S O U T H A F R I C A
September 22 - October 18, 2008
David M. Gascoigne and Miriam Bauman
With Rockjumper Birding Tours
September 22 - October 18, 2008
September 22, 2008
We left Pearson International Airport at 17:05h, approximately fifteen minutes late, bound for Paris, France. Our carrier was Air France. Dinner was served shortly after take off and the flight proceeded smoothly. We managed to get a little sleep.
September 23, 2008
We touched down at Charles de Gaulle Airport at 05:35h local time and quickly found our way to the terminal whence we would depart for Johannesburg. The second leg of our journey was still with Air France and our bags had been checked through from Toronto to Johannesburg, so we didn’t have the hassle of claiming our luggage and rechecking it again. We settled in for a four hour wait. Boarding took place on time, but departure was delayed while the aeroplane was fuelled.
Finally we took off at 11:10h and began our scheduled ten and a half hour trip to South Africa. We touched down in Johannesburg at 20:55h, cleared Customs and Immigration, retrieved our baggage and headed quickly across the terminal so as not to miss the 22:10h shuttle to the Birchwood Hotel where a reservation had been made for us by Rockjumper Tours. There was no shortage of people offering, (or more correctly demanding) to help us with our bags. It was basically impossible to detach oneself from these hustlers and they all had no hesitation in demanding a tip. After we were deposited at the pick up point for the Birchwood shuttle by one hanger-on, another fellow zoomed right over to us and grabbed our suitcases and loaded them into the shuttle bus and promptly and vociferously insisted on a tip. Johannesburg Airport was the only place in South Africa we encountered this kind of shysterism.
The trip to the hotel did not take long and our Rockjumper Guide, Jan Pienaar, had left a message for us to meet him for breakfast at 07:00h the next morning. We were whisked off to our room in a golf cart, only to find that the room had not been cleaned after the previous occupants. So it was back to the front desk to be reassigned another room. We made a cup of tea to try to relax somewhat, had a shower, and went to bed a little after 23:00h.
September 24, 2008, Johannesburg to Polokwane
I was dressed and ready by about 06:30h so I went for a walk in the grounds of the Birchwood Hotel, and got my introduction to South African birding. Lifers before even meeting the guide were Cape Sparrow, Sacred Ibis, Black-capped Bulbul, Grey-headed Gull and Laughing Dove.
We went into breakfast at 07:00h and met our guide, Jan Pienaar, and the other two couples on the tour, Marcia and Bob, and Nell and Gary.
Luggage was loaded into the vehicle and we were on the road by 08:10h. The first part of our journey was through Gauteng Province, and we had our first experience of one of the ubiquitous shanty towns that we saw throughout South Africa, especially on the outskirts of major cities. How desperate and squalid are these settlements. People live in "houses" that I think would be condemned for domestic animals in North America. Hope and dignity must be sparse commodities in such circumstances.
Soon we were travelling through flat countryside, with many fields not yet planted with maize. We had our first looks at the myriad termite mounds that we would see throughout the country. We stopped to admire a flock of Long-tailed Widowbirds and saw our first Blesbok off in the distance.
We turned onto a gravel road and started to bird in earnest. A Cape Longclaw gave us stunning looks and we added Black-headed Heron, Helmeted Guineafowl, African Spoonbill, Black-chested Prinia and others. A Hammerkop, one of my three most wanted species, gave us a meagre glimpse as it quickly flew by at some distance. We also saw a Yellow Mongoose, about ten Burchell’s Zebra, a Steenbok and fifteen or so Impala.
This was, for Miriam and me, a very exciting start to our first visit to South Africa.
At 11:10h we crossed over into Limpopo Province.
All species in Gauteng September 24
Common Ostrich, Helmeted Guineafowl, Sacred Ibis, African Spoonbill, Black-headed Heron, Purple Heron, Little Egret, Hamerkop, Northern Black Korhaan (H), Crowned Lapwing, Grey-headed Gull, Common Pigeon, Laughing Dove, African Palm Swift, Common Fiscal, White-throated Swallow, Rufous-naped Lark, Red-capped Lark, Black-chested Prinia, Dark-capped Bulbul, African Stonechat, Capped Wheatear, House Sparrow, Cape Sparrow, Southern Masked Weaver, Southern Red Bishop, Long-tailed Widowbird, African Pipit.
Our first stop in Limpopo, while travelling through acacia savannah primarily, was adjacent to a small wetland so we added waterfowl and marsh inhabitants in addition to other species not previously seen. These included Little Swift, Marico Flycatcher, Crowned Lapwing, White-faced Whistling Duck, Yellow-billed Duck, Reed Cormorant, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Spur-winged Goose and many others. One highlight was a sighting of two Northern Black Korhaans - much more satisfying than the one we only heard earlier in the day. Certainly the most stunning bird was a Crimson-breasted Shrike. The colour was absolutely amazing and left us all quite breathless!
We stopped in Bela-Bela (which means "Warm Baths") for lunch at a pizza shop, where, to Jan’s great surprise and joy, he ran into a ranger with whom he had previously worked at a nearby game lodge, prior to his accession to the starry heights of Rockjumper birding guide.
At 14:00h we were back on the road, but a Lilac-breasted Roller on a telephone pole brought us to a quick stop. What a bird! Words fail to describe this incredible creature. None of the pictures in any of the field guides do justice to the experience of seeing one of these gems for the first time. We added Yellow-billed Hornbill, with a Cape Starling nearby. A Grey Go-away-bird was another indelibly African bird and Jan was thrilled to find a Natal Spurfowl, well outside the areas he normally locates this species. It was both interesting and exciting to see a Fork-tailed Drongo capture, beat senseless and eat a Solifuge. For those who are unaware of this arthropod, as were all of us except Jan, it is a relative of spiders and scorpions, but distinct from them both. It was a fearsome looking meal!
As we neared Polokwane we moved into mountainous terrain with scrubby growth on the hillsides.
Mammals added were Vervet Monkey and Kudu.
What a great first day of our Southern African odyssey!
All species in Limpopo September 24
Natal Spurfowl, White-faced Whistling Duck, Spur-winged Goose, Egyptian Goose, Yellow-billed Duck, Red-billed Teal, Little Grebe, Black Stork, Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Glossy Ibis, African Spoonbill, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Black-headed Heron, Reed Cormorant, African Darter, Black-shouldered Kite, Northern Black Korhaan, Blacksmith Lapwing, Crowned Lapwing, Ring-necked Dove, Laughing Dove, Namaqua Dove, Grey Go-away-bird, African Palm Swift, Little Swift, Lilac-breasted Roller, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Magpie Shrike, Common Fiscal, Fork-tailed Drongo, Pied Crow, White-throated Swallow, Rock Martin, Greater Striped Swallow, Rufous-naped Lark, Rattling Cisticola, Dark-capped Bulbul, Long-billed Crombec, Common Myna, White-throated Robin-Chat, Marico Flycatcher, Marico Sunbird, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Southern Masked Weaver, Southern Red Bishop, Red-headed Finch, Cape Wagtail, Black-throated Canary.
Accommodation: Cycad Guest House, Rating: Three Stars. Rooms were adequate and clean. There were no dining facilities at all.
Dinner was taken in town at a Muggs and Beans restaurant. Miriam and I experienced our first bobotie and found it very enjoyable indeed.
I even got the recipe from the chef so that we can make it ourselves at home. It was a new dish for us at the time, but we would subsequently see it on the menu all over South Africa.
September 25, 2008, Polokwane to Magoebaskloof.
We were up at 05:20h and made ourselves a cup of tea in the room. We met the others at 06:00h to head off to find our target bird - Short-clawed Lark, before breakfast. The sun was low over the horizon and it was cool. We drove some distance and spilled out of the van into a very interesting hilly terrain strewn with boulders. It was quite cold and windy.
Marcia, a geologist, explained the origin of some of the rocks, and it was fascinating to hear of the origins of boulders she described as volcanic bombs. Her knowledge of geology added an extra degree of interest at several locations throughout our trip, and her input was much appreciated.
Jan played the call of Short-clawed Lark, but we were unable to locate it.
We did, however, experience one of the great highlights of the trip. I located a Secretary Bird strutting across the grassland. This was one of my top three wish list birds and we found it on the second day. It was in view for several minutes and everyone was awash with that good feeling that only birding can bring. We saw it stomp a mouse and promptly swallow it. No doubt it ruined the mouse’s day! Before leaving we saw two other Secretary Birds. Even though one reads before the trip of the dimensions of this species, one is still struck by the sheer size of the bird when first seeing it, and its grandness as it searches for food across the grassland.
Other highlights on our pre-breakfast excursion were about twenty-five Wattled Starlings, four Swainson’s Spurfowl, six Paradise Whydahs and two Southern Bald Ibis. Several Cut-throat Finches clearly revealed how they get their name.
We returned for breakfast to a private club across the street from the Cycad House. It was a delightful place, set in wonderful grounds, and representing a cameo into South Africa’s past. It was a venerable Afrikaaner establishment filled with photographs of past presidents of the club and other dignitaries. We enjoyed it very much - and the meal was first class too!
Back across the street to collect our luggage! While I was inside the room getting the final suitcase, Miriam (and everyone else) saw a Groundscraper Thrush. I missed it and we were never able to locate another during the entire trip.
We loaded up the van to go to the Polokwane Game Reserve. This turned out to be a fabulous place to bird, especially around the water hole where there were so many birds it was hard to know where to look first. I am usually a prodigious note taker but I abandoned any pretense of doing so in order to simply observe and bask in the pleasure of so many new and beautiful species. These included, among others, Chinspot Batis , Red-breasted Swallow, Grey-headed Sparrow, Green-winged Pytilia, Common Scimitarbill, African Hawk-Eagle, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Red-headed Finch, Jameson’s Firefinch, Blue Waxbill, Violet-eared Waxbill, Black-cheeked Waxbill and Bronze Mannikin. Birds were coming and going the whole time.
We were also treated to a fantastic variety of mammals. White Rhinoceroses crossed the road in front of us, a family of Warthogs visited the waterhole; we saw Burchell’s Zebra, Tsessebe, Blue Wildebeest and Impala.
It was a magical place and even as we left we added Kurrichane Thrush and witnessed a pair of African Hoopoes ferrying food to their young.
We stopped for a lovely lunch at a place called Picasso’s, although I confess that I am not sure exactly where it is located! We were able to do a little birding in the grounds there.
It was a long way to Magoebaskloof and we had to move along. Many road stoppages were encountered along the way, mainly due to work associated with preparations for South Africa to host the next World Cup of Soccer. We did some birding along the way on logging roads and a significant highlight was a Southern Double-collared Sunbird feeding in a tree fuschia. The closer we got to Kurisa Moya Lodge, our destination that night, the worse the roads became. It was a bumpy ride, especially for Nell and Gary, who had the misfortune of having the back seat that day. They were basically seated right over the back axle and it was a bone-jarring ride indeed.
Poor Jan was exhausted as he struggled with the difficult conditions and we didn’t arrive at the lodge until 18:45h and dinner was served at 19:00h, a mere fifteen minutes later. It was a delicious meal and we tasted ostrich for the first time. We ate by candlelight because only parts of the house are supplied with electricity from a generator.
We were back in our room by 20:20h.
All species in Limpopo September 25
Common Ostrich, Helmeted Guineafowl, Swainson’s Spurfowl, Wooly-necked Stork, Southern Bald Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Cattle Egret, Secretary Bird, Black-shouldered Kite, Cape Vulture, African Goshawk, African Hawk-Eagle, Crowned Lapwing, Wood Sandpiper, Common Pigeon, Red-eyed Dove, Ring-necked Dove, Laughing Dove, Knysna Turaco, Grey Go-away-bird, African Palm Swift, Little Swift, Speckled Mousebird, Red-faced Mousebird, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, African Hoopoe, Common Scimitarbill, Crested Barbet, Cape Batis, Chinspot Batis, Black-fronted Bushshrike, Olive Bushshrike (H), Orange-breasted Bushshrike (H), Black-backed Puffback, Southern Boubou (H), Crimson-breasted Shrike, Grey Cuckooshrike, Common Fiscal, Black-headed Oriole (H), Square-tailed Drongo, Fork-tailed Drongo, Pied Crow, White-throated Swallow, Red-breasted Swallow, Rattling Cisticola, Bar-throated Apalis, Dark-capped Bulbul, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, Arrow-marked Babbler, Cape White-eye, Common Myna, Wattled Starling, Cape Starling, Groundscraper Thrush, Kurrichane Thrush, Chorister Robin-Chat, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Marico Flycatcher, Fiscal Flycatcher, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Marico Sunbird, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, House Sparrow, Great Sparrow, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Scaly-feathered Weaver, Southern Maked Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, Southern Red Bishop, White-winged Widowbird, Green-winged Pytilia, Red-headed Finch, Cut-throat Finch, African Firefinch, Jameson’s Firefinch, Blue Waxbill, Violet-eared Waxbill, Black-cheeked Waxbill, Bronze Mannikin, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Cape Wagtail, African Pipit, Cape Canary, Yellow-fronted Canary, Yellow Canary.
Accommodation: Kurisa Moya Lodge. Rating: Three and a half stars. This was a wonderful old farmhouse, with a huge veranda spanning the entire perimeter. The rooms were spacious and comfortable. Bob and Marcia even had a tree going right up through the roof in the middle of their bathroom. It was too bad that we arrived in the dark and left very early the next morning with a packed breakfast, so we never really had a chance to see it properly or enjoy it fully.
September 26, 2008, Magoebaskloof to Wakkerstroom.
We were unable to coax any hot water out of the system, so there was no shower this morning. We met on the veranda for coffee at 06:00h (and left over apple pie from the night before!). We were on the way by 06:25h, lurching down the very bumpy road. Miriam and I were in the back seat today, as we all followed a very strict rotation so that everyone got an equal turn in each position, and it was far from comfortable. Any birding done from that location was very difficult, since there was no window to open, and visibility was poor. In whatever fashion one craned and twisted one’s neck it was quite impossible to see birds at certain angles. And if you looked straight ahead you principally saw the backs of people’s heads and sometimes their headgear, especially as everyone quite naturally jostled for a clear view of the bird. The van was actually a little smaller than we all would have liked. Everyone had meticulously respected the recommended limit of one piece of luggage plus a carry on, but it was an exercise in cargo stowing proficiency to get everything into the van each morning. And then the back was jammed solid with no room whatsoever, and some suitcases were tethered on a seat by using the seat belt. Our carry-ons were around our feet, and when scopes, tripods and photographic equipment were added there was barely room to squirm in the seats. It was very clear already that any thought we might have had of buying anything other than the smallest souvenir would have to be abandoned. There was simply nowhere to put anything more.
As soon as we reached a better stretch of pavement we stopped and found a great variety of birds, some feeding in a flowering silver oak, a non native species well patronized by birds. The highlight was a magnificent Violet-backed Starling, truly a stunning bird. A flock of Cape White-eyes delighted everyone.
We returned to the areas where we had located Secretary Bird the previous day, and were rewarded with a sighting of Short-clawed Lark, rising up into the air and plummeting earthwards again. One immediately thought of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ "The Lark Ascending." In between its forays skyward, it perched atop a small rock. Both Jan and Marcia got it in their scopes and everyone was able to have a first class look.
Another brief stop produced Cape and Thick-billed Weavers and a splendid Jackal Buzzard.
Jan had arranged for a boxed breakfast to be sent along and we stopped at a site he knew to have African Bat Hawk nesting. He had the scope on the birds almost instantly and it was wonderful to see one bird on the nest with its partner perched nearby in the tree. We were also joined by an African Fish-Eagle. It was pure delight to eat breakfast in warm sunshine with this kind of bird life surrounding us. There was a flock of White-crested Helmetshrikes in a tree as we were about to leave.
We drove on, passing tea plantations, and moving into a mixture of broadleaf and acacia woodland. The nests of Red-headed Weavers were hanging from wires at the side of the road and we located one male hard at work building a nest.
Heading over the Drakensberg Mountains we made a scheduled stop to search for the highly desirable Taita Falcon. Despite assistance from the local expert we had no success in locating this diminutive species, and we had no choice but to move on without seeing it. I think we were all a little disappointed, but that is after all the nature of birding, and it certainly didn’t dampen our spirits or dull our anticipation of the next great adventure.
At 13:15h we left Limpopo and entered Mpumalanga Province.
All species in Limpopo September 26
Helmeted Guineafowl, Yellow-billed Duck, Little Grebe Black Stork, Hadada Ibis, Reed Cormorant, Rock Kestrel, Cape Vulture, African Bat Hawk, African Fish-Eagle, African Goshawk, Jackal Buzzard, Red-knobbed Coot, Red-eyed Dove, Ring-necked Dove, Laughing Dove, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Chinspot Batis, White-crested Helmetshrike, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Common Fiscal, Fork-tailed Drongo, Pied Crow, Greater Striped Swallow, Lesser Striped Swallow, Rufous-naped Lark, Short-clawed Lark, Rattling Cisticola, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Dark-capped Bulbul, Cape White-eye, Common Myna, Cape Starling, Violet-backed Starling, Red-winged Starling, Kurrichane Thrush, African Stonechat, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, White-bellied Sunbird, Thick-billed Weaver, African Pipit, Yellow-fronted Canary, Streaky-headed Seedeater, Cape Weaver, Southern Masked Weaver, Red-headed Weaver, Green-winged Pytilia, Common Waxbill, Yellow-fronted Canary.
Lunch at 13:330h was very pleasant. We were seated at an outside table by a river in Lydenburg, and the food was quite delicious. We were also able to buy some post cards.
The journey through Mpumalanga proceeded slowly with numerous frustrating, and often quite lengthy delays caused by road construction.
A birding stop at a wetland just outside Wakkerstroom was productive, but delayed our arrival at our destination. Several lifers were added including Hottentot Teal, Whiskered Tern and an adult South African Shelduck with three young. It was almost 20:00h when we arrived at Toad Hall and dinner was served almost immediately. It was good but not outstanding, primarily I think because the main course had been ready for some time and was a little dried out.
However, our rooms were warm and cozy and the shower had good pressure. We were happy at the thought of staying for two days and not having to reload luggage the next morning.
All species in Mpumalanga September 26
White-faced Whistling Duck, Spur-winged Goose, Egyptian Goose, South African Shelduck, Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveler, Red-billed Teal, Hottentot Teal, Southern Pochard, Little Grebe, Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Great Egret, African Spoonbill, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Black-headed Heron, Reed Cormorant, Black-shouldered Kite, Red-knobbed Coot, Black-winged Stilt, Blacksmith Lapwing, Crowned Lapwing, Ruff, Grey-headed Gull, Whiskered Tern, Common Pigeon, Little Swift, White-rumped Swift, Rock Martin, Pied Starling, Ant-eating Chat, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape Weaver, Red-billed Quelea, Southern Red Bishop, Long-tailed Widowbird, Cape Wagtail, Cape Longclaw.
September 27, 2008, Wakkerstroom area.
We awoke at 05:15h to the now familiar sound of the Hadada Ibises greeting the day and were ready to leave for some pre-breakfast birding at 06:00h. We were joined by Lucky, a local guide, who has an intimate knowledge of the area and access to properties that would otherwise be off limits. He was a personable fellow and was a great help in locating some of our target birds. For all of us, it was a pleasure to have so much more room in the van when one did not have to cope with luggage.
Jan’s first quest was for Denham’s Bustard and Barrow’s Korhaan, and thanks to Lucky’s sharp eyes we were not long in locating both of them. We spotted a couple of Barrow’s Koorhaan off in the distance and drove across the grasslands to try to get a closer look. As Jan remarked, "Nothing goes off-road like a rental!"
We succeeded in approaching the birds somewhat more closely, but were frustrated when a shepherd and his three dogs constantly flushed them. No doubt the dogs were having fine fun chasing the Koorhaan, and it did give us a chance to see them in flight. We stopped at a river to search for Half-collared Kingfisher, to no avail, but we did see myriad swallows and swifts and had an excellent scope view of a Brown-hooded Kingfisher.
It was a bitterly cold morning in these mountains above Wakkerstroom and we were happy to return to Toad Hall for a delicious, ample, piping hot breakfast, with lots of steaming coffee, served by Pat and Isabel, our ever cheerful and convivial hosts.
By 10:15h we were ready to head back out to hunt for the three special larks of the area. On the way out we spotted three Blue Korhaans in the distance and off to the side several Meerkats quizzically checking us out. We found them very entertaining indeed.
Up on a ridge was a substantial aggregation of both Blue and Grey-crowned Cranes. The ability to really see them well was hampered somewhat by the combination of distance and the heat shimmer through the scope, but it was a very agreeable sighting nonetheless.
Jan prepared us for the tough work of finding larks in the brown, sparse grass habitat, which we needed to comb through. This was truly a quest for little brown birds blending into a brown substrate. But within a few moments we had located Rudd’s Lark! Jan said it was the shortest time ever to find this bird. Not bad for a critically endangered species!
Next we found Pink-billed Lark and two African Quailfinch, which delighted all of us, but especially Miriam, who had been anxious to see this species from the time she first saw it in a field guide.
It took us a lot longer to find Botha’s Lark and it was not achieved without a great deal of searching and transecting the short grass habitat. In the process we flushed several Common Quail.
By now it was 16:00h and we had not had lunch. We headed to Wakkerstroom to bid farewell to Lucky and get something to eat. Basically there was little choice and we had to settle for a fast food outlet at a gas station. We all ordered a "Russian Roll" assuming that it would be some kind of sandwich. It was in fact a sausage surrounded by French fries. It was the greasiest, soggiest mess I have ever seen and most of us quickly threw it out! I swear there was at least 5 mm of grease floating in the bottom of the wax bag.
Miriam and I had taken a little trail mix along with us, but it was only for a quick energy lift while out birding, not a substitute for lunch. It would have been far more desirable to have arranged for a box lunch to accompany us into the field. It would have been tastier, more nutritious and certainly more timely.
The temperature was dipping rapidly as we headed to the wetlands just outside Wakkerstroom. Miriam was getting colder and colder since she had worn shorts that day. The birding was very good there and before leaving we were fortunate to have an excellent sighting of African Rail. We headed back to Toad Hall at 17:55h and did our list in the living room with a roaring fire and a glass of brandy.
Dinner was absolutely delicious - a broccoli quiche, or tart, chicken with a melange of peppers in a tasty sauce, and malva pudding, Jan’s favourite whenever he visits Toad Hall, and which Isabel had made for him, and of course for the rest of us to relish. It was our first experience of this South African treat and we all enjoyed it very much. We bought a bottle of Robertson Winery South African Merlot, which was a delicious accompaniment to our fine repast.
Accommodation: Toad Hall. Rating: Four stars.
Toad Hall is a fine old vintage house, being renovated by Pat and Isabel and is a very comfortable place to stay, with a warm level of hospitality.
All species in Mpumalanga September 27
Helmeted Guineafowl, Common Quail, Spur-winged Goose, Eqyptian Goose, Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveler, Hottentot Teal, Little Grebe, Sacred Ibis, Southern Bald Ibis, Hadada Ibis, African Spoonbill, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Black-headed Heron, Purple Heron, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Reed Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, Black-shouldered Kite, African Marsh Harrier, Jackal Buzzard, Denham’s Bustard, Barrow’s Korhaan, Blue Korhaan, African Rail, African Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, Grey-crowned Crane, Blue Crane, Blacksmith Lapwing, Crowned Lapwing, African Wattled Lapwing, African Snipe, Ruff, Common Pigeon, Speckled Pigeon, Ring-necked Dove, African Black Swift, Little Swift, White-rumped Swift, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Common Fiscal, Cape Crow, Greater Striped Swallow, South African Cliff Swallow, Rudd’s Lark, Spike-heeled Lark, Red-capped Lark, Pink-billed Lark, Botha’s Lark, Levaiilant’s Cisticola, Drakensberg Prinia, Common Myna, Pied Starling, Red-winged Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker, Cape Robin-Chat, African Stonechat, Mountain Wheatear, Ant-eating Chat, Cape Weaver, Southern Masked Weaver, Southern Red Bishop, Long-tailed Widowbird, African Quailfinch, Pin-tailed Whydah, Cape Longclaw, African Pipit.
September 28, 2008, Wakkerstroom to Hluhluwe
We were assembled at 06:00h ready to do some pre-breakfast birding. Miriam had wisely layered herself with clothing this morning, to cope with the early cold temperature.
Before even leaving Wakkerstroom we had scored Red-throated Wryneck, our first wryneck ever. We travelled into the same area of bare landscape we had visited yesterday, in a renewed search to find the endemic Yellow-breasted Pipit. It still eluded us, however, and we would leave South Africa without ever having seen it. We had a fine look at a Sentinel Rock-Thrush - a handsome bird indeed. Returning to the wetland we had visited the previous day we saw Great Kingfisher, and a good cross section of other species seen previously. By now it was starting to rain steadily and we returned to Toad Hall. It was too early for breakfast so we birded the garden and the surrounding few blocks. The absolute highlight was a Spotted Eagle Owl located by Miriam and a Fairy Flycatcher leading us on a chase around the garden, giving us fleeting and frustratingly brief glimpses.
After a hearty breakfast similar to that which we enjoyed yesterday, we loaded the van, bade farewell to Pat and Isabel and headed out.
Our ultimate destination on this day was Hluhluwe. We had originally been scheduled to go to Mhkuze Game Reserve, but entry had been denied due to low water levels and alternate arrangements had been made.
It was quite foggy as we began our journey, but the gloom gradually gave way to brighter conditions as we travelled along.
By mid morning we had crossed into Kwazulu Natal Province.
All species in Mpumalanga September 28
Spur-winged Goose, Egyptian Goose, Yellow-billed Duck, Little Grebe, Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, African Spoonbill, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Reed Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, African Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, African Snipe, Speckled Pigeon, Red-eyed Dove, Ring-necked Dove, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Giant Kingfisher, Black-headed Oriole, Red-throated Wryneck, Common Fiscal, South African Cliff Swallow, Red-capped Lark, Fairy Flycatcher, Dark-capped Bulbul, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Cape White-eye, Common Myna, Common Starling, Pied Starling, Cape Robin-Chat, African Stonechat, Sentinel Rock Thrush, House Sparrow, Cape Weaver, Long-tailed Widowbird, Yellow-fronted Canary.
"Our appreciation of the crane grows with the slow unravelling of earthly history. His tribe, we now know, stems out of the remote Eocene. The other members of the fauna in which he originated are long since entombed within the hills.....And so they live and have their being - these cranes - not in the constricted present but in the wider reaches of evolutionary time. Their annual return is the clicking of the geologic clock. The sadness discernible in some crane marshes arises, perhaps, from their once having harboured cranes. Now they stand humbled, adrift in history."
Aldo Leopold, "Marshland Elegy," 1937.
The above words were written about the Sandhill Crane of North America. But they equally apply to the Blue Crane of Southern Africa, whose habitat has been converted to agriculture, who have succumbed in great measure to poisoned bait, both intentional and accidental, and whose numbers have declined precipitously.
Today I would record my favourite half hour of the entire sojourn in South Africa.
I was riding shotgun and from the vantage of my front seat spotted two Blue Cranes quite close to the highway. Jan wheeled the van around and went back to their location and parked on the shoulder.
We all had a great view of these lovely birds and almost as soon as we arrived they began a part of their courtship or bonding behaviour. They ran together in short bursts, they ran in circles, they faced each other, they faced away from each other. They jumped high in the air their wings spread. They danced and strutted. They picked up clods of grass and tossed them in the air. All of this was done in unison and with the precision of a corps de ballet. It was a spectacular performance, a tour de force, a window into the primeval, essential and heart-stopping rhythm of nature. It was one of the greatest privileges of my life to witness this event.
We saw many other species this day, two of my favourites being Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird and Burchell’s Coucal. We also had a great look at a stunning Purple-crested Turaco. Another quick fly past by a Hamerkop would prove to be the last look we would get at this species.
We stopped for lunch at a Wimpy’s fast food restaurant in Hluhluwe at 13:30h, but confusion was the order of the day. The service was incredibly slow and they seemed incapable of getting the order right. I had ordered a chicken burger, but I finally gave up on it when everyone else had received their food twenty to thirty minutes earlier, and I heard the staff discussing another order with a lady who had received the wrong items!
We arrived at the Ehlathini Bush Camp at 16:30h. The setting is delightful. The accomodation consists of rondaavels (round houses with traditional thatched roofs) set in a clearing in the forest. We birded around the camp until about 18:00h and were thrilled with the teeming bird life.
This stop on our journey would prove to have great highlights and serious deficiencies, and I will rate the various aspects of our stay at Ehlathini separately at the end of the account of our stay here.
Our room contained three netted beds, but nowhere to sit. There was in fact a tiny folding chair, but it was incredibly filthy and the only other seat a flat type of stool with crossed cord to form the seat. The cord however was broken in several places so it was no seat at all. The whole place was not particularly clean.
We went for dinner in the dining room of the bush camp at 18:30h and the meal was truly superb. We learned that the lady of the couple who run the camp is a trained chef - and it showed. We all ate very well indeed. Bob had transferred a number of the pictures he had taken so far, onto his lap top, and we had a great little slide show before dinner.
Bush babies joined us in the dining room, an enchanting addition to our lovely dinner. Having heard Wood Owls calling, Jan got his flashlight after dinner and we scoured the campground, shining the light up into the trees until we located two very cooperative owls. What a great ending to the day.
When Miriam turned back the blankets to get into bed, she discovered that the sheets had not been changed from the previous occupant. They were wrinkled and harboured a little "crud." She stripped the bed and took the sheets outside to shake them, and put them back on the bed "wrong side up.’ There was one clean pillowcase in the cupboard, so she used it. She was originally going to replace the pillowcase on the pillow, but when she saw the truly filthy and disgusting condition of the pillow, she put the second pillowcase over the top of the first.
We were now in an area where we were taking anti-malarial medication and the beds all had mosquito nets. The nets were totally useless however, since they were full of holes, some big enough to put your fist through.
All species in Kwazulu Natal September 28
Helmeted Guineafowl, Shelley’s Francolin, Crested Francolin, Spur-winged Goose, Southern Bald Ibis, Cattle Egret, Hamerkop, Black-shouldered Kite, Black Kite, Cape Vulture, Brown Snake Eagle, White-backed Vulture, Tawny Eagle, Wahlberg’s Eagle, Long-crested Eagle, Black-bellied Bustard, Blue Crane, African Wattled Lapwing, Crowned Lapwing, Speckled Pigeon (H), Red-eyed Dove, Laughing Dove, Purple-crested Turaco, Burchell’s Coucal, African Wood Owl, African Palm Swift, Little Swift, White-rumped Swift, Speckled Mousebird, Red-faced Mousebird, Lilac-breasted Roller, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Trumpeter Hornbill, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Chinspot Batis, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Black-backed Puffback, Black Cuckooshrike, Common Fiscal, Square-tailed Drongo, African Paradise Flycatcher, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, Black Saw-wing, Brown-throated Martin, White-throated Swallow, Lesser Striped Swallow, Red-breasted Swallow, Rattling Cisticola, Croaking Cisticola, Dark-capped Bulbul, Long-billed Crombec, Arrow-marked Babbler (H), Common Myna, Cape Starling, Pied Starling, Red-winged Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker, Kurrichane Thrush, White-browed Scrub Robin (H), Collared Sunbird, Purple-banded Sunbird, White-bellied Sunbird, Cape Sparrow, House Sparrow, Spectacled Weaver, Cape Weaver, Southern Masked Weaver, Village Weaver, Long-tailed Widowbird, Bronze Mannikin, Pin-tailed Whydah, Cape Longclaw, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Yellow-fronted Canary.
September 29, 2008, False Bay and Muzi Pan.
We birded the gardens and edges of the bush camp before breakfast, not finding anything new, but providing very good looks at some of the more common birds with which we were becoming familiar. We also had the excitement of seeing two Black-bellied Bustards at close range.
Breakfast was a fine affair with lots of variety and well cooked hot items, and, joy of joys, good coffee!
We left for False Bay in good spirits, birding along the road and then at the campsite. We were now in a sand forest environment and we were treated to a gorgeous Purple-crested Turaco in plain view in full sunlight. There were also sightings of two fantastic male Purple-banded Sunbirds and a brief encounter with the endemic Neergaard’s Sunbird. Yellow-bellied Greenbul was delightfully common. We added Southern Black Tit and had a distant view of a magnificent African Crowned Eagle soaring on the early morning thermals. Many other species rounded out a fine morning of birding, in addition to which we saw Vervet Monkey, Red Duiker, a couple of Warthogs and Helmeted Terrapin. My notes say that we also saw Hippopotamus, but I must confess I have no recollection of this particular sighting of the beast!
At 12:30h we headed into town for lunch and picked up fast food from Steers, a ubiquitous South African food franchise, to eat in the van on the way to Muzi Pan. Miriam and I both opted for a chutney and cheese burger, which was automatically accompanied by a serving of fries. We both agreed it had the flavour of finely ground cardboard!
We met a local guide at Muzi Pan. I did not find this particular guide (whose name I did not record) particularly knowledgeable or personable. In terms of birding expertise he was clearly eclipsed by Jan, but the birding at Muzi Pan was quite incredible, and many of the species required nothing more than a pair of eyes - Great Flamingo, Goliath Heron, Black Heron fishing, Pink-backed and Great White Pelicans, Yellow-billed Stork. Marcia remarked that an active marsh is one of her favourite birding environments. I doubt that anyone would disagree. We added Kittlitz’s Plover, Collared Pratincole, African Jacana, White-winged Tern, Pied and Malachite Kingfisher. By driving a little farther into the wetland we were able to enjoy a substantial pod of hippopotamuses. I can’t think of anything much more "African!"
We moved to another part of Muzi Pan that is much drier. We parked and walked alongside a fence, hoping to find Pel’s Fishing Owl. Alas, it was not to be. Water levels are so low that fish populations have declined drastically, causing fishing owls to move elsewhere. It was a pleasant walk nonetheless and we saw many species, including, thanks to the sharp spotting of Nell, two Brown-headed Parrots.
After bidding goodbye to the local guide and taking advantage of a magnificent sunset to take some pictures, we returned to Ehlathini Bush Camp.
We knew we were in for a gustatory treat when we saw a long table set with a white table cloth, wine glasses with white linen napkins nestled inside, under the starry African sky. The coals on the barbecue were fired up and a serving table off to the side contained all manner of unknown treats. We armed ourselves with a bottle of Nederburg red and sat down to enjoy a fabulous appetizer of three kinds of bruschetta which would have done credit to a fine restaurant anywhere. Three kinds of meat were cooking on the barbecue - lamb, pork ribs and a very tasty South African sausage. There were two delicious salads and South African pap (something like grits) to accompany the meats. Dessert was poached pear in red wine. This meal was without doubt a five star affair.
After dinner we went on a night drive through the reserve and saw various mammals, but not the nightjars we were primarily seeking. We did, however, get great looks at Spotted Thick-knee. We were back at our cabin by 22:00h.
All species in Kwazulu Natal September 29
Helmeted Guineafowl, Crested Francolin (H), White-faced Whistling Duck, Spur-winged Goose, Knob-billed Duck, Egyptian Goose, Yellow-billed Duck, Red-billed Teal, Greater Flamingo, Yellow-billed Stork, Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Glossy Ibis, African Spoonbill, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Goliath Heron, Great Egret, Little Egret, Great White Pelican, Pink-backed Pelican, Reed Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, African Darter, Black Kite, African Harrier-Hawk, Crowned Eagle, Black-bellied Bustard, Black Crake, Water Thick-knee, Spotted Thick-knee, Black-winged Stilt, Blacksmith Lapwing, Kittlitz’s Plover, White-fronted Plover, African Jacana, Common Sandpiper, Sanderling, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff, Collared Pratincole, White-winged Tern, Ring-necked Dove, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Brown-headed Parrot, Purple-crested Turaco, African Cuckoo, Little Swift, White-rumped Swift, Speckled Mousebird, Red-faced Mousebird, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Malachite Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater, Crowned Hornbill, Trumpeter Hornbill, Black-collared Barbet, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Chinspot Batis, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Black Cuckooshrike, Common Fiscal, Square-tailed Drongo, Fork-tailed Drongo, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Pied Crow, Black Saw-wing, Common House Martin, Lesser Striped Swallow, Red-breasted Swallow, Rufous-naped Lark, Flappet Lark, Rattling Cisticola, Rudd’s Apalis, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Green-backed Camaroptera, Dark-capped Bulbul, Sombre Greenbul, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul, African Yellow White-eye, Common Myna, Wattled Starling, Cape Starling, Bearded Scrub Robin, Ashy Flycatcher, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Collared Sunbird, Grey Sunbird, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Purple-banded Sunbird, White-bellied Sunbird, House Sparrow, Spectacled Weaver, Yellow Weaver, Lesser Masked Weaver, Southern Red Bishop, Red-billed Firefinch, Blue Waxbill, Common Waxbill, Yellow-throated Longclaw, African Pipit, Yellow-fronted Canary.
Accommodation: Ehlathini Bush Camp. Rating:
1. Setting - very agreeable. Four and a half stars.
2. Food - absolutely first class. Five stars.
3. Rooms and attention to them - very poor indeed. One star.
September 30, 2008, Hluhluwe to Saint Lucia via Hluhluwe/iMfolozi Reserve.
We drove to a local wetland located on the property of the bush camp hoping to find a pair of Pygmy Geese that Jan had been advised were present there. However, we were unable to locate them, and the wetland was not especially active. We returned to the camp and birded around the perimeter and the pool until breakfast time.
The meal was, as usual, very well prepared and the service terrific. Miriam was not particularly hungry so she took juice, a muffin and a little fruit, and a coffee and sat out on the deck. It was a beautiful warm morning.
We arrived at Hluhluwe/iMfolozi reserve at 09:00h. Since one is absolutely forbidden to leave the vehicle in the reserve (for very good reasons of course) and Miriam and I had the back seat, we were at a serious disadvantage when it came to viewing some of the birds. I had no idea that my neck would twist in so many directions! The reserve is without question very spectacular. We saw many Giraffes, Black Rhinos, Common Warthogs, Burchell’s Zebras, many species of ungulate, and other smaller mammals, but none of the hoped for elephants or lions. The scenery was magnificent and the day pristine. We finally got to see Southern Boubou after hearing it so frequently and had a great look at Amethyst Sunbird when we stopped at Hilltop Camp, where I was able to buy stamps and mail the first postcards. Here we saw a Water Monitor on the rocks and two Striped Kingfishers displaying to each other.
Carrying on with our drive through the park we saw Martial Eagle, Red-billed Oxpeckers on the back of rhinos, White-necked Vultures and two airborne Bateleurs.
We exited the park at 13:10h; the weather was becoming quite overcast.
Lunch was taken at the St. Lucia Boat Club, where ate outside at the river estuary, looking across at hippos with Nile Crocodiles basking on a sandbank. We thought ourselves very lucky to be there enjoying a delightful seafood and salad lunch. New birds included Swift Tern and Terek Sandpiper. There was also a couple of striking African Pied Wagtails, but perhaps the greatest thrill was to see an African Fish-Eagle swoop down to the water and bank back upwards with a fish in its talons.
We birded at the nearby Sugar Loaf campground until 16:45h and left to go to the Maputuland Guest House where we would spend the night. What a lovely place! And what friendly, delightful hosts! The bathtub in our fabulous room was very long and Miriam promptly filled it and soaked there for a while. I showered and we sat by the pool to do our list,
Following this, we took dinner at a restaurant called "The Ocean Basket" in town. Very nice meal - I had Butterfish and Calamari with a Greek side salad; Miriam dined on Kingklip with a Greek salad also.
We were back to our room just before 21:00h - barely enough time to brush our teeth; since the municipality was engaged in water conservation due to the drought, and water was shut off between 10:00h - 15:00h and again from 21:00h - 05:00h each day.
All species in Kwazulu Natal September 30
Helmeted Guineafowl, Yellow-billed Stork, Hadada Ibis, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Little Egret, White-breasted Cormorant, Black Kite, African Fish-Eagle, White-backed Vulture, Bateleur, Martial Eagle, Black-bellied Bustard, Black Crake, Spotted Thick-knee, Pied Avocet, Crowned Lapwing, Common Ringed Plover, White-fronted Plover, African Jacana, Terek Sandpiper, Sanderling, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff, Grey headed Gull, Caspian Tern, Swift Tern, Red-eyed Dove, Ring-necked Dove, Laughing Dove, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Burchell’s Coucal (H), Little Swift, Speckled Mousebird, Red-faced Mousebird, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Striped Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater, African Hoopoe, Common Scimitarbill, Crowned Hornbill, Trumpeter Hornbill, White-eared Barbet, Black-collared Barbet, Crested Barbet, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Black-crowned Tchagra, Southern Boubou, Brubru, Common Fiscal, Square-tailed Drongo, Fork-tailed Drongo, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Pied Crow, Barn Swallow, Lesser Striped Swallow, Rufous-naped Lark, Flappet Lark, Rattling Cisticola, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Green-backed Camaroptera, Dark-capped Bulbul, Sombre Greenbul, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Long-billed Crombec, Cape White-eye, Common Myna, Cape Starling, Black-bellied Starling, Red-billed Oxpecker, White-browed Scrub Robin, Southern Black Flycatcher, Collared Sunbird, Eastern Olive Sunbird, Amethyst Sunbird, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Purple-banded Sunbird, White-bellied Sunbird, Yellow-throated Petronia, Thick-billed Weaver, Spectacled Weaver, Dark-backed Weaver, Southern Red Bishop, White-winged Widowbird, African Firefinch, Blue Waxbill, African Pied Wagtail, Yellow-throated LongclawYellow-fronted Canary.
Accommodation: Maputuland Guest House. Rating: Five stars. This place was quite splendid. Wonderful hosts who both greeted us on arrival and made a point to come out to the van and bid us goodbye. Lots of African art and other artifacts throughout. Just a joy to have stayed here.
We were up a little earlier than normal this morning, in order to meet at 05:30h to leave for a pre-breakfast birding walk in a small patch of forest. A very pleasant walk produced several lifers and we encountered Markus Lilje, another Rockjumper guide with his entourage. Bird highlights were extended looks at Livingstone’s Turaco, five African Green Pigeons, Brown Scrub Robin, White-eared Barbet, Red-capped Robin-Chat and Black Sparrowhawk.
After breakfast we said goodbye to our hosts at Maputuland Guest House and set off for the small town of Mtunzini where a large stand of Raffia Palms would give us an excellent chance to see the unique Palm-nut Vulture. We had barely got off the main highway and parked alongside a suitable stretch of palms when Jan spotted the bird. We were all able to have good scope looks at it.
We entered the Ngoye Forest at 10:30h to look for the endemic Woodward’s Barbet. Despite dogged searching, however, we were unable to locate it. We left at 11:55h.
For lunch we visited the Eshowe Mall and had our meal at a restaurant called Memory Lane. The food was very good. I had a chicken salad and Miriam had a Greek salad.
We arrived at the Eshowe B & B at 14:00h. This place is owned by Hugh Crittenden, editor of the new field guide version of Roberts Bird Guide, and his wife Loueen. Bob and Marcia lucked out here. They got a chalet to themselves, but we had to share a two bedroom apartment with Gary and Nell. That’s not so bad, of course, except that the set up was a little strange. Nell and Gary had an en suite bathroom, but it had no sink. We had a bathroom just outside our room, but there was no toilet. The toilet was way over on the opposite side of the apartment. There was also a sink there, but without towels or soap. Our bathroom was supplied with only two bath towels and no hand towels.
Shortly after arriving Miriam was hit with an upset stomach so she declined to go out with the rest of us. Ironically, it passed as quickly as it came.
We went out to the Dlinza Forest with its fabled canopy boardwalk. The highlight of our walk in the forest was protracted looks at the endangered Spotted Ground Thrush, which nests in such obvious, unprotected locations, that the nests are regularly predated by Vervet Monkeys. At times up to eighty-five percent of the nests fail.
A distinct highlight was seeing a Black-backed Puffback showing us why it is so aptly named. It looked as though it was carrying a snowball on its back!
In the forest we easily located Blue Duiker, the smallest of all the deer in Africa, and it confidingly fed on fresh leaves almost within touching distance. We also had our first encounters with large Black Millipedes which were pervasive on the forest floor. They contain cyanide so are safe from most predators.
As we went back towards the B & B we saw Miriam out walking, having recovered from her malady, so she joined us as we went off on a successful quest for Green Twinspot and Mountain Wagtail. The location of these two species was courtesy of Hugh who had told Jan exactly where he could find them.
Miriam was telling Jan that while out birding alone she had witnessed, at length, a displaying male Scarlet-chested Sunbird, with yellow shoulders. Jan told her that she was very lucky for he had never seen this flash of colour on displaying males.
At 18:30h we met to do the day’s list and went out for dinner. Bob was feeling a little under the weather so Marcia decided to stay back with him. We dined at a local Sports Club and were treated to a first class meal of a small steak with mushroom sauce and assorted vegetables and salad. We were back in our room by 20:30h.
All species in Kwazulu Natal October 1
Wooly-necked Stork, Pink-backed Pelican, African Darter, Black Kite, Palm-nut Vulture, Black Sparrowhawk, Crowned Eagle, African Green Pigeon, Livingstone’s Turaco, Burchell’s Coucal (H), African Emerald Cuckoo (H), Little Swift, Narina Trogon (H), Crowned Hornbill, Trumpeter Hornbill, White-eared Barbet, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Scaly-throated Honeyguide (H), Golden-tailed Woodpecker (H), Cape Batis, Black-backed Puffback, Grey Cuckooshrike, Black Cuckooshrike,Common Fiscal, Black-headed Oriole (H), Square-tailed Drongo, Fork-tailed Drongo, Pied Crow, Lesser-striped Swallow, Rufous-winged Cisticola, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Rudd’s Apalis, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Green-backed Camaroptera, Dark-capped Bulbul, Sombre Greenbul, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul (H), Eastern Nicator, Cape White-eye, Common Myna, Black-bellied Starling (H), Spotted Ground Thrush, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Chorister Robin-Chat, Brown Scrub Robin, Collared Sunbird, Eastern Olive Sunbird, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Spectacled Weaver, Mountain Wagtail.
Accommodation: Eshowe B & B. Rating: Two and a half stars. It pains me to rate the establishment so low, because I was really attracted to Hugh and Loueen, but in the interests of honesty I am bound to say that the place was spartan and had the strangest bathroom arrangements one could imagine.
October 2, 2008, Eshowe to Underberg.
We were ready to leave by 06:00h, but we didn’t have the correct key to open the locked gate. Jan had to go and get Loueen who scurried across the road in her housecoat! Unfortunately she didn’t have the correct key either, so she had to bang on the door of another cabin to get the key from the guests there.
We drove directly to the Dlinza Forest and moved across the boardwalk to the tower at the end. How wonderful is this! It was perfect weather and we were surrounded by birds. Both the visual spectacle and the sound of so many birds starting their day was truly inspirational.
Not only that but Hugh Crittenden who knows this area so well had kindly arrived there before us and had his scope trained on the nest of a pair of Crowned Eagles. What a treat to view to our heart’s content the nest with the female sitting on eggs. In addition, he located for us a pair of Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeons, the rarest pigeon in southern Africa and provided a detailed commentary on all facets of the forest surrounding us. We had scores of Trumpeter Hornbills and White-eared Barbets feeding on fruiting fig trees almost at arm’s length; a Purple-crested Turaco, resplendent in the early morning light, with gob smacking looks, right in front of our eyes. This says nothing of all the other myriad species flitting hither and yon in the treetops. Just before we left an obliging and beautiful African Emerald Cuckoo put in an appearance.
Hugh had to leave since he and Loueen would be preparing breakfast for us at the edge of the forest, and we descended from the tower to walk the trails in search of Narina Trogon. We heard it calling, but were never able to locate it.
Hugh and Loueen had prepared a delicious breakfast for us when we arrived and there were chairs set up and hot water boiling in the kettle so that we could enjoy delicious Roibos tea. That morning I would not have cared what they gave me for breakfast. The highlight was to listen to Hugh, a man so passionate about African ornithology, expound on the birds and the forest ecology he knows so well. We learned so much from him. He then took us on a short walk to the base of the tree where the Crowned Eagles are nesting.
Upon returning to the B & B I went over to their house to buy a copy of the newly released Roberts Bird Guide. Hugh kindly signed it for me with a personalized message. The book will always remain a treasured possession.
Hugh told me that his latest work on the birds of Kruger Park is now at the printer in Singapore. I’ll have to be sure to get a copy when it becomes available.
We loaded our luggage into the van and were back on the road by 10:30h.
The next break in our journey was near Richmond to search for the critically endangered Blue Swallow. We did find it after a while and had quite good looks when it perched.
Lunch was eaten at a take-out restaurant in Richmond even though we ate inside. I had Tikka Chicken and Miriam chose a Chicken Shwarma. Neither one resembled anything like what it was called but was quite tasty anyway.
We were back on the road by 15:10h and made a detour to the Xumeni Forest, an Afro Montane Forest, to undertake a quest for the critically endangered Cape Parrot. It is estimated that there are no more than five to six hundred birds left in the wild. After a considerable time searching two distant birds flew and called to give us our only sighting. We also netted African Olive Pigeon and, by the side of the road as we were leaving, Orange Ground-Thrush.
We arrived at the Valemount Country Lodge, our accomodation for the next two nights, in Underberg at 18:30h - already dark. I have no idea why the Rockjumper itinerary states that this hostelry is in Himeville which is ten to twelve kilometres away.
This place is absolutely gorgeous. We had a large foyer, a huge living room with fireplace, a big screen t.v. (Which we never turned on!), a fully equipped kitchenette, a very spacious bathroom with lots and lots of towels, and a king sized bed surrounded by netting. Furthermore, it was immaculately clean. On a table was a carafe of sherry and two glasses. We were very happy to be spending two nights here.
We returned to Underberg for dinner to a restaurant called Picante’s where we had a very fine meal. I had an impeccably prepared lamb curry and Miriam opted for a chicken and prawn Thai green curry. We shared a bottle of Neethlingshof Cabernet Sauvignon with Bob and Marcia.
We were back in our room by 21:00h so we sat and chatted about all the wonders of our trip so far, and had a glass of sherry each before going to bed. Miriam showered and washed her hair only to find that the hair dryer did not work, so she sat up in bed and read while her hair dried! Thank goodness I never have that problem!
All species in Kwazulu Natal October 2
Hadada Ibis, Cattle Egret, Lanner Falcon, Black Kite, Jackal Buzzard, Long-crested Eagle, Crowned Eagle, African Olive Pigeon, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Lemon Dove, Cape Parrot, Purple-crested Turaco, African Emerald Cuckoo, African Black Swift, Trumpeter Hornbill, White-eared Barbet, Olive Bushshrike (H), Grey Cuckooshrike, Common Fiscal, Black-headed Oriole, Square-tailed Drongo, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, Blue Swallow, Sombre Greenbul, Yellow-breasted Greenbul, Cape White-eye, Common Myna, Black-bellied Starling, Orange Ground Thrush, Olive Thrush, African Stonechat, Collared Sunbird, Eastern Olive Sunbird, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Village Weaver, Bronze Mannikin.
October 3, 2008, Sani Pass, Lesotho
The Hadada Ibis provided their normal raucous wake up call at 05:00h and we were outside by 05:45h to meet Stuart and Trish, our drivers and guides for our trip up Sani Pass. A light rain was falling and there was a distinct chill to the air. We saw Red-chested Cuckoo before we left at about 06:15h, Miriam with Jan, Stewart, Gary and Nell, I with Trish, Bob and Marcia. Their four-by-fours were very necessary to navigate Sani Pass, which bears only an incidental resemblance to a road. It is hardly more than a collection of boulder strewn tracks - not for the faint-hearted to drive. Trish was an engaging and talkative companion. Miriam said that Stewart was a fabulous repository of knowledge about every aspect of Sani Pass, especially things botanical and ornithological, but was no slouch on history, geology and other interesting aspects of the trip.
We visited the border post on the South African side and moved slowly up the pass in dense, low cloud. The Lesotho border post is some eight kilometres farther up the pass.
While still in South Africa we had some good birding, including the following species: Bokmakiere, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Golden-breasted Bunting, Drakensberg Prinia, Yellow Bishop, Malachite Sunbird, Gurney’s Sugarbird, White-necked Raven and the very unusual endemic Ground Woodpecker. Breakfast was a strange affair. It had been provided, I believe by the Valemount Country Lodge and contained among other things small packages of cheesy crackers and tiny peanuts. It was eaten at a spot where we could pull off safely.
Eventually we arrived at the Lesotho Border Post, a very unimpressive little building with a hand painted sign on the side. We had our passports stamped and moved on into Lesotho. Cape Sparrows were everywhere and we added Sickle-winged Chat. We saw the Highest Pub in Africa, but drove right past it, other than for a washroom stop.
Before long we had sighted our first of five Bearded Vultures by my count. Jan said that we lucky to see so many. But our good fortune was yet to be magnified. We were watching one bird when we saw it bank sharply and drop a bone onto the rocks below. The bone obviously did not shatter for the bird went down to retrieve it and repeated the same performance. I knew of this behaviour, of course, but had not really expected to witness it. It was very special. We had really close looks at Three-banded Plover, as lovely a shorebird as you could ever wish to see. One of our principal targets, the Drakensberg Rockjumper perched cooperatively near the roadside and we were all able to get a terrific look at this stunning endemic.
The day was cold, albeit sunny, and the winds were blowing furiously. We stopped for lunch at a spot where one could hardly keep one’s feet. The only options were to stand in the ferocious wind, or go back to the vehicle. We spent so much time in vehicles that most of us preferred to stay outside.
Lunch was unrelieved mediocrity, tempered only by a quite tasty quiche. Since Rockjumper had featured, and I quote from their trip outline, "We will keep a careful watch skywards whilst enjoying our lunch in the highest pub in Africa," we had not expected to be blown around on a mountain pass. We had all looked forward to this experience and it was a sizeable disappointment that it did not occur. I had visions of a steaming, aromatic steak and kidney pie, or a delicious plate of bobotie, with perhaps a glass of robust red. Hanging on to a cold sausage and a tetra pack of apple juice while trying to keep one’s footing in the fierce winds hardly seemed the same.
And we would never have the bragging rights of having had lunch in the highest pub in Africa. We’ll have to be content with peeing there.
I was amazed when Jan said that "We never do. We always eat from the tailgate of the vehicle." It’s one thing for Rockjumper to state that we stay in Himeville when in fact the lodging is in Unterberg; that really makes no difference, but I think that not following through with this commitment verges on deception. There was no question that every single one of us expected to eat there that day - and furthermore looked forward to it with great anticipation.
We started back down again at 14:50h in low cloud and misty rain We birded here and there with indifferent results, arriving at our Guest House at around 18:00h.
The checklist was done in our living room and Miriam decided that she didn’t want to go out again for dinner. We returned to the same restaurant as the previous night and dinner was equally satisfying. In fact I had what Miriam had chosen the previous night and found it to be delicious.
All species in Kwazulu Natal October 3
Common Ostrich, Helmeted Guineafowl, Spur-winged Goose, Egyptian Goose, Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveler, Southern Pochard, Little Grebe, Sacred Ibis, Southern Bald Ibis, Hadada Ibis, African Spoonbill, Black-headed Heron, Great Egret, Reed Cormorant, African Darter, Black-shouldered Kite, Jackal Buzzard, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, Grey-crowned Crane, Common Pigeon, Red-eyed Dove, Laughing Dove, Red-chested Cuckoo, Alpine Swift, Ground Woodpecker, Bokmakiere, Southern Boubou, Common Fiscal, Fork-tailed Drongo, Cape Crow, White-necked Raven, White-throated Swallow, Rock Martin, Greater Striped Swallow, South African Cliff Swallow, Red-capped Lark, Wailing Cisticola, Rufous-winged Cisticola, Drakensberg Prinia, Fairy Flycatcher, Barratt’s Warbler, Cape Grassbird, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Cape White-eye, Red-winged Starling, Olive Thrush, Cape Robin-Chat, African Stonechat, Buff-streaked Chat, Familiar Chat, Cape Rock Thrush, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Malachite Sunbird, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Cape Sparrow, Yellow Bishop, Red-collared Widowbird, Long-billed Pipit, Cape Canary, Cape Bunting, Golden-breasted Bunting.
All species in Lesotho October 3
Bearded Vulture, Cape Vulture, Jackal Buzzard, Three-banded Plover, White-necked Raven, Drakensberg Rockjumper, Grey Tit, Large-billed Lark, Layard’s Tit-babbler, Red-winged Starling, Eurasian Stonechat, Sickle-winged Chat, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Cape Sparrow, Mountain Wagtail, Mountain Pipit, Drakensberg Siskin, Yellow Canary, Cape Bunting.
Accommodation: Valemount Guest House Rating: Five Stars. Fabulous place in a great setting. There is not a single negative about this location.
October 4, 2008, Underberg to Hilton.
The same breakfast as yesterday was provided when we stopped at a lake to check out the waterfowl. Jan was hoping for White-backed Duck at this usually reliable spot, but we were unable to find it. In fact there was a decided paucity of any kind of bird life on the water and to compound the matter the fog rolled in virtually obliterating everything.
We moved on and, at another stop where we did not tarry long, Miriam spotted our first lifer of the day, a Black-winged Lapwing.
A little farther we stopped at the edge of a forest and walked along a very wet dirt road. Again we were quickly enveloped in fog but it was interesting to stand among the mist-shrouded trees listening to the loud, distinctive call of the Southern Boubou, a call with which we were all familiar by now. A Narina Trogon was calling frustratingly close, but try as we might, we were never able to see this very desirable bird. Miriam and I have a real liking for trogons and this would have been our first African species.
We visited the Karkloof Conservation Centre to look for Wattled Crane, but none were to be found. At the entrance gate we were able to study a very large Village Weaver colony with lots of activity. These birds sure do chatter while they work! For North Americans unaccustomed to weavers this was a really interesting scene to watch.
Jan tried the lake where we had stopped earlier for a second try for White-backed Duck, but still no luck.
As the visibility improved a little we drove into Howick and had a lovely lunch at the Sidewalk Café. We also took the opportunity to browse through a few shops there. We drove down to the spectacular waterfall in Howick and were instantly rewarded with a Lanner Falcon circling overhead. Then to the joy of everyone Jan trained his scope on a rocky ledge where three falcon chicks were situated. They were quite big and looked to be not far from fledging. They were exercising their wings considerably. This was a very exciting sighting for everyone and we were able to show it to numerous members of the public, all of whom were amazed and very appreciative.
Marcia was able to scope the only Black Duck of our entire trip. It was far below us at the base of the falls in fast-moving water.
We moved on to Hilton and arrived at the Cool Winds Lodge at 15:00h. This is another gorgeous B & B and we were very happy to be staying there. Jan gave us the luxury of relaxing until 16:30 when we left for the Midmar Game Reserve. Our birding there included a night drive which culminated in a sighting of Marsh Owl and Barn Owl. Combined with an interesting assortment of mammals, including Hartebeest feeding young, this was a very pleasant drive indeed.
We went from the game reserve directly to Latino’s for dinner. It was a very nice restaurant and the meal was simply delicious. I had lamb shank with potato wedges and a superb cheese plate; Miriam tried a rolled chicken breast with savoury Basmati rice. We both had a glass of wine - delicious too, as was every South African wine we tasted. It was a great meal for our last night in eastern South Africa.
All species in Kwazulu Natal October 4
Helmeted Guineafowl, Common Quail, White-faced Whistling Duck, Spur-winged Goose, Egyptian Goose, South African Shelduck, African Black Duck, Yellow-billed Duck, Red-billed Teal, Little Grebe, Wooly-necked Stork, Scared Ibis, Hadada Ibis, African Spoonbill, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Reed Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, Lanner Falcon, Black-winged Kite, Black Kite, African Fish Eagle, Jackal Buzzard, Long-crested Eagle, Denham’s Bustard, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, Grey-crowned Crane, Blue Crane, Blacksmith Lapwing, Black-winged Lapwing, African Snipe, Wood Sandpiper, Red-eyed Dove, Barn Owl, Marsh Owl, Alpine Swift, African Black Swift, Speckled Mousebird, Narina Trogon (H), Giant Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Olive Woodpecker, Cape Batis, Olive Bushshrike, Black-backed Puffback, Southern Boubou (H), Common Fiscal, Black-headed Oriole, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, Southern Black Tit, Brown-throated Martin, White-throated Swallow, Greater Striped Swallow, Bar-throated Apalis, Yellow-throated Apalis, Dark-capped Bulbul, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Bush Blackcap, Cape White-eye, Common Myna, Red-winged Starling, Olive Thrush, White-starred Robin, Cape Robin-Chat, African Stonechat, Collared Sunbird, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Cape Weaver, Village Weaver, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Red-collared Widowbird, Long-tailed Widowbird, African Firefinch, Cape Longclaw, African Pipit, Cape Canary.
Accommodation: Cool Winds Lodge Rating: Five Stars. Wonderful spacious rooms with sparkling cleanliness and attention to detail throughout.
October 5, 2008, Hilton - Durban - Capetown - De Hoop Nature Reserve.
We were up at 05:00h and off at 06:00h to the Doreen Clark Forest. It was raining lightly and the walk on leaf-covered trails up a rather steep incline was a little treacherous. We went off the trail for a Buff-spotted Flufftail and Jan called it in for a long and very close view. A little farther we had a White-starred Robin sitting out on a branch, giving us a much better look than the one we saw fly quickly across the road yesterday.
By 06:50h we were heading back to the B & B where we were served a great breakfast. We then packed our suitcases, loaded the van, and at 08:00h left for Durban to connect with our flight to Cape Town.
Jan sped down the highway as only Jan can and we arrived at the airport in Durban in good time. We returned the rental van and took the shuttle to the airport. We moved through security very quickly and boarded about twenty minutes late. We flew Kalula Airlines, whose in-flight messages, including the safety checks, are the most humorous we have ever heard. Ironically, it really made you listen to the various messages since you were waiting for the next gag line.
It was an uneventful flight and by 13:30h we had our brand new Volkswagen van. Upon first sight we all thought it might be a little roomier than what we had become used to. As is turned out there was even less leg room and manoeuverability than in the previous vehicle.
It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny and we were treated to an array of birds upon leaving Cape Town airport - House Crow, Common Starling, Common Pigeon, Kelp Gull - exciting stuff, huh! Gorgeous wild flowers of every shape, size and colour were blooming along the highway. This dazzling array was dimmed somewhat by our passage alongside the largest and most pathetic shanty town we were to witness on our entire trip.
We made a stop at an observation point for a view of False Bay, but we didn’t stay long. The wind was so strong it was hard to stand still!
Along the way we were treated to a male Denham’s Bustard displaying to four females and a huge flock of Red Bishops flashing their colour in the sparkling sunlight. Cape Bulbul took the place of the formerly ever-present Dark-capped Bulbul.
We stopped at a convenience store so that everyone could pick up a snack and we arrived at the Buchu Bush Camp in De Hoop Nature Reserve at around 18:00h. What an alluring location - very African-looking cottages with traditional thatched roofs, surrounded by Fynbos.
We barely had time to get our luggage into our cottage when we had to leave to go the main hall to do the list. Dinner followed at 19:00h and was a quite sumptuous fixed menu, starting with a smoked salmon salad, then the main course of bobotie, rice, squash, broccoli and a banana side dish. Dessert was a baked fruit custard. Marcia and Bob bought a bottle of red wine which we shared.
At about 20:45h we returned to our cottage, with an informative tour of the constellations of the southern sky, courtesy of Jan.
Our cottage was quite cool and we quickly climbed into bed. Power is turned off at 21:30h and we were given a gas lamp to use in the morning.
All species in Kwazulu Natal October 5
Hadada Ibis, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Common Pigeon, Olive Woodpecker, Dark-capped Bulbul, White-starred Robin.
All species in the Western Cape October 5
Common Ostrich, Helmeted Guineafowl, Grey-winged Francolin, Cape Spurfowl. Spur-winged Goose, Egyptian Goose, Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Black-headed Heron, Black-shouldered Kite, Black Kite, Long-crested Eagle, Denham’s Bustard, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Red-knobbed Coot, Blue Crane, Blacksmith Lapwing, Three-banded Plover, Kelp Gull, Common Pigeon, Red-eyed Dove, White-rumped Swift, Olive Bushshrike (H), Common Fiscal, House Crow, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, White-necked Raven, White-throated Swallow, Red-capped Lark, Large-billed Lark, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Karoo Prinia, Cape Bulbul, Cape Sugarbird, Cape White-eye, Common Myna, Common Starling, Pied Starling, Cape Robin-Chat, African Stonechat, Capped Wheatear, Fiscal Flycatcher, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, House Sparrow, Cape Sparrow, Cape Weaver, Southern Red Bishop, Cape Wagtail, African Pipit, Yellow Canary.
Accomodation: Buchu Bush Camp Rating: Five stars. Very appealing location, well appointed room - a delightful realization of a real African "feel" combined with a good degree of comfort. Excellent main hall and dining facility; friendly, helpful staff.
October 6, 2008, De Hoop Nature Reserve to Capetown, via Hermanus, Betty’s Bay and Rooi Els.
We awoke at 5:00h and I got out of bed, lit the gas lantern and made a cup of tea. Miriam huddled in bed drinking it while listening to the wind blowing outside, and decided to stay there while I joined the others to go birding. Marcia and Nell were the only two other hardy souls who joined Jan and me.
It was cool, but pleasant, and we were fortunate to see Black Cuckoo, Agulhas Clapper Lark and three resplendent Cape Sugarbirds. These birds, combined with others, and the glory of the Fynbos, made it a very agreeable pre-breakfast walk indeed.
At 07:00h we packed everything and everyone into the van and then promptly got out again for a Southern Tchagra and a Brimstone Canary. Finally we left and headed directly for the De Hoop Nature Reserve, skirting the Chacma Baboons on the laneway.
We were treated to a covey of a dozen Grey-winged Francolins with chicks, and shortly afterwards stopped to eat the packed breakfast we had brought from the camp. A very concerted search was made for the endemic Knysna Woodpecker. We finally had brief glimpses of it. Jan was especially elated because this bird was a lifer for him. We would all have liked a better view, but we had to be content with what we got.
Travelling across the Overberg Mountains we saw numerous avian species and Blue Crane was pleasingly common.
We stopped for lunch in Hermanus at an enchanting beach front restaurant which served very nice food indeed. From our table we could see Southern Right Whales breeching in the bay, while Swift and Sandwich Terns sailed overhead, periodically diving like darts into the clear, blue ocean to catch fish. We saw our first African Oystercatcher of the trip and a Cape Wagtail walked among the tables. Perhaps the greatest delight was two African Penguins swimming in the bay. Around 14:30h we tore ourselves away!
Harold Porter Gardens is a beautiful attraction and we searched diligently and traversed long, steep trails for Victorin’s Warbler, but the bird was heard yet never seen.. Nevertheless, it felt good to be walking again since we spent so much time each day in the vehicle.
Moving on towards Cape Town we stopped at Rooi Els to search for one of the prizes of the entire trip - the Cape Rockjumper. How sad would it be for a Rockjumper tour not to find the bird from which it took its name? We walked, and walked, and walked and walked - but no rockjumper. Finally we turned around to head back after voyeuristically watching Chacma Baboons copulating, and almost back to the vehicle Miriam spotted the first of five Cape Rockjumpers. How well they entertained us, veritably jumping from rock to rock as an affirmation of their name. We were all delighted to see this South African endemic.
We piled into the van and left for Cape Town at 18:35h just as the sun was setting over False Bay, providing us with a very picturesque departure.
We arrived at our B & B, Little Lodge, just before 20:00h. Our hosts had made a dinner reservation for us for 20:00h but that was changed and we left almost immediately to travel to the restaurant. Bob elected to stay behind but the rest of us enjoyed a very fine meal and were back at the B & B by 22:00h. What a delicious feeling to know that we would be staying here for four nights!
It had been a long, tiring day, featuring the most walking we would do in the entire trip.
All species in the Western Cape October 6
Common Ostrich, Helmeted Guineafowl, Grey-winged Francolin, Cape Spurfowl, Spur-winged Goose, Egyptian Goose, African Penguin, Great Crested Grebe, Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Black-headed Heron, Little Egret, Great White Pelican, Reed Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, Cape Cormorant, African Darter, Black Kite, White-backed Vulture, Jackal Buzzard, Denham’s Bustard, Red-knobbed Coot, Blue Crane, African Oystercatcher, White-crowned Lapwing, Crowned Lapwing, White-fronted Plover, Kelp Gull, Hartlaub’s Gull, Sandwich Tern, Swift Tern, Common Pigeon, Speckled Pigeon, African Olive Pigeon, Black Cuckoo, White-rumped Swift, Speckled Mousebird, African Hoopoe, Knysna Woodpecker, Bokmakiere, Southern Tchagra, Southern Boubou, Common Fiscal, Fork-tailed Drongo, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, White-necked Raven, Cape Rockjumper, Banded Martin, White-throated Swallow, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Rock Martin, Greater Striped Swallow, Agulhas Clapper Lark, Red-capped Lark, Large-billed Lark, Grey-backed Cisticola, Neddicky, Karoo Prinia, Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Bulbul, Victorin’s Warbler (H), Cape Grassbird, Cape Sugarbird, Cape White-eye, Common Starling, Pied Starling, Red-winged Starling, Cape Robin-Chat, Karoo Scrub Robin, Capped Wheatear, Familiar Chat, Cape Rock Thrush, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Malachite Sunbird, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, House Sparrow, Cape Sparrow, Cape Weaver, Southern Red Bishop, Yellow Bishop, Common Waxbill, Cape Wagtail, African Pipit, Brimstone Canary, Cape Siskin, Cape Bunting.
October 7, 2008, Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.
We were spoiled this morning; Jan let us sleep in an extra hour!
After breakfast we drove a short distance to walk the Klaasenbosch Trail is search of the secretive, drab Knysna Warbler. The trail was very wet and muddy and Miriam and Gary decided to hang back. This was, after all, the quest for the mother of all LBJs! The bird lived up to its name. Although we could hear its bubbling trill throughout the dense undergrowth, it was frustratingly difficult to find. Finally Jan located it hidden deep in the ground cover and Nell and I got the briefest of glimpses. Marcia was unable to see it, but Jan took her back there at the end of the day where she finally was able to get a look.
The residences in this neighbourhood were sumptuous and for the most part behind impenetrable walls topped with barbed wire, and electronically operated gates. In fact this seemed to be pretty standard throughout South Africa and everywhere featured the security service of choice, usually announcing "armed response."
We then proceeded to Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve where we spent a lovely morning. We located numerous species of birds and one of the special delights was a pair of Common Ostrich with seven chicks, walking along the road. The male put on quite a display of aggression and I think we were glad to be in the safety of the van. We also sighted our first Cape Gannets.
Lunch was taken at Two Oceans Restaurant in the park where we overlooked the ocean with Southern Right Whales swimming by, and Red-winged Starlings at arm’s length, swooping in for every scrap of food they could find.
In the afternoon we visited Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. We immediately fell in love with this fabulous facility and could easily have spent a couple of days there. The representation of the floral diversity of South Africa was complete, but we were especially taken with the Fynbos - so utterly unique and beautiful. Birding highlights were a pair of Swee Waxbills and a very cooperative Spotted Eagle-Owl perched near one of the paths. The birds were easy to see in the botanical gardens. They have obviously become accustomed to people and do not immediately fly away upon approach. No less than four Cape Spurfowl strolled around quite unconcerned and we saw a pair of Common Chaffinch, introduced from Europe and found only in this corner of Southern Africa. Dinner was at the Groot Constantia Wine Estate - a great choice with great food and great wine. What more could one wish for?
We were back at the B & B by about 21:00h so we read for a while before showering and going to bed. We remembered to apply our Scopolamine patches in preparation for the pelagic trip the next day.
All species in the Western Cape October 7
Common Ostrich, Helmeted Guineafowl, Cape Spurfowl, Egyptian Goose, Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Little Egret, Cape Gannet, Crowned Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, Cape Cormorant, Rock Kestrel, African Oystercatcher, Kelp Gull, Hartlaub’s Gull, Swift Tern, Common Tern, Common Pigeon, Red-eyed Dove, Ring-necked Dove, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Cape Batis, Common Fiscal, Pied Crow, White-necked Raven, Black Saw-wing, Rock Martin, Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Prinia, Cape Bulbul, Sombre Greenbul, Knysna Warbler, Cape Grassbird, Cape Sugarbird, Cape White-eye, Common Starling, Red-winged Starling, Olive Thrush, Cape Robin-Chat, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Malachite Sunbird, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Yellow Bishop. Swee Waxbill, Common Waxbill, Common Chaffinch, Cape Canary, Forest Canary, Cape Bunting.
October 8, 2008, Cape Peninsula (Pelagic), Boulder’s Beach, Strandfontein Water Works.
This was one of the most anticipated days of the entire South African adventure. Reputedly one of the best pelagic trips in the world, we were very much looking forward to sailing out to the Benguela current off Capetown.
We left for Simon’s Town at 07:00h and it was overcast and raining as we drove. After a short wait for our boat and a briefing from our guide, Alvin Cope, we boarded, along with a few other people, and set off for deep waters. By now the rain had pretty much ceased and it was not at all cold.
"An albatross is a great symphony of flesh, perception, bone and feathers, composed of long movements, and set to ever-changing rhythms of light, wind and water. The musicality of an albatross in air, derives not just from the bird itself but from the contrapuntal suite of action and inaction from which it composes flight."
Carl Safina, "Albatross" 2008.
Neither Miriam nor I had ever seen an albatross and could only imagine how grand and awe-inspiring it would be. On this day we would not be disappointed.
We saw four species of albatross - Indian and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, Black-browed Albatross and Shy Albatross. Sometimes the birds would cruise alongside the boat displaying their unimaginable mastery of flight, and so close one did not need binoculars. It was a breathtaking and never to be forgotten experience.
I am not a veteran of many pelagic trips, and for Miriam none at all, so comparisons with other oceanic ventures are not possible. For us this was a trip of outstanding quality and we cannot conceive that it would not stack up very favourably with other well known pelagic journeys.
Alvin Cope, the principal guide on the boat was a sterling delight. His obvious love of seabirds and his contagious enthusiasm in showing them to others was almost tangible. It was very helpful to have him call out the birds and repeatedly point out the field marks so that we would get used to them and begin to have the thrill of recognizing the birds ourselves.
At one point he saw a bird he did not recognize and all of a sudden became very energized and excited. It was the first Little Shearwater he had seen in many years.
I am always happy when I am in the company of enthusiasts and Alvin certainly fit the bill.
Jan got three lifers on this pelagic and it cost him a bottle of wine at dinner that night. I am sure he was happy to pay the price!
We saw a scintillating variety of birds from tiny Wilson’s Storm Petrels to plank-winged Shy Albatrosses and both Southern and Northern Giant Petrels, at one point side by side resting on the water. A favourite with everyone was the very distinctively plumaged Pintado Petrel. There were hundreds of Cape Gannets, at times cruising in formation across the top of the waves, at other times plunge diving into the ocean.
The captain of our boat was able to find a couple of fishing trawlers and get close to them, so that we could witness the spectacular feeding frenzy as the nets were hauled in. The birds were given a good deal of competition from the Cape Fur Seals which were also attracted to the trawlers.
To cap it all off, on the way back to the harbour at Simon’s Town we spotted two African penguins in the ocean.
It was a fine and memorable experience - everything we had hoped it would be. We would not have missed it for the world.
Once back ashore we drove to Boulder’s Beach to the African Penguin colony. We spent about a half hour with these engaging little creatures and certainly came away with many photographs.
"I remember when I was first able to see Maccoa Ducks at the Wildfowl Trust, and thinking they were like a Christmas present wrapped in plain brown paper, but with enough time might gradually become unwrapped."
Paul Johnsgard. Pers. Comm
I am happy to say that we saw Maccoa Ducks "unwrapped" at the Strandfontein Water Work, our final destination for the day. There are many striking waterfowl in the world, but perhaps as a group, stifftails are as enigmatic as any. There were several on one of the lagoons and we also were able to locate White-backed Duck which I am sure was a great relief for Jan.
There was a large raft of Great White Pelicans there and a huge flotilla of Greater Flamingos.
Late afternoon featured a very cool wind when we occasionally disembarked from the van and a distinctive odour of "eau de sewer!" greeted everyone’s nostrils. We left for our B & B at 18:25h, arriving there at 18:50h. Twenty minutes later we were back in the van heading out for dinner.
All species in the Western Cape October 8
Helmeted Guineafowl, Cape Spurfowl, Knob-billed Duck, Egyptian Goose, Cape Teal, Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveler, Southern Pochard, Maccoa Duck, African Penguin, Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross, Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Shy Albatross, Southern Giant Petrel, Northern Giant Petrel, Pintado Petrel, White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Great Shearwater, Little Shearwater, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Black-bellied Storm Petrel, Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Eared Grebe, Greater Flamingo, Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Black-headed Heron, Great White Pelican, Cape Gannet, Reed Cormorant, Crowned Cormorant, Bank Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, Cape Cormorant, African Marsh Harrier, Black Crake, African Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, African Oystercatcher, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Blacksmith Lapwing, Kelp Gull, Hartlaub’s Gull, Sabine’s Gull, Swift Tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Subantarctic Skua, Common Pigeon, Speckled Pigeon, Little Swift, Horus Swift, Pied Crow, White-throated Swallow, Rock Martin, Greater Striped Swallow, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Little Rush Warbler (H), Lesser Swamp Warbler (H), Cape Wagtail.
October 9, 2008, West Coast National Park.
We had to leave early at 06:00h, so Jan had arranged for us to have coffee at 05:45h. It was instant, so I passed!
We headed north with a nice sunrise reflecting off the clouds. Soon we stopped on a secondary road on the Darling Wild Flower Route and saw White-backed Mousebird and Southern Black Korhaan. We had barely resumed our journey on the highway when we had a Black Harrier, a southern African endemic flying alongside us. I think that Jan was doing about 30 km/hr along the shoulder and the bird was either keeping up, or at times passing us. It was a wonderful way to first see this very striking raptor.
We stopped at the Tinie Versfeld Wild Flower Reserve to have breakfast, then walked a short distance to search for Cloud Cisticola. We were not long in finding this species doing its vertical dives to the ground.
It was very cold and Miriam added another layer of clothes. She was determined not to get thoroughly chilled as had happened in Wakkerstroom.
We entered West Coast National Park and walked to a hide, but the tide was in and there was not a great deal of bird life. We did see a few Curlew Sandpipers and a couple of Black-winged Stilts in small pools as we walked in, but little else of note. We had a really great look at a Cardinal Woodpecker.
Jan wanted to wait until the tide receded so we went into the Geelbek Restaurant where we had delicious hot coffee or hot chocolate with muffins and scones, served with cheese, butter and jam. It was very pleasant indeed, especially since we enjoyed the company of weavers and bishops flying in for scraps. Jan said that we would return there for lunch.
In the meantime, since the tide had not yet receded we went for a drive along the roads in the park. We had not gone far when a highly venomous Boomslang crossed the road in front of the vehicle. At just about the same time Jan spotted a Cape Penduline Tit, so we all got out of the van for a good look. Thanks goodness the Boomslang slithered off into the grass! Having gone barely a few hundred metres farther, we came to a halt again, this time for a Puff Adder off to the side of the road. We soon realized that this snake was dead, but there seemed to be no apparent reason for its demise. It obviously had not been dead long and there was no sign that it had been crushed by a vehicle.
By now it was warming up nicely and Miriam was able to shed some of her layers. We stopped at Seeberg Lookout with a panoramic view of the bay and the mountains.
We returned to the restaurant at 13:45h and were fascinated by the work going on in a Cape Weaver colony, where males were constructing nests with the precision and care of a fine seamstress.
After lunch there was considerably more exposed shore and we went back to the hide. It was quite cold and windy in there with the windows opened, but there was by now a variety of shorebirds, many new for the trip. We left the hide at about 16:50h, stopping shortly afterwards to watch six European Bee-eaters.
Dinner was taken at the restaurant at Kirstenbosch Gardens and the meal I had of Malay curried chicken in a pappadam shell was very enjoyable. Miriam elected to stay behind to get ready for our departure the next morning.
All species in the Western Cape October 9
Common Ostrich, Helmeted Guineafowl, Egyptian Goose, Cape Teal, Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Grey Heron, Black-headed Heron, Little Egret, Rock Kestrel, Black-shouldered Kite, Black Kite, African Marsh Harrier, Black Harrier, Southern Black Korhaan, Red-knobbed Coot, Spotted Thick-knee, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Blacksmith Lapwing, Grey Plover, Common Ringed Plover, White-fronted Plover, Whimbrel, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Sanderling, Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff, Kelp Gull, Hartlaub’s Gull, Caspian Tern, Sandwich Tern, Swift Tern, Speckled Pigeon, Ring-necked Dove, White-backed Mousebird, Pied Kingfisher, European Bee-eater, Cardinal Woodpecker, Bokmakiere, Common Fiscal, Pied Crow, Cape Penduline Tit, Banded Martin, Barn Swallow, White-throated Swallow, Grey-backed Cisticola, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Cloud Cisticola, Karoo Prinia, Cape Bulbul, Common Starling, Pied Starling, Cape Robin-Chat, Karoo Scrub Robin, Malachite Sunbird, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, House Sparrow, Cape Sparrow, Cape Weaver, Yellow Bishop, Cape Wagtail, Cape Canary, Yellow Canary, Cape Bunting.
Accomodation: Little Lodge Rating: Three and a half stars. We had a quite nice, self-contained apartment, which was more than adequate for our needs, but a little interior maintenance is required.
October 10, 2008, Capetown to Calvinia.
We did not have to get up until 06:00h this morning. Breakfast was at 07:00h following which we found spots in the van for all our luggage and were on our way soon after 07:30h.
Our first destination was the Paarl Mountain Reserve to hunt for the Protea Seedeater, which was very easy to find. We also located a Karoo Prinia and its nest.
Flushed by this early morning success we drove down the mountain and back into Paarl where Jan stopped so that we could all get out of the vehicle to enjoy two low-flying Booted Eagles. It was truly a marvelous sight to see these raptors wheeling and banking in the bright sun to give us stellar looks at every facet of their plumage.
We travelled though a 4km tunnel through the Hexriver Mountains to cut off some of the distance from the longer, more scenic route.
Jan advised us that we would be travelling on a 210km stretch of gravel road to Calvinia, without gas stations, town or facilities of any kind.
We did stop at a small picnic area where we located the Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. There was a toilet there; well, a smelly hole in the ground with walls around it; hardly very salubrious, especially for the ladies. I watched two Mountain Wheatears carry food into this area and went in to check on a nest with young. Given the odour and the general disgusting nature of the "rest room" everyone else declined to partake of this pleasure!
We were passing through amazingly beautiful, albeit stark, Tanqua Karoo and turned off the road at one point to a large rock formation, surrounded by purple flowers and views that stretched forever. It was remarkable and cameras were clicking.
Another picnic area with tables and shade trees in the Schwartruggens Conservation Area provided a stopping place for lunch. It was quite birdy and we located Pririt Batis there.
We entered the Northern Cape about one hundred kilometres from Calvinia.
We continued our drive through starkly beautiful country, at first festooned with pink flowers but giving way to yellow blooms. We saw the first Pale Chanting Goshawk of the trip. It was perched at the roadside and did not fly when we stopped to get a good look. What a handsome raptor! Over the remainder of the trip we would see many PCGs (as Jan called them) but I would never tire of them and my admiration of their beauty never diminished.
About thirty kilometres from Calvinia we ascended a mountain pass. The hills and winding road were a welcome break from the unchanging landscape of the past several hours.
We arrived at our guest house, Die Hantam Huis, around 16:30h. White-backed Mousebirds were flying back and forth and a Karoo Thrush was on the wall.
We immediately fell in love with the guest house. It was like being taken back a hundred years. We had a huge kitchen, a large bedroom, another smaller quasi sitting room and a bathroom. Everything was furnished with antique pieces and the walls were decorated with interesting artifacts. Everything about this place was unique, including the benches on either side of the table - they were old church pews.
Once again we were left with the feeling that we would like to spend more time there. But we enjoyed it as much as we could. We made a cup of tea and sat outside and then decided to take a walk around town. There was not a lot to see, but it was a pleasant walk anyway and we got to stretch our legs.
The list was done outside Jan’s room and we walked to the dining room of the guest house for dinner. What a splendid meal it was, and based on what Jan told us, traditional Afrikaans fare. It started with a magnificent spinach soup just bursting with texture and flavour, followed by a goat stew made with a type of water lily plant alongside a plate of rice, carrots, beets, squash and zucchini. Not only was it delicious, it was all cooked to perfection, not a soggy or dry item at all, nothing undercooked or overcooked. Desert was a strawberry compote with a sliced strawberry on top and a scoop of ice cream.
We shared a bottle of Nederberg Shiraz with Marcia and Bob.
As we clambered into our immaculately clean, well made bed, with extra blankets if we needed them, we congratulated ourselves on our good fortune to experience this place. Sleep came easily and no doubt we had sweet dreams!
All species in the Western Cape October 10
Helmeted Guineafowl, Egyptian Goose, Sacred Ibis, Hadada Ibis, Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Black-headed Heron, Little Egret, Great White Pelican, White-breasted Cormorant, Greater Kestrel, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Black Harrier, African Harrier-Hawk, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Jackal Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Karoo Korhaan, Red-knobbed Coot, Kelp Gull, Hartlaub’s Gull, Common Pigeon, Speckled Pigeon, Laughing Dove, Namaqua Dove, White-rumped Swift, White-backed Mousebird, Pririt Batis, Bokmakiere (H), Common Fiscal, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, White-necked Raven, Rock Martin, Greater Striped Swallow, Karoo Lark, Red-capped Lark, Karoo Prinia, Bar-throated Apalis, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Cape Bulbul, Layard’s Tit-babbler, Orange River White-eye, Common Starling, Pied Starling, Karoo Thrush, Mountain Wheatear, Karoo Chat, Familiar Chat, Fiscal Flycatcher, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Amethyst Sunbird, Malachite Sunbird, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Dusky Sunbird, House Sparrow, Cape Sparrow, Cape Weaver, Southern Masked Weaver, Southern Red Bishop, African Pipit, Cape Canary, White-throated Canary, Protea Seedeater, Cape Bunting.
All species in the Northern Cape October 10
Rock Kestrel, Lanner Falcon, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Laughing Dove, Namaqua Dove, White-backed Mousebird, Greater Striped Swallow, Pied Crow, Red-capped Lark, Karoo Thrush, Karoo Chat, Capped Wheatear, Southern Red Bishop, Yellow Canary, Black-headed Canary, Lark-like Bunting.
Accomodation: Die Hantam Huis Rating: Five stars. This hostelry was fabulous and the staff were so polite. Truly, it was a joy to stay here.
October 11, 2008, Calvinia to Brandvlei.
We were out for pre-breakfast birding by 06:00h and drove just outside Calvinia to a nature reserve just as the sun was rising over the mountains. The birding was great and we had Karoo Long-billed Larks aplenty, three Karoo Eremomelas and five Grey-backed Sparrowlarks, all lifers, before heading back to town for breakfast.
How often can you call breakfast fantastic? Well this one was. Just as wonderful as last night’s dinner and equally unique. I have never in all my life had such wonderfully creamy scrambled eggs, tasty spiced sausage, chicken liver patties, with scones and muffins. I was happy to pass on the cereal, yoghurt, fruit salad, juice, toast and other stuff. And the coffee was really good too; sometimes hard to come by in our experience; at least coffee that satisfies a North American palate. Mostly, even Bodem coffee was so strong as to be almost bitter and the bottom of the cup collected coffee grounds that resembled sludge. This morning we had filtered coffee, delicious, black, steaming hot, and lots of it.
The same charming staff were on duty again. They sure work long hours but maintain their impeccable politeness and good humour.
We left Calvinia about 09:00h and struck out for Brandvlei, driving through terrain that certainly seemed to us like the land that God gave to Cain. Martial Eagles were familiar companions, perched on utility poles running alongside the road. The question we all asked ourselves when we arrived in Brandvlei around noon was "Why would the first settlers have chosen this place?" It seemed to have nothing to attract even the most perverse of people. It is dry, dusty, flat, windswept and totally unappealing.
We checked into the Brandvlei Hotel which would be home for only one night. Thank the Lord for small mercies! It was frankly quite abysmal; the overall seedy look of the place, its barred frontage, indifferent staff and awful rooms.
After having deposited our luggage into our rooms we drove out of town a short distance on a quest for larks. After a while we returned to the only restaurant in Brandvlei, other than in the Brandvlei Hotel, Die Windpomp, for lunch. It was interesting in the sense that it still had the air of a nineteenth century boomtown eatery left behind when the town went bust.
We again left for the "outback." It was hot and we drove through a barren, desert landscape with not even the flowers that had been so abundant elsewhere to enliven the terrain. We searched for larks, sparrows, buntings, lark-like buntings, sparrowlarks - little brown jobs on brown desert sand. Jan’s two principal targets were Red Lark and Sclater’s Lark (a lifer for Jan). We drove to the other side of town and parked opposite a water trough. Birds came and went but neither of our target species put in an appearance.
Finally at 17:30h we headed back to town. Jan made one last try for Red Lark, driving along a road he thought might produce it. "After all," he said, "We can’t eat dinner in the Red Lark Restaurant without seeing a Red Lark." It would have been a dusty Red Lark indeed had we succeeded in finding it. The road was used by huge trucks and the dust clouds they created literally robbed us of all visibility. We stood by the van and hurriedly scrambled back in and closed all the windows whenever one of these leviathans rumbled by. The noise was deafening, the fumes terrible and the dust choking. We did not see the bird!
Dinner was at 19:00h. It was pretty pedestrian fare, not especially well prepared.
After dinner we went on a night drive and were able to see Rufous-cheeked Nightjar, a Striped Polecat and Bat-eared Fox.
We went back to a room that was dirty and a bath/shower that was filthy. The shower had no shower curtain and was, therefore, useless. The pillow was so totally disgusting that Miriam photographed it to remind us just how bad a room can be sometimes. Mosquitos buzzed around us all night and we received several bites. The next morning we found out that everyone else had the same experience.
All species in the Northern Cape, October 11
Egyptian Goose, South African Shelduck, Cape Teal, Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveler, Southern Pochard, Little Grebe, Eared Grebe, Sacred Ibis, Glossy Ibis, African Spoonbill, Reed Cormorant, Rock Kestrel, African Fish Eagle, Black Harrier, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Martial Eagle, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Blacksmith Lapwing, Three-banded Plover, Common Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, Little Stint, Ruff, Grey-headed Gull, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Common Pigeon, Speckled Pigeon, Laughing Dove, Spotted Eagle Owl, Rufous-cheeked Nightjar, Little Swift, White-backed Mousebird, European Bee-eater, African Hoopoe, Acacia Pied Barbet, Bokmakiere, Common Fiscal, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, White-necked Raven, Rock Martin, South African Cliff Swallow, Sabota Lark, Karoo Long-billed Lark, Karoo Lark, Spike-heeled Lark, Red-capped Lark, Large-billed Lark, Black-eared Sparrowlark, Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Grey-backed Cisticola, Rufous-eared Warbler, Karoo Prinia, Karoo Eremomela, Common Starling, Pied Starling, Pale-winged Starling, Karoo Scrub Robin, African Stonechat, Capped Wheatear, Sickle-winged Chat, Karoo Chat, Tractrac Chat, Familiar Chat, Chat Flycatcher, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, House Sparrow, Cape Sparrow, Cape Weaver, Southern Red Bishop, Cape Wagtail, Cape Canary, Yellow Canary, White-throated Canary, Black-headed Canary, Lark-like Bunting, Cape Bunting.
Accomodation: Brandvlei Hotel Rating: One star.
October 12, 2008, Brandvlei to Springbok.
Miriam passed up a pre-breakfast birding stint to try to get a little sleep. She had not slept well due to mosquitos buzzing around the room the whole night, and she coughed quite a bit towards morning, still unable to shake the persistent and lingering cough that had plagued her for most of the trip.
We were successful in locating Red Lark, but Sclater’s Lark still eluded us.
We returned to the hotel around 08:00h, had breakfast and were on our way again by 09:00h. None of us were sorry to be vacating the Brandvlei Hotel.
Jan was on a mission to find Sclater’s Lark and we made an extended stop at a water trough. Other larks came and went, Lark-like Buntings were common, but Sclater’s Lark was as invisible as ever.
We did start to see the amazing "apartment houses" of Sociable Weavers on utility poles. Some of these structures are enormous and house many individual nests within them. Pygmy Falcons are known to expropriate a weaver nest and use it as their own and we were on the lookout for this beautiful little falcon.
Another watering station was a magnet for Jan and we stopped again to wait for Sclater’s Lark to fly in, but still to no avail.
A short time later we stopped by a small grove of quiver trees and I had the misfortune of disturbing a nest of bees. Within minutes I was surrounded by angry bees and felt sharp jabs of pain as I was stung on the outer part of both ears. I ran back to the van with bees in pursuit, but realized that I didn’t have the key. Fortunately, Miriam had realized the same thing and had gotten the key from Jan and followed me to the van. I guess I had felt the sharp pain from the stings to my ears, but when we got inside we found that I had been stung several other times on the head. It was not a pleasant experience!
Everyone else returned shortly afterwards being careful to detour around the bees. Marcia insisted that I needed anti-histamines and, God bless her, unloaded one side of the van to get to her suitcase on the bottom, to get them for me. I took two immediately and I am sure they were responsible for ameliorating the stings, even though they made me a little drowsy. Marcia insisted that I hold onto the anti-histamines and take a couple more twelve hours later. I was very appreciative of her kind action.
We stopped at noon in a small town and picked up some snacks for lunch.
The landscape was changing slightly - there were less small shrubs and more grass. Sociable Weaver nests were just about everywhere we looked. We located a male Pygmy Falcon on a wire under a pole top weaver nest, with the female in a tree nearby tearing into a lizard and eating it.
It was a very long hot drive and Jan was fighting to stay awake. He stopped to take a break and we were able to buy cold drinks at a small store. We carried on, with Jan still drowsy, and finally arrived at the Mountain View Guest House in Springbok at 16:30h and were happy to contemplate a two-night stay.
What a contrast from the Brandvlei Hotel. All our rooms were very comfortable, well appointed and immaculately clean. Quite delightful, really. There was a well-stocked refrigerator in the foyer with soft drinks, fruit juices, beer and wine, and a table with red wine and a tray of lovely crystal wine glasses. After the long, hot drive we were very happy to get a bottle of cold white wine and enjoy a glass each.
The list was completed in the sitting room and we walked a short distance to have dinner at the Springbok Lodge and Restaurant.
We walked back to our lodgings and arrived there just before 20:00h. We were early to bed to prepare for an early start the next morning.
All species in the Northern Cape October 12
Egyptian Goose, Pygmy Falcon, Greater Kestrel, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Booted Eagle, Martial Eagle, Karoo Korhaan, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Speckled Pigeon, Laughing Dove, Namaqua Dove, Little Swift, White-backed Mousebird, Pririt Batis, Pied Crow, Rock Martin, Sabota Lark, Karoo Long-billed Lark, Karoo Lark, Red Lark, Black-eared Sparrowlark, Grey-backed Sparrowlark, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Pied Starling, Karoo Scrub Robin, Mountain Wheatear, Chat Flycatcher, Dusky Sunbird, Sociable Weaver, Cape Sparrow, Cape Weaver, Southern Masked Weaver, Southern Red Bishop, Lark-like Bunting.
October 13, 2008, Springbok to Port Nolloth to Springbok to Goegap Nature Reserve.
We had to set the alarm for 04:15h to leave for Port Nolloth by 05:00h. It was dark and foggy as we travelled northwest.
We arrived in Port Nolloth at 06:25h and made a successful walk through the sand dunes for Cape Long-billed Lark. It was still cool and overcast and we ate breakfast which we had brought with us at 07:30h. It was a very well prepared meal with far more than we could eat. I later gathered up everyone’s leftovers and gave them to a construction crew in town. They were glad to have it.
We scoured the water’s edge and the dune habitat and saw a variety of birds including four Barlow’s Larks, one of which had some kind of mouse foraging alongside it. This lark was our second target in Port Nolloth.
We all felt a little chilled and stopped for a coffee at a restaurant in town. This was an enjoyable stop, made very entertaining by the engaging proprietor. Bob magnanimously offered to send her George Bush. She quickly said, "No thank you, but we’ll take Barak Obama!"
Jan advised that it was a little early for Damara Tern, however, we drove out to a salt pan to look for a possible early arrival, but we struck out.
By 09:45h we were on the road back to Springbok, with the sun breaking through the clouds.
There were many, many Pied Crow and Greater Kestrel nests on the utility poles along the highway. There was a second set of insulators below those being used for the wires and they made perfect nesting platforms.
We found a lookout point and stopped there for a short time. The birding was quite good, with lots of familiar species for us to examine.
Back in Springbok we went for lunch and returned briefly to our B & B before leaving for Goegap Nature Reserve. This is an absolutely lovely place with a spectacular landscape. We had great looks at Grey Tit and four European Bee-eaters. A Karoo Eremomela was feeding young. At one point the road wound around a promontory and spread below us was a sweeping plain with Springbok and Oryx eating, gambolling, running, sparring. It was a superlative moment when, if one permitted the imagination to wander, it could have been primal Africa before we altered its landscape and fenced in its wildlife. I found it very moving.
There were lots of Rock Hyraxes to entertain us, Klipspringers and many Karoo Girdled Lizards were on the rocks.
Goegap was another one of those places both Miriam and I wished we could have seen more of. On this kind of trip, however, a couple of hours driving through is all you get.
After dinner at the same place as last evening we went on a night drive. Wow! This was superlative. We literally lost count of the number of Spotted Eagle Owls and Cape Eagle Owls we saw, including two owls on the same pole who cooperatively "snuggled" up together.
We returned to our room at 20:15h and were happy to get some sleep.
All species in the Northern Cape October 13
Black-headed Heron, Crowned Cormorant, Bank Cormorant, Cape Cormorant, Greater Kestrel, Lanner Falcon, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Jackal Buzzard, Ludwig’s Bustard, African Oystercatcher, White-fronted Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Kelp Gull, Grey-headed Gull, Hartlaub’s Gull, Speckled Pigeon, Laughing Dove, Cape Eagle Owl, Spotted Eagle Owl, Little Swift, White-backed Mousebird, European Bee-eater, Bokmakiere, Common Fiscal, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, Grey Tit, Rock Martin, Cape Long-billed Lark, Karoo Lark, Barlow’s Lark, Red-capped Lark, Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Prinia, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Karoo Eremomela, Layard’s Tit-babbler, Common Starling, Karoo Scrub Robin, African Stonechat, Capped Wheatear, Mountain Wheatear, Karoo Chat, Tractrac Chat, Ant-eating Chat, Malachite Sunbird, Dusky Sunbird, House Sparrow, Cape Sparrow, Cape Wagtail, Long-billed Pipit, White-throated Canary, Black-headed Canary, Lark-like Bunting, Cape Bunting.
Accomodation: Mountain View Guest House Rating: Five stars. High standard of excellence in every facet of this location.
October 14, 2008, Springbok to Pofadder to border post (Onseepkans) to Augrabies Falls National Park.
This morning was taken at a leisurely pace. We didn’t have breakfast until 07:00h, before which we took a coffee out into the garden to enjoy the mountain view from which the B & B takes its name. It was quite delightful there, surrounded by lavender, wisteria and honeysuckle.
We were back on the road by 07:45h driving along on a clear, sunny day which was already quite warm.
We were all relaxed, chatting to each other, when Jan suddenly spotted a flock of Namaqua Sandgrouse coming in to drink at a cistern close to the highway. He stopped so that we could all see it and we are so thankful that he did. As it happened it was one of the great spectacles of the trip. There were literally thousands and thousands of birds. They came in wave after wave to drink and alighted in groups to await their turn, just as though they had taken a number at the supermarket deli counter! As soon as one group had sated its thirst it flew up and another contingent replaced it. This went on for a considerable length of time and it was truly a thrilling event to watch. And because we were so close and stationary we were really able to examine the birds and appreciate just how lovely they are.
We took a detour off the highway and located lots of Spike-heeled Larks and a Red Lark for Miriam who had not seen it in Brandvlei, but no Sclater’s Lark, despite Jan’s cursing, muttering under his breath and invocations to the Gods. He was bent on getting his lifer!
A little while later we stopped at another cistern and finally the Sclater’s Lark put in an appearance; two of them in fact. We were all happy to see it, of course, but were especially content that Jan could finally rest easy and not have another night’s sleep disturbed by visions of Sclater’s Lark disappearing into the void, never to be seen again on one of his tours.
We decided to have an early lunch in Pofadder and were in the Boesmanland Restaurant by 11:300h. The waitress handed us a menu that would rival "War and Peace" in length and we all made our choice, not really knowing what two thirds of the stuff was. Not only that, there was only one copy of the menu available so we had to pass it from one to the other. Miriam and I made the mistake of ordering spring chicken. Little did we know that this was an entire small fowl, something like a Cornish hen and they had to cook it from scratch. What we had thought would be a short lunch turned out to be a marathon of patience. I could have written my memoirs while we waited! At least the chicken was very tasty.
An hour and a half after we entered the eatery we were on our way up to the Namibian border to try to find Rosy-faced Lovebird. Alas, we struck out. We tried to coax Jan into going over the border to search for it in the extensive vegetation we could clearly see, but he was immovable and we did not get another stamp in our passport, nor a lovebird!
We had nice looks at Orange River White-eye with its peach-coloured flanks. Depending on whose taxonomy you accept this is either a separate species or a subspecies of Cape White-eye. Both the SASOL Field Guide and the new Roberts Field Guide accord it full species status.
We drove back to Pofadder and onwards to Augrabies National Park. Our accomodation there was a lovely well-equipped chalet where, had we stayed longer, we could have become totally self sufficient.
Immediately after getting our bags into the room we went up to see the falls from which the park takes its name. There was lots of bird life there and brightly coloured Augrabies Flat Lizards seemed to adorn every rock. We had great views of Alpine Swift, but could not find the Bradfield’s Swift Jan told us to look for. Horus Swift was present, however; another lifer for everyone on the trip. Cape and Pale-winged Starlings were common around the falls. There was a little excitement when a Peregrine Falcon put in an appearance. There was ample food for it there, but it must not have been hungry. It perched on a rocky outcrop and was totally oblivious to the swifts and Rock Martins buzzing it constantly. We were all hoping it would hunt, but when we left it was still in the same spot, not having moved since it landed.
Dinner was taken in the restaurant at the park, and very enjoyable it was too. Miriam had Kudu goulash and I had Springbok stroganoff. Both meals were quite delicious, Miriam’s perhaps more so than mine. We shared some fine Nederburg wine with Marcia and Bob, a lovely accompaniment to our dinner.
We returned to our delightful accomodation soon after 21:00h and had a great night’s sleep.
All species in the Northern Cape October 14
Common Ostrich, Egyptian Goose, Hadada Ibis, Black-headed Heron, African Darter, Greater Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Speckled Pigeon, Laughing Dove, Namaqua Dove, African Palm Swift, Alpine Swift, Horus Swift, White-rumped Swift, White-backed Mousebird, African Hoopoe, Acacia Pied Barbet, Common Fiscal, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, Rock Martin, Fawn-coloured Lark, Red Lark, Spike-heeled lark, Red-capped Lark, Sclater’s Lark, Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Rufous-eared Warbler, Black-chested Prinia, Karoo Prinia, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Orange River White-eye, Cape Starling, Pale-winged Starling, Cape Robin Chat, Karoo Scrub Robin, Mountain Wheatear, Ant-eating Chat, Chat Flycatcher, Dusky Sunbird, Sociable Weaver, House Sparrow, Cape Sparrow, Southern Masked Weaver, Southern Red Bishop, Common Waxbill, African Pipit, Black-throated Canary, Yellow Canary, White-throated Canary, Lark-like Bunting.
Accomodation: A chalet in the park. Rating: Five stars. Wish we could have stayed longer.
October 15, 2008 Augrabies National Park to Kimberley
Pre-breakfast birding netted us three lifers in short order - Namaqua Warbler, African Reed Warbler and Lesser Honeyguide. Since we had merely heard and never seen another honeyguide on the entire trip, we were especially pleased to get a good look at this one.
Rock Hyraxes were everywhere, in quite sizeable groups at times, and African Hoopoes picked their way along the ground. A female Pygmy Falcon perched in an acacia gave us great views. In among the cabins we saw both Yellow Mongoose and Little Grey Mongoose.
Breakfast in the park restaurant was very good. Miriam and I both had eggs and fishcakes. Coffee was hot and plentiful.
Our drive through the park before leaving was more noteworthy for mammals than for birds. We saw many Giraffe, Springbok, Mountain Zebra, Oryx, South African Ground Squirrel, Dassie Rat, Chacma Baboon and Klipspringer.
We stopped at Echo Corner, a beautiful spot overlooking a small lake below.
This park is truly magnificent. We hardly scratched the surface of all the pleasure that could have been derived from a longer stay.
We exited at around 12:10h and stopped a while later for lunch at the Vergelegen Restaurant in Kakamas. The interior was very nice but we opted to sit outside in the warm sunshine, and the staff kindly organized the table parasols so that we were screened from the direct sun.
After lunch we left for the long drive to Kimberley. We arrived at 18:30h at Marrick Safaris, our final B & B of the trip. It was kind of scruffy looking and the rooms not especially attractive. We lucked out in having an ensuite bathroom, but even at that the hot water faucet ran constantly and there was mould in the shower. Everyone else had to leave their sleeping arrangements and go either across the hall or down some stairs to their bathroom, hardly a great arrangement in the night. Poor Jan had a room that was barely bigger than a closet and Nell and Gary didn’t fare much better.
The door to our room didn’t even have a functional handle to close it; let alone a lock.
Dinner was served outside under trees strung with lights, on a table with a lovely tablecloth and candles. A little concern was expressed by some about mosquitos, and they were quickly slapping on insect repellent, but I was not bothered at all by insects and I thought the setting very pleasant. Dinner was very good - Springbok carpaccio, roast chicken, rice, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, with Malva pudding for dessert. Our vin du jour was a smooth, superior Van Leuveren.
We were back in our room by 21:00h.
All species in the Northern Cape October 15
Common Ostrich, Hadada Ibis, Cattle Egret, White-breasted Cormorant, African Darter, Pygmy Falcon, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Speckled Pigeon, Laughing Dove, Alpine Swift, Little Swift, White-backed Mousebird, European Bee-eater, African Hoopoe, Acacia Pied Barbet, Lesser Honeyguide, Common Fiscal, Fork-tailed Drongo, Cape Crow, Pied Crow, Rock Martin, Greater Striped Swallow, Sabota Lark, Karoo Long-billed Lark, Spike-heeled Lark, Namaqua Warbler, African Red-eyed Bulbul, African Reed Warbler, Orange River White-eye, Pale-wined Starling, Karoo Thrush, Cape Robin Chat, Karoo Scrub Robin, Karoo Chat, Chat Flycatcher, Dusky Sunbird, Sociable Weaver, House Sparrow, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Southern Masked Weaver, Common Waxbill, Cape Wagtail.
October 16, 2008, Kimberley area, Marrick Safaris, Kamfer’s Dam.
A pre-breakfast stroll was very enjoyable and in short order we had three lifers - Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Short-toed Rock Thrush and Diderick Cuckoo. Jan and Marsha also saw Ashy Tit, but by the time Miriam and I located it, it was just a little dark bird dropping out of the tree. We were unable to see any detail at all; unfortunately we could not relocate it. We did have a nice pair of Cardinal Woodpeckers.
We left Marrick Safaris at 08:30h heading for Kimberley to search for the endemic Kimberley Pipit, a bird only recently described to science with an incredibly restricted range. When we arrived at Keeley Memorial Park, the area where it had been located on previous Rockjumper expeditions, it was closed off, the gates were locked and it was impossible to gain access. Even scanning from outside the gate there was absolutely no sign of pipits. It was quite delightful to see two Crowned Lapwing adults with three babies.
We went to the Big Hole where we succeeded in getting Bradfield’s Swift and a Steppe Buzzard (Buteo vulpinus, considered by many authorities as a separate species from Common Buzzard; others view it as a subspecies, Bueto buteo vulpinus). Marsha’s knowledge of geology was once again instrumental in making this stop even more interesting than it already was.
On to Kamfer’s Dam. Here one of the great spectacles of nature awaited us. There were about thirty-five thousand Lesser Flamingos on the water. How incredibly spectacular. It was a veritable sea of pink. We were all awestruck. The only way we could get even remotely close to the dam was to cross the railway tracks. Bob walked down quite a way to get some photographs and fortunately, albeit inadvertently, he flushed the flamingos. They took off in waves heading for the other side of the lake, and many of them flew right in front of us, giving us really great looks.
We all hustled off to the side of the tracks when a train came along. Eventually we went back across the tracks to the van and it was probably a good thing that we did it when we did. There were signs warning against going on the tracks but we were not going to leave without taking the only route we had to get even a little close to these magnificent birds. No doubt the train driver had called security and just as we were getting back into the van a security vehicle arrived. Had we still been on the tracks we might have been in trouble!
After lunch in Kimberley we returned to Marrick Safaris and took a drive through the grassland. It was parched and dry, with scrubby vegetation and one wondered how the plentiful wild life survives. We saw many Springbok in addition to Oryx, Burchell’s Zebra, Red Hartebeest, Yellow Mongoose, many ground squirrels, a lone male Warthog and Black Wildebeest. We also found a Leopard Tortoise moving quite rapidly through the sparse vegetation.
There were many birds including our target, Double-banded Courser, of which we saw several, including some tiny chicks.
We returned to our room at 15:50h, relaxed until 17:00h and then decided to go for a walk. It was great and we were able to see and identify quite a few species. Without having Jan there to call out everything, it was great to have to work to identify our own birds. We looked at two Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters very closely and could have studied them for as long as we wanted. What a stunning family bee-eaters are! Two gorgeous Crimson-breasted Shrikes were right in front of us. A Black-chested Prinia sat atop a small bush, African Hoopoes were ubiquitous. Perhaps the best sighting of all was Diderick Cuckoo. We had seen it this morning but in much poorer light than we now had. We were really able to appreciate the gorgeous green on its back.
After a very agreeable dinner served inside the farm house we went on a night drive. The vehicle was open topped and Jan did not have to drive or handle the spotlight. It was a great drive, introducing us to many new animals including the incredible kangaroo-like Springhare, Aardwolf, Aardvark and Porcupine. There were lots of Double-banded Coursers resting for the night and we saw a Spotted Eagle Owl right at the end of the drive.
It was about 20:30 when we returned.
All species in the Northern Cape October 16
Common Ostrich, Cape Teal, Little Grebe, Eared Grebe, Lesser Flamingo, Scared Ibis, Cattle Egret, Rock Kestrel, Black Kite, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Steppe Buzzard, Northen Black Korhaan, Spotted Thick-knee, Black-winged Stilt, Crowned Lapwing, Ruff, Double-banded Courser, Common Pigeon, Speckled Pigeon, Laughing Dove, Diderick Cuckoo, Alpine Swift, Bradfield’s Swift, Little Swift, White-backed Mousebird, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, African Hoopoe, Common Scimitarbill, Acacia Pied Barbet, Cardinal Woodpecker, Pririt Batis, Bokmakiere, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Common Fiscal, Fork-tailed Drongo, Pied Crow, Barn Swallow, Rock Martin, Greater-striped Swallow, Red-breasted Swallow, Sabota Lark, Spike-heeled Lark, Red-capped Lark, Pink-billed Lark, Black-chested Prinia, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, Cape Starling, Pied Starling, Familiar Chat, Ant-eating Chat, Short-toed Rock Thrush, Chat Flycatcher, Fiscal Flycatcher, White-browed Sparrow-Weaver, Sociable Weaver, House Sparrow, Cape Sparrow, Scaly-feathered Weaver, Southern Masked Weaver, Red-headed Finch, Cape Wagtail, African Pipit.
Accomodation: Marrick Safaris Rating: Two and a half stars. The rooms were quite second rate, the overall look of the place was scruffy; the meals, however were very good.
October 17, 2008, Kimberley to Johannesburg.
Miriam opted not to go on a pre-breakfast walk, but I accompanied Bob, Marcia and Nell to venture out with Jan one last time.
We drove out into the grassland a short distance and were rewarded with two lifers - Eastern Clapper Lark and Desert Cisticola. As usual, the ever plentiful Ant-eating Chat seemed to be perched atop each termite mound. We were able to get a final departing look at that most delicately beautiful of birds, Double-banded Courser.
After breakfast we packed the van one final time and headed off toward O.R. Tambo International Aiport for our flight home.
We drove past the Lesser Flamingos at Kamfer Dam in Kimberley for a departing gaze of wonderment.
Jan hinted (perhaps promised might be too strong a term) that we would search for European and Purple Roller en route, but it never happened.
He deposited us at the terminal at 14:15h and we bade him a very fond farewell. I think we had all enjoyed his guiding skills very much, and generally felt him to be a fine young fellow.
We had time to do a little shopping at the airport before our flight departed for Paris at 19:45h.
All species in the Northern Cape October 17
Common Ostrich, Lesser Flamingo, Hadada Ibis, Northern Black Korhaan, Double-banded Courser, Common Pigeon, Speckled Pigeon, Laughing Dove, White-backed Mousebird, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Pied Crow, Eastern Clapper Lark, Sabota Lark, Red-capped Lark, Desert Cisticola, Ant-eating Chat, White-bellied Sunbird, House Sparrow, Southern Masked Weaver.
October 18, 2008, Paris to Toronto.
Touchdown at Charles de Gaulle Airport at Orly was at 07:00h. We took the shuttle to the departure terminal and basically killed time until we boarded at 09:55h.
We arrived at Pearson International Airport in Toronto at 13:10h EDT; quickly cleared Customs and Immigration, retrieved our car and drove home, stopping only at Sobey’s to pick up milk.
It was a great trip. South Africa is an exciting and interesting country to visit. It has an advanced infrastructure with good highways, great dining, fine parks and reserves, and, of course, wonderful birds.
One constantly reads of the high rates of crime in South Africa, but we never felt ill at ease anywhere we went; quite the contrary in fact.
If you are into wine, there are delicious wines at very reasonable prices and they are available everywhere.
For the birder contemplating a new destination, I would highly recommend South Africa.
1. Dancing Blue Cranes
2. Enormous concentration of Pink Flamingos.
3. Huge flock of Namaqua Sandgrouse drinking.
4. Incredible pelagic trip.
5. Four Secretary Birds.
1. No African Finfoot.
2. Only very brief looks at Hamerkop in flight.
3. Never saw Narina Trogon, although we heard it close by.
4. No Marabou Stork.
5. Did not have lunch at the highest pub in Africa.
Rockjumper Birding Tours
A fine company; professional from start to finish. From the very first time we contacted their office we received very quick replies to emails, first rate attention and good advice. The office staff is efficient, friendly and no doubt reflects the environment that is cultivated by the people who started the company. Special thanks are due to Crystal and Alison.
Jan Pienaar is a fine guide, very well versed in all aspects of Southern African natural history. He told us that from the moment he left school he never wanted to be anything other than a guide, and his dedication and professionalism to his chosen profession showed though.
There were some very long drives and often his days were fourteen hours long. We were on vacation; he was at work. He was always cheerful and without exception put our welfare above his own.
He is a personable young man with a fine sense of humour.
We felt ourselves lucky to have travelled with him.
A PDF file of all birds, mammals and reptiles can be sent separately. For some reason the files as structured do not format correctly on this blog.
David M. Gascoigne or Miriam Bauman
606 Osprey Drive
Canada N2V 2A5
Fax 519 725-1176