A Birthday Surprise to Giant’s Castle

Bearded Vulture

27th and 28th August 2019

To celebrate my birthday, Sally took me to Giant’s Castle – somewhere I yearned to return to – especially to spend a day in the Vulture Hide. And that is exactly what she had in mind. As we passed the turnoff to the hide Sally casually mentioned that was where we were headed. Great birthday present.

At reception we collected the keys and an ammo box of bones. Sally’s son Bryan and his wife Michelle joined us for the morning. Another pleasant surprise.

Driving into the reserve was like driving into a war zone with the left hillsides totally burnt out for the full 7 kms to the camp.

Driving to the vulture hide through burnt out countryside gave us a feeling that maybe the birds would look elsewhere for food.

The Vulture hide is well situated on the cliff edge.

Laying the bones.

Laying the bones.

Red-winged Starlings and the White-necked Ravens were the predominant species waiting and attacking the bones as they were laid out. No signs of Vultures on this splendidly sunny day.

Also seen at the top were Yellow Bishops and the odd Familiar Chat both species uninterested in the bones. Otherwise little else.

Then the Bearded Vultures started their fly pasts. There were adults, sub adults, immatures and juveniles. In one incidence there were four birds seen flying together.

Adult Bearded Vultures. Pale blond forehead, crown, ear coverts and cheeks.

Others – Sub-adults, Immatures and Juveniles.

After six hours in the hide – including a picnic lunch – we headed down to check in to our chalet for the night. Initially checked into the wrong room, quickly evicted when the booked guests arrived!!

Once settled into the correct chalet we went for a short walk up the valley towards the Main Caves. Did not go too far as the bird life was quiet.

Our Chalet had some resident birds for us to enjoy.

On the walk below the reserve we had some additional sightings.

The next day we awoke to an overcast, cold and windy day. Fortunately we had the right day booked for the vulture hide. Must have been miserable up there on the 28th.

So that morning we went on a mountain trek. We followed the path all the way up to the main Bushman caves. Along the open countryside path into the forest and up to the caves.

Birding was reasonable along the way. With an African Harrier-Hawk hassling a Rock Kestrel – perhaps looking for its nest and eggs or chicks. A Cape Vulture was seen far above us. And in the forest we had sightings of a Yellow-throated Woodlands Warbler, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, Cape Batis, Bar-throated Apalis to name a few. All of which were too busy flitting about for any attempt of a photo.

As we approached the caves a parks official greeted us and asked if we had come to see the caves. As we had not booked we said “no” – however she was kind enough to let us pass around the caves to the descent on the other side of the mountain. The caves were briefly visible as we went through and the San Bushmen let me take a quick photo.

The San Bushmen

As we rounded the last cave we heard a steady chattering above us – birds calling to be fed. On investigation we realised that they were Alpine Swifts. Not something we expected to be breeding so early.

On the way back we followed the river before finally crawling back up to the camp. As we climbed I noticed a Chorister Robin-Chat in the bush nearby. So I started to respond to its call and it kept getting closer talking back to me. I love that kind of interaction with birds – but it does not happen often – so it is special when it does.

And so that left us with a view of a pair of Buff-streaked Chats as we drove out of the Reserve.

Altogether we made an Atlas list of 38 birds. To see the list click here.

Great Birthday.

Paul and Sally Bartho

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