Previously known among birders for its wetlands, Memel has actually got a wide variety of habitats, meaning it is the ideal spot for finding a number of rare, and endangered birds. These are some of our favourites.
For an in-depth look at what birding is like in Memel, head to: The high altitude birding secrets of Memel
One of South Africa’s most threatened endemic grassland bird species is the Endangered Rudd’s Lark (Drakensberglewerik). It is highly localised in the area’s extensive, upland, plateau grassland. Males sing while displaying in circling flight for a while above grassland territories, before dropping into the grass.
The fluttery, almost hovering flight of a male Yellow-breasted Pipit (Geelborskoester) as it displays, calling above its territory, is one of the characteristic summer sights of Memel’s moist upland grasslands. Its mottled upperparts allow for excellent camouflage in the grass.
The diminutive Orange-breasted Waxbill (Rooiassie) is usually seen in rank grassland and on the edges of reed beds in wetland areas. Flocks of them feed on grass seeds on the ground, and fly up into the safety of nearby vegetation with twittering calls when disturbed.
Unique for its largely terrestrial habits, and diet of ants (their larvae, pupae and eggs ingested with a long, sticky tongue), the Ground Woodpecker (Grondspeg) is our largest woodpecker. Family groups occur on rock-strewn, grassy slopes, and they nest in holes excavated in road cuttings, river banks and erosion gullies.
Endemic to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, the striking Buff-streaked Chat (Bergklipwagter) is encountered singly, in pairs, or in small groups often perched conspicuously on large rocks on grassy hillsides.
Grey Crowned Crane
The bugling ‘mahem, mahem‘ calls of the regal Grey Crowned Crane (Mahem) returning to roost at dusk is very much a feature of this area. As with most crane species, courting pairs dance and prance around one another with outstretched wings in animated displays.
Large flocks of up to 300 of South Africa’s national bird, the Blue Crane (Bloukraanvoël), can be seen in the winter months, while pairs and small groups are regularly encountered in grassland and farmland at other times of the year.
An attractive South African endemic of mistbelt and montane forests, the Bush Blackcap (Rooibektiptol) is more often heard than seen in its forest canopy habitat. This species is high on the wishlist of many birders.
Another bird of the upland grasslands, the Globally Threatened Denham’s Bustard (Veldpou) is one of the world’s heaviest birds, and it is quite something to see them flying with slow, graceful wing beats. The resonating, single, low-frequency, note given by a displaying male can be heard some distance away.
Southern Bald Ibis
The Southern Bald Ibis (Kalkoenibis), another Endangered endemic of escarpment grasslands, is regularly encountered in Memel feeding in small groups. It breeds primarily on sandstone cliffs and in overhangs along the escarpment, often in the vicinity of waterfalls.