14 May 2017

The Land Regeneration Project - Part 3

The impenetrable wall of Tickberry (Lantana camera)
Over the last few months, we have chipped away at the invasive shrubs and bushes, clearing Tickberry (Lantana camera) and chopping down the odd Bugweed (Solanum mauritianum) as well as planting a number of new indigenous trees in the valley.

An entire weekend was dedicated to assaulting the Lantana camara thicket obscuring our view. Late Friday afternoon saw me at my now customary equipment rental shop, Coastal Hire. With bladed brush cutter in hand, I was looking forward to giving the lantana a good wrecking. As it happened, laying into lantana is a little more difficult that anticipated. A bladed brush cutter is rather heavy when you are trying to wield it like a sword. It took less than 30 minutes to realise that I would not be destroying the Lantana this weekend, it would have to be done with a machete instead.
Kaily now has her own spade to help dig
Moving on, large thickets of herbaceous stemmed Black Jack (Bidens pilosa) would be taken out instead, thus increasing the cleared area twofold. Cutting Black Jacks was far more successful, as the spinning metal blade simply laced through them. By Saturday afternoon, I felt I had at least made some improvements, even if they were not as targeted.

The next weekend started off with an early morning session of bamboo barrier building. As the construction has now been somewhat simplified, I had 5 new barriers within a matter of a few hours. All that was left was to get 5 new trees planted. Despite not having cleared quite as much lantana as planned a week before, I had managed to push the invasive bank back far enough to fit in a line of new trees. With the ever helpful Kaily at my side to help clear the area, we managed to plant 4 new trees into the available space. The fifth tree made it into the newly cleared area, an area that will see a significant number of further specimens planted shortly.

The long easter weekend provided me with one last session in the valley, using a regular brush cutter to trim the grass down, whilst also creating a short path through the cleared area. I hope to maintain this section whilst also expanding it as the clearing continues.

With a number of recent commitments, an extended weekend in Cape Town preceding a week long cruise (Flock at Sea), and there has been precious little time to pay further attention to the valley. I should have a few more weekends coming up to hack away at more invasive vegetation, whilst also constructing more barriers for planting. Unfortunately, it has become apparent over the last vew months that an even worse invasive alien is starting to take over from the Bugweed and Tickberry. The Mauritius Thorn (Caesalpinia decapetala) seems to have spread down the Town Bush River, from heavy thickets on either side of the road to African Enterprise. Already this thorny shrub with a propensity for climbing has engulfed a 15metre high Pigeon Wood (Trema orientalis), which I need to attend to shortly. Unlike Lantana and Bugweed, this shrub has severe thorns and shall require much care when being removed.

Another Podocarpus latifolius successfully planted. 

Kaily getting a lift after all her hard work
Meg supervising our work from the safe confined of the wheel barrow

Trees planted to date

Tree 1 Planted    02 January 2017   Senegalia galpinii       Monkey Thorn
Tree 2 Planted    08 January 2017   Senegalia galpinii       Monkey Thorn
Tree 3 Planted    21 January 2017   Trichilia dregeana       Forest Mahogany
Tree 4 Planted    21 January 2017   Podocarpus latifolius  Real Yellowwood
Tree 5 Planted    21 January 2017   Podocarpus latifolius  Real Yellowwood
Tree 6 Planted    26 March 2017      Ficus lutea                  Giant Leaved Fig
Tree 7 Planted    26 March 2017      Rauvolfia caffra           Quinine Tree
Tree 8 Planted    26 March 2017      Senegalia sieberana   Paperbark Thorn
Tree 9 Planted    26 March 2017      Albizia adianthifolia     Flatcrown Albizia
Tree 10 Planted  09 April 2017         Podocarpus latifolius  Real Yellowwood
Tree 11 Planted  27 May 2017         Podocarpus latifolius   Real Yellowwood
Tree 12 Planted  27 May 2017         Podocarpus latifolius   Real Yellowwood
Tree 13 Planted  27 May 2017         Albizia adianthifolia      Flatcrown Albizia
Tree 14 Planted  27 May 2017         Senegalia galpinii        Monkey Thorn
Tree 15 Planted  27 May 2017         Trichilia dregeana        Forest Mahogany
Tree 16 Planted  27 May 2017         Trichilia dregeana        Forest Mahogany
Tree 17 Planted  27 May 2017         Strelitzia nicolai           Natal Wild Banana
Tree 18 Planted  27 May 2017         Strelitzia nicolai           Natal Wild Banana

31 January 2017

The Land Regeneration Project - Part 2

Brush cut and more trees added
With no birding planned for the weekend, it was decided to start phase two of the regeneration project. Down the road again to Coastal Hire, the local power tool hire shop. I’m fast becoming a regular customer - hiring chain saws and brush cutters on a fairly regular basis now. 

Brush cutter in hand, and no idea how to use it, I turned to my trusted teaching aid - YouTube for a 5 minute tutorial. [In case you wonder about the efficacy of using YouTube to learn anything, it took me no more than an 8 min video to learn how to ride a motorbike in Peru, before I tackled the Manu Road…] Despite a better understanding of how to deal with the brush pile across the road, I had slightly underestimated the size of some of the herbaceous shrubs, as well as the general resistance of Lantana camara, to a nylon headed brush cutter at least. I found myself spending as much time replacing the nylon cutting strips as I did laying into the 3ft tall morass. Persevere I did, thankful for the cool and overcast conditions. 

Wielding the brush cutter
After some trial and error, I figured out how to more productive - leaving the herbaceous shrubs and laying into the grass and Black Jacks Bidens pilosa, another horrid, pervasive weed from South America. No doubt the neighbours are getting used to 2 stroke engine noise every other weekend, but despite the racket - Meg and I got rather a few compliments from passing joggers and walkers. Having flattened large sections of brush, I had more scope for planting. With 3 bamboo barriers already assembled, I reckoned I had enough energy left to put in the trees, selecting some different species for the river bank edge. The 3rd tree to be planted was one of my favourites, the Forest Mahogany Trichilia dregeana, followed by two slow growing, but excellent montane species, Real Yellowwood Podocarpus latifolius. 

I spent some of Sunday afternoon wielding the brush cutter deeper into the scrub, exposing a few other indigenous trees planted some years before by another resident. Large tracts remain uncut, but the herbaceous nature and size of the shrubs requires a more dedicated effort with a bladed brush cutter.

With potential birding delayed by another weekend, I took advantage and rented the chainsaw again. The prime purpose was to obtain further bamboo to be used for tree barriers. So far, the resident Bushbuck have not made any noticeable attempt to browse the existing trees, but I would prefer not to tempt fate. Many more poles were cut before the chainsaw gave up the ghost on Sunday afternoon - but I certainly have a large reservoir of barrier material to get me through the next few months. No trees are due for planting in the next few weeks though - a trip to search for the elusive Striped Flufftail is this weekends agenda.

Tree 2 Planted    08 January 2017   Senegalia galpinii      Monkey Thorn
Tree 3 Planted    21 January 2017   Trichilia dregeana      Forest Mahogany
Tree 4 Planted    21 January 2017   Podocarpus latifolius  Real Yellowwood
Tree 5 Planted    21 January 2017   Podocarpus latifolius  Real Yellowwood
Tree 6 Planted    26 March 2017     Ficus lutea                  Giant Leaved Fig
Tree 7 Planted    26 March 2017     Rauvolfia caffra          Quinine Tree
Tree 8 Planted    26 March 2017     Senegalia sp.
Tree 9 Planted    26 March 2017     Albizia adianthifolia   Flatcrown Albizia

There is plenty of brush to get through - early days

Putting up the custom built bamboo barriers
Kai is always on hand to help!
Tree number 2
Happy team - 2 trees in, plenty to go
Lantana camara - a beautiful scourge
Sweaty labour this tree planting business - 35 more to go to finish phase 1...

6 January 2017

The Land Regeneration Project - Part 1

Kaily and I planting the first tree
Since I was old enough to know the difference, I’ve despised invasive aliens. Be it plants, trees, birds or mammals - I have been on a mission to cut, chop, shoot or poison, which ever option works the best. My parents yard in Durban full of desirable Garden or Variegated Crotons (Codiaeum variegatum) which naturally occur in  Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and the western Pacific Ocean islands all got the chop, as did the horrid Leopard Tree (Caesalpinnea ferrea) from Brazil. Replaced with far too many very large trees, it was not long before I realised I needed a little more space to plant quite so many trees. Having relocated, it was not long before the new occupants of our former house chopped most my hard work down anyway. 

Having relocated to a small holding near Bela-Bela, I had the scope with which I had always dreamed of. Except, the ground was awfully hard and I knew nothing of the local tree and plant species. In the interim, there was a far greater issue to be dealt with, for the entire area was engulfed by ‘Queen of the Night’ (Cereus jamacaru), a tough as nuts cactus from north eastern Brazil that grows up to 5m high and produces very attractive white flowers that last a single night. The local government was concerned enough about this pest that they provided free herbicide to anyone who agreed to clear their land. A few days later, all 50 hectares of our property had been dealt with. A few years later, it was all back - none of the neighbouring farmers had any interest in dealing with it.

I took a 12 year hiatus from murdering exotic plants while living in Europe and travelling the world, before returning to South Africa to wreak more havoc on my parents garden in Bela-Bela. Having settled in Pietermaritzburg, Meg discovered that I couldn’t help myself - even with only a tiny piece of land, I was intent on destroying the rubbish and replacing it with indigenous plants. Out went the aliens and in came a pile of native Aloes, Canary Creeper (Senecio tamoides), Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) and even a few Tree Fuschia’s (Halleria lucida). Requireing more space for all our camping stuff, we recently moved to a leafier part of Pietermaritzburg. Here we had a far larger garden, but one without anything but grass. Perfect I thought, I could get a small forest growing here. Unfortunately, the owner of the property rather liked his grass and so my proposed forest was put on hold. I did manage to insert some Canary Creeper (Senecio tamoides) and Cape Honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) along the fence lines, added a few smaller trees and put a few Aloes and grass species in plastic moveable buckets. I still had to wake up to the sight of two English Oaks (Quercus robur) every morning. As much as I’d like to chop them both down, the volume of neasting bird species made this impractical. This year alone has produced new families of African Wood Owl, Green Wood Hoopoe, Violet-backed Starling & Red-throated Wryneck. The bee nest is a favourite haunt of Lesser Honeyguide and numerous other species that seek shelter here. So the English Oaks would have to stay.
Balcooa Bamboo - far bigger than you think!

I soon learnt that the property along the small river valley opposite our fence line also belonged to the estate, and here there was far more potential - at least for me. Riddled with Tickberry (Lantana camera) from Central and South America, Bugweed (Solanum mauritianum) from South America, Black Wattle (Acacia mearnsii) from Australia, Balcooa Bamboo (Bambusa balcooa) from Indochina as well as various invasive species of Pine tree (Pinus sp) and Blue Gum (Eucalyptus grands). In fact, I am probably only brushing the surface of what other horrid invasives lie in this valley, there is sure to be Siam Weed (Chromolaena odorata) and Syringa (Melia azedarach) amongst others. Clearing this cornucopia of rubbish has already defeated a number of efforts, both by the estate and the council. It has also been partially defeated by a nesting pair of African Crowned Eagle that didn’t take kindly to bull dozers attempting to clear a section of Lantana.

Yours truly is not about to suggest that he is single handedly going to blaze a trail of destruction through this mess and replant it all with native indigenous trees, but I am going to try and make a dent in it. Having secured permission to try my hand at this, I resolved to start slowly and methodically…

Phase one - identify a reasonably sized patch of land and gain permission to plant trees. Permission obtained in late November 2016.

Phase two - obtain suitable trees for planting. Working on a tip off from our friend Rich Lindie, we paid a visit to Val-Lea Nursery in Lincoln Meade. The owner Granton showed me around and also announced that he had sold his property and would be shutting the nursery in a few months. So I filled the cruiser a few times and collected over 40 trees in two visits. 

Phase three - prepare the land. This phase was mandatory due to the presence of a number of Bushbuck, who would happily browse the new trees before they had a chance of growing. Thus a structure around the trees was required. Those bamboo clumps would now come in useful.
Chopping to size

Phase four - over the New Years weekend, I headed down to the local equipment store and rented a chainsaw for the long weekend. Until you have stood at the bottom of a giant bamboo clump, this project would have seemed rather straight forward. This bamboo is so large, that we have actually used pieces of it for a side project - a wine rack, where each bottle comfortably fits inside the hollow of a single internodal region. (I’ll blog about this project separately). After much noise making, pulling and pushing - I was able to retrieve only a small number of the stems that I had actually cut. The remainder are still there, held together 20 metres above by interlocking branches. Having chopped the pieces into manageable lengths, we transported what amounted to a boot full (cruiser that is) of stems back to the house. Ably assisted by Meg and Kaily, the pile had to be transported into the yard for the next session of chopping. More chopping was followed by cross sectioning and sub-dividing of the stems into slats. 

Phase five - build the barriers. The first one is always the most difficult as you attempt to put into action what amounted to a simple plan. When the first attempt failed, a second was devised and implemented to a much better standard.
Kaily bringing the ingredients

Phase six - the final stage was completing the purpose of all this effort. Planting a tree. Having successfully built the first barrier, we selected the first tree for planting and headed over the road, wheel barrow, spade and pickaxe all delivered by an excitable Kaily. Having chosen a suitable spot, I cleared a little vegetation before sinking the pick axe and spade into the ground. Kaily was again on hand to deliver the first tree to site before handing down instructions on just how things should be done. A little pushing and pulling on the bamboo barrier completed the job. Tree number 1, in the ground on January 2nd 2017.

To complete the first session of the project, we have another 39 barriers to construct and trees to plant! 

Tree 1 Planted    02 January 2017   Senegalia galpinii      Monkey Thorn

After a sweaty day, I needed a lift over the road

20 metres tall may be an underestimate

Even with multiple stems cut, the bamboo simply wouldn't fall

Eventually one stem came crashing down much to Kaily's dismay!

Kai helping load the truck

A good start to the project

Building the barrier to protect from the trees from Bushbuck browsing

Kai helping carry the first tree

Barrier and tree installed

Bamboo debris on our lawn, looking across to the first tree site

9 September 2014

Larking about in the Cape

I've been on the road for months now. Tours of New Britain and Papua New Guinea followed by a few weeks with Rich Lindie on Sulawesi. Too much time in the sky, completely unnecessary, fly from northern Sulawesi to Singapore via Bali onwards to Johannesburg, back to Dubai and then Basel via London in a day. Spend a few days birding with Adrian in Switzerland, then back back to England for the rather massive UK Bird Fair. A lecture, much chatting and more standing made up another four days. Drive back to London, fly to South Africa via Dubai. This time my flights are two hours longer than normal as I am flying direct to Cape Town rather than Johannesburg.

I've been to the Cape three times, twice when I was a kid and once when I behaved like a child. Relationships are funny things, somehow with much kicking a screaming, I agreed to being dragged half way across the world for a 'weekend'. Off I went on a trans-continental flight to a country I hated, under the auspices of attending the most ridiculous religious wedding of people I didn't even know. I reverted to form not long after arriving and headed off to Kirstenbosch Gardens, never setting foot anywhere near said bunch of happy clappers until way after the extremist stuff had been puked out. The point, however, is that my world and southern African bird list had long suffered the ignominy of this birding black hole. 

With some level of wisdom, I had been appointed to guide paying clients around the Cape in a few months time, so a scouting mission was in demand. While I only needed to cover a small section of Cape for scouting purpose, I was intent of covering as much of it as possible, the rest of the trip would be for me to hammer away at the new lifers and bring some respectability to my Southern African list.

Land, customs, bags, rental, drive. Cape Town (indeed all of the Western and Northern Cape as I would discover) may as well have been another country by comparison to the rest of the South Africa shithole. The climate is different, the people are different, the scenery is different. I could wax lyrical for pages on the pros and cons of the Cape versus the rest of the bell end, but perhaps another time.

My first morning dawned with heavy rain and wind - a test for my personal 'Happy Month'. I had some shopping to do, i.e. buy a new lens. Orms Direct had the mid-range Nikon 400mm f/4.0 that I felt I could carry on my little frame. Despite the crappy weather, I was taking a strong liking this place already - been a while since I was able to use the word 'competent' in these parts. Despite the weather, I felt I needed to be outside at least trying to do something. Rooi Els it would be - a tiny upmarket seaside village that has taken to protecting a section of the lower slopes of the Capes Hottentots Holland Mountains. The prime focus of my attention here was the Cape Rockjumper. I've seen many of its allopatric brother, the Drakensberg Rockjumper in both the Lesotho and KwaZulu Natal highlands - but completing the company set was my main intention. A patch of cleared at at an opportune time, but I was easily distracted by overly confiding Southern Double-collared and Orange-breasted Sunbirds. I had no idea as to what my new lens was actually capable of doing, so I just shot everything in much the same way as the locals handle their AK's.

Pissing rain came sweeping in almost catching me unawares, but rain stopped within seconds of me reaching the car. The sun came out and it looked as though clear skies would last the rest of the afternoon. I didn't need it fortunately, a pair of Cape Rockjumper conveniently worked over a nearby boulder even allowing me to sneak up for some more 'spray and prey' shots. Most chuffed with myself, I withdrew from the scene to drink beer with Shawn Wedd, my partner in amongst other crimes, the art of fish tank building.

Day two in Cape Town started rather pleasantly with breakfast at the Victoria and Alfred waterfront. Another spot of shopping for some 'stuff' before heading off to find a warbler. It's worth noting at this juncture, what a spectacular place Cape Town actually is. To walk out of a major shopping mall, the bright sunny glare clears suddenly revealing the most incredible mountainous vista stretching from one horizon to the next. I haven't come across a city of such size and incomparable beauty anywhere else in the world. [PS: the view across the V&A waterfront towards Table Mountain would have been even better had the city planners not allowed the building of that absolutely atrocious piece of kitsch rubbish of an FNB building to forever blight the mountain.]

Having made a relatively late start, I headed off to Constantia to find the very dull but very endangered Knysna Warbler. A rather dingy individual showed, and not too soon either - twitching for boring birds has never been a personal highlight. I had one last stop to make at the rather beautiful little beach town of Kommetjie for a Cormorant before driving through and beyond Cape Town to spend a night with Shawn, Lauren and young Cooper.

Awake at a reasonable hour for the drive towards Ceres and the beginning of the Karoo! Things were about to get much more exciting than they had been up to this point. I arrived at Karoopoort well after breakfast, to find large stands of Phragmites reeds. This was perfect habitat for Namaqua Warbler, which turned out not to be a shy bird when defending territory. The common stuff was all new and some rare birds were common - I'd take them any way they came of course; White-backed Mousebirds thawing in the early sunshine, Pale-winged Starlings, Tractrac Chat and plenty of Black-headed Canary. The local farmer came over to talk birds and borrow my wheel spanner to help another driver in distress - unfortunately we were all of little use in removing some very tight wheel lugs. [If you have a blow out, don't drive on the rim...]

From here onwards it was going to be a 250km dirt road drive towards Calvinia. I stopped at a pile of rocks named Eierkop. Large-billed Lark had the distinction of being the very first lark of the trip. A dry riverbed contained both Pririt Batis and an eclipse plumaged Dusky Sunbird. With the day starting to heat up, I conspired to get lost on the longest uninterrupted road in South Africa. A missed turnoff cost me 60km's ultimately (and the fuel consumed was equivalent to about the same sum in Rand, or US$6.00 in real money).

Entering Skitterykloof, to look for Cinnamon-breasted Warbler at 14:00 in the afternoon is perhaps not desirable, but I had little other choice. Scrambling up a rocky scree slope paid off when one of the heavily taped out individuals showed briefly. I made a small detour to find the frustrating Karoo Eremomela while picking up Spike-heeled and Red-capped Lark at the same time. The last two hours of dirt road driving towards Calvinia were interrupted by a number of Ludwig's Bustard flyovers and a pair of rather confiding Karoo Korhaans.

I spend most of my life in universal summer, and failed to appreciate that winter was not done in the Cape. Calvinia was bloody cold, so cold that my windscreen was frozen over and I had to wear almost every piece of clothing I had available to me. Shivering and shaking over a cup of coffee, I did my best credit card scrape of the windscreen before heading further north towards the one horse town of Bradvlei. Twenty kilometres shy of the town I pulled over for my first major Lark twitch. I started my search amongst a seemingly barren landscape pitted only by a solitary windmill. Rufous-eared Warbler was refreshingly common and I needed only a few more minutes to nail down the object of my desires, a pair of Red Lark. It must be said that this very late winter / early spring period is fantastic for Larks, most of whom start displaying an hour or so after sunrise. Karoo Scrub Robin quickly became lifer number two for the morning.

Struggle to find a place to have breakfast in the town, but am impressed to find that there is a restaurant called the 'Red Lark' - albeit closed. Breakfast complete, I'm back into the increasingly warm scrubby desert. I am now due to play a waiting game, it works like this. Find one of only a handful of water troughs, place your bets and wait for a lark to pitch up. To say that I am impatient would be an understatement, for ten minutes later I am waling the periphery trying to make things happen. Through nothing much more than pot luck, a Sclater's Lark flushes from nearby, sits on a bush, poses and disappears while I'm still fiddling with autofocus...

With more time available than expected, I try the same tactic at other waterholes. Karoo Long-billed Lark gets twitched, while a flock Namaqua Sandgrouse are in no mood to pose for me. A distant male Black-eared Sparrow-Lark is somewhat disappointing added to the list - I rather fancied getting some images of this fellow.  With all targets in the bag, it is back to Calvinia for an afternoon of working on my forthcoming Colombia checklists and rugby.

I have gotten fully into twitching mode and immediately start chopping time of my trip with ambitious driving distances. Leaving Calvinia early, I make quick time to the nearby village of Nieuwoudtville. After many kilometres of seemingly barren Karoo, it is a staggering surprise to suddenly find oneself amongst miles of green grass and numerous flowers. I had barely taken a foot out the car when the distinctive 'wing clapping' of a Cape Clapper Lark could be heard nearby. Hell it was cold though, upon closer inspection the road verges were all solidly frozen. With the sun just clearing the horizon, the larks had positioned themselves in a rather un-photographical position. I had stopped climbing over fences as of yesterday, I don't doubt that the Dutchmen up here will shoot before asking questions - and may well be further motivated to do so upon hearing my English accent in any case. One target left, which I could hear everywhere but was having rather less luck finding. Against a small, backlit ridge - I could just about discern the outline of what had to have been a Southern Black Korhaan. A quick reposition confirmed to some delight that I was indeed looking at one of the more sexy bustard beasts.

With great distances still to cover and an abject lack of traffic cops, I could 'get the hammer down'. The morning was spent driving over and down the Bokkeveld escarpment to reach the edge of the Nama Karoo at Vanrhynsdorp before turning north to Springbok. I barely paused for breath in Springbok, knocking off the remaining 140kms to the coastal town of Port Nolloth in time for lunch. Five kilometres north of the town, Barlow's Lark was ticked and photographed. Five kilometres south of town and it was much the same for Cape Long-billed and Karoo Lark. Back in the car for the 140km's back to Springbok for the night. In retrospect, I should have stayed the night in Port Nolloth and worked on my photography for a little longer.

Twitching this had become and twitching it would stay. Depart Springbok bright and early heading for the town of Pofadder. I had no idea at this point that I would still be driving some 14hours later, part of a 1000km day... Anyhow, at the moment dawn was breaking and there were more Larks to find. From Pofadder I hit the dirt road towards the South African / Namibian border town of Onseepkans on the Orange River. I was now becoming increasingly target driven. Stark's Lark - tick, photo, next. Stop, Namaqua Sandgrouse - photo, next. I took a half hour breather and spent some time trying to get photos instead of simply chasing ticks. Acacia Pied Barbet and Scaly-feathered Weaver proved decent adversaries. Then it was off to complete the 50km long dirt road. Arriving on the border town I was quick to scramble amongst the few patches of palm tree for Rosy-faced Lovebird. I spent 30minutes dashing around like a ricochet before focussing properly and finding what I was after. Though well seen, these parrots had little time for sitting still and waiting while I tried to get photographs. Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters were much keener to play ball, and my as yet uninhibited approach to taking plenty of shots resulted in a few decent action shots. Orange River White-eye responded well to tape, though it had seemed completely non-existent before that.

Birds in the bag for the day, it was now a case of seeing just how far I could get. Sociable Weaver increased exponentially just outside of Pofadder, but I could not find an African Pygmy Falcon to add to my South Africa list just yet. With the journey going well, I wondered if I might reach Kimberley by evening. I was already 2-3 days ahead of schedule, reaching Kimberley tonight would significantly shorten my plans. Then I made a spurious decision to drive up to Augrabies National Park. Ostensibly this was to twitch Short-toed Rock Thrush, though it took me a few hours to establish that not only had I dipped, but that I had no need to look for it in any case - having ticked it many years ago already. Twat - those two and a half hours had almost certainly consigned me to spending the night in Upington instead. As it happens, I went on a mission - through Upington and onwards, foot as flat as I dared - even passing the police who showed little inclination to follow me. If I was risking anything, it was driving at night with Kudu feeding on the road verges. Despite my speed and the lighting, I did have the opportunity to watch a skittish Kudu get back on 'his' side of the fence. A languid, effortless jump from a standing start over the 21 strand, three metre high fence. At least if I was on a collision coarse with one, it would probably only scratch the roof with its hooves.

Up and going early in the morning, I headed to the 'Big Hole' in down town Kimberley to find one last lifer - Bradfield's Swift. Having first mis-identified the large pile of rubble to the left of the parking lots as being 'the hole', I managed without embarrassment to find the real hole. A part of me expected it to be simply a large hole in the ground, not one ensconced, stadium style by walkways and shops. I tried entering at 07:00 to be confronted by a bevvy of what seemed to me in any case to be local 'guides'. I tried the avoidance approach, gave them a wide berth and sped up my gait. Turns out they were security guards and none too happy with me for trying to give them the slip. The 'hole' only opened at 08:00... Stuff it, I'd simply wait outside for the swifts to appear and then be off. A flutter of adrenalin was proven to be a false start - bloody Little Swifts. Ten minutes later the much larger, dull brown Bradfield's Swift made an appearance clearing the way for me to get a move on. The rest of the trip was a just an asphalt orientated haze, broken only by the bevvy of arsehole drivers that indicated I was nearing Gauteng. It takes a really 'special' kind of cock to drive an M3 or an RS4 with GP tags.

Trying to find a shortcut through the toll roads (something else that doesn't exist in the Cape), I found myself driving the increasingly poor dirt roads of Marikana village - site of a South African Police Service massacre just two years previously. Perhaps not the greatest place in the world to be gallivanting about. I exited post haste just in case I should happen to round a bend and come head to head with one Julius Malema...

And that was that. Just over 5000km of driving and R4800 spent on petrol (US$480) to see 30 lifers, 10 of which were Larks. It was also the dawning of my Love for Larks, a family I am now seriously going to chase... 33 Larks this year alone including the Critically Endangered Beesley's Lark on northern Tanzania. Better yet, I still have options on another two species - both lifers, both endemic to South Africa and both in a lot of trouble. 51 from 97 doesn't sound like much  - especially since the easy species have already been taken care of.

A foreigners guide to understanding some place names mentioned above:

Rooi Els = red Alder (species of tree)
Kommetjie = small basin (referring to the small bay area)
Karoopoort = Karoo gateway, literally a farm at the start of the Karoo.
Eierkop = egg head (small rocky outcrop in an otherwise characterless environment. Probably refers to Ostrich egg fragments found on top of the rocks, no doubt placed there by the San Bushmen.
Skitterykloof = restless / skittish gap
Calvinia = named after the French religious 'reformer' Jean Calvin. You needn't look very far to see what these religious extremists and brain dead nut cases did to South Africa under the guise of 'god'.
Brandvlei = literally marsh fire, probably best interpreted as Burnt Marsh
Nieuwoudtville = new forest town, perhaps in relation to the unexpected forests and green vegetation that is to be found here in relation to the dry and inhospitable surroundings.
Vanrhynsdorp = I'm guessing slightly, may be named after Rembrandt van Ryn
Pofadder = Puff Adder, a particularly attractive but dangerously venomous species of snake.
Onseepkans = an opportunity to wash off soap.
Upington - named after Sir Thomas Upington, who was Attorney General and then Prime Minister of the Cape Province.
Kimberley = I am going to post a large piece of 'cut and paste' here from Wikipedia. I urge you to read the entire entry on Kimberley - for it is quite fascinating. After the discovery of diamonds, the general area had no name barring the Dutch farm name of Vooruitzigt. The local prospectors termed the town 'New Rush', but the British were having none of it. Before the British would proclaim the area for the crown, there was a problem. [continued from Wiki]

The delay was in London where Secretary of State for the ColoniesLord Kimberley, insisted that before electoral divisions could be defined, the places had to receive "decent and intelligible names. His Lordship declined to be in any way connected with such a vulgarism as New Rush and as for the Dutch name, Vooruitzigt … he could neither spell nor pronounce it." The matter was passed to Southey who gave it to his Colonial Secretary J.B. Currey. Roberts writes that "when it came to renaming New Rush, [Currey] proved himself a worthy diplomat. He made quite sure that Lord Kimberley would be able both to spell and pronounce the name of the main electoral division by, as he says, calling it 'after His Lordship'.

And quite rightly so.