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This vast, sparsely-inhabited arid area, stretching from Springbok across to Pofadder and Kenhardt, down to Vanwyksvlei and Brandvlei, and south towards Calvinia, is a hotspot for southern African endemics. bushmanland is particularly well-known for its diversity and abundance of larks, and one, the Red Lark, is endemic to this region. The birds of this region are generally nomadic, and move into areas and breed in response to rain. Birding in bushmanland is best between August and December, and again in April, although spring is usually the most productive time. Temperatures soar in summer, and often drop below freezing on winter nights.

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Specials

Red Lark, Black-eared Sparrowlark, Sclater's Lark, Burchell's Courser, Stark's Lark. Also Ludwig's Bustard, Karoo Korhaan, Karoo Eremomela, Black-headed Canary, Tractrac Chat.

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Habitats

Vast open plains, with varying degrees of scrub cover. The scrub is taller around the rocky ridges and hills. The substrate ranges from sandy to stony and sparsely-vegetated sand dunes can be found, especially in the north-west. After the rains, the barren landscape is transformed by the abundant growth of grass. Dry, acacia-lined watercourses criss-cross the landscape, and occasional farm dams, water troughs with windmills and seasonal pans also occur.

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Facilities

No facilities are available, and birding is best done along the good network of dirt roads in the area. If you do venture onto adjacent farmland, be sure to first get permission from the farmer. Many of the areas are isolated and few cars travel through the area. Be sure to carry at least one spare tyre, and water during summer.

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Birding

1. Red Lark, a resident of scrubby areas on sandy soil, can be found throughout the year and is one of the commonest birds in the habitat where it occurs. The browner 'plains form' of Red Lark is best found around the town of Brandvlei, and a good place to try for it is in the scrub about 2 km along the road to Loeriesfontein. Listen out for the distinctive call, and if the birds are not calling, walk through the vegetation and watch out for the birds scurrying away on the ground, often near the bases of the bushes. The redder 'dune form' of Red Lark is best seen on the red dunes in the Aggenys area. Try the dunes south of the Loop 10 road, south-east of Aggenys, employing the same techniques described above. Karoo Lark is found from about 50 km south of Brandvlei, towards the south.

2. Sclater's Lark is a nomadic species, and is found on stony plains with only scattered, low bushes. One of the best ways to see it is to wait at a water trough below a windmill in the vicinity of this harsh terrain, and small groups and pairs will come to drink once the day begins to warm up. Alternatively, spread out and walk through this habitat, listening out for the rather nondescript, monosyllabic call of birds which are disturbed while foraging near the bases of small bushes. This is also a good way to see Burchell's Courser, an infrequent and nomadic species which is found in the most barren areas. Keep a look out for this species while driving, as it is often picked up in flight. Double-banded Courser is common. Tractrac Chat is also found in this habitat, and Sickle-winged Chat, Familiar Chat and Karoo Chat also occur in the area. Look out for Stark's Lark, especially in the northern areas towards Kenhardt.

3. The scrubby areas support Karoo Long-billed Lark, Large-billed Lark, Karoo Eremomela, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Rufous-eared Warbler, Black-chested Prinia and Chat Flycatcher. The large-billed form of Sabota Lark, known as Bradfield's Lark, Mirafra (sabota) naevia, and potentially a new species, is worth looking for, especially in the taller scrub around rocky ridges.

4. Karoo Korhaan and Southern Black Korhaan are common and are often seen near the roadside. Ludwig's Bustard is often first spotted when flushed. Namaqua Sandgrouse is very common, and its 'kelkiewyn' call is one of the characteristic sounds of the area. Look out for Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Secretarybird, Greater Kestrel, Black-chested Snake-Eagle and Martial Eagle. Cape Eagle-Owl occurs on rocky hillsides, but Spotted Eagle-Owl also occurs.

5. After rain, the grassy areas support Black-eared Sparrowlark, Pink-billed Lark, Fawn-coloured Lark, Desert Cisticola and Kori Bustard. Black-eared Sparrowlark is most common in a mixture of scrub and grass, and is often found along the road verge. The males are easily spotted when flushed, although they have a frustrating habit of always landing out of sight. Grey-backed Sparrowlark also occurs in large numbers.

6. The acacia-lined river courses should be searched for Pririt Batis and Dusky Sunbird if the trees are flowering. South African Cliff-Swallow breeds below many of the road bridges in summer.

7. Lark-like Bunting is often abundant and Yellow Canary and White-throated Canary are common. Also look out for Black-headed Canary, which is often seen when coming to drink. Scaly-feathered Finch can also be found and Sociable Weaver breed on 'kokerbome', telephone poles and even in the roofs of houses. Look out for Pygmy Falcon in the vicinity of these nests, especially around Kenhardt.

8. South African Shelduck can be found around any standing water. The temporary pans support large numbers of Greater Flamingo, Lesser Flamingo and Pied Avocet.

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General

There are hotels in Pofadder, Brandvlei, Kenhardt, and Vanwyksvlei, and most of these towns have campsites. There are many secluded areas on the side of the road where one can camp.

Claire Spottiswoode and Callan Cohen 1997.



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