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No it's not a typo! The tale of ten Tree Pipits near Rustenburg !
Monday morning 22 February, fresh from an LBJ weekend, I opened an e-mail from Lisl van Deventer and read about Tree Pipits at Kgaswane NR just outside Rustenburg. Now Tree Pipit is regular in Zimbabwe and particularly along the Eastern Highlands, where I have encountered it over the border in Mozambique. Records from South Africa are however few and far between, but since Lisl was on our last Moz/Zim trip when we saw several Tree Pipits around Harare, I did not think she would make a typo like this that easily! No indeed, Lisl reported that a Tree Pipit had been found by Stephan Terblanch at Kgaswane over the weekend and that they had seen three.
Less than two hours later, I was at Kgaswane and met up with Stuart Groom. In just a few minutes after he arrived we had located two birds in the top of an acacia tree. These then flew down into the grass and were joined by one more bird. We then tried to stalk these three, and ended up flushing several more. At one point there were six in one tree and one in another, but the total may well have been ten since most of those flushed as we walked about were not relocated. The Tree Pipit is a palearctic migrant and occurs over much of Western and Northern Europe. It is a migrant to Africa, and in Southern Africa is widespread on the Mashonaland Plateaux. It occurs regularly in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe and in adjacent Mozambique, and is more infrequently recorded in Caprivi and Northern Botswana.
Previous records for South Africa are irregular and scattered, and include Pilanesburg, Rustenburg NR, the Waterberg and Soutpansberg area, as well as near Nylslvei. These have been considered as vagrant records. The occurence of a flock of at least 10 species in one area is unprecedented and suggests that the very dry conditions further north (most of the Mashonaland Plateaux, has been suffering drought conditions this year), have pushed the birds further south than is usual.
The bird are to be found (until they leave and head back north) between the parking at Reception and the ablution block in the picnic area (day visitors) This is between point 6 and 5 on the small map on p 258 of the Chamberlain Guide to Birding Gauteng. The Chamberlain Guide actually mentions the possible presence of Tree Pipits at Kgaswane!
Listen too for the characteristic call-note which sounds like a high pitched "zwee" - higher in pitch than that of Bushveld Pipit.
For photos of the Tree Pipits taken on 22 February 2010 click here
For more photos by Phil Penlington of the Kgaswane Tree Pipits (23 Feb) click here