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Kimberley Area:

Kimberley is often underestimated as a birding destination, despite entering the birding limelight in 1996 with the discovery here of a pipit new to science (Long-tailed Pipit, see box overleaf). It also offers access to several other species that are challenging to see in South Africa, such as Bradfield’s Swift. A number of species that occur here, such as Red-breasted Swallow, Crested Barbet and Golden-breasted Bunting, are more characteristic of South Africa’s eastern regions, and reach their western point of distribution in this area.

Kimberley is renowned as the site of a 19th-century diamond rush of unprecedented madness, one that converted a small hillock to what is now known as the Big Hole, a massive, water-filled pit gouged into the earth’s surface. Today, despite its status as the industrial and administrative centre of the Northern Cape Province, the city is surrounded by natural areas and flanked on virtually all sides by private game farms that offer good dryland savanna birding.

The city proper offers access to two sought-after birds: Bradfield’s Swift and Long-tailed Pipit. Look for the former at the Big Hole or De Beers Mine hole (follow the signs from the N12) where they breed, or observe them flying overhead anywhere in the city. Long-tailed Pipit is best sought at its type locality, Beaconsfield Park (also known as Keeley Park): follow the signs to the McGregor Museum and, leaving from the gate of the museum, go left and take the first left into Du Toits Pan Road and then the first right into Pratley Road. Continue to the big gates at the end of the road. Enter the park on foot, and turn left towards the series of playing fields, where you will see pipits of all descriptions — including, potentially, Long-tailed (winter), Plain-backed, Buffy, Grassveld and ‘Kimberley’ (see feature on Kimberley's New Pipits). The thorn trees between the fields and the gate support African Hoopoe, Lesser Honeyguide, Acacia Pied Barbet, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape White-eye (see page on changing bird taxonomy) and Black-throated Canary. White-backed Vultures can at times be seen soaring over the city.

Access to most of the private land is limited. In addition to birding the roadsides, you may consider visiting Marrick Game Farm, which welcomes day visitors and also provides accommodation. It is conspicuously signposted, 11 km west of Kimberley on the R357 to Douglas (tel: (053) 861-1530). Marrick offers a good combination of both savanna and open grassland, as well as an ephemeral vlei that occasionally hosts large numbers of waterbirds.

The woodland abounds with typical acacia thornveld species such as Scimitar-billed Woodhoopoe, Ashy Tit, Kalahari Robin and Crimson-breasted Shrike. Also present is the more easterly, small-billed subspecies of Sabota Lark (see page on changing bird taxonomy). The open grasslands near the pan supply an entirely different selection of species, including Northern Black Korhaan, Double-banded Courser (common here), Anteating Chat, Clapper, Spike-heeled and Red-capped Larks and sometimes, with careful checking, Pink-billed Lark. Search the open parkland for the uncommon Orange River Francolin, where tall, scattered acacia trees stand above the grassy flats. This species, which calls in the early morning and is responsive to playback, displays a remarkable capacity to remain concealed. Although reasonably common in the Kimberley area, this bird is perhaps better looked for in the Free State or North West provinces (for example, in the very productive Sandveld Nature Reserve near Bloemhof), where it is more common and sites are more accessible.

Just north of Kimberley, on the N12 to Johannesburg, lies the vast expanse of Kamfer’s Dam, one of the few perennial waterbodies in the Northern Cape and, as such, supporting an exceptional number and diversity of waterbirds. Access is possible through the golf course on the southern side of the pan, or from the adjacent N12 road. Waterbirds include Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Black-necked Grebe and small numbers of Chestnut-banded Plover. Reedbeds support Golden Bishop, here at the edge of its range. South African Cliff Swallow and, in wet years, Black-winged Pratincole feed over the adjacent grassland.

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