From Wilderness we headed for Plettenberg Bay and the Keurbooms LagoonCampsite. The place was very busy especially the waterfront sites. However we were in luck and found an almost private site with a view over the lagoon. The cost R240 per night – no pensioner discount despite being mid-week.
Initially they only had one ablution open but opened up another for the weekend. They were passable.
The Rare Birds Report noted that the Sooty Falcon was still present. So we went to look for it on our first morning there. We found it but the sky was too grey for photography. However the next day we were able to get quite close and managed a couple of shots enabling positive ID for ourselves.
Part of our time there was spent enjoying the scenery with a visit to Roburg. Needless to say we did not walk all the way down to the beach. We got to one lookout point and stopped there – seeing a large seal swimming close to the shore and exhausted panting people passed us having climbed the steep steps up from the distant beach.
On the way back a pair of Orange-breasted Sunbirds succumbed to the heat and took shade in a bush right beside the path. Most of the time they had their eyes closed.
Back at the campsite we took a canoe to the opposite shore of the lagoon at low tide. There we saw almost one thousand Cape Cormorants on the spit’s edge. There was also plenty of Kelp Gulls as well as a dozen or so African Black Oystercatchers.
Campsite birds included Cape Turtle-Doves, Cape Robin-Chats as well as a friendly striped-backed mouse. Driving around the area we saw a few other birds which kept us interested.
From Plettenberg Bay we went to Tsitsikamma – Nature’s Valley. R248.46 for two nights which includes the 40% pensioner discount.
Choosing a site proved difficult. There was no power except by connecting to one of the facility buildings. We decided that we wanted to be in the woods and chose a site near the ablutions. We expected there to be no power however I managed to get a cable across the road into the scullery.
Our neighbours were brilliant. Once set up they came calling. First a Chorister Robin-Chat then a Lemon Dove. Each within metres of us. What a welcome.
A visit to the river mouth was unproductive birdwise but a pleasant stroll to get some exercise. On return we went for a stroll around the forested campsite which was quite quiet. We arrived back at our campsite to find four Lemon Doves and a Chorister Robin-Chat under our car. What a start to our time there.
The next day we went for a walk on one of the trails to the north of the river. The forest of well established tall trees was magnificent.
At first the birding was good with Forest Canaries, Swee Waxbill and Grey Cuckooshrike all entertaining us at one spot. Further up the trail we joined the Otter Trail and birding was pretty quiet – except for what we thought might have been a Narina Trogon.
Back in camp we relaxed and had constant visits from several Lemon Doves and the odd Chorister Robin-Chat. They were not concerned about our presence and came right up to us. Some of the other campsite birds and other visitors:
Later we went for a walk in the campsite and saw little except when we got back five Lemon doves and two Chorister Robin-Chats greeted us.
So special to see these birds up close and unconcerned about us.
This raptor waved us goodbye from way up high – anyone care to ID this for us would be welcome.
Mountain Zebra NP was our next destination for 3 nights. Midweek with pensioner discount of 40% amounted to almost R500. Unfortunately we were not aware that the campsite was undergoing renovation so we had to put up with bulldozers etc when we were in camp during working hours. It meant we spent all day in the park without a break.
This turned out to be one of our favourite birding areas. The habitat was varied from grassland at the top of the mountains, acacia savannah lower down, dams and wetlands.
Sally was enamoured by the flowers in the upper grasslands.
In all we recorded about 90 different bird species. Many of the birds were new to our trip – Gabar Goshawk, Black-headed Canary, Denham’s Bustard, a range of Pipits and Larks, Red-headed Finches, Scaly-feathered Warblers to name a few.
Lions were present but we managed not to encounter any. Game was plentiful – Cape Mountain Zebra, Black Wildebeest, Springbok, Eland, Hartebeest, Blesbok all readily seen. We also came across a Grey Rhebok, Yellow-tailed Mongooses, Ground Squirrels.
This is a place we would enjoy going back to – once the campsite renovation has been completed.
And then we headed home.
We decided to break the journey home with a stopover at Woodcliffe Country Lodge, 22 kms up the road to Naude’s Nek pass from Maclear. A self-catering cottage with a view and giving our poor trailer a rest. R600 for the night.
What a drive that turned out to be. Those 22kms should have taken us an hour. We were warned that we need 4×4 as the road was muddy after the rains. However we managed to take an extra hour missing our turn off and having to find someplace where we could safely turn round with the trailer!
On the way in we saw a number Grey-crowned Cranes and many White Storks. In the evening they roosted in the trees near our cottage.
A bull decided to come through the fence to eat the mown grass round the cottage. Although he got chased out and the wire repaired he burst through again the next morning.
More rains came and went giving us cause for concern as to whether we would get out the next day!
We left early but not before seeing 13 Grey-crowned Cranes together in the field by our cottage. On the way back to the main road we saw at least 12 more.
The road was as soggy as expected and we had to use low range in numerous spots. Then the rest of the journey home was a slow ride through the Transkei.
In all, we had an unexpectedly pleasant trip with the bonus of missing all the rain back home. In all we saw 244 different bird species and 100 of these species were only seen in one location. If you are interested click here to see our complete bird list at each location we visited.
After three nights in Dwarskersbos and exploring Velddrif and West Coast National Park we wondered where to go next. Eventually we decided to head inland to see the Cederberg mountains. Sally had previously camped in a pretty place called Algeria – in the Cederberg. She was keen to return so that is where we headed for two nights.
The site is run by Cape Nature. The campsite was relatively empty with about only 4 other camps taken. Most of the sites are well treed, some on grass but the more popular on sand or stone for the views and shade. Several nice sites overlook the stream and rock pool where you can take a dip.
Each night cost R240 – a bit of expensive for what it offered. The campsite ablutions also had no toilet paper. It is a drastic drive to get there up a stony pass for 18 kms. A long way back down to get toilet paper in Clanwilliam!
Birding here was limited to around the campsite, its trails and along the stony roads. Needless to say we did not record many species in the two days there. Our best sighting was a Greater Kestrel. The Southern Double-collared Sunbirds next to our campsite were special to hear but virtually impossible to spot as the tree foliage was well dense.
Another bird we wanted to see was the Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. Out came Birdfinder. Skitterykloof Pass it said was the best known place to see it. So that was where we had to go next.
Skitterykloof Pass is about half way along the R355 from Ceres to Tanqua Karoo – about 80 kms from Ceres. Our choice was to stay in Ceres and drive out from there or alternatively stay in a small self-catering cottage within a 20 km drive.
We chose the latter and stayed at Gezellig Genot at R330 a night – bring your own bedding – also limited power available. We parked the trailer beside us and despite the heat (41 C) for two days the batteries were only half depleted keeping our fridge/freezer to temperature.
A quick exploration was called for on the afternoon of our arrival. Despite the heat we went to find Skitterykloof Pass. Driving south we passed the Tankwa Padstal and took the first right after it. A further three kms and we were there.
Steep hillside to the right and the picnic site on the left. We searched up and down the rocky slopes for several hours with not a sign of anything – nothing calling. Most unlikely to succeed – after all Birdfinder is over 10 years out of date. Disappointed – we headed back to the cottage.
The next morning we were up bright and early getting back at Skitteryskloof Pass at 06h30. Passing several Black-chested Snake-Eagles, a Booted Eagle – pale phase and a family of Karoo Korhaans on the way.
The hillsides were still in shadow as we traipsed up and down the road for more than an hour. The sun started to hit the sides of the cliffs and it was getting hot. Back down the road again to the bridge – nothing then back up again.
Suddenly we hear its call (having studied it before going). Well that is the first step – now to find it.
Out of the blue we saw it flitting from one Aloe to the next sucking nectar we assume. As we follow it, it gives us chances to positively identify it but never stops long enough for a decent photo. As we head back up to the picnic site we spot several more. In all we were lucky to see the bird 5 or 6 times. What a beautiful bird – our Aloe flitter.
A few other species were heard and some seen in Skitterykloof.
Back at the cottage we luxuriate on the patio and spend the afternoon spotting from there. The nearby trees were constantly being visited by birds all day long – even in the middle of the day. There were Pririt Batis, Fairy Flycatchers, Namaqua Warbler, Karoo Scrub-Robin, White-backed Mousebird, Karoo Prinia, Cape Bulbul, Cape Spurfowl and most entertaining a gang of White-throated Canaries with their huge beaks almost the size of their heads.
Then to cap it all, with the close of the day, a pair of Rufous-cheeked Nightjars flew about us calling.
As hot and dry as it was we much enjoyed our stay there.
On leaving we stopped at the Tankwa Padstal for some more of their explosive home-made Ginger Beer. The bottles took three minutes to open painfully watching as the gas escaped. Open it quickly and the contents explode all over you. Fortunately the sales lady informed us in time.
So where to next? Head back to Stilbaai we decided. But first to drive the dirt roads from Swellendam to De Hoop – loads of Blue Cranes seen the last time 9 years ago.
Best stay at Bontebok NP as the campsite in De Hoop, as we remembered it, was not only double the price but also in a very poor state. Apparently they have done up the ablutions but the campsite is now closed for restoration. They still take passing trade at a whopping R370 per site.
Bontebok was at R245 per night and R150 for the non-weekend third night.
We planned to pay a visit to De hoop to see what birding they would offer (being next to the river and sea).
The dirt roads did not disappoint – there were Blue Cranes in every large field, Buzzards a plenty – Common and Jackal and numerous Capped Wheatears. After a couple of hours and little distance driven we realised that if we want to see De Hoop before 15h00 we had to get a move on. Of course our GPS took us through farmers fields before we turned around and found our own way!
At De Hoop birding was limited. Most of the area to get to both the sea and the river was through low dense scrub.
Birds were heard but seldom seen. The Southern Double-collared Sunbird called everywhere and we were lucky enough to see it briefly. The Cape Grassbird however was not so shy and it was seen several times displaying nicely.
Baboons were on Sentry duty and other critters seen included Cape Zebra, Bontebok, a rather forlorn Eland, a Striped Mouse and White-tailed Mongoose.
African Black Oystercatchers were seen on the rocks and in the coves at the seaside but not much else.
On the river frontage there were Great Crested Grebes and the occasional South African Shelduck.
And this unidentified Sunbird.
Our second day at Bontebok started reasonably brightly so we took the chance to catch up on the laundry – all by hand. However by the time we had finished washing up the sky was looking ominous. First a dribble then wind and rain. Luckily the sheets had more or less dried but the rest waited patiently for 2 days to get to a tumble drier..
The rest of the day was spent with shopping and catching up on housekeeping tasks. The rain kept up and we expected to leave the next day in the rain – not much fun decamping in the rain.
But we were fortunate. The rain had stopped during the night and we hung out the washing to get as much drying time as possible.
Then we packed up and headed for Stilbaai to get a second chance to see the Red-necked Buzzard. Weather predictions were not favourable and we expected to have to stay a couple of nights to get any chance of seeing the bird.
We knew they were renovating the road from the N2 to Stilbaai but it was a shock to see how much they had achieved and more sections of the road with Stop and Go – up to 20 minutes wait at each. And there were three – all of which we hit at the head of the line.
Half way along the third Stop and Go we turned off to Melkhoutfontein towing our trailer on the off chance we could find the Buzzard.
We get to the power station on the left and stop, blocking the bus station entrance. Out we get and scour the poles etc with no luck.
So we decide to head into Melkhoutfontein on the off chance of finding it there. After a short distance as we headed that way, Sally saw a faded blue sign on the left indicating the direction to both the old and new St. Augustine’s Churches. The old was on the right down a narrow track. We gave it a miss as we were towing. So into town. Nothing.
On the way back out, I see my GPS promises me that there is a way out from the narrow dirt track and I take it – with Sally in trepidation. After about 500 metres we get to an open area with a cemetery and the old church on our left.
And a Bokmakierie to greet us.
We stop and within a few minutes we see a Buzzard flying overhead – Common. Rats.
Then as I am thinking of turning the trailer round I see another Buzzard. Very pale undersides. Could be it. Out for a photo as it circles around and I get several shots then it flies and perches in the pine tree by the old church. That was the bird we wanted to see.
As I tried to get closer to get some better photos it took off and disappeared out towards the sea. Well we had seen it but I was keen for a second chance to photograph it. We waited half an hour but I wanted another 15 minutes. As we waited another couple of birders arrived.
As we chatted one of them – the wife – said “What’s that bird on the pole?” on the path to our right going in the direction of the blue-roofed school. Sure enough it was back and it allowed us to get several grey sky shots before it flew.
Well we had achieved our goal for Stilbaai. So we decided to head on to Wilderness and try to get ahead of the weather. During the first Stop and Go back out of Melkhoutfontein there is a dirt road to Albertina and a shortcut to the N2 – about 20 kms of dirt and gravel but better than hanging around in the Stop and Goes.
We settle for several nights in Wilderness NP.
Hurray they have a drier for our damp clothes. Our campsite is right by the river.
Three weekday nights here in camp with power on the river R525 (includes the 40% pensioners discount). The ablutions work well although a bit away from the site we chose.
The next day to celebrate Valentine’s Day we decide to head for Prince Albert to have lunch – via Swartberg Pass! Quite a scenic drive but a bit nerve-wracking at times – especially going downhill – numerous tight hairpins and the stony road wide enough for one and a half cars.
Birds were few and far between but we did see a Dusky Sunbird near the top as well as a Blue Crane and chick on the way up.
Lunch at “O is for Olive” four kms north of Prince Albert – Lamb chops – delicious. We take the longer (distance) route back and save ourselves a couple of hours on the Swartberg Pass alternative.
The following day was spent birding in the camp and going to the lakes and their two hides.
Campsite birding however was the most productive.
A point to note. After eventually finding the Half-collared Kingfisher Trail we were surprised to find we either needed a campsite permit, Wild Card or R40 per person. We had none of the these on us so ended up not doing the trail. We had heard it lived up to its name the day before with a Narina Trogon also making an appearance.
The campsite had a resident Black-headed Oriole and many Knysna Turacos. Seventeen were seen together in one tree on the opposite side of the river from us.
We enjoyed being next to the river despite the campsites around us being busy.
Nothing like a dip to cool you down!
The evening before we left, the clouds above developed a red glow with a straight band of red moving towards the sea. Strange and interesting. Out came the camera to capture the picture. Then no sooner than the pictures were taken the sky opened with rain and hail. We had to move fast to get everything under cover.
From Cape Town we headed for Eland’s Bay and a campsite Sally had read about in the Caravan and Outdoor Life Feb issue – Ventersklip overlooking Verlorenlei (the lost marsh) leading into the sea. Negotiated price from R480 to R300 for 2 nights.
Unfortunately the water level was low so water bird sightings were few at the campsite.
We decided to stay two nights and use it as a base to bird in the area in particular to try and find the Protea Canary along the Paleisheuwel Road (off the N2 eight kms south of Clanwilliam) and to visit Lambert’s Bay to see the Cape Gannet colony.
Protea Canary first – a lifer for me but not Sally. Sally had seen it when we visited Betty’s Bay some years ago. I was too slow carrying my binoculars, scope and camera at the time.
We drive along the Paleisheuwel Road to the craggy gorge, stopping and searching for some time. Then at one spot we stop. I let Sally out and park out of the way of the traffic. As I get out Sally calls me – she has it in her binocs. Sure enough by the time I get there it has gone!
Another hour traipsing up and down the road in the area getting dust blasted as the traffic seemed unnaturally heavy on this off-road dust bowl. It seemed there were White-throated Canaries everywhere and no Proteas. We saw Cape Buntings, a Verreaux’s Eagle overhead and a Lesser Honeyguide foraging. No Protea Canary.
And then as we were about to give up and after much persistence we spot a Protea Canary, get a good look at it. Unfortunately not able to get a photo as it was not stationary long enough. This is the tree it was seen in.
On the way back we head for Lambert’s Bay and the Cape Gannet colony.
Once in Lamberts Bay we stop and look at the hundreds of Cormorants on one of the rocky outcrops. Virtually all were Cape but we did spot one Crowned Cormorant.
Then to the bedlam of the Cape Gannet colony. Now a R5 parking charge and R40 per person to visit unless you have a Wild Card.
On the way in there were many Terns (Common, Sandwich and Swift) on the rocks leading to the Gannet colony. And some White-breasted Cormorant youngsters.
We headed for the Cape Gannet viewing hide. It looks like an out of place rock which gives it character.
The rock was strewn with a heaving mass of adults and juveniles. The juveniles a very dark fluffy grey in contrast to their parents.
Birds were everywhere in the air circling around perhaps to get away from their demanding young. Interesting to watch their behaviour towards each other. But also interesting to see how they landed. They would come down to land, put on the brakes, carriage down, feet on the ground, still too fast forward so using their nose/beak to the ground to counterbalance their forward motion.
Even a seal put in an appearance sticking one flipper out of the water.
On the way out we were amazed at the size of the dolosse- put there as an effective sea break.
And then we were sent on our way by the Man of the Sea – an eight foot giant,
We might have stayed another night at Ventersklip but the wind coming off the vlei was excessively strong and cool especially at night. Our canvas took a right beating in the wind.
Not having a planned itinerary we headed south towards Velddrif and the municipal campsite in Dwarskersbos – just over 12 kms north of Velddrif. Weekend rates R201 per night and the third night R100. This is a well shady campsite right by the sea so sometimes a bit windy. Another quirk – bring your own loo roll.
Our plan using Birdfinder was to bird the area around Velddrif and to meet up with friends in the West Coast National Park. They were staying in Langebaan.
We gained access to the local Cerebos salt pans, however they were very disappointing – some Greater and Lesser Flamingos and not much else. No waders, a few Great Crested Grebes, the odd Cape Wagtail.
We visited the rundown hide on the north bank of the Berg River in town. It is important to visit when the tides are low as the mud flats become more visible.
There was a greater variety of birds to be seen from the hide. Many Flamingos of both varieties, numerous Greenshank, the odd Marsh Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilts, Great Crested Grebe, Three-banded and Kittlitz’s Plovers, Gulls – Kelp and Grey-headed or Hartlaub’s, Grey Heron, Karoo Prinia, Cape Wagtail, Little Egret, Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, Sacred and Hadeda Ibis, Terns – Swift, Sandwich, Little and White-winged, Great White Pelican, Grey Plover, Avocet, Cormorants – White-breasted and Reed, Pied Kingfisher.
We also explored the area behind the salt pans. Heading south over the bridge we turned right and drove three kms to a dirt track leading up to the pans. At the first corner we started to see some waders – Common Greenshank, Kittlitz’s and White-fronted Plover, Grebes – Great Crested and Black-necked. Also on the inside of the corner there were Chestnut-vented Warblers and several Karoo Scrub-Robins. A worthwhile excursion close to town.
On our drive to Velddrif Buzzards were commonplace on the poles by the road – Common and Jackal Buzzards. We took the road along the north side of the river beyond the bird hide and on the way back explored some of the beachside tracks.
On one stretch there were several cosy and rustic fish restaurants (which we tried out the following day), some with decking over the water.
At one point along there we spotted the Yellow-billed Stork previously reported in Trevor Hardaker’s Rarities reports. We took a photo and sent it to Trevor as an update.
Then we headed for Langebaan and the West Coast NP travelling via Paternoster. Along the way we had a great nearby sighting of Blue Cranes and their two juveniles. And at another stop Namaqua Sandgrouse and Namaqua Doves.
Then there was one mystery bird which we still find difficult to identify. If you do, then please let us know – (firstname.lastname@example.org). Could it be a Large-billed Lark?
In West Coast NP, we met our friends from Durban at the Seeberg Hide.
What a special place it turned out to be apart from the very long walk down to it. There were 4 huge groups of different birds – small waders in particular Little Stints all lined up in neat rows; A variety of Terns –Sandwich, Swift, Common and Little; large groupings of Greater and Lesser Flamingos and last but by no means least Bar-tailed Godwits (there must have been well over a hundred together).
Occasionally each group would take off for some reason. They swarmed together like schools of fish in the sea and then settled back down again. That was quite a sight to see.
The Bar-tailed Godwits took turns to display themselves on the shoreline right in front of the hide. Amongst them were Little Stints, Curlew Sandpipers and other waders which we took ages to identify. You know what they say: If it is not this and not that etc then it must be a Knot – Red Knots in fact. Well done Sally in IDing them.
Then we had a Lesser Flamingo striding out in front of the hide trying to take off – which it eventually managed.
The fresh water hide – Abrahams Kraal, our next stop – was productive with sightings of some of the more common water bird species – Common Moorhen, Little Grebe, Red-knobbed Coots with chicks, Yellow Canaries and Cape Sparrow as well as a pair of Cape Shovelers.
Then we all went to Geelbeck for a snack among the trees next to the Restaurant. The wind was pressing but the sun warmed us up. As we sat eating, Cecil’s sharp eyes noticed a Rock Kestrel sheltering itself from the wind in an alcove immediately above the entrance to the restaurant. It was not at all perturbed by guests entering only feet below.
Another long walkway to the Geelbeck Hide proved well worth it. Sally had got the tide right – 4.5 hours after Cape Town high tide according to Birdfinder. There were little or no birds to be seen in the marshes alongside the walkway. All were to be found on the mudflats in front of the hide. What a variety of waders and other water birds even an Eurasian Curlew was spotted, again by eagle-eyed Cecil.
Fortunately one side of the hide was protected from the wind and that also proved the more interesting side to see the birds.
Our campsite in Dwarskersbos was a birders delight. During the day we were serenaded by a variety of small birds all day long (at night the tree above our campsite was the local dove roost who left their calling cards all over our caravan and car).
During the night we had a pair of Spotted Eagle-Owls calling above us – Woo; WoWoo. During the day we noticed that there was one roosting above us and another in a nearby tree.
Our birding trip to the Western Cape was unexpected and unplanned. It happened like this.
So, while in Australia we had booked on a trip with Desert Magic to drive through the Skeleton Coast to the mouth of the Kunene River – hopeful of seeing the Royal Tern, Baird’s Sandpiper and Angolan Swallow amongst other specials.
We got back from Australia on January 12th and started preparing for the trip mid February. There was much to organise preparing the car for the trip – getting suitable roof rack and jerry can holders; extending the fuel tank, purchase of rugged tent etc etc – R30000 expected expenditure. We had made our decisions on what to purchase got home to get an email to say the trip was off as all permits to agents had been cancelled for travelling through the Skeleton Coast.
Disappointment. But we rallied, determined to go camping.
Five days later we were off to the Cape. We could not believe that all the specials at Strandfontein, Cape Town were still being seen. They all appeared at the beginning of December and we never expected that they would hang around till we got back. Then there was the Red-necked Buzzard in Stilbaai to see and as we set off another rarity – White-rumped Sandpiper at Coega in PE.
From Howick we headed north around Lesotho and on to PE. We had travelled over 200 kms before I realised we had forgotten our power lead – not only had we left it behind, we had left it behind attached to the trailer as we left! Thankfully we had left the house keys behind with friends and they were able to disconnect the lead from the garage plug and store it inside. Good start!
Thirteen hours later we pulled into Pearsons Caravan Park close to the PE White-rumped Sandpiper sighting. The campsite was well treed with lots of shade, close to the river and highway. The ablutions were passable. Cost R234 for the site, a 20% out of season discount for pensioners – a bit steep for what it offered.
The next morning we got out early and attempted to find our way to the sighting. However, although we had the GPS co-ordinates we had to do a lot of driving up and down the N2 to figure a way to get there. Fortunately we could see where we wanted to be as it was visible as we crossed a bridge on the N2.
Once there, we had a long wait.
Most of the people like us were uncertain of what to look for. Then it made an appearance close by and we could clearly identify it from its ID features in the new Roberts (Sasol sketches were way off the mark).
Back to the campsite, pack up and off to Stilbaai to try and find the Red-necked Buzzard. The drive into Still Bay was quite picturesque.
We stayed at the municipal campsite (R130 a night for the site) which although rather open was very pleasant. We found a sheltered spot away from the wind, thankfully.
That afternoon we took a ride to Melkhoutfontein on the off chance we could find the bird. It was late and very windy and our trip turned out to be a scouting trip for the morrow. And the sky was looking ominous.