Rhodene Camp, Ceres 
25th Aug 2018

After the 26 members had settled into their respective chalets after lunch on Friday, we all birded around the farm, which is situated close to the mountain and a dam.  There were large gum and pine trees in which we hoped to see some raptors.  The last time we camped there we had a pair of Spotted Eagle-owls in the gums but unfortunately not this year and the only large birds spotted were Pied Crows. A pair of Yellow-billed Duck flew over us and landed on the dam. Being near the mountain meant that the area cooled down rapidly and we returned to our chalets wondering what the weekend would bring in terms of exciting birds and plants.
Saturday dawned clear but chilly …. a coooool 6ºC at the farm. 
Once on top of Theronberg’s Pass, 1010m, the temperature dropped to 4ºC…brrrrr.  Luckily no wind when we stopped near some remnants of rhenosterveld.  Here the target birds were a few species of Lark especially Cape Clapper which normally did their display early in the morning and they did not disappoint with a few males clapping and whistling away quite close to the road for all to see.  Large-billed Lark, with their squeaky-gate call and Red-capped Lark could be heard in the distance. 
We then moved off the mountain on to Karoo Poort where it was still cool but the sun was warming things up a bit, still no wind through the kloof!  A Mountain Wheatear called from a large boulder near the road as did a Cape Bunting with its monotonous call interrupted with the strange “wee wee, wee wee” ...…. almost French!!
Breakfast was had under the poplar trees near the national monument - the old Karoo Poort Toll House.  Here we heard Namaqua Warbler but no clear sighting unfortunately.  The Cape White-eyes were checked to see if they were perhaps the Orange-river form but no - they were still Cape White-eyes. The same was done with the Thrush hoping for Karoo Thrush with it’s all yellow bill, but again black line on top of bill made it Olive Thrush even though the bird was a darker form than normal. The Red-winged Starlings were checked as they flew away to check for Pale-winged and yes! , there were two bringing up the rear of the flock, excellent bird to spot this far south.  Pied and Common Starling made it four species of Starling in the fig orchard.
Once out of the Poort, we stopped at the famous “picnic” site to try for Cinnamon-breasted Warbler but it seemed as if no-one was home!!  Karoo Prinia and Layard’s Tit-babbler were seen by a few.  Malachite Sunbird seemed out of place here in the drier shrub but there were a number of cotyledons and tylecodons in flower and that was what they were calling on for nectar. 
En route to Eierkop along the R355 a pair of Sickle-winged Chats were spotted in the taller shrubs, which was their preferred habitat in this area.  On the West Coast they could only use fence lines as there were not too many tall shrubs left in the farmlands.  A few White-throated and Yellow Canaries were enjoying some of the daisies and vygies that had already set seed and White-backed Mousebirds were eating the fresh leaves and hanging with their tummies exposed to the sun to aid digestion.
At Perdekop (Aka Eierkop) as it is known on the maps, we all wandered around looking for the small greenish elusive Karoo Eremomela. They normally moved around in a small group and eventually we spotted some but as per usual they were constantly on the move so we had to hurry after them to get some descent views!!!! A lifer for many members.
After quick refreshments we moved on up the R355 towards Skitterykloof area.  We however stopped a few times to check on the chats that flew away from the road…. there were Karoo Chats with their upright stance and dark grey primaries and white outer tail feathers. Some were however the sought-after Tractrac Chats. This small lightish Chat with its white rump is very conspicuous as it flies away from you…...all you see is this white dot disappearing over the low shrubs - its preferred habitat.  When it eventually lands it does its own chat thing by shudder/flicking its wings, not like the Familiar Chat that flicks three times and Sickle-winged that flicks twice!
A lone Pale-chanting Goshawk surveyed the veld for lunch from the telegraph pole, a really elegant bird that even looks more stunning when it flies - as the white wing panels are clearly visible then!
As always, a stop at the Tankwa Padstal for some decent coffee and eats is a must…...this remains a welcome island in the middle of nowhere!!! 
A quick look around at Skitterykloof picnic site did not produce anything new but always interesting to see the fountain gushing fresh water from nowhere. Unfortunately, when they repaired the roads they installed a pipe into one of the eyes of the spring and I think damaged the others as reeds have overgrown the open water that used to be there in the past. Pity as we used to hear Black Crake in the reeds. 
We returned over the mountain via Katbakkies Pass to Op Die Berg and Gydo Pass where we stopped at “my dammetjie” to wait for Protea Seedeaters and others to come and slake their thirst.  Most members left after a few minutes as the G&Ts were calling, but those that stayed were rewarded with 2 Protea canaries coming in to drink…. a lifer for a few.
The days events were discussed over great braai fires – a fitting end to a day of great weather and great birding.
Sunday morning everyone packed up early so that we could do some birding in the Witzenberg Valley. Once again up Gydo Pass and left into the Valley.  A few stops at various farm dams and rivers produced the regular Egyptian and Spur-winged Geese, Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Teal and a pair of SA Shelduck that were hidden amongst the other geese. A beautiful duck with the male’s grey head and the female’s white head.
So, came to an end a great birding weekend in the Tanqua for 26 members of the TBC.

Brian Vanderwalt