Saturday February 3rd, a beautiful summer's morning was enjoyed by ten members of Birdlife Polokwane at the very picturesque Steendal farm situated approximately 20 km south of Polokwane along the Kopermyn Road. The good rains that fell at the end of January and the crystal clear skies on the day were just the right ingredients required for a very productive morning's birding. After we were met at the entrance gate at 06:30 by owner David van Ryneveld, he escorted the convoy of vehicles up a narrow track to his house nestled between large granite boulders and bush thickets.
Soon after our arrival at the farmstead David showed us a path leading onto a neighbouring farm which featured some spectacular views from the top of a cluster of granite koppies. Along this trail we had good views of Mocking Cliff-Chat, Lazy Cisticola, Bar-throated Apalis, Amethyst Sun-bird and the ever-present Dark-capped Bulbuls and Cape White-eyes. We spent a good 45 minutes or so birding from the top of a large, flat rock overlooking some pristine mixed Acacia woodland below. Many species were heard and some good birds seen from this vantage point, including Violet-backed Starling, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Common House Martin, Red-billed Oxpecker, Marico Sunbird, White-throated Robin-Chat, Southern Boubou and African Hawk-Eagle. Several Kudu, Zebra and Impala were also spotted foraging in the valley below. While walking back to the main trail, Richter flushed a nightjar and after relocating it, it was identified as a Fiery-necked Nightjar and not the expected Freckled which would be the species of choice given the rocky habitat.
Then it was time for a breakfast break and David kindly opened up his home and lovely outdoor entertainment area for this purpose. After this interlude we were back out there for another walk along a paved track leading through some lovely rocky terrain. One of our highlights on this excursion was getting superb views of Striped Pipit, one of the target species for the morning. Another interesting observation was seeing Greater Honeyguide, Brown-backed Honeybird and Lesser Honeyguide all within a space of ten minutes. While watching the sub-adult Greater Honeyguide, Joe alerted us to a peculiar call it was giving, explaining that this beckoning call was given when the bird intends attracting the attention of a human or Honey Badger in order to lead the interested party to a beehive. It didn't take Joe long to take the bird up on its offer and off he went encouraging the bird even further by giving some of his own whistles and calls.
While Joe headed up into the hills the rest of us enjoyed sifting through a mixed bird party which contained Southern Black Tit, Willow Warbler, Chinspot Batis, Violet-eared Waxbill, Common Scimitarbill, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Black-headed Oriole, Long-billed Crombec, Fork-tailed Drongo (as usual) and some more Lazy Cisticolas. With the temperature rising, so were the thermals and several Cape Vultures were seen soaring overhead. This was also a good time to head back up the trail.
Joe soon caught up with us with news that the Honeyguide had led him straight to a beehive high up in the rocks. A few brave souls were then taken cross country to see the hive which had a tiny entrance in the leaf-litter at the base of a large rock. The poor honeyguide's excitement soon turned into disappointment as no-one in the group was daring enough to go all the way and open up the hive. I wonder why!
Back at the farmstead there was time for some 'tree spotting' before we reluctantly headed back home after a thoroughly enjoyable morning. Some members of our group completed bird atlas cards for the 'Steendal' pentad with close on 90 species being recorded. Our sincere appreciation goes to David for being such a gracious host and allowing us onto his beautiful farm and into his lovely home.