Sunday 30 December 1984

BOTSWANA December 1984: Selebi-Pikwe

My dad retired early from Southern Water in 1983 and took up a two year contract running the water department in Selebi-Pikwe, a nickel mining town in north-east Botswana.  Mum went too, leaving me at home to look after their house.  They joked (I hope!) that as they could not get me to leave home they felt forced to do so themselves.  A little unfair I thought as I had been away for four years while at University in Cardiff.  My younger sister Ruth, who was living in Luton, and I went out to visit them over Christmas 1984.  This blog recounts that visit and is based on my unreliable memories, rather scant notebook entries and degraded digitised slides. 

Ruth and I flew overnight from Heathrow to Harare with British Airways.  We arrived in the morning of 20 December and in an hour’s stop-over around the airport I saw a few common species including my first Go-away-birds and a male Red Bishop.  We continued on to Bulawayo where mum met us, having driven up from Selebi-Pikwe that morning.  The road was good, with little traffic and we stopped briefly several times on the 100km section to the border to see birds in the roadside scrub.  Levaillant’s Barbet, Rufous-chested Swallow, Boulder Chat, Piping Cisticola, Southern Black Tit, Long-tailed Shrike and excellent Shaft-tailed Whydahs were all new while it was nice to renew my acquaintance with Grey-hooded Kingfisher, Lilac-breasted Roller, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, White-winged Widowbird and Golden-breasted Bunting that I had seen before in Kenya.  We crossed into Botswana, after which mum was noticeably more relaxed - she had been stopped on the way north that morning and the boot searched.  We were waved through going back and continued south, stopping briefly in the dry scrubby woodland before detouring to Shashe Reservoir, just off the main road south of Francistown.  Red-faced Mousebird, Long-billed Crombec, Mariqua Flycatcher, a stunning Crimson-breasted Shrike, Scaly-feathered Finch and Cordon-bleu were further new birds while Didrik Cuckoo, Rufous-crowned Roller, Brubru, Green-winged Pytilia and Cinnamon-breasted Rock Bunting were the best of the rest.  We rejoined the main road and turned off east to Selebi-Pikwe, finishing the journey in the dark and seeing a Gabon Nightjar on the road.  It was good to see mum and dad again.

21 December was a day catching up with mum and dad and wandering out into a scrubby area with a few kopjes (rocky outcrops) that their house backed onto on the edge of Selebi-Pikwe.  Brown Parrot, Sabota Lark, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, White-bellied Sunbird and Cape Glossy Starling were new birds for me and I also saw Jacobin Cuckoo, a superb Pearl-spotted Owlet, Little Bee-eater, Grey Hornbill, Levaillant’s Barbet, Familiar Chat, 6 migrant Spotted Flycatchers and 2 male Paradise Whydahs.  

Levaillant's Barbet

looking towards the mine from the edge of Selebi-Pikwe

scrub behind Selebi-Pikwe


Pearl-spotted Owlet
We visited the Motloutsie River and the local sewage pools on 22 December and, with an early wander into the scrub beyond the house, I saw over 100 species.  African Black Duck, Natal Francolin, an excellent White-throated Robin-Chat, much wanted Groundscraper Thrush, Tit-Warbler, a huge Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, Meve’s Long-tailed Starling and Jameson’s Firefinch were new for me.  Other highlights were Woodland Kingfisher, Broad-billed Roller, Green Wood-Hoopoe, Bearded Woodpecker, White-winged and Kalahari Scrub-Robins, Golden-breasted and Cinnamon-chested Buntings and an elephant shrew. 

male Red Bishop

Grey Heron

Violet-backed Starling

Natal Francolin and Rock Hyrax

Didrik Cuckoo

Groundscraper Thrush, its short tail added to its allure

Golden-breasted Bunting

all buntings are good and this was no exception

Green-winged Pytilia or Melba Finch
I saw less variety around Selebi-Pikwe and the mine pools on 23 December but still managed to see three new birds -  Pied Barbet, Black-chested Prinia and Red-headed Finch as well as Black-chested Snake-Eagle, Maccoa Duck, Black Crake, African and Red-breasted Cuckoos, Ground Hornbill, White-winged and Kalahari Scrub-Robins, Groundscraper Thrush, Scaly-feathered Finch and Golden-breasted and Cinnamon-chested Buntings.  

African Black Duck - following two on the sewage pools the previous day we saw one on the mine pools

White-faced Whistling Duck
We returned to the Motloutsie River on 24 December although one of the day’s highlights was a Kurrichane Thrush in the garden.  My other new birds were Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Burnt-necked Eremomela and Southern White-crowned Shrike.  I also saw Lesser Flamingo, Southern Pochard, Wahlberg’s Eagle, several waders, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Brown-headed Bush-Shrike and a male Golden Oriole as well as the more usual Scrub-Robins, White-throated Robin-Chat (a firm favourite), Groundscraper Thrush and Scaly-feathered Finches made this my most enjoyable day to date.  

Blacksmith Plover

Black-winged Stilt

Greater Flamingo, one of three that dropped into the sewage pools

... two ...

all three and a selection of waders.  Wood Sandpiper and Little Stint were the commonest with about 100 of each present

Motloutsie River in its usual dry state

Red-billed Oxpecker

a full-sized Chin-spot Batis chick in the nest

being visited by dad

Long-tailed Glossy Starling

sunset at Selebi-Pikwe
Christmas Day was a family affair but I managed to see 80 species walking around the kopjes behind the house and borrowing mum’s car to visit the mine pools.  Buffy Pipit, Barred Cameroptera, 7 brilliant Violet-eared Grenadiers and a Lark-like Bunting were all new with Brown Harrier-Eagle, 8 Temminck’s Coursers (one a juvenile), Collared Pratincole, 8 Southern Carmine Bee-eaters (4 adults & 4 juveniles), Chestnut-backed Finch-Lark, Groundscraper Thrush, Lesser Grey Shrike and Cut-throat also notable.  It was probably my best day for photography too with the car acting as a hide allowing close approach to various birds sat on roadside fence posts.

Southern Carmine Bee-eater

with juvenile

Golden-breasted Bunting

Buffy Pipit

Violet-cheeked Grenadier

a superb Christmas present!

Rufous-naped Lark

Shaft-tailed Whydah

Chestnut-backed Finch-Lark

On 26 December we returned to the sewage pools and Motlousie River also visiting a nearby quarry.  I saw over 100 species including Levaillant’s Cuckoo and Bennett’s Woodpecker which were both new.  I also saw Arrow-marked Babbler and amongst the regular favourites White-winged Scrub-Robin, White-throated Robin-Chat, Grey-headed Bush-Shrike and Scaly-feathered Finch.  

Scaly-feathered Finch

a return to the Chin-spot Batis nest where mum was in attendance

the only snake I saw on the trip and, more surprisingly, the first my dad had seen in 18 months in Botswana
Dad found some pretext to visit Shashe Reservoir near Francistown on 27 December.  It was nice to visit a different area  change of scenery after almost a week in Selibe-Pikwe.  Afrcian Crake, Arnot’s Chat (a pair at km 70), Pied Babbler and Acacia Grey Tit were new while other highlights were a selection of herons including Little Bittern, Black Stork, Tawny Eagle, displaying Buff-crested Bustard, 10 Southern Carmine and 6 European Bee-eaters and Long-billed Crombec.  

Darter as Shashe Reservoir

Purple Heron

Pied Crows

Pink-backed Pelican
On 28 December mum took us to Monolinare, a dried up river with large overhanging tress where Verreaux’s Eagle Owls roosted.  We found one after much searching.  Other highlights on an otherwise low-key day were Black Cuckoo (keeping up my run of at least one new bird per day), Southern Carmine Bee-eater, White-throated Robin-Chat and Groundscraper Thrush.  

Verreaux's Eagle Owl, with pink eyelids just about visible

Paradise Whydah
We revisited the mine pools on 29 December where Dusky Lark was my new bird of the day and other highlights were 85 Abdim’s Storks, 2 juvenile Kittlitz’s Plovers, Black Cuckoo-Shrike, Kurrichane and 3 Groundscraper Thrushes and Scaly-feathered Finch. 

Vitelline Masked Weaver in the garden

Namaqua Dove nearby
30 December was our last full day in Selebi-Pikwe and I revisited the sewage pools and Motolutse River.  Swainson’s Francolin and Senegal Coucal were new birds, the last an adult with a juvenile.  I also saw Natal Francolin, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Brown-headed Kingfisher, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Groundscraper Thrush (still enjoying seeing these), Arrow-marked Babbler and Scaly-feathered Finch.

Namaqua Dove coming to drink

Emerald-spotted Wood-Dove

Ring-necked Dove