Cape Adventure – Part 1

Cape Birding

 Sally and Paul Bartho

 Jan 25th to Feb 25th  2017


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.

The next day we were up early and headed for Melkhoutfontein, however after scouring the areas where we had heard it had been seen, we could not find it. The wind was howling and the rain threatening so we headed back to the campsite, packed up and left just as the rain started. Heading for Cape Town and Chapman’s Peak Campsite.

What a horrendous drive in thrashing rain which caused us to stop several times to let the torrential rain settle. Windscreen wipers full blast and still unable to see clearly. The heavy rain lasted more than an hour while driving. What a relief when we eventually drove out of it.

As we approached Cape Town so we noticed that our Garmin GPS was not a reliable source of the speed limits. It often showed higher speed limits to those actually shown on the road. We learnt to watch out closely for the traffic speed signs. Unfortunately when we got home we found out that it had cost us R900.

Our GPS got us to Chapman’s Peak Campsite in Noordhoek without too much hassle. A smallish campsite in a rustic environment (R180 per site per night) with all sorts of creatures in and about – Peacocks, Chickens, Helmeted Guineafowl, numerous different Geese, Goats etc. – like a small farm holding.

The sites were shady but the ablutions had a strange quirk. Loads of hot water but little cold – made for interesting and hurried showers and occasional unflushed loos. We had chosen Chapman’s Peak as other possible campsites were either in undesirable areas or too far from Strandfontein Sewerage works – our goal. Despite that it was a 40 minute drive to Strandfontein Sewerage works.

The next morning we were off bright and early – probably one of the first to get to the Temminck’s Stint site on Pan 1. We hung around looking for over two hours. People came and went – virtually all saying they had seen it before and that it was always seen from one side or the other – no consensus.

Other birds and creatures came and went – African Snipe and Water Mongoose.

That kept us on our toes and spread out. Eventually we gave up too and went off to find the Red-necked Phalarope. No sooner had we thought we found it, we got a call to say the Temminck’s had shown up.

Back we went and we too eventually had a sighting of the bird. But it was always on the move and too far away to get a decent shot.

Temminck’s Stint

We hung around for a while enjoying the snippets of a view of the bird. Apparently Baillon’s and Spotted Crakes as well as Pectoral Sandpiper had also been seen in the same spot during December. When we were there the reeds had grown substantially since December making viewing difficult and the Temminck’s had moved further away.

Next we headed for Pan 4 and the birding stand. Greater and Lesser Flamingos everywhere to be seen. Magnificent sight of numbers and colour. While on the stand we notice three Bar-tailed Godwits among the Flamingos.

The rest of the day was spent searching for the other specials we had missed, without success.

The next day we were back there again – first stop Temminck’s Stint. One thing we immediately noticed was that there were a lot of Little Stints present – none the day before. This as you would expect was bound to make it more difficult. However when Mr Temminck’s appeared the difference was obvious.

Then it was back to Pan 4 lookout stand. A bit of breakfast and the scope doing its business scouring the waders. What looks to be a Grey Plover was close by. However it appeared quite lean and then it unexpectedly flies and I see no black armpits. Rats I wish I had time to take a photo! Will we see it again?

Back to look for the Phalarope on Pan 2. We search high and low as Trevor Hardaker had told us he had seen it there. Scope out and we search the waders looking for something different.

Only problem was that we were looking for a bigger bird than the usual waders – Curlew Sandpipers and the like. Sally consults the new Roberts and as soon as she does she realises the mistake we were making and what to look for.

Once we learnt what to look for, the bird was very obvious among the other waders through the scope. Also the Phalarope was the only ‘wader’ swimming, all others standing or wading. Unfortunately too far away to get any reasonable photos. Great to see again. And a lesson learned – be prepared and read your field guide before setting out.

Then we headed back to Pan 4 lookout point. While waiting a bigger bird than the usual waders appears – a Plover. Immediately our hopes rise. Photos are taken. It is lean unlike the Grey Plover and its colouring quite pale with no black armpits – the American Golden Plover.

American Golden Plover

Back to the Temminck’s site for a final goodbye. Stay for a while but see no Temminck’s. However out of the woodwork appears the Pectoral Sandpiper! Not a lifer for either of us but also great to see again.

Here are some of the other birds photographed at the Sewerage Works:

The next day was spent in Table Mountain NR and then Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

Fortunately we arrived early at Table Mountain NR. No Wild Card then R130 per person entry.

We entered and took the first road right, down to the sea.

Along the way we saw Rock Kestrel and groups of Cape Siskin as well as Lesser Double-collared Sunbirds and Bokmakierie. At the beach head we found Karoo Prinia, Familiar Chat, Cape and African Pied Wagtails, Yellow Bishop, White-fronted Plovers, Egyptian Geese, African Black Oystercatcher, Swift, Sandwich and Common Terns.

Otherwise the Park was quiet bird-wise and then became extremely busy with bus tours so we left for Kirstenbosch.

Always a lovely spot to spend some time walking about – even if most of it seems to be uphill! We were treated to several sightings of Orange-breasted Sunbirds and Swee Waxbills. The Spotted Eagle-Owl was seen and we learned that it had three offspring nearby – which we failed to find.

Our adventure continues in Part 2.


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