Sunday, 20 January 2013

Memelorable & just for a Lark!

Yellow-breasted Pipit
We've learn't quite quickly that there are different attitudes required in the field when pushed for time. Finding the specials, especially those confined to a specific geography, will play a critical role in the success or otherwise of our 800 Challenge come December 31st.

Birding under these time-restricted pressures requires patience which sounds like a contradiction in terms... It isn't & I'll tell you why. You are obliged to stick it out until the geographically - confined species are seen! That means you spend much more time Finding Rudd's Lark than you would say atlassing or enjoying a weekend's birding.

The weather in Memel, like everywhere else in the country, was soggy... Seekoeivlei was closed. Access roads to and from the reserve and along the usual birding routes were a quagmire of mud & water usually enjoyed by flocks of YB and Maccoa Duck.

Rudd's Lark - nestling
We looked for the area's grassland specials on the plateau most birders who've been to the area know well enough. Even in driving rain it wasn't long before we'd added Denham's Bustard, Blue Korhaan, Ground Woodpecker and Wailing Cisticola.

The real specials, other than Yellow-breasted Pipit, proved more elusive which forced us to slow down and retrace our steps.

We tend to view inclement weather as detrimental for birding but that's not necessarily true, particularly if the wind isn't blowing. For Rudd's we decided on some likely habitat and sat quietly, coffee in hand and waited. Some three hours later, unmoved and in driving rain, we'd seen a pair of Rudd's, two small flocks of Botha's Lark and three more YB Pipit.

We'd learn't another lesson too. The real prize wasn't ticking the Rudd's, the Botha's or the Yellow-breasted. It was so much more and for us, at least, one of the highlights of our time in the field, anywhere. We'd noticed that the Rudd's returned singly, but religiously, to one spot before leaving in a hurry to find more food. Later, when we'd found the nest and the three healthy chicks in it, we understood the amazing intelligence of these little birds. The adults would land and run, unobserved, three or so meters to the 'tunnel-entranced' nest. Any casual observer would search, unsuccessfully, near or at the 'landing-spot' for the nest. However, in their haste to leave the adults flew directly from the nest which the more determined birder would notice...

Other highlights from the area included breeding Whiskered Terns, Montagu's Harrier, Lanner Falcon, Blue & Grey Crowned Crane, Blue Korhaan, Black-winged Pratincole and SA Shelduck.

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