We – Elsabé and I – set out early to atlas in the Free State in pentad 3035_2645. We recorded 52 species in just over three hours of atlasing. The first hour had been relatively quiet in the winter grassveld of the southern Free State. The first species listed for the day was the Common Fiscal. Most lists in the Aliwal district have the fiscal in the first five species on the list. Other regulars were Anteating Chat, African Pipit and Hadeda Ibis. A list in our area is not complete without the Acacia Pied Barbet – and we could tick it as #44 today. Pied Starlings are regular customers as well.
The owner of the farm Geneva phoned on Thursday to report Grey Crowned Cranes foraging near the centre pivot on his farm and asked me to come and record them for the atlas. He passed us on the way to his farm while we were still in the very early parts of the pentad. A few minutes later the cell phone rang – he called to report the cranes were there on the field and that we must hurry to record them before they fly off. The first bird we saw when entering the field was quite a bonus – a Secretary bird – as it is not normally so close to human activity. The centre pivot is just next to the farm yard. And a few hundred meters off were the three Crowned Cranes lazily foraging in the late winter sun. We could study them properly through our binoculars. Eventually we moved closer to take photos. Unfortunately they flew off and away into the distance.
We went on further to atlas the rest of the pentad and added quite a few species – Levaillant's Cisticola and Blue Korhaan amongst them. Our penultimate area to visit was the thicket on the banks of the Orange River. Here we encountered amongst other species - Speckled Mousebirds sunning themselves and Cape White-eyes gleaning insects from the budding branches and twigs of the trees on the river bank. Namaqua Warblers – 2 of them – were quite vocal and on the mud banks in the river a solitary African Pied Wagtail was spotted where it searched for titbits. The first signs of spring are visible – the willows on the river banks are starting to bud, fruit trees in the farm yards are in bloom and the poplar groves along the road display a bright green hue as the leaves start sprouting out. Today was an excellent day for atlasing the beautiful parts of our region and the sighting of a few special species made it worthwhile.