Today we birded the highland grasslands around Wakkerstroom. (Btw I've finally figured all these crazy South African words out, they are Dutch. South Africa was settled by the Dutch, so things like 'wildebeest' simply mean 'wild cow').
We headed out at 7:00am this morning for an hour and a half long session, targeting White-bellied Bustard, an endangered endemic. Today we were joined by local guide Lucky, and he did in fact turn out to be just that. Last night at dinner I asked our Guide if we would see Oribi, a small orange antelope found in high altitude grasslands. They are endangered in South Africa, with about 3000 individuals left. He told me that it was highly unlikely, that he had never actually seen one himself. As we were driving Lucky called stop, and there perched high on the hillside was not one but three Oribi. Pretty incredible, and even our tour guide who had worked in game reserves and national parks all his life had scored a mammal lifer. Yay!
We ventured on to a small village, where we went off road, and found three White-bellied Bustard. At this site too, we found Southern Bald Ibis, a bird I was really keen to see.
Back on the main road we stopped beside a game reserve where huge numbers of ungulates roamed, and added Springbok and Black Wildebeest to our list.
A great morning turned out to be even better when we sighted a pair of Secretarybird wandering through a field. Secretarybird are highly sought after, so this was a satisfying find, not to mention how awesome they are. Huge birds of prey that hunt by stomping snakes to death. Pretty wild.
Back to our guest house for breakfast and then we set out for a day in the field.
We ventured up into the highlands, where the flat top hills and sprawling plains are covered in golden grass. We travelled through villages of mud huts and saw the local people working with their cattle, mustering them on tough little horses which they ride bareback.
Along this road I spotted a group of small mammals go scurrying, tails sticking straight up in the air and that can mean only one thing... meerkats! We stopped to watch them for a bit, including their little sentry, posted nearby scanning for danger. Very cute.
In terms of birds we found the endemic highland larks, birds you find nowhere else the world. Rudd's Lark is critically endangered, with only five pairs left in the particular area we visited. With our local guide we made it up to Fickland Pan, which is on privately owned land and only allows twenty vehicles a month to visit. Though we are birding, we are seeing many parts of South Africa that most foreigners never will.
The cold wind made birding quite difficult but the setting was spectacular so everyone was happy, especially when I spotted another family of meerkat, including babies, much closer to the us this time.
We had a packed lunch up at Fickland Pan and then birded our way back to Wakkerstroom, finding a group of five Blue Korhaan. A little further down the road we saw three Blue Crane land by a small farm dam and stopped to get great views of them. They are South Africa's national bird and are a threatened species. They are very beautiful birds, pale blue-grey with black wings that hang like streamers past their tails.
Back in town we birded the garden at the guest house, picking up three new birds; Bokmakierie, Red-throated Wryneck and Cape Grassbird.
For dinner we headed to Grasslands Cottage where it was just us, enjoying a home-cooked South African meal. We started with cream of white and green vegetables soup, then veggies and Moroccan lamb stew, followed by a traditional South African pudding with dates, apricot jam and custard. Yum!
Back to our manor house to warm up by the open fire after another brilliant day.