Monday, 27 October 2014

Karoo National Park – Honorary Rangers Birding Weekend

I was honoured to be invited to be the guest speaker at the birding weekend of the Honorary Rangers at the Karoo National Park this past weekend. I really enjoyed my last visit to this beautiful park, and so decided it would be a great opportunity for a follow up visit.

After meeting some of the participants, and attending the group's meetings, my overall summary of the Honorary Ranger program is:

Good people doing Good work

And whenever I feel all is wrong with the world and there is no hope for humanity due to selfish and self-centred behaviour that is so often the focus of media attention, I will remember this group of 1300 volunteers that have contributed a combined R43 million in money, time and materials to augment the central SANParks staff and activities, and so remember that there is hope for our world.

Just a short list of what they have done:

Raised money and donated a vehicle to the rhino anti-poaching team.
Monitored and repaired the very long park fence – only a few weeks ago several hundred meters of fence were stolen and had to be replaced on very short notice before the park lions found the gap.
Contributed thousands of hours to overseeing tourist activities on the roads and at the campsites.

The focus of the weekend was a birding competition where participants were divided into teams and then had to see as many birds as possible during the day. Each team was accompanied by a guide who would confirm sightings, and each bird had to be seen by two team members. Although not officially part of the team, I went out with the Blue Hill volunteers. We managed the lowest score with only 35 birds compared to the winning team that spotted 76 birds in very windy conditions.

The event was superbly organised by Japie Claasen, chair of the Honorary Rangers. The collection of sponsors for awards for participants was like nothing I have ever seen before. Japie is one of South Africa's top birders and organizes bird watching expeditions all around South Africa, which are both affordable and highly recommended by participants. For more information on the SANParks Honorary Ranger program and to find out more about his birding trips, he can be contacted on karoobirding 'at'

Thanks to those who attended the talk on the Sunday morning when you could have been out on game drives or packing to head home!

Here are some wildlife highlights from the trip:

Ouch! Why you should never annoy a Gemsbok.

Burchell's Zebra and Mountain Zebra are common in Karoo National Park

Reed Surfing - Southern Masked Weaver coming in to land

White-backed Mousebirds are common at the campsite

African Pipit on the road

African Pipit in more conventional surroundings

Red Hartebeest are common. Here a lonely male meanders through the mountains.

A Southern Masked Weaver takes a drink between nest building and chasing females

Acacia Pied Barbet drinking

Cape Bunting with a remarkable parasite load - see the chin

Tortoises around camp are a constant source of amusement

Chestnut-vented Titbabbler - a superb mimic and beautiful songster - among the sharp spines of an Acacia karroo

Gemsbok are iconic creatures of the southern African arid environment
Alan and Japie - although I look like I am wearing some African-theme Halloween costume - that is a coincidence

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