Northern Cape Birding - Pofadder Hot

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We are going to go on holiday WHERE was my family’s immediate response when I suggested a trip in to the arid Northern Cape and with a focus on the Poffadder area. “What happens in Pofadder” was their next question and when I said that there was some special birding to be done, they looked at me as if finally I had gone beyond being just my normal crazy self.

Soon and with the help of Martin Taylor from Birdlife South Africa, we were heading north from Bredasdorp to overnight en-route in Springbok. After a productive morning spent in the Goegap Nature Reserve searching for Dassie Rats and Hartman’s Mountain Zebras, we left the rolling granite kopjies of Goegap behind us and headed out along the endlessly long and straight road towards the town of Poffadder. The landscape changed rapidly to barren flat lands and gravel plains where Jackal Buzzards, Lanner Falcons, Pale Chanting Goshawks and Rock Kestrels sat on the tops of the telegraph poles, eyeing us as we drove past. Pied Crows and Greater Kestrels that had built their nests on the telegraph poles cross-beams incubated eggs and could only be seen by their tail feathers and heads sticking above the scraggy pile of sticks from which the nests were made. Occasionally, herds of Springbok were seen wandering across the veld and here and there a Steenbok dashed away as we drove past.

koa dunefield by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick

1 of 11. Koa dunefield and home to the Red Lark

Soon and with the help of Martin Taylor from Birdlife South Africa, we were heading north from Bredasdorp to overnight en-route in Springbok. After a productive morning spent in the Goegap Nature Reserve searching for Dassie Rats and Hartman’s Mountain Zebras, we left the rolling granite kopjies of Goegap behind us and headed out along the endlessly long and straight road towards the town of Poffadder. The landscape changed rapidly to barren flat lands and gravel plains where Jackal Buzzards, Lanner Falcons, Pale Chanting Goshawks and Rock Kestrels sat on the tops of the telegraph poles, eyeing us as we drove past. Pied Crows and Greater Kestrels that had built their nests on the telegraph poles cross-beams incubated eggs and could only be seen by their tail feathers and heads sticking above the scraggy pile of sticks from which the nests were made. Occasionally, herds of Springbok were seen wandering across the veld and here and there a Steenbok dashed away as we drove past.

red lark by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick

2 of 11. Red Lark.

Aardvark burrows were plentiful and in the low shrubbery, Scaly-Feathered Finches and White-Throated Canaries were regular sightings. Ground Agamas clung to the tops of fence poles, using these to gain the maximum effect of the suns rays but also to keep a look out for approaching predators. The farm fence poles were also excellent for spotting Mountain Chat, Chat Flycatcher, Ant-eating Chats, Sickle-winged Chats and Spike Heeled Larks. Our real purpose for taking this turnoff was to get to the Koa Dunefields with their red Kalahari sands and to find the localized and endemic Red Lark. After driving several times through the stretch of dunes that were adjacent to the road, we eventually found a pair of Red Larks at the base of a bush hiding from the heat. One of the birds then obliged me by hopping up onto a fence post to show off its reddish coloration with heavily streaked chest. An added bonus was a lone fawn -colored lark and regular sightings of Larklike Buntings.

male dusky sunbird by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick

3 of 11. Male Dusky Sunbird

Turning back from the dunes we decided to take the road less travelled and continued along the gravel road to the forgotten hamlet of Naries. Along the route, Speckled Pigeons and Sclaters and Starks Larks were found at water troughs where herds of sheep huddled in groups with their heads held low and panting. Black-headed Canaries and Pale-winged Starlings crisscrossed the sky and Cape and Cinnamon-breasted Buntings hopped around the boulder koppies. A family of four Klipspringers, a Small-grey Mongoose and plenty of Rock Hyrax’s were also seen amongst the koppies and all ran off at high speed as we drove past. As it became cooler, Bat-eared Foxes emerged from their daytime burrows to start feeding and listened groundwards with their massive radar-like ears before digging furiously to catch a juicy buried morsel. Cinnamon-breasted warbler and Karoo Scrub-Robins were found amongst the bushy stands and Karoo Korhaans were occasionally seen flying or calling, while Namaqua and Burchelles Sandgrouse that were feeding on grass seeds on the side of the road froze briefly before erupting into the sky when we stopped to try and photograph them. In the evening sky, flocks of Bradfield’s swifts and White-Rumped swifts wheeled and turned as they fed together with rock martins and vibrantly coloured European Bee-eaters.

fawn colored lark by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick

4 of 11. Fawn-Coloured Lark

Rising early and after a rapidly downed breakfast, my family and I were soon on the road driving towards the border post with Namibia at Onseepkans as the sun popped its first rays over the horizon. Despite a heavily rutted gravel road, the variety in habitats kept us enthralled at just how beautiful this arid landscape could be. Amongst the boulder koppies, Cinnamon-breasted Buntings searched for their morning meal, while at river crossing where stunted camel thorn acacias grew in the riverbed, an Acacia Pied Barbet called and a pair of Pririt Batis's and a Layard’s Tit Babbler searched for insects. A roadside quarry along the route produced a pair of Black-Winged Stilts and a pair of South African Shelducks on the waters edge, while a small flock of Red-faced Mousebirds flew down to drink and bathe in the shallows.

gravel plains north of poffadder by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick

5 of 11. Gravel plains near Onseepskans

Soon the boulder koppies opened up onto extensive gravel plains where Ground Squirrels and Suricates sunned at the their burrow entrances and occasional Karoo Korhaans wandered away from us as we passed by.  Namaqua Sandgrouse flocks were first heard and then seen all heading in the same direction towards water where they would drink deeply before heading back to their feeding grounds. Once again the telegraph poles proved great points for viewing Pale Chanting Goshawks and Pygmy Falcons and after about thirty kilometers of traveling along this road, vegetation became denser and soon vast stands of Quiver Trees and Haak 'n Steek acacias dotted the landscape. Sociable Weavers fed close to their massive straw nests that had been built in the quiver trees and somewhere near by, I also heard a pair of Bokmakierie calling when I stopped to photograph a Hoodia plant and a particularly large weaver nest.

Ant eating chat by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick

6 of 11. Ant-Eating Chat

At Onseepkans, the life giving Orange River allowed for vineyards to be cultivated across vast tracks of the floodplain. The palm trees that were near the police station and were the reason why we had driven all this way produced the expected nesting African Palm Swifts and four Rosy-Faced Lovebirds that flew out in a flash of pale green to perch across the road in one of the trees where they screeched and preened. Driving along a water channel, Dusky Sunbirds, Orange-River White-Eyes, Cape Robin-Chats, Karoo Thrushes, Namaqua Doves, Lesser-Swamp Warblers and Southern Masked Weavers added to the final tally of birds to this leg of our arid journey. With four new "lifers" for me and a huge diversity of habitats and other biodiversity sightings, the trip to Pofadder was well worth it and the family agreed that perhaps I was still only partially insane, having redeemed myself a bit in the last day or so by bringing them to this special corner of South Africa.

female dusky sunbird by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick

7 of 11. female Dusky Sunbird

Season and weather: Summer months can be extremely hot and afternoon thundershowers can be expected. Winter weather is more pleasant with cooler more stable temperatures.

karoo long-billed lark by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick

8 of 11. Karoo-Long-billed Lark

Habitats: Habitats across this area are extremely varied from large granite koppies through to gravel plains, Kalahari sands and boulder-strewn koppies.

sociable weaver nest in quiver tree by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick

9 of 11. Sociable Weaver nest in Quiver Tree

Specials: Pygmy Falcon, Red Lark, Rosy-Faced Lovebird, Karoo Long-Billed Lark, Sclaters Lark, Dusky Sunbird

ground squirrel by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick

10 of 11. Ground Squirrel

Getting There: Pofadder is situated on the main route from Upington to Springbok and 60km from the Onseepkans border post to Namibia. Accommodation & Activities: Pofadder Hotel offers comfortable accommodation with restaurant facilities. There is also a large swimming pool available for use by hotel guests. Pofadder acts as a gateway to Pella with?it's Historic Cathedral and date plantations and it is also close to the Namibian ?Border post at Onseepkans.?

large billed lark by wildlife and conservation photographer peter chadwick

11 of 11. Large-Billed Lark

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Peter Chadwick
Author: Peter ChadwickWebsite: http://www.peterchadwick.co.zaEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
About
As a dedicated conservationist, Peter Chadwick has 30 years strategic and operational conservation experience in terrestrial and marine protected area management. He has worked within all of the major biomes in southern Africa as well as having provided expert conservation advice at a global level. His conservation and wildlife photography is a natural extension to his conservation work where he has numerous opportunities to capture photographs that showcase the beauty and complexity of the outdoors. Peter’s photography is internationally recognized, with this work appearing globally in a wide range of print and electronic media.