Our outing on Saturday, 12th May, was to Iron Crown, the highest mountain in Limpopo Province (which is where I live, in South Africa, in case you don't know). The peak reaches a height of 2120 m above sea level and is situated near the village of Haenertsburg, about 60 km east of Polokwane. This mountain, though high, is not at all steep: the slopes are gentle and rounded, and there are only a few low rock outcrops near the peak, rather than sheer cliffs. A vehicle track goes all the way to the sum-mit, although the final bit is best left for 4 x 4 vehicles. We drove to within about a kilometre of the peak and walked the rest of the way. It was not a particularly gruelling climb and even the more elderly club members managed to 'summit'.
We were of course looking for the special montane birds of the Limpopo Province. The natural vegetation up there is mainly grassland. But grassland is not at all merely grass; there is a host of other plants growing in grassland. There are also a great variety of herbs, shrubs and small trees. There were many flowers, including Curry Bush and several species of Everlastings, hardy herbs and shrubs of the daisy family. Near the peak, there are lots of Protea trees and bushes. Protea flowers are actually not single flowers, but compound flower-heads, with actual flowers crowded in the middle, surrounded by showy bracts. These protea flowerheads contain copious amounts of nectar, hence the Afrikaans name of 'suikerbos' or directly translated - 'sugar bush'. It is this sweet nectar which attracts the sugarbirds! The one that occurs in our region is Gurney's Sugarbird.
This outing produced more Gurey's Sugarbirds than I've ever seen before in one place. They were posing prettily on the proteas but unfortunately my own camera isn't up to shooting birds at long range. The two species of sugarbirds (Gurney's and Cape) are amazing for constituting an entire, unique and endemic family all on their own. There were also flowering aloes on the mountain, specifically the lovely Krantz Aloe Aloe arborescens. The sugarbirds sometimes visited them, as did sunbirds such as the gorgeous Malachite as well as the Greater Double-collared Sunbird.
In the patches of short mountain grasslands, we also saw other specials: Long-billed Pipits, which may be drab little birds, but still quite cute. They are difficult to distinguish from the African Pipit, but are larger and 'longer'-looking, and also not as boldly marked as African Pipit. Other LBJ's included Drakensberg Prinias, which prefer shrubby places, and Wailing Cisticolas, who like long grass and give their identities away with their ringing calls.
We were also very fortunate to see a very skulking customer in our area, the Red-winged Francolin. We spotted a couple on a slope facing the peak where we were standing. We saw some Jackal Buzzards, large birds of prey with dark feathers relieved by a bright reddish-brown chest and white patches in the wings, soaring overhead and perched on trees to spy the land for prey. We also saw a few White-necked Ravens flying past us.
Other species included lots of Cape Canary, some Streaky-headed Seedeaters, African Stonechat, Cape Longclaw and Black Saw-wing. While the environment was mainly grassland, there were some patches of indigenous forest too. There we saw and/or heard forest specials like Cape Batis, Olive Bushshrike and Sombre Greenbul. We were also extremely lucky to get a glimpse of a huge Crowned Eagle, one of Africa's most powerful birds of prey, flying past. Though we only saw 36 bird species in total, most of them were highland specials, not at all easy to see near Polokwane; unless you know just where to go, but now you do!