A bird survey of the southern Kalahari

7de Laan

An alternative lifestyle and a bird survey of the southern Kalahari and parts of the Karoo. Data are shared with the southern African Bird Atlas project (http:\\

Wednesday 26 July  S28° 22.88’ E 21° 09.35’

The morning was cold and misty, and the afternoon sunny and cool. I had a mostly restful day in camp. I did some data capture, re-organised the load area of my vehicle, took a slow cycle ride out along the main road, and prepared to go back out into the wilds tomorrow.

Thursday 27 July  S28° 30.16’ E 21° 20.81’

It was very cold in the morning once more, and I got up and got going before sunrise to get my vehicle back to the workshop to have its extraneous noises diagnosed. I had to stop on the way into town to clear ice from the windscreen, and I was rubbing away at it for a while before I realised that the ice was forming on the inside. The noise in the engine compartment of my vehicle was caused by a fuel filter banging against the bodywork, and was soon remedied.

I headed east out of town, and then south on a dirt road that I had not previously explored. Stopping by a thicket along a dried up stream, I saw a great number of Wattled Starlings, some in breeding plumage, milling about. I stopped to camp on a hillside, with a view of the town in the distance, in very dry and stony scrubland.

Friday 28 July  S28° 45.30’ E 20° 50.66’

The morning was cold, but for the first time since my return from Howick, not freezing. It got windy later. I was not in a hurry, and got going once the sun was up. I went back through Upington, and continued downriver (westward) through Keimoes, turning off at Freiersdale, to check in at the campground ‘Die Punt’, to camp for four days.

Die Punt is on the point of an island between two channels of the Orange River, so that my campsite is surrounded by water on three sides, and sheltered from the worst of the wind by big indigenous shade trees. I expect it to be warmer here, having dropped 200m in altitude since Upington, and it is.

In the afternoon, I cycled about on various islands, crossing the narrow fast-flowing channels of the river on narrow bridges. The islands are mostly covered by vineyards, with ribbons of natural woodland along the channels and canals.

Saturday 29 July

Though cool at first, it was a warm day.  I cycled on to the mainland, and meandered among vineyards, and then found a track along a high bank, following the river westwards. Returning from that, I followed the main road away from the river for a while, to add some of the dry-country birds to the list for the grid cell. Towards midday, midges became a bother.

In the afternoon, I set out cycling upstream among the islands again. I twice passed farm workers lying fast asleep at the roadside, and then a saloon car came speeding, swerving and bumping along the narrow track, and narrowly missed me – Saturday afternoon in the Northern Cape.

In the evening, I watched the light fade over the water. The sound of the river running by mingled with some awful music from a nearby beerhall. The music soon stopped. The night was mild, and crickets sang.

Sunday 30 July

The morning was mild and the day was warm. I cycled a long way out on the road to Kakamas, passing the ‘7de Laan’ turnoff and reaching the pass through the orange hills. There was a great noisy throng of birds at a depot , where crates of fruit were stacked up waiting to be loaded on to trucks (Wattled Starlings, Glossy Starlings and Red-eyed Bulbuls). The crates had air vents, through which the birds could reach the fruit. The road runs well away from the river, through open, dry, grassy terrain. It was noisy, with many bikers going by, part of a local breakfast run, I guess.

In the evening, a swirling, twittering mass of Little Swifts filled the sky (more than 100 birds). They nest under the narrow bridges, and are present throughout the year.

Monday 31 July

It was a warm day, and windy in the afternoon.  I cycled about among the islands again, and then out to the main road, and a short distance eastward, to take coffee and a pie at the very rustic and cluttered Akkerboom Padstal.

In the afternoon, braving the wind, I cycled a short way westward along the high bank that follows the river (or rather its outermost channel).

Tuesday 1 August  S28° 31.37’ E 20° 22.73’

It was a warm day, and windy at times. I packed up and got going early, driving towards Kakamas. I stopped among the orange-coloured hills that lie to the east of Kakamas while the sun was rising., then made another stop among vineyards and smallholdings near the river to the north of Kakamas, before crossing the long river bridge into town to take coffee and a snack at the Yanuck coffee house. From there, I headed north, and jolted along the badly corrugated road towards Riemvasmaak, stopping to look around in very desert-like conditions, with plains of reddish, sun-baked earth interrupted by rocky hillsides. Midges were bothersome. I stopped to camp among rugged-looking rocky hills, next to the northern border of the Augrabies Falls National Park.

Wednesday 2 August  S28° 40.52’ E 20° 34.52’

The morning was cool, otherwise it was a warm day. I went slowly back to Kakamas, in time for lunch at the Yanuck coffee house. In the afternoon, I meandered about near the river on the north side, before heading out northwards on the dirt road to Lutzputs, passing a large area of vineyards and orchards that was entirely covered by shade cloth (and no chance of finding birds there). Beyond all that, I stopped to camp on a clearing on top of a rise, with a fine view of open plains and distant hills.

Thursday 3 August  S28° 31.37’ E 20° 33.16’

It was a warm day. I progressed slowly northward, through open plains that were sometimes grassy and sometimes stony, and always very dry, with few birds, or any other signs of life, to be seen. I made camp on a clearing by a dried up water course, lined with bushy vegetation and occasional trees.

Friday 4 August  S28° 29.72’ E 20° 47.08’

It was a warm day, with some light cloud about. I drove on to reach the gorge through the hills at Biesjespoort, and paused there for a while to admire the gorge, and record Black Eagles, among other birds.  Beyond the gorge, it was grassier, and there were flocks of Grey-backed Sparrowlarks and Stark’s Larks. Apparently, the summer rains fell more generously on this side.

I turned south on the road to Keimoes, which was in an awful condition, bumpy in parts and very soft in others. I got bogged down in a drift of soft sand when I drifted too close to the verge, but managed to get going again by reversing out of that.

It was difficult to make stops, because the road verge was steep, and I managed a just adequate bird species list for the targeted grid cell. This has always been a difficult one, and previous species lists here have also been barely adequate. I stopped farther on where I found a large clearing on which to camp.

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On the road again

An alternative lifestyle and a bird survey of the southern Kalahari and parts of the Karoo. Data are shared with the southern African Bird Atlas project (http:\\

Sunday 16 July  S27° 30.60’ E 23° 18.28’

Returning to the Kalahari and the bird atlas survey after a break, I reached Kuruman (at the eastern edge of the Kalahari region) yesterday afternoon, and checked in to camp at the Red Sands resort. Within this region, I am accustomed to finding camping accommodation always available without having to book, but this time I was fortunate to be offered the last available site, one of the more expensive ones, with a private bathroom. I was glad of that later as it got cold, and the bathroom provided a warm place to sit and do some reading in the evening.

On opening up my rooftent, which I had not used for some time, I found that the ladder and part of the superstructure were orange with rust. I then had to unpack most of my gear, to find derusting materials, and set to work with those.

This morning, having noted the weather forecast for today and tomorrow (min -5°C, max 11°C), I decided to spend the day here, with access to electrical power and hot water,  instead of moving on as planned. In the morning, I climbed the high hill behind the lodge and enjoyed the view over a vast expanse of bushveld, and later cycled to a water hole where a steady stream of birds were coming to drink. There were many Cinnamon-breasted Buntings about, a species which migrates within South Africa, and, like other short-distance migrants, its movements are poorly known.

I spent the middle of the day sheltering from the cold by enjoying the Sunday buffet in the restaurant. I could not resist sampling any of the tasty dishes available, and suffered from an uncomfortably overfilled belly for the rest of the day.

Monday 17 July  S27° 59.01’ E 22° 29.57’

I packed up and got going as soon as the sun was up, despite some difficulty in closing up and securing my rooftent with cold hands. The day was sunny, but still cold.

I drove on through Olifantshoek, and turned off on the dirt road to Pearson’s Hunt, intending to detour via the back roads to reach Upington by the weekend. I stopped at the top of ‘Vuilnek’ pass to admire the view and get the birdlist for the grid cell going.

There was a steady stream of Glossy Starlings, in groups of up to a dozen birds, all heading steadily south. This is a species which is not known to be migratory at all. Perhaps they were returning to home territory after fleeing northwards ahead of the cold front.

I turned into the farm ‘Vergenoeg’ of Koos van Zyl, which I have visited on previous occasions. I encountered Koos at the farmhouse (which is set in a beautiful shady garden) and he directed me to a spot by a waterhole, surrounded by a park-like savanna, about 3 km deeper into the foothills of the rocky Koranneberg, where I made camp for the night. He also supplied me with a complimentary bag of oranges.

Tuesday 18 July  S28° 01.25’ E 22° 24.58’

It was very cold at first, but the sun shone brightly and the day eventually warmed up. I was pleased that my car still starts easily on these cold mornings.

I meandered about the farm on foot for a while before exiting, startling a Martial Eagle that was perched near the gate, and driving farther along the road towards Pearson’s Hunt. It was near midday when I stopped again, and then very few birds could be detected. I decided not to move on, and overnighted at that spot, so that I could eventually accumulate a reasonable birdlist for that grid cell, and because I was tired. I cycled along the road a little farther, and found a concentration of birds at a cattle kraal. The evening was mild at first, and I sat out for a while, becoming re-acquainted with the night sky (I have been living indoors for some weeks). The night was silent, except for the sound of a single vehicle that passed at speed.

Wednesday 19 July  S27° 56.47’ E 22° 14.56’

I had hoped that the cold spell had passed by now, but the morning was at least as cold as the previous two, and consequently I was slow to exit my tent and get going. I drove on through flat terrain, leaving the hills behind, alternating between open grassland (looking very dry now) and light woodland with low Camelthorn and alien Mesquite trees, passing a Tawny Eagle at the roadside. There were patches, mostly around cattle kraals, that had been over utilised, with sparse grass cover and encroachment of Swarthaak bushes. The road was a little bumpy, but smoother than I remember it from previous trips here. Three farmers who had seen me at the roadside at various places in the past, stopped to greet. One reported that a lone Marabou Stork has been frequenting their cattle kraal for some time now – a very rare bird for this region. I stopped to camp on the clearing by a livestock loading bay.

Thursday 20 July  S27° 48.75’ E 21° 59.10’

The morning was very cold. I made stops in open dry grassland, and after passing the dry pan at Pearson’s Hunt and continuing on the Koupan road, entered light woodland, and stopped for the night near a derelict farm house. There was a fair variety of birds in the thicket of trees around the old house.

Friday 21 July  S27° 58.04’ E 21° 51.69’

It was very cold again in the morning, and warm by mid-afternoon. Getting up and getting going in the early morning was arduous. I have planned this expedition to get me to Upington in time to prepare for a scheduled vehicle service on Monday, not leaving much time to dawdle if I am to achieve coverage of the targeted grid cells on the way. If I had anticipated how cold it could be at these altitudes (above 1000 m), I should have set a slower pace, not needing to get going till later in the day.

I passed through more open dry grassland, before stopping on the bed of the dry pan at Koupan. Walking about in the light woodland fringing the pan in the late afternoon, I was surprised at how quiet it was, with only the occasional buzzing and chirping of a Black-chested Prinia to be heard.

Saturday 22 July  S28° 22.88’ E 21° 09.35’

The morning was very cold. There has been no frost these last days, as the air is very dry, but the dregs of my coffee and the water remaining in the kettle are soon frozen. I struggled to close up my rooftent and secure the cover over it, because the frozen canvas would not fold.

I drove on towards Upington, startling a Tawny Eagle and a Kori Bustard at the roadside. The road was bumpy at first, and smooth later. On reaching the tar road, I stopped to re-secure the cover of the rooftent and check my tyres. A farmer, turning off there, paused to check that I did not need assistance.

From Upington, I went on to the Spitskop campground to check in for five days. I encountered a pair of Yellow-billed Hornbills as I entered. They normally inhabit the taller woodlands fringing the Kalahari, but disperse widely n winter. I have never seen them in this vicinity before.

Sunday 23 July

It was cold in the morning, not as cold as previous mornings, but with a sub-zero minimum nevertheless, and it remained cold until midday. I attended to some chores, washing clothes, catching up with data capture, and repacked my vehicle, clearing the passenger space in the cab, in preparation for handing it over to the workshop for a service tomorrow. There is a friendly cat hanging around in the campsite, left behind by some thoughtless campers.

Monday 24 July

The morning was cold again (with sub-zero temperature) and I had to get going before sunrise to deliver my vehicle to the workshop in town for its service. While it was being worked on, I went cycling eastwards following the river, through the suburbs at first and then into cultivated lands, where there was dense woodland along canals and side-streams. I could only access the river itself at one point.

The vehicle service was completed, but the driver’s door needs new hinges, and these have to be ordered at great expense, and fitted at a later date. Driving away, there was some additional vehicle noise, and I guess I will have to have it checked again when I return through Upington. The car body had been washed, so that now I could see a couple of rust spots standing out. I worked on those as soon as I was back in camp. These problems are all surmountable, but they left me feeling stressed, and a day in town always tires me out as well.

Tuesday 25 July

There was an icy breeze blowing at first. It warmed up later, and the afternoon was pleasant, though breezy. I spent most of the morning reading a novel, which helped me to clear my mind of pre-occupation with hinges, engine noise and rust. In the afternoon, I cycled a short way northward on the main road (there was little traffic) and that too was pleasant, although there was hardly a bird to be seen. The wind picked up in the late afternoon, and it became unpleasant.


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In Howick

An alternative lifestyle and a bird survey of the southern Kalahari and parts of the Karoo. Data are shared with the southern African Bird Atlas project (http:\\

21 May to 16 June

A week in Howick goes like this. On Saturday morning, I cycle down the hill into town, turn left on the Karkloof road, then up that hill, taking a slight detour away from the main road, passing the entrance to the Yellowwood Cafe among big trees, to arrive at the entrance of the Amber Valley retirement estate. My goal here is to search for birds along the series of dams and reed-beds that run through the estate, but to gain entrance through the security checkpoint I have to be admitted by someone who resides within. Some old acquaintances from my previous wanderings reside here now, and passing by green lawns and neat cottages, I call in there for coffee before proceeding with a walk around the wetlands. There are some game animals wandering about (Impala, Zebra, Blesbok and Warthogs). There is an area of natural grass reserved for then farther up the slope, but they wander about among the manicured lawns and gardens as well.

On Sunday I go shopping. I take my vehicle out for a drive to the supermarket and back, in the morning while there is little traffic, in order to ensure that its battery remains fully charged. Later in the day, I set out on foot to climb the hill behind the estate. That land belongs to a timber company, but access for hikers is allowed. This part of the hillside is free of the gum plantations which cover much of the other hillsides around. The grass is now long and golden brown on top, but still green at the base. I guess there might be a burn soon (on such grasslands, controlled burning in sections is carried out to reduce the possibility of runaway fires. Some already burnt sections of grassland can be seen in the distance beyond the dam). Birdwise, the hillside will get more interesting when part of it has burnt. There might then be some Black-winged Plovers, Plain-backed Pipits and a Bald Ibis or two on the burnt ground.  There are but a few birds now in the long grass, and by the time I have paused by the trig-beacon at the summit to admire the view, I have encountered little other than a Wailing Cisticola.

On Monday, in the early morning I list the birds that I can detect while sitting on the veranda, looking out over the Eagle Ridge Estate, the town, the dam in the distance and the hills beyond that. Later, I cycle directly down through suburban gardens until I meet the river which flows through town between the dam and the falls. I follow the path that leads upstream along the river through a narrow protected area of grassland and woodland, passing a conspicuous Long-crested Eagle nest, high in a dead tree, before circling back and ascending the hill to my temporary home.

On Tuesday, I spend time in town, and visit the viewing site overlooking the Howick Falls. The roadside there is lined with stalls for vendors selling curios to the dribble and occasional busloads of tourists that stop there. There are usually some buskers about, singing to the accompaniment of guitars. Insofar as they can be heard above the noise of the falls and the general bustle of the town, they are not very tuneful. Just back of the lip of the falls, there are women washing clothes, and their multi-coloured garments and blankets adorn the surrounding rocks. I guess it is up to the observer to decide whether they are adding local colour, or spoiling a natural wonder. There is a natural forest going down the slopes and in the ravine below. There is a path leading down, but it is not in regular use, and it looks like a likely setup for a mugging. I do not go there. A little way away from the public viewing site, there is a quiet spot by a commercial nursery where I can sit at the edge of the forest and listen for birds calling from its depths. There are usually some Rameron pigeons there, perching high in some dead gum trees.

On Wednesday I take a long cycle out of town, across the highway to the intersection at Tweedie, where one can stop for a date and spinach smoothie at the ‘Full of Beans’ cafe, close to a memorial at the site where Nelson Mandela was captured in 1962. From there I turn downhill to reach the stream just below the dam wall, and spend time looking out for birds in the marshy surroundings. There is a resort for fishing and boating just above the dam wall, with an entry fee to be paid (half-price after midday). I went in there just the one time, and it was disappointing birdwise. The dam is rather sterile, with hardly a bird to be seen along the shore. Its water is almost pure rain water, having rushed off the mountain quickly without accumulating much in the way of silt, minerals or living organisms. I have a long, mostly uphill ride to get from there back to base. The steepest hill of all is the one from the estate entrance to the cottage. I cycled all the way to the top the first couple of times, to show that I can (knowing that I was probably being watched), but have subsequently dismounted and walked this stretch, which is after all both quicker and easier.

After submitting my five-day bird list for the grid cell to the atlas project, I need to stay at home for a couple of days, to rest my legs, weary from climbing a great many hills. Checking through the online list of species previously reported for the grid cell, I found that the Yellow-fronted Canary was one of the more commonly seen, and yet I had not found it during my first few days here, which is odd, since they are not difficult to detect when they are around. I eventually found one on my fifth day, in a tree beside the main road, and have subsequently seen them several times. The one species that I have added to the grid-cell-species list is the Red-faced Mousebird (I encountered a whole group of at least six birds, as one does), and it is odd that it had not been previously found as it is a common garden bird over much of the country. It does show a slight preference for the warmer and drier places, so Howick is perhaps a little bit cool and damp for them.


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Important bird areas and unimportant bird areas

An alternative lifestyle and a bird survey of the southern Kalahari and parts of the Karoo. Data are shared with the southern African Bird Atlas project (http:\\

11 May to 20 May

My temporary place of residence is on a south facing slope near the brow of a hill, overlooking the town of Howick and the Midmar Dam. The spectacular Howick Falls are about 4 km away, near the town centre.  Except for an area of high density housing on the south side, the town is well wooded, with mostly alien tree species. Large plantations of alien gum trees surround the town on the northern side, while open grasslands between scattered settlements cover the slopes to the south.  There is some natural forest in the gorge below the falls, but as yet I have not managed to get down inside it.

While I am taking a break from the rigours of the Kalahari winter, I will still be contributing to the bird atlas project (SABAP2), but in a less extensive way, for a location that already has significant coverage – my contribution to ‘conservation’, or, as I prefer to see it, to the increase of knowledge.

Conservation, as I have mentioned before, is a term that needs to be carefully examined, and perhaps re-interpreted. On the face of it, it means to preserve the earth, or at least parts of it, in the state it was in before. That sense of it is hopelessly outdated. With or without human intervention, the world is changing, so that the world as it was yesterday is gone forever and cannot be brought back.

Perhaps what we now understand as conservation can be described as an initiative to keep the world as close as possible to the state it was in before, to slow down the pace of change, and to minimise the impact of human activity.

There is a general awareness of the need for conservation, and an uncritical acceptance of conservation initiatives as necessarily worthy of support. Three motivations for the need for conservation can be identified. Firstly, there is the awareness that the natural world is a thing of beauty and that therefore the destruction of any part of it must be a bad thing.

Secondly, and linked to the first, is the desire for the preservation of places (nature reserves), where a diversity of fauna and flora can be observed in an environment altered as little as possible by human activity (there is no place left on earth that has not been altered in some way by human activity). Access to such places is of necessity restricted, and especially in southern Africa, where a growing number of reserves feature ‘the big five’ game animals, increasingly expensive, so that they may be described as ‘playgrounds for the rich’.

Thirdly, the most valid motivation for the conservation initiative is the need to maintain a physical environment which is conducive to the physical well being of mankind.

To a large extent, current conservation initiatives are based on a strategy of identifying and protecting ‘endangered species’. The justification for this approach is that focussing on endangered species leads to the identification of threatened habitats, and the protection of such habitats ultimately contributes to a healthier environment for everyone. I am not convinced, and think that a more direct approach may be more efficient. One does not need to monitor cranes or frogs to know that the protection of natural wetlands is vital to ensure an adequate water supply for human needs. The continued survival of cranes and other wetland dependant wildlife should be a spin-off of management of water resources for human needs rather than vice-versa.

Whereas the endangered species approach tends to lead to the proliferation of protected areas (playgrounds for the rich?), food security for mankind depends on the interaction between the farmer and the land. The more urgent conservation need is to intervene on the farms, where the balance between soil, plant life, insect life, birds and other animals, which ensures food production, may be in danger.

The conservation effort of BirdLife International is centred on the Important Bird Areas program. (Important Bird Areas (IBAs) are determined by the presence of endangered species). The first difficulty with the program is that by defining IBAs (often protected areas or playgrounds for the rich), by default one also creates unimportant bird areas (including the farms which produce most of our food), and I do not think any bird areas are unimportant.

The second difficulty is that the program establishes a network of IBAs with reference to the distribution of endangered species. This assumption is based on the assumption that species distributions are mostly static. A major lesson to be learnt from the current bird atlas project (SABAP2) is that the ranges of species are in fact changing more rapidly than was previously imagined, and that the changes are not confined to areas of large-scale human development, but are also taking place across so-called conservation areas, where human development has been curtailed.

Conservation projects are currently carried out by a number of independent non-governmental organisations in addition to government departments, without overall co-ordination, leading inevitably to duplication in some areas, neglect of others, and general inefficiency. Funding for conservation is increasingly provided by large corporate with an environmental conscience (or the need to be seen as such for marketing purposes). Consequently, decisions about which conservation projects get implemented and which not, are made by business executives with no knowledge of the environmental sciences, on the basis of how the potential publicity might fit the corporate image. Similarly, the choice of conservation projects to be carried out by government departments may be influenced by political rather than environmental considerations.

Clearly there is a need for the various conservation bodies to unite and develop an overall strategy, and to thereby take the initiative away from corporate and governments.


Across Africa

4 May to 10 May 2017

I resumed my journey across Africa. The road passing Coligny on the way to Pretoria was quiet. If I had passed there a few days later, I would have had to turn back, or have had my vehicle pelted with stones by the rioting mob that protested the granting of bail to the accused in a murder trial.

I stopped over in Pretoria and then drove the 500 km to Howick on Sunday (7 May), when the traffic is lightest.  It is possible to drive non-stop from Upington or Kuruman to Howick in one day (I would only have had to refuel once), but my vehicle is large and slow (it runs most efficiently at about 95 km/h), the cab is not designed for comfort on a long drive (it has a bench seat, no headrest and no air-con or sound system) and so, not being in a hurry, I broke the journey up into stages over several days.  I had two problems with the vehicle on the way – the driver’s side window would not roll down and the bonnet (hood) would not open. Both problems were solved with a little lubrication. Otherwise, it ran smoothly and consumed fuel at a rate markedly lower rate than usual (the last stage to Howick was mostly downhill).

In Howick, I have taken up residence in the house of a friend (Annie), who is away. The house is modern, elegantly furnished and without cracks, leaks, damp or other blemishes. It is near the top of a hill, with a view over the town, the Midmar Dam and distant hills (the famous rolling green hills of the Natal midlands). It is in an estate of mostly retired folk, with tight security and beautifully kept gardens.  I will be here for several weeks, taking a break from the harsh Kalahari winter.

During the last few weeks in the Kalahari, I was able to observe the difference that the rain had made. The rains came late to the Kalahari this past summer, and they were heavy. The region has had heavier rains form time to time, but these rains had a big impact because they came at the end of a long drought. As far as birdlife is concerned, the most obvious changes were a big invasion of Kurrichane Buttonquails (their deep booming calls could suddenly be heard all over the region) and of Monotonous Larks (in the wooded fringes, not in the treeless central parts of the Kalahari). In places, the chorus of Monotonous Larks was so loud as to almost drown out all other sounds. It was further noticeable that Red-headed Finches were more numerous and widespread than before, and Barn Owls were more active (I was sometimes aware of them perching on my tent in the middle of the night).




A photo-shoot

An alternative lifestyle and a bird survey of the southern Kalahari and parts of the Karoo. Data are shared with the southern African Bird Atlas project (http:\\

Wednesday 26 April 2017  S28° 22.88’ E 21° 09.35’

It was cool, windy and partly overcast. I took a bicycle ride along the main road northward. It was hard going against the wind, and I did not expect it to be productive because few birds are active when a strong wind blows, but I did it anyway to avoid being inactive for too long. It was not altogether unproductive in terms of species added to the grid-cell list for the five day period specified by the project protocol.

Back in camp, I browsed the online bird atlas data summaries. I have had the campground to myself until now, but other travellers are beginning to arrive, with a long weekend starting tomorrow.

Thursday 27 April

It was partly overcast, cool and windy. I cycled out northward again, and as before, there was not much bird activity, but I did add a couple of species to the list.

Back in camp, I did some exploration of the farthest and deepest corners of the load space of my bakkie (pickup), not having a clear recollection of what was packed away in the trunks there. This involved crawling into a narrow space with not much headroom, and wrestling with heavy objects. I found a stack of novels that I had not yet read and will be needing during the long, dark winter nights to come, and a few other useful items, which I repacked in more accessible places. I threw away some junk, but am still carrying a lot of stuff that I will not use for a long time, if ever.  I repacked in such a way as to slightly improve the rear view while driving.

Friday 28 April

It was windy and warm. I drove to town to buy supplies, and back in camp prepared for a long journey that will start tomorrow.  I will drive across the continent, to arrive in Howick, KwaZulu Natal, on 7 May. The journey will start slowly. For the first few days I will still be in the Kalahari, and within my target area, and will continue bird-mapping as I go. I will be taking a break from the Kalahari for part of the winter.

I had a dip in the pool at midday (it was very cold) and spent the afternoon on my laptop doing some analysis of bird atlas data collected over the last three and a half years.

Saturday 29 April  S28° 22.88’ E 21° 09.35’

It was a warm day, calm at first, and windy in the afternoon. I drove out in the dark before dawn, which is not my habit, but I had a lot of ground to cover today, and the first 60 km was along the main road east. I turned off the N4 highway, with the orange sun already above the horizon, onto the Kalkpunt road. I soon came to an electronic gate (although this is a public road which accesses several farms), and phoned the number displayed to request entry, and the gate was opened for me.

I spent the day driving, walking and cycling along a 15 km stretch of bumpy road. There was light woodland at first, and then a very wide, flat, treeless plain, mostly grassy, but with an area of low Karoo-like scrub.

I had to make a phone call again to exit the gate, and then made camp outside the gate, about 1 km from the main road. The verge was very grassy there, and I stamped about to flatten some of the long grass to make a comfortable campsite. One must consider the fire hazard when camping in long grass, but the grass was still green at the base and I considered the hazard to be not great. I have yet to see a grass fire in this region (though once or twice I have seen a recently burnt meadow).  The air cooled rapidly towards evening, and I noticed that when I washed myself with cold water. Once settled, I enjoyed a view across the plain to distant hills.

Sunday 30 April  S28° 21.74’ E 21° 41.27.90’

It was a mild and windy day. I drove eastward on the main N14 highway, stopping to survey birds at several points along the way. I passed through some hilly terrain with light woodland, but mostly through open, flat grassy plains, that are now golden-coloured. The traffic was light and the first session in the early morning was pleasant and productive, but after that the wind picked up and was unpleasant for the rest of the day, making it difficult to detect birds. In the afternoon, I turned off on a side road and made camp about 1 km from the main road.

Three young men in a double-cab, smartly dressed, looking like city slickers, not farm workers, stopped by (they were tall men, and the indigenous people of this region are small in stature). They snapped pictures of themselves standing next to me and my vehicle, and went on their way. I was too bemused to ask them where they were from and what was their business in this remote place.

The wind died in the evening, and it was pleasant to sit out and watch the red glow on the horizon slowly fade. I will be in a formal campground tomorrow, and this is the last time for a while that I will be camping rough, just me and the night sky.

Monday 1 May  S27° 30.60’ E 23° 18.28’

It was a mild and windy day. After setting off along the main road from my overnight camp, I took another turnoff to the south, and stopped by the gate of Mierhoopholte farm to walk and cycle about away from the main road. That session was pleasant and productive.

Later, I stopped farther along the main road, and that session, on a featureless plain, was a little tedious due to the wind starting up (though it did not blow as strongly as yesterday) and the hindrance of passing traffic. I came across a family with small children in a new-looking BMW, broken down at the roadside, with a seized engine. They had access to a cellular phone signal and were calling for a tow-in.

In the afternoon I drove on through Olifantshoek and Kathu, entering the mining region and encountering heavier traffic, to stop at the pleasant Red Sands campground, to camp for two nights.

Tuesday 2 May

It was a mild day (at altitude above 1300m, the highest that I have been for a while). I cycled about on the nature reserve in which the lodge and campground are situated.  I sat by a waterhole for a while, to observe a variety of seed-eating birds, including Cinnamon-breasted and Golden-breasted Buntings, which are not present in the Kalahari proper.

In the afternoon, I climbed to the top of the hill behind the lodge (I am not sure if t is high enough to be called a mountain). Looking out over vast plains from such a summit is a mind altering experience. It replaces with serenity some of one’s more mundane pre-occupations. There is not much opportunity for mountain (or high hill) climbing in my ‘home’ region, the Kalahari proper.

Wednesday 3 May  S26° 35.37’ E 25° 36.20’

I left before dawn in order to get through the mining town of Kuruman before the traffic became heavy, and before the rising sun might shine directly into my eyes. Getting through Kuruman is never easy. The street lights were off, the road markings are faint, and there were some tricky intersections to negotiate. Once through, I stopped to watch the sun rise, and let it get well above the horizon before continuing.

I stopped before reaching Vryburg, at the intersection of a minor road, to do some bird observation, making a contribution to the country-wide project outside of my own chosen area. I drove a little way along the side road and then walked about, in very flat terrain with long grass and scattered trees. Quail-finches were plentiful here (they are rarely seen in the Kalahari) but otherwise I found pretty much the same species mix as in the more wooded parts of the Kalahari.

After negotiating some twists and turns through Vryburg (one can miss a turning while watching out for stop signs) I stopped to refuel and enjoyed a prego and coffee before going on through maize and sunflower fields, to stop and camp at Barberspan. There was time to drive on, but I did not want to reach Gauteng during rush-hour, being already tired.

The campground at Barberspan is on the shore of the pan, which is a large stretch of water (I am not sure of the distinction between a lake and a pan. I guess a pan is generally shallow with a flat floor, and may be dry much of the time –  this one looks like a lake to me) which is a pleasant enough situation, but it is expensive and its bathrooms are unpleasant. They are dingy, with mouldy and peeling walls and ceilings, and taps and other fittings that are old and do not work efficiently.

There were several anglers along the shore, and they were landing some big fish.

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A double-decker nest


An alternative lifestyle and a bird survey of the southern Kalahari and parts of the Karoo. Data are shared with the southern African Bird Atlas project (http:\\

Sunday 16 April 2017 S28° 31.68’ E21° 11.95’

The morning was cold, and not just relatively, cold, but cold with frost. It warmed up quickly though when the bright sun rose into a clear sky. I set out to complete the outing that I had aborted yesterday, following the river route into town, stopping a couple of times where side tracks took me to the river banks, and this time had no punctures. The species list compiled was a bit ordinary, although one always finds Fish-Eagles here, and I was pleased to spot a Brown-hooded Kingfisher, one of the species that has recently expanded its range westward along the Orange River to reach here. A Malachite Kingfisher was also seen (they are not common here).

Monday 17 April

It was cold and misty at first, and warm later. I spent the day in camp, glad to not have to go anywhere, washed some clothes and did some other chores. I did some repacking of my vehicle, and noticed once more how much stuff I carry that I do not use. After catching up with data capture, I browsed some of the bird atlas interim results on the internet ( and was struck again by the extent of changes  in bird distribution that have taken place since the previous atlas survey (1985-1991).

Tuesday 18 April

It was cold and misty, with heavy dew in the morning. The rest of the day was warm. I drove into town to buy supplies for my next expedition, starting tomorrow. I will head west along the N10 highway towards the Namibia border, and turn northward on the side road that heads into the hills, turning back where the road ends, and making another diversion on the way back towards Upington to visit the Rosenthal farm.

The main lodge was busy, with a school tour group staying overnight. The last time that such a group visited (possibly the same one), the staff reported that many of the allocated beds had not been slept in, and not many turned up for the cooked breakfast that was provided.

Wednesday 19 April  S28° 13.74’ E20° 22.12’

It was cold at first, with heavy dew, and a little misty. I packed up and drove westward on the N10 highway, making several stops to walk and cycle about. The road was quiet enough that I could comfortable observe birds along the verge without being much disturbed by the passing traffic. Although the surroundings were a rather monotonous treeless grey scrubland, I observed a good number of birds of prey (Martial Eagle, Rock Kestrel, Greater Kestrel, Steppe Buzzard (a late migrant still on its way north), Pale Chanting Goshawk and Pygmy Falcon). I turned off on a side road to make camp a little way away from the main road.

The quiet of the evening, with a soft orange glow on the horizon and the distant call of a jackal, is the main reason why I do this.

Thursday 20 April  S27° 59.68’ E20° 08.66’

It was cool in the morning, and warmer than it has been, now that I am away from the river. I rejoined the main road, drove on westwards, and took the turnoff that goes north into the hills via a short but steep pass. While I was stopped at the top of the pass (a spot where I habitually stop to admire the view), a large truck fully laden with sheep and towing a trailer similarly loaded passed on its way down.  If I had met the truck while still on my way up, I do not know how we would have passed each other. I think that I would have had to reverse all the way back down.

The last time that I came here, it was still very dry, with the rain that had already relieved much of the Kalahari region not having reached here. There has been substantial rain here now. Dams and water holes are full, and the land is covered with grass (which is already turning yellow). I travelled about 10 km across the plateau before making camp in a small quarry.

Friday 21 April  S28° 07.04’ E20° 11.20’

It was a warm day. I drove on as far as the end of the public road, stopping here and there to walk and cycle around. It was a quiet day, with no passing traffic, or any other signs of human activity, and productive in terms of bird species numbers, given that, although it is grassy now, this is essentially a desert environment. I had several sightings of Black-eared Sparrow-larks, and two of Secretarybirds, one of which was perching conspicuously on top of a Sociable Weaver nest, tending a ‘double-decker’ nest (its own nest on top of the weaver nest). In the afternoon, I drove back down the pass and made camp by the gate of the farm ‘Nota Bene’.

Saturday 22 April S28° 06.27’ E20° 17.81’

It was a warm day. I drove about 20 km back along the main road before turning north on the road through the DeWitt farm to the Rosenthal farm. That road had deteriorated since I last came here. It was soft in places with deep wheel ruts, and hard and bumpy in others. There was no-one at home on the Rosenthal farm. The workers usually take weekends off to visit their families in Upington. I phoned Emanuel to let him know that I was on the property. Here too, there has been substantial rain since my last visit, when it was desperately dry. That rain was already some weeks ago, and the land is drying out again now, though with significant grass cover.

I needed to go on beyond the farmyard to reach a more remote grid cell, but the road through the drift just beyond the yard looked very sandy and soft. I could have cycled on, as I have done before, but then it would already be late in the morning before I reached the target area, and I would be tired. Feeling bold, and strong enough to do some digging if I got stuck, I drove on, and did not get stuck.

After a productive session, I came back to make camp near the farmyard, on a slight rise with a view of the plain. From there, I cycled about some more.

Sunday 23 April  S28° 22.88’ E 21° 09.35’

It was a mild day, with light cloud cover. After packing up and breakfasting, I sat for a while waiting for the day to break. It was wonderfully peaceful, and birdsong the only sound to be heard (mostly Lark-like Buntings).

I drove back to Upington, stopping to do some bird-mapping along the way, and got a good species count on the drab looking plain. After shopping for fresh produce in town, I went on to set up camp at the Spitskop campground.

Additional fencing and gates have been installed around the campground, in order to confine the Springbok herd to the adjacent field, which is a pity, since the herd wandering through the campground did add to its charm (although it will allow the grass to grow and cover the otherwise hard bare ground). The main attractions of the campground are its stands of large shade trees, of species that are indigenous to the country if not to this region, and they are still intact. The pool has not yet been covered for the winter. It is crystal clear, and icy.

Monday 24 April

It was a mild day. I did not go anywhere except to stroll around the campground. I washed some clothes and did some data capture. I have covered a lot of ground in the past few days, and it has now caught up with me. By afternoon, I was tired and had a headache.

There was a team of workers repainting the bathrooms. They completed the job quickly, and their supervisor sat in his car throughout.

There was a lone Springbok, not one of the campground herd, which consists of select breeding stock, but one from the wider plains, who walked for hours back and forth along a stretch of fence, displaying a great yearning for life on the other side, or perhaps just marking his territory?

Tuesday 25 April

It was a mild and partly cloudy day. I stayed in camp, rested and recovered my strength. I got data capture up to date by submitting photographs of butterflies and reptiles to the online Virtual Museum ( The butterflies were of species that are very common but for which there was a gap in the recorded distributions for the places where I have been (Brown-veined White, Painted Lady and Yellow Pansy).

The Virtual Museum, based at the Animal Demography Unit, University of Cape Town, curates photographs of various taxa of animals (mammals, butterflies and moths, dragonflies, spiders, etc) as well as orchids and mushrooms, with the main objective of recording the geographical distribution of species, thus reducing the need for the collection of dead animals in traditional museums. The photographs are contributed by volunteers across the country. What motivates volunteers (there are some who devote all their leisure time to contributing), apart from the satisfaction of making a contribution to the growth of knowledge, is the feedback online, which provides identification of all submissions by a panel of experts (so that you do not have to buy all the fieldguides) and updated distribution maps, so that one can observe the impact of one’s own submissions.

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