Birding on the Day the World Ends!

Experienced 12 December 2012

This was a lone birding excursion to Tswaing Meteorite Impact Crater, north west of Tshwane, South Africa.

I can’t really remember why I chose this particular site, on this particular day, but I was off work, I had the time, and was just getting into birding seriously at the time. It was also listed as one of the sites in Etienne Marais and Faansie Peacock’s excellent Birding Gauteng book.

The decision might have been because I was familiar with the site, and knew I could get there in my very-low-clearance, Opel Corsa, without having to worry about dirt roads. I had been to Tswaing on a geology excursion with a group of Quakers during my University days back in the early summer of 2001 (another story, for another time).

I arrived at Tswaing at about 6:00am only to find that it only opened at 7:30am!
Dam! That’s like the worst thing that can happen to a birder. Not having access to the spot you want to bird, and knowing that you might miss the very productive early morning birding experience.

So to amuse myself while I waited in the completely abandoned, and run down, visitors carpark, I just walked around the fenced area, listing species, and photographing anything of interest. I do remember a family of beautiful Blue Waxbills. One of my favorite little birds. Always reminds me of the dry thornveld days in Botswana.

I eventually got going and hiked into the crater. It was hot. Peak summer, North-West Province bushveld HOT!

Rising onto the crater rim I could look out across the crater and I managed to get the photo in the featured image above.

The photo seems to merge a number of themes for me:
Being an Impact Crater it has plenty of interesting geology, and as a student of geology this has significance for me. Three of my lecturers, who I know well, wrote up the guide to the crater…I see its even listed on Amazon!: Tswaing Meteorite Crater: An introduction to the natural and cultural history of the Tswaing Region including a description of the hiking trail (Popular geoscience series) Paperback – 1999 by J. Reimold, W. U; Brandt, D; De Jong, R. & Hancox (Authors)

I also thought that it was a little ironic that I was birding on 12th December 2012, the day that the Mayans had predicted would be the end of the world (apparantly!). You can read up what National Geographic says about it here, or just go to Wikipedia if you like…

Sometime during the Pleistocene, about 220,000 ± 52,000 years ago, this would indeed have been the end of the world for much life at the site, and the area around it. Hard to imagine that on the day. There I was, all alone, on the day the world was supposed to end, a wonderful summers day, looking for birds, and other wildlife, in a beautiful little spot in South Africa.

Other wildlife spotted did include an unidentifiable, large, long, dull-green tail, that I suspect was a large snake and not a Monitor Lizard. It gave me a bit of a start as I headed down the trail into the crater, to tick my first saline-water-loving Cape Teal, and the exquisite White-throated Robin-Chat. I took some really terrible, over-exposed photographs of these lifers…

The Red-chested Cuckoos, Yellow-billed Hornbills, and Woodland Kingfishers, were also all out in force on that day.

P.S. This was also the last December birding Before Children (B.C.)!

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