07 November 2009

Into Lesotho…(Sani Pass, Lesotho): October 14, 2009 PART II

After taking in our first of many cracking pairs of rock-jumpers we crossed over into Lesotho, that felt immediately a lot poorer. Round stone buildings dotted the hillsides, and just on building stood out as different and modern. Not the immigration building (see photo) funnily enough but the pub, the Sani Top Chalet and allegedly the highest in all of Africa (if their sign is correct!) There was nothing more to do but go into the building for a pub lunch on their veranda with a dramatic vista looking back down the Sani Pass into South Africa. As we sat there enjoying a superb trout lunch, washed down with a local Lesotho beer, Maluti, we watched probably the same pair of Drakensberg Rock-jumpers foraging in the alpine meadow below. We were also entertained by a strange mammal: the Slogget’s Ice Rat (see photo), that was hanging out behind the pub, along with the odd Sentinel Rock-Thrush, and a Drakensberg Siskin dropped onto some near rocks by the café to afford us markedly better views than on our way up the pass (see photo). All of that was great, but our main target was something much duller, difficult and challenging to identify: Mountain Pipit, a poorly known species that only comes to Lesotho to breed, and then promptly vanishes for the winter to whereabouts no one knows. A bird of mystery, and our first mystery to solve was whether indeed they had yet returned to breed, as we were right at the time when they may have arrived, although recent local reports suggested otherwise. All the same not long up the road we glanced up to find a pipit displaying in the air and after much scrutiny nailed it both on the ground and singing in the air, and could confirm we had found our quarry, the rare Mountain Pipit. As time wore on we headed deeper into Lesotho picking up more rock-jumpers, siskins and rock-thrushes before we had to reluctantly return to South Africa, although not before we picked up a pair of Southern Grey Tits

not far off the border post. After a thoroughly enjoyable few hours in Lesotho we drew out our passports again, and prepared to descend back into the Sani Pass, and South Africa once more…

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