Escarpment Bird Club turns Verloren Valei green

During the course of winter 2016, a team from the Escarpment Bird Club scoped the Verloren Valei area for bird species as part of an ongoing project to create an atlas of Southern Africa’s birds.

By Alan Hatton, Escarpment Bird Club

Our winter visit to Verloren Valei was part of the Escarpment Bird Club’s contribution to the ongoing project to monitor the birds of Southern Africa. The project is run by the Animal Demography Unit at UCT, and is known as SABAP2. The field work for this enormous project is undertaken by nearly two thousand volunteers, known as citizen scientists, who are making a huge contribution to the conservation of birds and their habitats.

The unit of data collection is the pentad, five minutes of latitude by five minutes of longitude, squares with sides of roughly 9 kilometres. There are 17 339 pentads in the original atlas area of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, and a further 10600 in Namibia, 4900 in Zimbabwe (and now 6817 in Kenya).

Some members of the Escarpment Bid Club, all local birders, have spent May to September 2016 working on the pentads in the escarpment area, into which Verloren Valei falls. This area which extends two degrees north to south and one degree west to east (or 24 degrees 30 minutes north to 26 degrees 30 minutes south and 30 degrees east to 31 degrees east). It comprises 290 pentads, and the aim is to submit at least four cards (records of bird sightings) for each of the 110 pentads that were not already completed. Once four cards are completed for a pentad, it shows as light green in the SABAP2 database, hence the project is called Turning the Eastern Highlands Green.

An even higher of scientific validity is achieved if seven cards are submitted – in this instance, the pentad shows as dark green on the SABAP2 coverage map.

Verloren Valei forms a major part of Pentad 2515_3005 and is regularly visited by the Escarpment Bird Club team. Based on our visits, the following areas along the provincial road should be carefully scanned:

  • The small plantation on the left, just before Linger Longer. The dams and surrounding wetlands around Linger Longer should normally be holding waterbirds and associated species, as well as birds visiting the dams to drink.
  • The rocky outcrops and wetlands just before the Reserve gate also warrant a stop. These rocky hillside areas attract the various chats, Ground Woodpecker, the scarce Grey- and Red-Winged Francolin and the Cape and Sentinel Rock Thrushes amongst other more frequently seen species.  The nearby wetlands could offer any number of species and should be scanned very carefully, as well as listening for known calls.
  • Once the road enters the reserve, approximately 2.5 kilometres past the gate, frequent stops are called for as the Reserve covers both sides of the road. Drive very slowly and stop frequently, scanning the surrounding grasslands, wetlands, and above for aerial species. It would not be feasible to list all the potential species here, but be alert to what is happening around the drainage lines, edges of burn lines, rocky outcrops, and amongst the various scrubs and wetland vegetation. This is plateau birding at its best, but it takes careful concentration. It’s also an area of outstanding natural beauty and should be enjoyed for that reason alone, particularly when the fauna is at its peak in early summer, so don’t forget your camera, and pack a macro lens if you have one!
  • Grassland specials? Potentially many, but some not seen easily. We would list the following as local treasures to seek out: Denham’s Bustard, Common Quail, Black-Rumped and Kurrichame Buttonquails, African Quailfinch, Cloud Cisticola, any of the three endangered cranes (Grey-Crowned, Wattled and Blue), Red-chested Flufftail, Cape Grassbird, Southern Bald Ibis, White-Bellied Korhaan, Eastern Long-Billed Lark, African Marsh Harrier, Yellow-Breasted Pipit and Secretary Bird.

The pentad ends before you reach the Lydenburg-Roosenkraal tar road, but it is worth noting that once you have turned left towards Stoffberg, a short stretch of that road actually comes back into our pentad for about 1.5 kilometres. On this stretch, there are a few areas of roadside protea on the right and good views down into the valley of the Klip River on the left—but please be careful to pull well off the road if you are stopping here to look for birds. And one final note: the Lomas Creek pub is about 6 kilometres or so down the road and may just be a good stopping point before you turn around and re-explore the pentad or head back through Tonteldoos on the way home to Dullstroom.

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