7th to 29th April 2021
There were a number of lifestyle changes which brought about this trip down to the Eastern Cape. Firstly Sally’s son (Bryan) and daughter-in-law (Michelle) as well as her step daughter (Michele) recently moved from KZN down to Sedgefield and Knysna respectively over the Christmas period.
Secondly we needed to try out our new Afrispoor Caracal.
There was a third motive and that was to try to see the Sooty Gull at the Sundays River. The same Gull we dipped on at Kei Mouth on Valentine’s Day.
Our itinerary: Overnight at Tortoni Guest Farm campsite near Maclear (Cell: 084 200 2548) on the way to Sundays River for 2 nights. Then to spend a week with family in the Knysna/Sedgefield area. Following that Addo Elephant Park for 5 nights, 4 nights at Mountain Zebra NP. Then 4 nights at Balloch Cottages Campsite – near Barkly East in the Eastern Cape close to the border with Lesotho.
Leaving Howick early we arrived at Tortoni early afternoon. A great overnight stop. There are 6 spacious powered camp sites which are grassy and pretty much all level. There is a building with male and female bathrooms (toilet, shower and basin) and a kitchen wash-up area. Hot water comes from a donkey boiler which you need to light up yourself about 15 minutes before you want hot water. Beware the shelter housing the wood and boiler which has a very low roof – head banging if you don’t pay attention.
The campsite overlooks a large vlei and dam which numerous birds enjoy. At sunset the Grey Crowned Cranes can be heard and seen arriving at their favourite roost – a bare tree on the hillside next to the vlei.
After a hectic drive we were happy to just drive in and hook up to power – leaving the car hooked up to our Caracal. By choosing our spot carefully we were able to do this without the need to adjust the Caracal’s level.
The following morning we arose early to find that a wet and misty fog from the vlei made it impossible to see more than a couple of metres in front of you. It was not like that when we stayed there on our way home.
Early the next morning we set off to Sundays River – near Port Elizabeth. We stayed at the Pearsons campsite which is right next to the Sundays River and on the doorstep to the beach where we hoped to find the Sooty Gull which had been seen here for the previous 8 weeks after leaving Kei Mouth.
Once settled in the campsite we headed out to find the Sooty Gull – often found beside fishermen and slightly away from the Kelp Gulls. The drive out to the estuary was very scenic and not what I was expecting. Large sand dunes lined the opposite side of the estuary as we drove out to the mouth. And a beautiful sunny day to boot.
On the way to the mouth a bare patch of mud had a number of water birds – a place to remember to explore the following day.
From the parking area it was a long walk to the beach front to find fishermen and ever hopeful of finding the Sooty Gull. A tiring walk on the sand carrying binoculars, camera, scope and tripod.
The next morning the gate opened at 07h00 and we were first in. Unfortunately the day was overcast so the scenic drive was muted. As we got to the mud flat area we stopped to see was there – not a lot to keep our attention and definitely no Sooty Gull. A car passed by on the way to the mouth.
As we reached the mouth a lady in the car asked us if we were here to see “The” Gull and then proceeded to tells us that it had been here on her arrival but had literally just flown out to the mouth. A couple of minutes earlier and we would have seen it. So we headed to the mouth carting all our gear but to no avail.
Despite that it was good to see a variety of birds which we don’t see in Howick- water birds. The most notable an Roseate Tern.
So we lucked out on the Sooty Gull for a second time – by minutes!! Could we have a third chance.
That afternoon we arrived in Sedgefield for a week with Sally’s son and daughter-in-law.