Take the Long Way Home
This blog is not even remotely related to my research. Instead, I am taking the excuse to write about the absolutely incredible birding trip Matt and I just took as our "farewell tour" (i.e. the week trip before he goes to Canada and I stay here and we are star-crossed for 6 months). We decided to go to Mapungubwe National Park, a tiny park along the Limpopo river, where Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa meet. It has amazing birds, as it contains crazy dry areas for karoo/kalahari species, and riverine forest for species similar to Pafuri. Stopping in Magoebaskloof and Louis Trichardt on the way, we saw 235 birds total, of which 12 were new for me, and many were much better views/photos than I have had previously. We also saw a leopard.
In Magoebaskloof, the first bird party we ran into had the much sought-after black-fronted bushshrike, yellow-streaked greenbul, and a few other tiny fun things like African firefinches and red-backed mannikins. No good photos were taken. I then picked up the mountain wagtail which had been eluding me. Again, no good photos were taken. Staying overnight in Louis Trichardt, the next morning we splurged and hired a local bird guide (Samson) for the morning. I wanted to see a finfoot. Instead, we got stuck in the mud. A truck came to tow us. It got stuck in the mud. A tractor came and pulled us out like a sad convoy (photo left).
However, Samson then pulled out the stops, first with a yellow-fronted tinkerbird (new), then to a nearby dam for Allen's gallinule (new), and most surprisingly a blue-spotted wood-dove (new). Matt and I then drove to Mapungubwe, staying for the first 2 nights in the Limpopo forest camp on the west side of the park. Secluded, small, and with fun habitat, I saw southern pied babblers (new), and three-banded coursers (new and crazy to see here), with good sightings of little sparrowhawk, young great spotted cuckoo, white-crested helmet-shrikes at the pool, grey-headed bushshrike, African hawk-eagles, Temminck's coursers, and many many woodpeckers. We also had a close encounter with a herd of ~50 elephant wanting a nice drink and a mud bath (not necessarily in that order).
(pictured above left to right: blue spotted wood-dove, little sparrowhawk, and great spotted cuckoo. bottom left to right: three-banded coursers, white-crested helmet-shrike, and the walkway to the Malutswa hide).
Lastly, we stayed three nights on the east side of the park, at Leokwe camp. We saw spring hares, spotted eagle-owls, and three types of nightjar (square-tailed, fiery-necked (new), and rufous-cheeked (new)) on a night drive. On our own, we picked up good viewings of a bunch of neat species, including Senegal coucal (and Burchell's of course), tropical boubous, barred wren-warbler (new), red-faced cisticola (new), Verreaux's eagles, mocking cliff-chats, white-throated robin-chats, and lots of bee-eaters (little, white-fronted, and blue-cheeked), lilac-breasted rollers, and Meyer's parrots. We also saw tons I'm forgetting.
(pictured above left to right: male mocking cliff-chat, little bee-eater, Temminck's courser. middle left to right: giraffe's practicing "necking", crested barbet and Burchell's coucal checking out an interesting ant swarm, and a tropical boubou on the treetop walk. bottom left to right: dusky lark trying to scare up food, Burchell's coucals, and a barred wren-warbler (out of breeding)).
Lastly, we had arranged a birding drive for our last morning with Leonard, one of the Mapungubwe game rangers who knows the park inside and out. Driving to meet him at the gate at 5:30 we saw a leopard. Always a bonus. Leonard knew we'd seen the coursers (and indeed helped two couples he'd sent over to the west gain that precious lifer) and wren-warbler, and that we wanted the owl. Birders know which one I mean. THE OWL. Pel's. The owl to end all other owls (and maybe birds) in South Africa. Only the pitta may be more coveted.
And he found it:) Pictured below, Pel's fishing owl.