Four Days in Kamberg

Paul and Sally Bartho

1 to 5 November 2015

On the spur of the moment Sally and I went to stay in a cottage at Glengarry in the Kamberg area – taking advantage of “stay three nights and get the fourth free” which was available at the time.

The weather certainly was very changeable. We had a taste of all four seasons in our time there.  On arrival the temperature was over 30 degrees Centigrade with a warm breeze. The next two days were windy and cold (between 10 C and 16 C) and snow appeared on the higher mountains and frost on the ground in front of the cottages. Then the next two days were a pleasant 20 C.

The location is quite central for the birding we wanted to do. Up the road to Highmoor, close-by to Kamberg in the Maloti Drakensberg Park and a short drive to the Crane Sanctuary on the way to Giant’s Castle. We did get another treat – but more about that later.

Glengarry cottages overlook several wetland areas, the river with the mountains as a backdrop – hard to beat as a view to wake up with every morning. There are also several areas for camping.

In the gloom of late afternoon we had our first treat – an Alpine Swift flying over the wetland in front of the cottage.

The first full day there we headed up to Highmoor – a slow drive to see what we could find. The snow could be clearly seen on the higher mountains in the distance.

On a couple of occasions we actually ventured out of the car despite the cold and biting wind. On one of these occasions we thought we heard the call of the Drakensberg Rockjumper.

At another stop we got out bravely to see Malachite Sunbirds among non-blooming Leonotis. And further up the valley we found Buff-streaked Chats and a Ground Woodpecker and Cape Rock-Thrush.

And in Highmoor on our last day we walked to the first dam and saw and heard Blue Cranes flying in the distance. There were several Jackal Buzzards overhead otherwise the birding was quite quiet. There was a mystery raptor but the photos below are pretty poor.

Our second full day we headed for Kamberg Nature Reserve. Again the weather was bitterly cold but the sky clear and snow on the mountains.

A pair of Grey-crowned Cranes made an appearance on the way to the Kamberg Nature Reserve.

Grey-crowned Crane
Grey-crowned Crane

In the Park there were a number of Bokmakierie which did their best to avoid my camera – their success not mine! Long-tailed and Red-collared Widowbirds were seen in the grassland as well as Yellow Bishops and Cape Longclaws. On one of the slopes on a nearby rock a Buff-streaked Chat made an appearance. Overhead we had a sighting of a Cape Vulture.

However the excitement for us was seen right in front of the camp amongst the daisies and also next to the closed trout hatchery – in each case a pair of Red-winged Francolins.

We did encounter a mystery bird which at first was thought to be a Cape Canary but the pictures in different lights baffled us. Click on them to enlarge.

After a morning in Kamberg we toddled along to pay a visit to the Crane Sanctuary – passing the Glengarry turnoff and heading towards Giant’s Castle. Along the way a view of the Giant.

Head and body of the sleeping Giant.
Head and body of the sleeping Giant.

On the side road to the Sanctuary there were horses and many foals ambling beside the road unattended and not fenced in. The visit to the sanctuary was brief walking round and observing each of the three Crane species and a poor flightless Lanner Falcon.

On the way out we had sightings of obliging Long-tailed Widowbirds, again Yellow Bishops and a Black-shouldered Kite on the power line easily overlooked by the numerous  bird deterrents hanging on the line.

Then as we approached the main road there was an African Marsh-Harrier quartering the fields and a pair of Southern Bald Ibis.

Beside the nearby dam there were a pair of South African Shelduck among the accompanying Hadedas and Geese.

The grounds of Glengarry provided us with the best birding. On each walk we were befriended by two Labs and an Australian Sheep dog. And despite their presence the birds were not shy in showing themselves.

In the wetlands we heard the call of an African Rail, an African Reed-Warbler and what Sally thinks was a Red-chested Flufftail – although I thought it sounded more like the Striped. Sally is more likely to be correct. Would have been great to have seen either – lifers for me.

Around the wetland area beside the river there were several sightings of Dark-capped Yellow Warblers, the calls of Lesser Swamp Warblers and a Cape Grassbird, the sighting of a calling Little Rush-Warbler, Forest Canaries. And in the river an African Black Duck. Also present was a Red-throated Wryneck – heard but not seen. And an Olive Woodpecker pecking avidly into the side of a dead branch.

Bokmakieries called all round our cottage but were impossible to find. And around the gardens there was much bird life.

There were a pair of Cape Sparrows nesting in the top of our chimney – so there were no evening fires for us.

Cape Sparrows nesting in our chimney
Cape Sparrows nesting in our chimney

And from our balcony we regularly watched a pair of African Hoopoes taking turns flying from their nest behind, all the way down to the wetlands and back again – we assume with food for their young.

African Hoopoe
African Hoopoe

Another perplexing sighting was that of a Cardinal Woodpecker on the roof of the cottage next door. Its head from a back view showed black with a  red crown – the front had a brown frons which is not visible in the photo. It was not until we reviewed our field guides that we realised that this is the natural head colouration of a juvenile Cardinal.

Probably the most unexpected sighting was the appearance of an Osprey flying over the wetlands.

And finally another mystery raptor which we think is an Black Sparrowhawk due to its long tail rather than a Jackal Buzzard because of the rufous appearance in the tail.

And now for the treat I mentioned at the beginning of this article. We were talking to Gareth (one of the sons of the owner who manage Glengarry) about birds in the area and he mentioned that he would contact a local pig farmer to see if he could take us to visit and see what they were doing. So at 08h30 on the Wednesday we headed to the farm. We left the car in one of the fields and walked several hundred metres uphill to a fenced off area to keep out the Jackals.

Note that this farm is private and can only be visited with special permission – best done through Gareth.

In the fenced off area there were a number of dead pigs (dead from natural causes). And nearby there were three groups of many Cape Vultures. Gareth told us that up to 350 Cape Vultures have been seen there at one time and that there were also six pairs of Lammergeiers in the area. We dipped on the Lammergeiers.

Quite a sight seeing all the vultures waiting while Yellow-billed Kites and White-backed Ravens took turns on the carcasses.

Numerous Cape Vultures were flying overhead and then from a valley below we saw a massive flock of black birds take to the sky – all White-necked Ravens. Quite a sight.

The treat did have its downside. The fields were being sprayed with the waste from the pigs – very very smelly. You got used to it while watching the birds but it was ever present. The worst was yet to come. On returning to Glengarry we noticed that the smell prevailed. We realised it was not only on the soles of our shoes but in everything we were wearing! And in the car! Fortunately the stench goes away with time, a lot of scrubbing and several clothes washes. Still it was worth the experience of seeing so many Cape Vultures together.

In the short time we were there with all the weather thrown at us we did manage to identify 106 different species in the area. Click here to see the list of birds we identified in the whole area.

A place well worth the visit.

Paul & Sally Bartho

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