07 November 2009

Back to South Africa …(Sani Pass, South Africa): October 14, 2009 PART III

The South Africa flag greeted us as we came back into the country once more (see photo) and bumped our way down the deep valley cutting through the Drakensbergs. That was not all that greeted us as a rather obliging Barratt’s Warbler, a dull brown endemic bush-warbler famous for its skulking nature, threw in the towel and gave us great looks from the seats of our vehicle! We had little more to look for but one particular earlier miss in the morning we were smarting at: Gurney’s Sugarbird. A bird that is normally straightforward, IF you can find their beloved proteas in flower. Something we had not managed to do that morning. We returned with renewed vigor and watching, hawk-like for signs of any flowers in bloom. Having had a local tip off of some possible proteas in the right condition we made a stop at a particular spot and scanned around but found no immediate signs of flowers anywhere. However, as we scoured the horizon I noticed a bird sitting atop a very distant protea, sporting a long tail and down-curved beak, it just had to be our latest quarry: Gurney’s Sugarbird (see photos). We raced down there and found it remaining standing sentry in the glorious afternoon sun, and the camera shutters burst into action! Having found one (after the considerable initial panic of finding none at all during our ascent of the pass), of course we then could not stop bumping into them on the way down!

Also during our descent we found a Broad-tailed Warbler, a truly odd and distinctive warbler by virtue of its strange oversized tail that seems completely at odds with the rest of the bird and with the whole warbler “image” in general! A flock of Southern Bald Ibis was also found feeding in fields below the pass. Having realized we were dangerously close to getting an incredible 60 species of mammal for the trip (the ice rat being number 59) we than went on a mad pre-dinner chase for Oribi hoping to make that the magic 6-0. Amazingly (after a spot on local tip off) we checked the banks of a tranquil river in the later afternoon and found an Oribi standing there just as planned, our sixtieth mammal for the trip! That was not all though because this tip off led to an even great discovery: a group of three Wattled Cranes, a globally threatened species, was found feeding in a field that rounded out a spectacular day perfectly. The group included a duller younger bird among them and presumably was a family party that had recently bred in the area? A superb game pie in Underberg tasted all the sweeter after this very special day birding in two different countries.

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