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Ken Borland

Marakele National Park 0

Posted on December 23, 2021 by Ken

The spectacular Kransberg towers over the Marakele plains

The amazing thing about the Marakele National Park is you drive through the entrance gate into the Acacia bushveld – areas of dense dry thornbush interspersed with more open grassy or shrubby areas – just over a thousand metres above sea level, seeing arid country specials like Pied Babbler and Great Sparrow; and less than 20 kilometres away you can be in the mountainous vegetation, reminiscent of the Drakensberg, of Lenong Peak, at an altitude of more than 2000 metres.

From the arid woodlands of the western parts of the park, one is transported into a different world of low cloud and windswept grassland with almost alpine vegetation and four different species of Proteas.

There is a viewpoint at the end of the Lenong Drive, making the daunting single-lane mountain pass along a concrete track all the more worthwhile.

We had already seen Cape Vulture, soaring high overhead, the third bird we saw driving through the entrance gate earlier that morning, after bushveld regulars Chinspot Batis and Southern Black Tit.

But apart from stunning scenery, the Lenong viewpoint, at an altitude of 2039m, also provides the most convenient view of the Cape Vulture breeding colony: at about 800 breeding pairs it is one of the largest in the world for this threatened raptor.

It is both a serene and exhilarating sight to see these large scavengers floating and wheeling around the cliffs across a valley to the south-west of the viewpoint.

Just as thrilling was to discover an inquisitive pair of Buffstreaked Chat hopping around the small rocks at our feet. This striking bird is a familiar resident of the more moist Drakensberg grasslands and this population in the Waterberg is isolated.

They were joined by a male Mocking Chat, standing proud with his glossy black plumage glistening in the sun, Cape Rock Thrush and busy Cape and Cinnamonbreasted Rock Buntings on the ground.

But it was the Chats that stole the show and my wife Lauren gave the spot the entirely fitting name of ‘Chatty Corner’.

Mocking Chat

Descending down the mountain, there was still another high-altitude specialist waiting for us in the form of a Striped Pipit, at 1791m above sea level (a.s.l.), which flew off the road and into the grass and rocks alongside.

Red Hartebeest were also enjoying the lengthy highveld grasslands close to the road.

Descending still further down the hairpin bends of Lenong Drive, at 1375m a.s.l., the rocky outcrops and shrubby grassland is ideal habitat for rock thrushes, but it was still unexpected to come across the Short-Toed Rock Thrush, which is apparently only sporadically found in the Waterberg. But there it was with just a hint of white flecking on the forehead and, of course, the blue-grey mask stopping at the throat rather than on the breast as in Sentinel Rock Thrush.

I was relieved to only come across our first Elephant once we had returned to the plains, with their open tree savanna and rich grassland around the wetlands, along with patches of thicker woodland. I have had the misfortune of having to reverse down the steep narrow pass at pace while being chased by one of those behemoths, which is far from a peaceful experience.

Heading back to our rustic but very comfortable thatched chalet at Griffons Bush Camp, one heads back along the base of the very mountains that not so long ago we were summiting.

The thornbush shrubland and deciduous forest, which is rather dry in May, starts to give way to more moist savanna in the shade of the cliffs. Passing through areas with more substantial understorey, I was delighted to see the secretive Coqui Francolin, South Africa’s smallest francolin.

Back at Griffons, we were given a warm welcome by Foxy the tame Meerkat, who doesn’t mind a scratch but does have quite a nip on him!

The broadleaved woodland around Griffons is a good place for bird parties foraging through the canopy and lower down, and seeing White Helmetshrike and Greyheaded Bush Shrike clicking and working their way up from the ground to the crowns of the trees, was a highlight, as was the presence of a Striped Kingfisher.

Sightings List

Chinspot Batis
Southern Black Tit
Cape Vulture
Forktailed Drongo
Blackbacked Puffback
Southern Boubou
Cardinal Woodpecker
Great Sparrow
Crested Barbet
Pied Babbler
Blue Waxbill
Black Flycatcher
Southern Masked Weaver
Blue Wildebeest
Plains Zebra
Yellowbilled Hornbill
Goldenbreasted Bunting
Arrowmarked Babbler
Blackeyed Bulbul
Grey Lourie
Rock Martin
Chacma Baboon
Cinnamonbreasted Rock Bunting
Buffstreaked Chat

Buffstreaked Chat
Cape Bunting
Cape Rock Thrush
Mocking Chat
Streakyheaded Canary
Striped Pipit
Red Hartebeest
Familiar Chat
Yellowfronted Canary
Short-Toed Rock Thrush
Rattling Cisticola
Striped Kingfisher
Helmeted Guineafowl
White Helmetshrike
African Hoopoe
Coqui Francolin
Greater Kudu
Speckled Mousebird
Yellowthroated Sparrow
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
Cape White-Eye
Redbilled Woodhoopoe
Glossy Starling

Schwartzel & Coetzee lead after daunting day at Millvale 0

Posted on February 05, 2016 by Ken


Millvale Private Retreat is a little-known championship course hidden away in the fertile bushveld between the Magaliesburg and Pilanesberg ranges and there is very limited access for golfers, which is maybe not such a bad thing considering how darn difficult it was to play on the opening day of the Chase to the Investec Cup final on Thursday.

With slick greens, numerous bunkers and a gusting, awkward wind, Millvale put the top 30 golfers on the Sunshine Tour to the test and it was no surprise the two who came out tops were class performers in Charl Schwartzel and George Coetzee.

They both shot four-under-par 68s and were three shots ahead of Justin Harding and Shaun Norris, the only other golfers to break par.

Schwartzel is trying to groove his swing ahead of the Masters, which starts at Augusta on April 9, and he seems to be making rapid progress in that regard, as well as cracking the code for how to succeed at Millvale.

“For a while now I’ve been working out my swing and it’s getting better and better. It’s a matter of trusting it out on the course, because it doesn’t matter on the range. So today was a good round in hard conditions, it was challenging and anything under par was good,” Schwartzel said.

In terms of Masters preparation, the greens were also to Schwartzel’s liking, although he said Augusta would ask even more of his putter.

“The greens definitely had speed and they’re up with the best I’ve seen here. You don’t often get greens at this speed in South Africa and I was very pleased to see that. We’re not used to having that in South Africa and when I played Lost City on Tuesday, the greens there were very slow, so I hope they speed them up for our two rounds there on Saturday and Sunday.

“But today was more than good enough practice for Augusta, although the greens there have even more slope and the ball just doesn’t stop,” Schwartzel said.

While Schwartzel was fairly consistent with six birdies and just two dropped shots, Coetzee had a round which he described as “all over the show” – two bogeys, an eagle, six birdies and a double-bogey were all crammed into his wild round in the Limpopo River watershed.

“I don’t know how I shot four-under because my game was all over the show. This is not the easiest course to play in the wind and the speed of the greens was very fast and the placement of the pins meant you had to really plot your way around the course, it was hard work,” Coetzee said.

A run of eagle and four successive birdies from the par-five seventh hole was key to Coetzee’s success and, being sponsored by Investec, the owners of Millvale, he admitted some local knowledge really helped.

“The eagle on seven was a bit of local knowledge because I know there is a small gap on the left and you’re able to take it on with driver. For my second I hit a seven-iron to three feet,” Coetzee said.

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