Blue Crane sighting ushered in an exciting weekend

2010-03-27 00:00

REMEMBER that quote from an old movie: “If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium?” Well, I am beginning to feel something like that. This last weekend I laid my head on a bed in Wakkerstroom.

The occasion was the AGM of BirdLife, with proceedings organised by the Gauteng bird clubs, and David and I did talks and walks as part of the entertainment. For us, the excitement started on our trip up when we spotted three Blue Cranes in a pasture near the Nottingham Road turn-off. This was a big tick for our year list and always a very special bird to see.

The round head and the long, trailing wing feathers, which look just like a long tail when the bird is on the ground, make it easy to recognise. This bird is listed as “vulnerable” in the Red Data Book, and loss of habitat, poisoning and collision with powerlines are the main threats.

The Blue Crane has the most restricted range of all crane species in the world. The only places outside South Africa where it occurs are Etosha Pan, northern Namibia and the western parts of Swaziland, so it is classified as a near-endemic bird, a great choice for SA’s national bird.

Wakkerstroom is a great place to spend a weekend of birding. The vast vlei area is comfortably viewed from the raised and tarred section of the Amersfoort road that cuts right through the middle. It’s a simple matter of parking at the side of the road and wandering happily up and down, going oooh! and aaaah! as each exciting species pops out of the reeds and shows itself.

Where else can you gaze to your heart’s content at a pair of African Shelduck, watch a family of Purple Gallinules and tick off Half-collared Kingfisher on your year list, all the while with dry feet and the comforts of life in your nearby car? An easy drive into the surrounding hills gives you the chance of seeing Yellow-breasted Pipit, Rudd’s Lark and its cousin, Botha’s Lark.

There are very pleasant and knowledgeable local guides who, for a reasonable fee, will come with you and almost guarantee your success in finding these elusive LBJs. In the grassy area surrounding the actual vlei, we enjoyed a family of Crowned Cranes, dad, mom and two fairly large chicks, just pottering about doing their crane thing. Because the road is higher than the vlei, I am sure that the birds feel secure.

BirdLife run a well-appointed centre situated in the grassland above the vlei where accommodation in the form of camping, dormitories and guest suites is available. From here you can walk to three hides overlooking the vlei, and further afield there are two more excellent hides which look over the open water on one side of the Amersfoort road bridge. A weekend is definitely not long enough!

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