These wetlands, close to the University of Limpopo in Mankweng, have been for some time a hot-spot for interesting sightings, and thus it was with high expectations that nine of us set off from town on the morning of 25 March 2017. Arriving around the break of dawn, we were greeted by Cattle Egrets flying overhead. Almost immediately, Jody recognized the distinctive call of a River Warbler! This species is considered a rare summer visitor, with sporadic records mainly from Zimbabwe and Limpopo. Its migratory movements are still poorly known but we know it breeds in Europe and Asia, and winters in Africa. In southern Africa, it calls mainly in March and April. We were extremely lucky just to hear it calling! It would have been a treat to see it but, unfortunately, this master skulker did not respond to our enticements.
We were also on the lookout for Thrush Nightingales, which are similarly enigmatic visitors, and which was spotted at Sebayeng earlier this year. Alas, this time they were absent, and we didn't even hear any calling! We did however hear another warbler not many people see - a Garden Warbler. Well, we didn't see it either -at least not well - as the bush was simply too rank following the recent good rains we had. The warbler actually seemed to be taunting us! The best we could do was to catch some fleeting glimpses of it as it hopped around in the tangle of twigs.
Nevertheless, it was a good day for warblers and their ilk. In addition to the above, we also heard Cape Grassbirds, Burnt-necked Eremomelas, Little Rush Warblers, Chestnut-vented Tit-babblers, Long-billed Crombecs and Lesser Swamp Warblers, over and above the usual suspects such as Rattling Cisticolas and Tawny-flanked Prinias. We also heard and had good views of Sedge Warbler.
For me the treat of the day was the Great Reed Warbler! I first heard its harsh, churring song and Jody identified it for us. We were treated to good and unmistakable sightings, as it perched out in the open for all to see. I hadn't seen this species in many years.
The wetlands themselves were looking - though not smelling - quite good! It was squelchy going, especially to Saartjie, Annette and Schalk, who'd neglected to bring their gumboots! Grasses and reeds were dense and there was much open water. Perching close to the water were some lovely Wire-tailed Swallows, and we also saw Greater Striped and Barn Swallows in flight. The Cattle Egrets were all over the place, and there were some Sacred Ibises too. Mark got photographs of a Grey Heron. We also saw and heard Green-backed and Squacco Herons. But the one we were looking out for, the Rufous-bellied Heron, either wasn't there, or hid itself very well! Other wetland birds we got included quite a few African Wattled Lapwings, Blacksmith Lapwings, a Three-banded Plover, Wood Sandpipers, the ubiquitous Black Crakes, Red-knobbed Coots, Common Moorhens, Purple Gallinules (heard, but not seen), at least one Hamerkop, and some Hadeda Ibises flying overhead. Wildfowl included Egyptian Geese, Yellow-billed Ducks, Red-billed and Hottentot Teals, and a female Spur-winged Goose (another one I'd not seen for some time). White-winged Widowbirds were nesting in the reedbeds, Little Bee-eaters were perching prettily in the waterside trees, and European Bee-eaters were flying overhead. We also saw some Woodland Kingfishers, a not too common species on the Polokwane Plateau. Another treat were several Orange-breasted Waxbills flitting in and out of the long grasses and reeds. We were also happy to find a single, probably female, Cuckoo-finch.
In the dense bush we were looking for a Gorgeous Bushshrike. On a previous outing, we were teased by one who was calling and skulking about, never allowing itself to be seen. Well, this time we didn't even hear it, though we were trying to lure it out by playing its call! Typical savannah and grassland species included Swainson’s Spurfowl, Grey Go-away-bird, Acacia Pied Barbet, Red-eyed Dove, Rufous-naped Lark, Southern Fiscal, Lesser Grey and Red-Backed Shrikes, White-throated Robin-Chat, Blue Waxbill, Pin-tailed Whydah, Yellow-fronted Canary, White-browed Sparrow-weaver, Scaly-feathered Finch and Marico Sunbird. We also spotted a Jackal Buzzard perched on a pole.
All in all, we didn't see as much as we'd hoped for, but I certainly can't call it a bad day's birding. We were out and about in the bush, and had quite a few nifty sightings.
Julia Friskin (photos)