Images & Text by Trevor Hardaker
I recently had the pleasure of spending a few days at Jaci’s Lodges in Madikwe Game Reserve as an initial attempt at a 24 hour bird race in the reserve, revolving around BirdLife South Africa’s Big Birding Day. The idea was to come in for a couple of days prior to the actual Big Day to scout around on the reserve and get a feel for the different habitats and where one could find the different birds and then have a go at the 24 hour race.
Jaci’s Lodges provided a great introduction to the reserve and what better way to get started than with the friendly welcome of the staff and the extremely comfortable accommodation in a very pleasant setting. With the units interspersed in some lush riparian woodland, a habitat that is pretty restricted on the reserve, one can get started on your bird list from the comfort of your own stoep. The continuous calling of Red-chested Cuckoos and the typical summer bushveld sound of Woodland Kingfishers churring away set the scene and, as one searches a bit more intently, you will also find things like Yellow-bellied Greenbuls, Kurrichane and Karoo Thrushes, African Paradise Flycatchers, Grey-headed and Orange-breasted Bush-shrikes and raucous groups of Meyer’s Parrots amongst others right around your room.
One of the other attractions at Jaci’s is the waterhole and sunken hide accessed from inside the camp. Other than the continuous stream of animals coming in to drink (we had incredible low level experiences with African Elephants in particular), the waterhole was literally an oasis for birds, whether they be waterbirds that are there almost permanently or other bush birds coming in to drink. Giant and Pied Kingfishers are regular while several species of heron and waterfowl were also present. Numerous Doves and other seed-eaters were also regular visitors and, even although we didn’t spend all that much time there, we still managed to accumulate a reasonable list of birds from there.
The one thing that one immediately notices about Madikwe Game Reserve is that it is a mixture of typical bushveld and more arid Kalahari thornveld, in other words, a typical east meets west situation. This is particularly obvious within the suite of birds available as well where, in a single morning, one can encounter both Black-chested and Tawny-flanked Prinias or both African Red-eyed and Dark-capped Bulbuls.
During our short time at Jaci’s Lodges, we were also hampered a little bit by the weather having strong winds and heavy rain at times. Nevertheless, the birding activity never really slowed down too much and, during the heat of the day or during a storm, one could always find some activity around a small waterhole at least or get distracted by looking at any one of the myriad of amazing mammals that we also encountered there. Some of the birds that we really enjoyed seeing included the many calling Monotonous Larks, stately Kori Bustards, displaying Red-crested Korhaans, regal Martial and African Fish Eagles and colourful Black-cheeked and Violet-eared Waxbills while it was also great to enjoy species like Red-billed Oxpecker, Mocking Cliff-chat, Short-toed Rock Thrush, African Green Pigeon, Barred Wren-warbler, Temminck’s Courser, Grey-rumped Swallow and Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark.
Perhaps one of the most memorable things for me about Madikwe Game Reserve was the ease with which we encountered Yellow-throated Sandgrouse. The extensive plains of black cotton soils in the one section of the reserve are certainly a favoured haunt for this species and we had some of the best encounters there that I have ever experienced with this species. Out of the 4 Sandgrouse species occurring in Southern Africa, I have always found Yellow-throated to be the toughest one to pin down and I was blown away with the opportunities that we had on the reserve.
We effectively had just 1,5 days to scout the reserve before we attempted our Big Day and, with a final total of 170 species for the Big Day, I don’t think we did too badly at all. There were some common species that we had seen on the preceding days that we just couldn’t find on the Big Day, but that always happens anyway. Our efforts were also confined to just the eastern half of the reserve as that was the area that we had managed to scout beforehand. Given more time to get to know the reserve a little better and to stake out a few more species, I think it could certainly be achievable to be pushing the 200 species mark in a day, but that will take a lot of work… and a little bit of luck too!
All of the guides that drove us around were incredibly knowledgeable on the reserve and its animals, but two of Jaci’s guides in particular, Armand and Thomas, had good knowledge of birds as well and this certainly aided our cause as I was able to ask them lots of questions about where they had seen certain species on the reserve which we could then try and fit into our itinerary for the Big Day.
One of Madikwe’s biggest avian attractions, which we unfortunately did not see on this trip, are the regularly occurring yellow morph Crimson-breasted Shrikes and this is certainly something that we hope to find on our next visit there…
Thank you to everyone at Jaci’s Lodges for a wonderful few days and some amazing birding. We are already looking forward to our next visit there and, hopefully, with a little more experience of the reserve now, we will be threatening that 200 species mark on our next Big Day!