One of the nice things about birding is the element of surprise: sometimes you may see a new bird, sometimes you visit an area you have never been to before and are amazed by the scenery, or sometimes you see a bird in an area where it has never been recorded before. Sometimes you get to see all three in one go. On 12th August 2017, eleven of us met at the Polokwane Nature Reserve from where we made our way to David Van Ryneveldt's farm Steendal, about a 20 minute drive to the south of Polokwane. Although the air didn't feel like it, we saw evidence that summer is on the way in the form of of a pair of Red-breasted Swallows, summer migrants, sunning themselves on a fence along the road. A quick scan of some cattle rewarded us with Red-billed Oxpecker for our list.
Our arrival at Steendal was announced by a pair of duetting Black-collared Barbets and the resident pair of Mocking Cliff Chats, some Yellow-fronted Canaries, Blue Waxbills, Grey Go-away-birds and a Common Scimitarbill completed the welcoming party. David then took us to a nearby rocky outcrop which, in Polokwane terms, can be called 'world's view'. Surprise #1: what a view! Standing there I couldn't believe we were less than 20km from Polokwane.
Birding here yielded several gamebirds including Natal Spurfowl, Coqui Francolin and Shelley's Francolin, great views of Southern Boubou, White-throated Robin-chat, a pair of Chinspot Batises and Kurrichane Thrush, amongst others. In the distance we could hear the distinctive 'Victorrrr' call of a Greater Honeyguide before we alerted to the striking, musical call of another bird. My first thought was that we had been foxed by a mimicking cliff chat. But we had not. Surprise #2: Striped Pipit. Although the habitat is suitable for the species, it still came as a bit of a surprise to see this species so close to Polokwane. It stayed just long enough for us to see it before it flew past us down the valley. Surprise #3: A lifer for many.
With our spirits - and lifer tallies - lifted for many, we started exploring the ridges. Some of us also walked down the well-wooded valley in the hope of getting another view of the Striped Pipit, but without luck. However, our efforts were rewarded with views of typical woodland birds such as Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, White-browed Scrub Robin, Bar-throated Apalis, Southern Black Tit, Yellow-bellied Greenbul and Black-backed Puffback, to name a few.
Back to base where we had a quick 'cuppa' before we explored the more open, grassy areas on the farm. Here we ticked the likes of Long-billed Crombec, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Chestnut-vented Titbabbler, Lesser Honeyguide, Golden-breasted Bunting and, to my delight, Sabota Lark. Above us some Cape Vultures showed nicely, but our attention was drawn to something smaller in amongst them. It turned out to be a Hooded Vulture! Following on the success of the club outing to the Mockford Vulture Restaurant on the 8th July, where the group recorded a Hooded Vulture (see article on page 4 in this issue), we were delighted to record another Hooded Vulture on the Polokwane Plateau. This sighting is only 20km from the Mockford Vulture Restaurant so it is possible that this could have been the same bird. Another highlight shortly after this was some Pearl-breasted Swallows passing by.
We had a wonderful day at Steendal and all of us agreed that a summer visit to the farm is a must. On behalf of Birdlife Polokwane, I would like to thank David Van Ryneveld for inviting us to his farm and for his friendly hospitality.