Apparently you cannot call yourself a serious birder in South Africa until you’ve been to Wakkerstroom in Mpumalanga. It’s an IBA (Important Bird Area) and with its diverse habitats, the opportunity exists to see over 370 bird species, with nine endemics. We wanted to add the title “serious birders” to our names and see a few lifers, so stopped off in Wakkerstroom en route to the Kruger National Park in early February. And we weren’t disappointed. Everything they boast about the place is absolutely true – from the beautiful wetland areas, to the grasslands and forests abuzz with bird activity. This tiny little village certainly is situated in a birders paradise and well worth a visit.
We stayed in a comfortable little cottage called The Gables and hired a knowledgeable guide, Lucky, through BirdLife South Africa.
Lucky was so keen to fill our wish list that he kept us going for about eleven hours non-stop and we covered a distance of over 250kms in our quest to see some of the endemics of the area. At the end of the day we were exhausted, but happy with our total of 98 species. We probably could have seen more if we hadn’t driven around so much, but Lucky knew where the different birds could be found and some required a lot of driving to locate. His enthusiasm and pleasure when he spotted them was infectious, and as an added bonus, we got to see the scenery of the area, which at this time of the year is really spectacular. Knowledge of the area is key to finding the rare birds and it would be crazy not to use the talents of the local guides.
It’s great to see all the different birds, but sometimes rather difficult to photograph them from the car, especially when the birds are not perched in trees. When we returned home and looked at our photos we noticed that many of the birds were sitting on fences. Rob really doesn’t like taking photos of birds on poles or fences, but sometimes there is no choice. Pictured below are Amur falcons, which were there in large numbers.
Of all the habitats we saw, perhaps the most rewarding for us were the grasslands. Apart from the numerous birds, they were bedecked with wild flowers of every description. But, as always, it was our feathered friends that really delighted us.
Long-tailed widowbirds were everywhere, displaying their magnificent tails to the ladies, while Red bishops and Yellow-crowned bishops added colour to the long grass. We saw both the rare Rudd’s lark and Botha’s lark, thanks to Lucky’s efforts. Crowned and Blue cranes strutted elegantly through the long grass and we also saw Koorhaans and Southern bald ibis’s. Space doesn’t permit me to mention them all, but I will blog about more of the birds in the weeks ahead.
It was disappointing not to see the Flufftails that are found in the area, and also the Yellow-breasted pipits, but that is all the more reason for us to pay Wakkerstroom another visit sometime in the near future.