Today we headed for Pirang. Everyone will tell you this is a failed shrimp farm. What they don't say is it is a huge area and without cover or shade. Still, good birds! Before we had even arrived we had already seen Western Marsh-harrier, Black Kites, our first Long-crested Eagle (Solomon again – no-one else would have seen the bird sitting in the palm tree so well hidden), Red-chested Swallows, Violet Turaco, Pied Hornbill and Village Indigobird.
So, to Pirang. Lots of large artificial pools and the occasional natural-looking stream. Within 100 metres of the landrovers we had picked up Striated Herons feeding at a stream edge, Wire-tailed Swallows hawking over the water, a Grey Kestrel hunting over the grasslands, a rather orange-looking Northern Red Bishop singing from a grass-surrounded bush and a lone Malachite Kingfisher watching the fish from its protruding vantage point of a stick.
The walk continued: a close Long-tailed Cormorant perched in a small tree showed very well and four Spoonbills flying over were identified as European. A fine Black-shouldered Kite sat high in a tree watching the strange site of mad Europeans and Canadians walking around its home. Quailfinches put in their usual appearences – that is, a brief flight view as they frantically tried to avoid us. A very skittish species which we never did manage to see on the ground.
Black Crowned Crane
Big wading birds were abundant: Great and Intermediate Egrets, Hamerkop, Purple and Grey Herons plus a pair of Woolly-necked Storks and a group of seven Yellow-billed Storks feeding on a dry pan, both of which were new for the trip. Of course, Pirang is famous for one main bird, the bird most people come here to see, Black Crowned Crane, and as we turned right and walked along another ridge two were spotted flying in the distance. These two kindly flew quite closely past us as we admired two fine examples of this beautiful but sadly declining species.
A juvenile African Harrier-hawk gave us pause for a few seconds as we thought it looked very eagle like – this was not the only time the juvenile of this species was to cause confusion! We were then distracted by numerous Crested Larks, each of which had to be checked in case we came across a Plain-backed Pipit (which we didn't!). However, all eyes were soon on the path a few metres ahead when a pair of Chestnut-backed Sparrow-larks landed there and proceeded to feed, unconcerned by the mass of people staring at them.
The next pool contained large areas of grassy reeds and was a favoured haunt of various hirundines. We had close views of Barn, Mosque and Rufous-chested Swallows, the latter two looking much larger than the species we were used to seeing in Europe.
We had now reached pools with exposed sand and mud favoured by waders and terns. Wintering Eurasian species were well represented with Little and Temminck's Stints, Curlew Sandpiper, Pied Avocet, Common Sandpiper, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Kentish Plover, Little Tern and a lone European House-martin. On the more exotic side we had Pink-backed Pelicans, 13 African Spoonbills, five Greater Flamingoes, 18 Slender-billed Gulls and numerous Caspian and Royal Terns. The ridges between pools held Senegal Thick-knees and Black Kites and we were treated to three Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters flying over passing food to each other.
As we drove out of the Pirang area a sudden stop was called for as a Dark-chanting Goshawk flew overhead. This was a fortunate stop because someone spotted three Yellow-billed Oxpeckers feeding on the backs of nearby cows.