Melodius Lark (Mirafra Cheniana)
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[Faansie Peacock's article: Notes on the Melodius Lark]
This Southern African endemic has a fragmented range in the highveld interior. It tends to be localised and erratic and is a bird missing from many a lifelist. When breeding it is one of the the most fascinating LBJ's to watch, due to its spectacular song, performed in aerial display. At this time it sings for long periods from the air and lets forth a veritable flood of mimicry.
In December '97 a small population was discovered just South-east of Pretoria, and many Birders have since added this bird to their lifelists.
Generally it is most common in Themeda (Rooigras) grasslands in the Free State and the Willem Pretorius Game Reserve is a good spot to see it.
Directions for Pretoria Locality
The larks are present in a large piece of open veld behind (East) of the Pretoria East Hospital on Garsfontein Drive. The land is mostly unfenced and used by joggers, walkers and a Zionist Church Group.
From Pretoria: Get into Garsfontein Drive. Go past the Moreleta Shopping Centre (on your right)and you will see the new Pretoria East Hospital on the hill. If you are adventurous or have a bakkie you can take the track immediately after the hospital fence. This curves around and runs parallel to a stream (on your left - which incidently is good for Grassbird) - about 500 metres from the hospital. You will see a grove of bluegum trees on your right. This grove is a good landmark from where you can walk straight toward the highest point on the hill.
From Moreleta Park itself, take the turnoff into Witdoring from Rubenstein (at the Smaller Moreleta Shops). Follow Witdoring till you reach a T Junction and turn left into De Villebois Mareuil Drive. Follow this to the bottom of the hill, where the road ends. From here you have to walk across the stream straight ahead of you (Careful of the ditches). The best bet is to head straight across the veld up towards the top of the hill. About 100m from the track towards the top of the hill nears some small bushes, there are some largish bare batches, which is a good place to actually see the birds. Several more birds have been recorded displaying to the east of this spot.
From out of Pretoria:
Get onto the N1 which passes Pretoria on the East. About 2km north of the interchange with the R21 (Airport Road) take the Rigel Avenue/Delmas turnoff. Go north (towards Delmas). At the interchange with the M10 (Hans Strydom Avenue) turn left and follow Hans Strydom through one more major intersection, before reaching Garsfontein Drive, continues as with "from Pretoria" directions above.
Other Birds to be seen
The areas is also good for Cisticola's (Cloud, Desert and Fantailed), Grassveld Pipit, Orange Throated Longclaw, Quail Finch and Rufous-naped Lark. In December 97, a number of people also saw Cuckoo Finch here. The stream and vlei bordering the Moreleta Park suburb has Red Bishop, Redcollared and White Winged Widow, Grassbird (towards the dam at the bottom) and LeVaillant's Cisticola. The insect rich grasslands also attracts many swifts (Little, Palm and White-rumped) and Swallows (European, Whitethroated and Larger Striped)
Faansie Peacock's article: Notes on the Melodius Lark