I hope you’ve got good shoes, because we’re going birding in thornveld today. There was a nice rain shower last night, so the birding should be epic! We should probably have gotten out of bed a bit earlier, because the cicadas are already singing and the day is heating up. But we’ll use that to our advantage and go stake out a pool where waxbills drink. Ready?

Read along:

Joh! I wouldn’t like to walk through this habitat barefoot! You wouldn’t make it three paces before stepping on a thorn! But I just love the way this clay soil smells after the rain. By the way, we must remember to check our socks and pants for ticks when we get back. 

I think Rattling Cisticola should be the official mascot of thornveld habitats. They are just everywhere. And it’s amazing how loud such a small bird can be! Check, you can see the black on the inside of that male’s bill!

What else can you hear? Yeah, yeah, I can also hear that tocking. It’s either Red-billed or Yellow-billed Hornbill. They’re tricky to tell apart. It’s best to double check…Ja, I can see him here…it’s Yellow-billed. Yellow-billed. What else? Oh, those high, piping whistles? They’re from Burnt-necked Eremomelas. You can see them jumping about in the canopy of that taller tree there. They’re very common in thornveld, but because they’re so small and drab a lot of people don’t know them. Chestnut-vented Warbler singing behind us. Yes, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, that’s right. And there’s his call…just like the Afrikaans name hey…tjerik-tik-tik.

I think the pool is just up ahead. Let’s sneak around this way, so the light is better. It’s nice and hot – I’m sure we’ll see lots of seed-eaters coming to drink. Yeah, this is a good spot. And now we wait…

A few Blue Waxbills over there. On that dead branch hanging down into the water. And hey, I can hear some Black-faced Waxbills flying in! Yes, the ones making those high whistles. There! There! Oh man, they’re so pretty. Like little fireworks! Red-billed Firefinches. Yes, just near the Blueys now. That’s right. Those Red-billed Queleas are sure making a racket, aren’t they? I wonder if they’ll start nesting again this year? 

The firefinches are still drinking, but there’s something else in the thicket behind them…can you make it out? Oh yes! Violet-eared Waxbill. Wow! Oh, there’s a pair of them – the female is just a bit left and up, by those curved pods. See her? Awesome! You know, if there are Violet-ears around, we might also luck onto Shaft-tailed Whydah. As you know, Shaft-taileds lay their eggs in Violet-eared Waxbills’ nests. Keep an eye open!

Oh, Brubru calling behind us. Sounds like an old school telephone ringing. Cool sound. And hang on, there’s another trilling call. But it’s a bit different. Can you hear that? That is a Barred Wren-Warbler! They’re a pretty special bird! Let’s walk over there – maybe we’ll get lucky. I don’t see him, do you? Where? Okay, okaaay…second branch to the left…I see the gap…oh yes! There he is! Well spotted! What a cool little bird. I love his tail! And you can hear some White-browed Sparrow-Weavers! One of my favourite bird sounds!

Maybe we should make our way along the edge of that more open area there. I think it was an old field, but now it is just grassland, with some scattered bushes. Edge habitats like that are often great for birding. It’s also easier to spot the birds in such more open habitats. 

This looks like a good spot. I’m going to scan the tops of the bushes. Oh look! Magpie Shrike. See him there with his long tail? Ooh, I love that sound! And something else just shot past…there he is, in the top of that small umbrella thorn. Check how he’s waving his tail about: Kalahari Scrub Robin. Excuse me? Which bush? Oh yes, I see him…with the white chest. A Marico Flycatcher. Nice. And look, a bunch of Scaly-feathered Finches on that open patch of ground there. I think they’ve got a nest in that thorny shrub. I can hear something singing far away…I think I know what it is, but let’s walk a bit closer.

Yes, there he is…right at the top of that thorn tree. See him? Yes, you’re right, it is some sort of lark. In these thornveld habitats the most common one is Sabota Lark. You can hear him imitating other birds if you listen closely. It’s actually a good way to figure out what other species may be around. Oh look, flying above the canopy there! Shaft-tailed Whydah! Looks weird hey? Itts tail is so thin that you can’t even see it, so it looks those four black blobs are following him. Ha! And listen there – that harsh, moaning-type sound: Southern Pied Babblers! There they are, hopping around that fallen log there. Got ‘em? Awesome birds!

Hey! Hear that? Those whistles? It’s a Pearly! Come on, this way! Can you see him there in the dead tree? Pearl-spotted Owlet. It’s a bit weird for him to be calling like that in the middle of the day, but I guess it is a bit overcast. But he’s going to attract a lot of attention like that. Look here they come – the mob!

First up…uh…Rattling Cisticola. Big surprise. A Rattler’s alarm call sounds like word “chair” to me. Hear it? And hey, look up there in the next tree. That’s an Ashy Tit! And he sounds furious! And what’s that blackish thing that just shot past? There he is again! Flitting about in that mistletoe in the canopy…about 11’o clock? Sunbird! It’s a Marico Sunbird! Gorgeous! See how his chest flashes purple and red in the sun? Check, even the Magpie Shrikes are flying in to join the fight! And can you hear that angry-sounding chatter? That’s a Red-backed Shrike. They don’t often sing while they are in Africa; in fact, when I do hear their song I often confuse it with some sort of warbler. But they do that chattery thing all the time, especially when they’re concerned. Poor little owl, I feel sorry for him. Oh, and off he goes. With a whole lot of mobsters in tow. That was cool.

Let’s make our way back to the car along this gulley here. The thornveld is a bit thicker, and we may bump into some new species. Ah! Chop-chop! That’s Crimson-breasted Shrike! Yes, a pair of them, see? Wow! That red is just incredible, almost burns your eyes! Something else in there. Maybe a boubou? No, wait it’s a robin! White-throated Robin-Chat. Listen, now he’s singing! Such a beautiful sound. 

And off in the distance? Hear that? Let’s sneak a bit closer. It’s an Olive-tree Warbler. A really good bird, and this thorny thicket is the ideal habitat for it. Difficult to see though. Let’s try from…SNAKE! Snake, there, there, there, weaving between those grass tufts! Man, he’s really moving. Can you see him? There, there, I can still see his tail. Umm, no, no, I think he’s gone. No, he’s gone hey. Sho, what do you think it was? I saw some stripes, and judging by its speed I’d say it was one of those Psammophis sand snakes. Maybe subtaeniatus, the Western Yellow-bellied Sand Snake. Aah, I wish we had had a better look.

But now I’ve made so much noise that warbler has disappeared. Oh well. Next time. I can see that big camelthorn where we parked. Yes, there’s the car.

Phew, that was a pretty epic birding session! I especially enjoyed…hey! Hey! Common Scimitarbill calling. Common Scimitarbill. Yes, there he is, climbing around on that trunk there. Ha, he seems very interested in that one crack – I wonder if there’s a grub or something in there? Sorry, what was I saying? Oh yes. I especially enjoyed that Barred Wren-Warbler. And all those seed-eaters coming in for a drink. But now, I think, it’s time for lunch and maybe a quick dip in the pool. Let’s hit it!

Birds featured:

Rattling Cisticola | Bosveldtinktinkie (p. 398) | 00:30, 09:13

Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill | Geelbekneushoringvoël (p. 244) | 01:00

Burnt-necked Eremomela | Bruinkeelbossanger (p. 409) | 01:27

Chestnut-vented Warbler (Tit-babbler) | Bosveldtjeriktik (p. 383) | 01:52

Blue Waxbill | Gewone Blousysie (p. 454) | 02:35

Black-faced Waxbill | Swartwangsysie (p. 455) | 02:45

Red-billed Firefinch | Rooibekvuurvinkie (p. 461) | 03:05

Red-billed Quelea | Rooibekkwelea (p. 451) | 03:15

Violet-eared Waxbill | Koningblousysie (p. 454) | 03:43

Brubru | Bontroklaksman (p. 357) | 04:11

Barred Wren-Warbler | Gebande Sanger (p. 405) | 04:22

White-browed Sparrow-Weaver | Koringvoël (p. 430) | 05:01

Magpie Shrike | Langstertlaksman (p. 356) | 05:51, 09:57

Kalahari Scrub Robin | Kalahariwipstert (p. 290) | 06:17

Marico Flycatcher | Maricovlieëvanger (p. 370) | 06:44

Scaly-feathered Finch  | Baardmannetjie (p. 431) | 07:00

Sabota Lark | Sabotalewerik (p. 322) | 07:35

Shaft-tailed Whydah | Pylstertrooibekkie (p. 468) | 08:03

Southern Pied Babbler | Witkatlagter (p. 280) | 08:25

Pearl-spotted Owlet | Witkoluil (p. 206) | 08:47

Ashy Tit | Akasiagrysmees (p. 375) | 09:26

Marico Sunbird | Maricosuikerbekkie (p. 418) | 09:38

Red-backed Shrike | Rooiruglaksman (p. 355) | 10:06

Crimson-breasted Shrike | Rooiborslaksman (p. 361) | 10:48

White-throated Robin-Chat | Witkeeljanfrederik (p. 292) | 11:07

Olive-tree Warbler | Olyfboomsanger (p. 385) | 11:29

Common Scimitarbill | Swartbekkakelaar (p. 242) | 12:37