Birding

Down the years, avid birders have seen or heard approximately 230 bird species in in the Barkly East district. Several rare species can be seen in the Rhodes area. This includes the threatened Bearded vulture of which there are estimated to only be +-100 breeding pairs left in Sub Saharan Africa. The slightly more abundant Cape vulture is also found in these parts.

 

Another “special” is the Drakensberg rockjumper, a species that is only found at high altitudes. Unlike many other small birds, both the males and the females are particularly colourful. The plateaux on the Naudesnek Pass and the road to the Tiffindell Ski Resort are host to these attractive little birds. Also at this altitude, Ground woodpeckers could be described as the yobbos of the Alpine bird world as they “kick up a row” of note. This is also one of the very few places where one can see no less than 8 species of chat, being the African Stonechat, Mountain Wheatear, Buff-streaked Chat, Familiar Chat, Sickle-winged Chat, Karoo Chat, Mocking Cliff-Chat and Ant-eating Chat.

 

Of the raptors, Vereauxs’ (Black) and Martial eagles are the biggest to be seen in the area. Jackal buzzards can be found all year round while Black harriers and peregrine falcons are seasonal visitors.

 

Coveys of Greywing francolin are to be found on the plateaux of the area where they frequent the same habitat as the Drakensberg rockjumpers and Ground woodpeckers. Feeding on bulbs, seeds and insects, in winter concentrations are to be found where there is an abundance of Nutgrass bulbs. These, contrary to popular thinking are dug out using their beaks as opposed to scratching the tiny bulbs out of the ground in a chicken-like fashion. Often referred to as Greywing partridge, this is a complete misnomer. Limited Greywing francolin shoots occur in the area using mostly English pointers to locate the coveys. This is an experience to be remembered and comparable to Grouse hunting in the Scottish highlands.

 

Along the rivers and streams, Giant kingfishers can be heard, if not seen. The more secretive and rare Black Stork may also be spotted, their bright red legs in stark contrast to their funereal black feathers. Barratt’s Warbler in the summer, together with Layard’s Tit-Babbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Yellow Canary, Cape Bunting, Red-eyed Bulbul, Olive Thrush, wagtails, waxbills and sparrows may all be seen in the valleys.

 

Other seasonal visitors include the tiny but spectacularly beautiful Malachite sunbirds that frequent the range of at least seven species of Redhot pokers (Kniphofia spp), the most common of which is Kniphofia caulescens. These plants flower in sequence thus providing the little birds with up to 5 months of sustenance. Another special species is the Paradise flycatcher that has been seen nesting in the village.

The birds found in the list shown refer to the village of Rhodes and the surrounding areas within an hour to an hour and a half drive from Rhodes. These areas vary from 1500m above sea level on the Maclear side over Naudes Nek, east of Rhodes, to the 2500 – 3000 m above sea level, alpine areas of the ‘Ben McDhui” plateau in the Southern Berg. It also includes the New England, Wartrail and Mosheshs’ Ford area west of Rhodes.

Rare bird species
There are altogether approximately 230 bird species recorded in the Barkly East district which include a few rare species as listed in “The Rare Birds of Southern Africa” by P.A Clancy. These rare species are the Black Stork, Bearded Vulture, Black Harrier, Mountain Pipit and Yellowbreasted Pipit.

Uncommonly sighted species
The Ground Woodpecker (Geocolaptes olivaceus) is one of only three ground-dwelling woodpeckers in the world (the others are the Andean and Campo flickers). It inhabits rather barren, steep, boulder-strewn slopes in relatively cool hilly and mountainous areas of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland and has yet to be recorded outside of Southern Africa. It is the largest woodpecker in the region, reaching 30 cm in length. It usually goes about in pairs or small parties and is best located by its loud, raucous 2-note call (chik-ree, chik-ree) with head-swinging. It often peers over or around rocks at intruders. It breeds in spring and early summer (August to November), and the nest is in a tunnel excavated by the bird itself in the vertical bank of a stream or watercourse.
Orangebreasted Rockjumper is now known as the Drakensberg Rockjumper
The Drakensberg Rockjumper or Orange-Breasted Rockjumper (Chaetops aurantius) is a medium-sized insectivorouspasserine bird endemic to the alpine grasslands and rock outcrops of the Drakensberg Mountains of southeastern South Africa. It is sometimes included with the allopatric Cape rockjumper in C. frenatus; the two are the only living species of theChaetopidae (rockjumper family) if this is not merged with the Picathartidae (rockfowl).
This rockjumper is 23–25 cm long with a long black tail and strong legs. The male has a dark grey head with a thin whitesupercilium and a broad white moustache. The back and wings are dark grey.
The underparts are orange and the rump is rufous red. The female and juvenile have a paler grey head, upperparts and wings, a duller head pattern, an orange rump, andbuff underparts. The call is a loud wheeoo.
It exclusively eats insects, doing most of its foraging on the ground, scratching and probing the soil surface in search of prey.
It is a monogamous, facultative cooperative breeder, meaning that the breeding pair is sometimes assisted by up to two helpers.
• Both sexes construct the nest, which is a large untidy cup built of grass and twigs, lined with soft rootlets, grass and hair. It is usually placed on the ground, well concealed by tufts of grass or an overhanging rock, sometimes a small bush.
• Egg-laying season is from August-February, peaking from October-November.
• It lays 2-3 white eggs, which are incubated by both sexes.
• The chicks are fed by both sexes at regular intervals, their diet consisting mostly of caterpillars and grasshoppers.
• Both species can be seen along the Carlisleshoek, Volunteershoek and Naudesnek Passes as well as on the Naudesnek and Ben McDhui plateaux.


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