Having flown in from Cape Town to Johannesburg the afternoon before we made our way to the quiet, and even quaint, town of Wakkerstroom, southeast of Jo’burg. This small town has a distinctly English feel, coming complete with a church spire and surrounded by rolling grassy hills, (in stark contrast to some of the dingy looking townships we had passed by on the way).
These grassy hills are a boon for larks and pipits that abound at Wakkerstroom, and were what we had come for (among a myriad of other birding possibilities). The area is special for birders as it has extensive areas of highland grassland that in many other areas have been destroyed through intensive farming practices, and so here provide a vital haven for some of these high altitude grassland specialists. Before we had even reached the town we started picking up some top draw species, not least a number of Blue Korhaans stalking through the windswept grasses. We picked up our local man, aptly named Lucky, and we set about putting his name to good use. Through his impressive local knowledge of the myriad of grassy fields he targeted some of the top birds in the area, and shockingly we walked away with both the scarce Yellow-breasted Pipit, and the rare Rudd’s Lark within just a few hours after our arrival, along with the more common but no less impressive Orange-throated Longclaw (see photos). The former both endemic species that are confined to such high altitude grasslands. A number of stately Grey-crowned Cranes, complete with golden “head-dresses” and broad white wing panels, pacing the fields were a little more conspicuous.
Wakkerstroom is full of surprises, and even here (seemingly in the middle of nowhere), we managed to eat in a superb little local restaurant where the walls were adorned with the work of over twenty local artists depicting everything from the rolling grassy hills of Wakkerstroom itself, to the majestic Oryx wandering the red Kalahari sands of Namibia, while our steak dinners arrived in a burst of flames (literally). A dramatic end to a good days birding!