult, and after a slow start we managed to tick Western Barn Owl, Southern White-faced Owl, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Rufous-cheeked Nightjar and Fiery-necked Nightjar before heading off to a hill for the dawn chorus.
By 5am the dawn chorus was in full swing, and our 40th listing came in the form of a Kalahari Scrub Robin. Some of the species we managed to tick include: Long-billed Crombec, African Quail-Finch, Coqui Francolin, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Red-backed Shrike, Jacobin Cuckoo, Red-breasted Swallow and Levaillant's Cuckoo. We managed to tick our 80th species a few minutes before 6am, and our 100th species for the day was a Yellow-billed Duck 30minutes later.
Moving to other spots within the Polokwane game reserve we managed to tick species like: Tinkling Cisticola, Green-winged Pytilia, Cape Grassbird, Red-throated Wryneck, Short-clawed Lark, Lilac-breasted Roller, Brown-backed Honeybird, Woodland Kingfisher, Olive-tree Warbler and Green Wood Hoopoe. With time running out we left the reserve standing on 132 species, which was slightly behind our target.
On our next leg we were able to catch up slightly with our target and we ticked 24 species within 35minutes. Some of the species we found include: Brown-throated Martin, Red-winged Starling, Red-headed Finch, Village Weaver, Kurrichane Thrush, Green-backed Heron, Black-headed Oriole, White-throated Swallow and Wattled Starling.
We were now going to do our most Westerly parts of our planned route, which included: Wetlands, dams, river sections and an abattoir. We managed to tick species like: Grey Heron, Spike-heeled Lark, Orange-breasted Waxbill, Hamerkop, Jameson's Firefinch, Lesser Honeyguide, Black-crowned Night Heron, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Squacco Heron and Common Sandpiper. We had great views of a Garden Warbler at the Polokwane Bird Sanctuary; and by the time we left Polokwane we ticked our 200th bird which came in the form of a Lesser Kestrel.
Still running behind our target, we moved to a part of our route that had the potential for us to catch up. We managed to tick species like: Hottentot Teal, African Spoonbill, Gorgeous Bushshrike, African Swamphen, Yellow Canary and a calling African Fish Eagle. Unfortunately we failed to get our allotted target for this section, and this saw us slipping further behind.
We now headed towards Haenersburg and Magoebaskloof for the next part of our route. White-necked Raven, African Black Swift and Jackal Buzzard made it onto our list. By the time we left Haenersburg we were standing on 228 species. Some of the species we managed to tick included: Wailing Cisticola, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Cape Canary, African Black Duck, African Dusky Flycatcher, Streaky-headed Seedeater and Broad-tailed Warbler.
The forest section of our route saw us push our total over 250. Some of the species we ticked include: Brown Scrub Robin, White-starred Robin, Barratt's Warbler, Square-tailed Drongo, Chorister Robin-Chat, African Emerald Cuckoo, Black-fronted Bushshrike, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Olive Woodpecker and Grey Cuckooshrike. Magpie Mannikin was easily ticked at The Wheelbarrow Farmstall. Now onto Tzaneen and the Lowveld.
In Tzaneen we managed to add another 10 species to our list. By 5:30pm we ticked a Brown Snake Eagle which was the first entry for our lowvled section. We managed to tick species like: Pale Flycatcher, Striped Kingfisher, Lizard Buzzard, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Broad-billed Roller, Red-headed Weaver, Croaking Cisticola, Yellow-throated Longclaw and had some good views of a Black-bellied Bustard.
Now standing at 275 and way behind our target, we drove to our most Easterly stop. Some birds came in to roost for the night, and nocturnal birds started calling. We managed to add: Water Thick-knee, African Darter, Purple Heron and Square-tailed Nightjar. We now had to work our way back to Polokwane again, but still had a few stops ahead.
Heading up to Agatha to see if we can add Bat Hawk to our list, we were engulfed by a thick mist which made spotting the Bat Hawk impossible. A Spotted Eagle-Owl sitting on a low branch 5meters away made it onto our list. This was one of the owls we couldn't find 20hours earlier when we started the day. An African Wood Owl was heard in the distance and now we were focusing on finding a Buff-spotted Flufftail in what would seem to be the most ideal conditions.
Making a few more stops along the route back to Polokwane didn't help, and the elusive Buff-spotted Flufftail managed to stay off our list. We made a few more stops around Polokwane looking to add more birds to our list. A few minutes before 11pm we ticked our last bird for the day, a Cape Weaver, and ended our Birding Big Day 2016 on 282 species. This was well short of our target of 300. It is never easy playing catch up, and missing common birds didn't help our cause in chasing that total of 300.
Wat-Kyk-Jy Team: Richter van Tonder, Rowan van Tonder and Jody de Bruyn