Trip Report South Africa Sept 17 – Oct 8, 2015
With Rockjumper Birding Tours, leader Athol Marchant
Participants: Wille Sekula, Will and Gill Carter, Ron and Mark Lockwood, and Kim Garwood
To see great photos from our trip, check out Mark Lockwood’s flickr site – https://www.flickr.com/photos/70194759@N05/
Wed Sep 16 – Fri Sep 18 – travel from Tucson to Johannesburg for 2 nights at Sunrock Guest House
Sat Sep 19 – first day birding, day trip from Jo’burg
Sun Sep 20 – drive to Kruger NP for 3 nights, 2 at Satara and 1 at Skukusa
Mon Sep 21 – safari drive around Satara Camp, our furthest north location, cheetahs!
Tue Sep 22 – drive south 100k to our 2nd location in Kruger NP
Wed Sep 23 – drive 7 hours to Wakkerstroom for 2 nights at Wetlands Country House & Sheds, 1760m
Thur Sep 24 – hunt for larks, & wetlands around Wakkerstroom
Fri Sep 25 – drive 4 hours east to Mkuze, 2 nights at Umkhumbi Lodge just north of Hluhluwa, dry thorn forest and sand forest near the coast
Sat Sep 26 – drive an hour north to Mkuze Game Reserve, waterholes & buffalo & bush shrikes
Sun Sep 27 – drive south to St. Lucia for 2 nights, stay at Maputaland Guesthouse, www.maputaland.com
Mon Sep 28 – drive around St. Lucia coastal forested dunes, Cape Vidal, green twinspot under cabins
Tue Sep 29 – drive to Hilton for 1 night at Capulet B&B, visit Dlinza Forest Aerial Walkway, trogon!
Wed Sep 30 – Bernie azalea gardens in the Karkloof, then drive to Underberg for 2 nights at the Karmichael B&B at the base of the Drakensberg Mountains.
Thur Oct 1 – drive up the Sani Pass, 3000m, to a different country, Lesotho.
Fri Oct 2 – back to Durban, fly to Capetown for the last week. Visit the K garden that afternoon, then drive to Smith’s Town for 3 nights at the Whale View Manor.
Sat Oct 3 – pelagic trip!
Sun Oct 4 – drive east on the cape to Rooiels, Cape Rockjumper, & Stony Point, penguins
Mon Oct 5 – drive north past Capetown to Ceres for 2 nights on the west cape, stay at the Village Guesthouse in Ceres.
Tue Oct 6 – drive north to the Karoo habitat
Wed Oct 7 – morning birding, then to the Capetown airport, connect with Delta for our international flight back to the US at 7:30pm.
Wed Sep 16 – I drove to Tucson from Bisbee for the night, to catch my 6:15 am flight to Atlanta to meet the others. We have a late lunch with Molly, Mark and Ken at Zona 78, with Frost gelato for dessert, of course.
Thur Sep 17 – fly to Atlanta on Delta, then take Delta’s nonstop 16 hours ATL to Johannesburg, arrive in South Africa about 4:30pm on Sep 18
Fri Sep 18 – picked up at the airport in Johannesburg by a guy from Sunrock Guesthouse, where we are staying for our first two nights. Tasty dinner at Sunrock at 7pm, and we crash.
Sat Sep 19 – tasty breakfast, after birding the grounds and seedfeeders around the guesthouse, 22 species by breakfast. Will and Gill fly in from a couple of weeks earlier trip about 8:15, and we take off for a day birding in the Rust-de-Winter area about 100km away. We have a great day, 76 lifers for Willie and probably the same for me. Almost everything is new. I’ve been to Kenya 20 years ago, but most of what we see today is new for me.
We work the Zaagkuildrift road, driving and stopping on a flat dirt road wherever we see birds. We start at a field of tall dry grass, where Athol has us looking for northern black korhaan, a small bustard. We score with several flights, including one male displaying high over the grass. A big black and white chunky turkey-like bird, hovering and flapping like crazy, is pretty funny looking.
We see new birds one after the other. One of the favorites is the white bellied sunbird, a beautiful metallic green/blue bird, the old world replacement for our hummingbirds. Also a pair of spectacular Crimson-breasted Shrike posing against the blue sky.
We end up birding where a river/marsh comes in across a paved highway, and we add ducks, geese and some shorebirds,as well as vultures and some great looks at white-tailed swallows roosting below us at the culvert. Then Athol drives us an hour plus back to the hotel, while we all fall asleep, still recovering from our long travel day before.
Sun Sept 20 – we head to Kruger National Park, the one place everyone has heard of for South Africa naturalist trips. It is about a 6-7 hour drive to the Odgen entrance, and we do a bit of birding on the way, so we arrive late in the afternoon. At the Kruger camps you have to be inside by 6pm, as they close the gates, and don’t let you out until 6am in the morning.
From the entrance we start seeing all kinds of amazing birds and animals. It is about 50km to our camp for the next two nights, at Satara, which is a large hotel run by the national park people. All the camps are the same, 2 or 3 beds in little round huts with your own toilet/shower, hot water and a/c, so you’re not exactly roughing it.
We take a couple of hours to drive the 50km, stopping many times. We see some spectacular birds, one of my favorites is the unexpected and gorgeous violet-eared waxbill. We get great looks at a pair, the male with bright purple/violet on the head with a pink bill, a stunning bird.
We look at tons of impala, wildebeast, kudu, giraffe, zebra, etc etc. Kruger lives up to all the hype I’ve heard about it, it is amazing.
Mon Sep 21 – we have a special safari vehicle for the next 2 days, so we’re all in our own seat on the outside with lots of room to stand up and see, much better for photography. We meet at 5:45am to get in line to exit the camp at 6, when they open the gates. 4 hours later we finally get a late breakfast, after seeing untold shedloads of animals and lots and lots of birds, total overload.
Probably the most amazing sight are 3 cheetahs sleeping under a tree, close enough for all of us to take a couple of thousand photos. Everyone but me is shooting a good camera with a long lens, and the clicking sounds like a bus load of Japanese tourists. Great looks at hynea, warthog, water buffalo by the hundreds, and many types of antelope.
We see lots of raptors, lots of fabulous colorful birds, the list is too long to go into. After our late breakfast, we skip lunch and get back just in time for the sunset game drive. We have to be at the front entrance at 4:15 for a 4:30 departure, and they are right on time. Sunset is a little after 6, so we have an hour and a half of daylight. We see lion, white rhino, 3 honey badgers (new for me!), and several jackal.
We don’t get back to camp until after 7:30pm, go straight to dinner, which takes forever to serve. We all order salads and still don’t get our food until 9pm, so we’re pretty hungry. For breakfast I had had eggs benedict, which were tasty, and wonderful cappuchino, in fact I had 2 cappuchinos. Good think I ate a big breakfast. It would be nice to have more access to food, but the trade off was we had spectacular looks at tons of things.
Tue Sept 22 – another 5:45am start, and we depart Satara, heading south. Kruger is about 400km north to south, so you could spend a long time exploring it, easily a week to 10 days.
We have a special driver, Dirk, who just leads trips here in Kruger. He drives the safari truck, a special vehicle by land rover modified for safari, and he knows the park very well. He takes us to bridges over rivers, blinds or hides where we are very close to bathing hippos, all sorts of great spots. Plus he has very good eyes for finding the animals, and he knows most of the birds as well, so he is a nice addition.
Today, the third day at Kruger, is hot. The 2 previous days were overcast and much cooler, but today is toasty, probably mid 90’s. This time of year the rains are just starting, and they have had some good rains as there is fresh grass and many of the acacia and plants are beginning to leaf out. The heavier rains are from November to February/March. Because it has such wet/dry seasons, you see very different species throughout the year. Guess I’ll have to come back a couple more times, oh darn.
Today we continue to see many new species of birds, and lots of new mammals too. We score with a sleeping leopard on the riverbank, after a nice lunch at Lower Sabie, another camp right on the riverbank. They had seen the leopard on the riverbank from the restaurant, we are told, so we’re lucky to find it sleeping a bit up the river and easily viewed from the road.
We have dinner that night at the new lodge, for us, at Skuskuza, which is the national park headquarters. Unfortunately the restaurant doesn’t seem to have it’s act together. The delivery of the food takes a good hour, they forget the vegetables, the mashed potatos are cold, but the pepper steak I ordered is one of the best I have ever had. When Athol tries to pay the bill, the credit card machine is not working.
Wed Sep 23 - The next morning the restaurant is even worse. It is supposed to open at 7am. We bird around the grounds for an hour, seeing several new species in the hedges and bushes all around the grounds. We then get to the restaurant for the breakfast buffet, which is a disaster. Greasy, not done, very limited selection, no fruit or bread or jam or yogurt, just fairly nasty food. And we can’t even get plates to eat it on. It is really surprising to have such poor service at a spectacular location like this. Lots of people milling around, none of them seems to have a clue what they are doing. Too bad, as this sort of experience leaves a very poor impression of a wonderful place. So if you go, bring your own food if possible. This apparently is what South Africans do, as the rooms all have referigerators and silverware, and barbies outside.
After much whining and nashing of teeth we leave after our crappy breakfast and head south and west inland to Wakkerstroom, a small birder friendly touristy town with a lovely B&B farm where we spend the next 2 nights. This has a wonderful breakfast, lots of delicious fruit, yogurt and granola, eggs however you want them, all tasty.
The 6 of us are in the 3 old sheds that have been turned into luxury accomodations, very nice and quiet. There is a great marsh right outside of town where we spend a late afternoon and our final morning, and get lots of wetland birds.
Thur Sept 24 – we leave at 6am, and get a local birder, Lucky, who comes with us for the day. He takes us an hour or so away, over hill and dale, where we stomp around looking for a variety of larks in the dry, short grass fields. We find several very rare species, like Rudd’s lark and Botha lark. Good thing Lucky is with us, as I would never have been able to id these, let alone find them.
We also get great looks at the beautiful red-capped lark, one I enjoy, and the gorgeous cape longclaw, with a very bright orange throat. The real crowd pleaser are the meerkats, which we all really want to see. We find a dozen or so away from their burrows, and they race towards us across the field, an hysterical sight, to get back to their home. There they pop up and down, standing on their hind legs, looking fabulous. We also see a number of yellow mongoose, with their white tail tips, which we keep thinking are meerkats, until we see the real meerkats.
One of the more beautiful birds we see several times are blue cranes, with their long wing coverts waving in the wind. And we see 3 secretary birds regally stalking through the dry grass, looking for grasshoppers. All in all, another great day. We eat in town, about 1 km away, at the Bistro, which is a neat, old wooden floor place with delicious food, so all is well on the food front.
Fri Sep 25 – out again at 6am to the local marsh for a few hours, where we get great looks at the prettiest cisticola I’ve ever seen, Levaillant’s Cisticola, then back at 8 for another scrumptious breakfast, then we’re off to the east coast.We drop in elevation, from 1760m at Wakkerstroom with its chilly mornings (49 degrees F the first day!), to the hot, dry lowlands with fields of sugar cane and pineapples.
We stop for lunch about half an hour from our next lodge, at a very nice nursery, shop and restaurant called Lala Weavers. We sit outside under the tall trees and have tasty chicken pannini sandwiches, quiche, and I have a lovely berry yogurt smoothie. We see village weavers here, our 3rd or 4th species of weaver. The shop sells weavings by Zulu women, which are beautiful, baskets that are some of the nicest I’ve seen.
They haven’t had any rain, so everything is grey/brown and crunchy. The rains are late, the woman at the lodge tells me the grass should be over a foot high around our rooms.
I do see a beautiful fresh orangetip butterfly, and some blues. We get to the lodge about 3pm, and some folks go birding, but don’t see much. We do have red dikdik little deer around, funny looking little things. They have a nice upstairs wooden platform/bar, where I spend an hour or so watching the sunset.
Sat Sep 26 – we drive north an hour to Mzuze Game Reserve, another park of 56,000 hectares full of animals. The road deteriorates quickly to more potholes than pavement, so it is slow going.
Because it is so dry, all the animals are at the waterhole. We go to the main waterhole and sit in the large hide out over the water, what little water there is. A large herd of water buffalo come in and run everyone else out. It is amazing to watch the buffalo fighting for water and then bathing, lounging and rolling in the mud and water, right at our feet. The photographers go wild. All the other animals, zebra, impala, nyala, have to hang around the edges, waiting for the buffalo to finish. At one point a buffalo gets mad at a wildebeast and tosses the poor thing out of the water, throwing it off the ground. Life is tough out here, especially when there isn’t any rain. The animals all know their pecking order. The buffalo get out of the way when a rhino comes in to drink.
We see some beautiful birds, amazing how they stand out in the grey, dry brush. Mark spots a stunning pair of little bee eaters, our first, brilliant green and yellow. Will finds the spectacular gorgeous bush shrike, and tapes it in so we all see it. The orange breasted bush shrike comes to the tape as well, and poses up in the trees, so it is easy. The other one is a skulker,much more difficult to get.
We miss the pink billed twinspot, which comes in to the waterhole when we’re not there. Hopefully we’ll get another chance.
We eat a simple lunch at Rhino-Dino, a place in the reserve that makes grilled toasties, cheese and tomato is the standard, and burgers. There is only one woman doing all the work, and so it takes more than an hour to get our sandwiches, as there are other folk there getting their lunch too. But they have a big, shaded pavilion to hang out in and a water feature where the animals are coming in to drink, so we enjoy the rest in the shade.
Back at our camp, fortunately we have a good cook, and she makes tasty dinner. Tonight we have a choice of impala stew or spicy chicken curry. I want to try both, so she gives me a little bowl of each. Last night I had ostrich fillet with a mustard sauce, and it was delicious.
Sun Sept 27 – 6am birding around the camp for an hour before breakfast, and lots of birds are singing. I go sit outside the office and do email, where the slow internet is, and run into the group coming back to my room. They have an eastern nicator, which flies off just as I look at it. Fortunately half an hour later I hear one singing from my room and get great looks at it singing from the top of a tree, in the sun. A golden-tailed woodpecker is working on a hole right outside my room as well, and the tapping interrupts my writing.
Today we drive to St Lucia, only about 50 km away, but we’re going through another game reserve for the morning. You never know what you will see in these reserves, as all the animals are present, including elephants, leopards, lions, etc.
We eat lunch at the reserve, and my big score is a butterfly book on South Africa, which I buy from the gift store after the guys find it for me. 310 rand, about $20, what a deal. It has over 1,800 photos of the 666 species of butterflies here in South Africa.
Then we drive on to St Lucia to Maputaland Guesthoust, run by Germans. St Lucia is a real tourist town right on the water. Fishing is a big draw here, but also they have whale watching, croc & hippo watching tours, sunset cruises, the whole nine yards. It is on the St Lucia wetlands, which are a huge area over enormous coastal forest sand dunes, the biggest dunes in the world I’m told.
We eat in town at another Ocean Breeze, a chain of seafood that we ate at earlier, and it is delicious. Most of us order the grilled salmon, I get my with cajun spices and stir fry veggies, very tasty. We also pig out on the desserts, Willie and I split baklava which are equally delicious.
This group has gotten into magnum mania, the wonderful ice cream bars on a stick. They have 7 or 8 flavors here, the new one for me is mint, which is one of my favorite flavors. Some of the guys, who shall remain nameless, actually have two magnus in the same day, which is just too decadent for me. I resist most of the time, as having a magnum/day is over the top. But they are really good.
Mon Sep 28 – we drive north up the coast to Cape Vidal, again going through a restricted game reserve and seeing a variety of big mammals. We don’t see a large number of birds until we get all the way out to Cape Vidal, where there are cabins for rent and we can get out and walk around.
We’re looking for green twinspots, a fabulous brightly marked finch, that Athol says tend to hang out under the cabins. Sure enough, we find a couple, then some more, and end up with probably over 20, which is amazing. One of the cabins, #10, has a leaky water pipe, and it is splashing and making a small puddle which functions as a bird bath. We see grey waxbills and an unexpected Black throated wattle-eye female. So today we go for quality, not quantity.
For dinner we try the Braza restaurant right next to the Ocean Breeze, a Greek place with steaks, which is what most of the guys get. I end up with chicken and feta flatbread, which is sort of a pizza and way too much for one person. The steaks get rave reviews.
Tue Sept 29 – 6:30am breakfast at the B&B, then we depart south towards Durban. But on our way, about an hour or so, we turn off the highway at Eshowe and go in about 22 km to Dlinza Forest, a preserve with a great wooden walkway and a tower. We find the Narina Trogon, one of our main targets, and Olive Thrush, but dip on the Spotted Ground Thrush.
I’m now getting into the butterflies with my new book, and see Blue Pansy, Yellow Pansy, Common Bush Brown, and a number of flybys. I can definitely see a return trip to South Africa for butterflies.
Will and I end up in the hide, after we come back early from the trail, and get good shots of the purple-crested turaco, and later the rest of the gang get great shots of the tamborine dove, with its beautiful white breast. The hide has a couple of small pools which are luring in the birds to bathe, and it is in the woods so the shyer species come in. All in all, we have a great 3 hours or so.
Then back to the highway and on south towards Durban. We stop for lunch at a gas station and eat at Steers for burgers, which are surprisingly good. I get one with avocado, hold the bacon, and it is nice and spicy. Then two more hours to our B&B, Capulet at Hilton. This is towards Durban and then inland, or to the west. We’re at 29 32 32 S, 30 17 04 E, 3640’ elevation, so it is cooler. We were about 28 degrees S, and Cape Town is about 32 degrees S.
This is a snazzy guesthouse, their website is http://www.capuletkzn.co.za/ We have rooms on the second floor with a nice view out to the east. Too bad we’re only here for a night.
Wed Sep 30 – drive up into the Drakensberg mountains for 2 nights at Karmichael B&B at about 5,000’. This is in Himeville, just outside Underberg, actually at the base of the mountains. They are used to cold weather here, they even have heated floors. Plus we eat dinner here both nights, which is always nicer than getting back in the van to drive to town.
In the morning we went up the Karkloof mountain range, and drive about an hour to a magnificent azalea garden, Benvie. I’ve never seen such variety in colors and huge swathes of stunning azaleas, in full bloom. We hit it right at the peak of blooming.
We’re looking for several special bird species here, and we score with great looks at Knysna Turaco, with its wild face paint around the eyes, and Orange Ground Thrush. We only get the latter because another birder wandering around points it out to us as we’re getting back in the van, very friendly of him. Also lots of butterflies, many large swallowtails, are showing up.
Then we eat an early lunch at Yellowstone Café, an old stone house built in 1870 where we sit on the verandah and look over the garden. Tasty food, Willie and I split a chicken and mushroom pie and an apple and bacon salad. Athol has gotten most of us hooked on passion fruit lemonade, which comes with the passion fruit concentrate in the glass and you pour in a can of lemonade, a delicious drink.
We then head to some fields near Richmond where we look down ravines for blue swallow, but don’t find any. We do find great looks at a pair of crowned cranes and blue cranes, with their long elegant wing feathers blowing in the wind. Later Mark tells me there are hundreds of crowned cranes in the fields by our b&b, but this is a new bird for me, and a beautiful one.
Thur Oct 1 – today we head up the Sani Pass, to the small country of Lesotho, in the Drakensberg Mountains. Fortunately we have two local bird guys, www.birdsandbeyond.co.za, Stewart and Aldo, who drive us up in two 4×4 cars, as the road is very bad. They do a smashing job of finding us most of the specialities, even though we have rotten weather. Light, chilly rain, sleet, hail, even some flakes of snow, occasional patches of sun, it is a cold and miserable day. But we see one great bird after another.
The star of the show is the Drakensberg Rockjumper, which puts on a fabulous display. Aldo finds the first one up above us, as it bombs onto a rock responding to his tape. While we’re looking at it, a very nice view, another from below the road starts calling. It comes up below us and starts spreading its tail, showing off the white ring around the outer edges, flashing and flying about maybe 20-30’ below, looking spectacular against the dark rocks. We are all astonished, as we did not know they did this type of display. It was my favorite moment of the day, and will be one of the top memories of the trip.
We see lots of other montane specialities, like Gurney’s Sugarbird, sitting wet and fluffed up on top of a protea tree in the fog, and great looks at Ground Woodpecker, which nests in holes in the rocks. One is particularly ticked off at us, because we pull our two cars into a slightly sheltered pullout under his nesting area, and he hangs around bitching at us the entire time we’re eating our delicious field lunch. Quiche, chicken legs, fresh bite sized round tomatos, yogurt, chocolate bars, apples, etc, probably the nicest field lunch we’ve had on this trip.
We get good looks at the spectacular lammergeier, the huge bearded vulture that has become so difficult to see. Another one of my favorites is the sentinel rock thrush, a beautiful rufous orange and soft blue/grey thrush. One of the times when the guys hike up the side of a hill, in 40+mph freezing winds, I opt to stay in the car, which is at least out of the wind. The rock thrush flies in to a stone not far from my window and poses nicely, checking out his neighborhood.
All in all a great birding day, in spite of the terrible weather. Though the long hot shower at our b&b feels fabulous, as neither Willie nor I want to get out of the shower, we’re so chilled. We’ll have another delicious dinner here at KarMichael, life is tough.
Fri Oct 2 – back to Durban to catch our flight to Capetown. Visit the Kirstenbosch Gardens in Capetown, they are spectacular. The protea are coming into bloom, huge plastic feeling flowers in many colors, and the garden is stuffed with them. These are a Capetown speciality, and the sunbirds love them. We get great looks at cape sugarbird and a bunch of southern double-collared sunbirds.
The we drive up over the hill to Simon’s Town, on the east cape. We’re here for 3 nights, as we have scheduled a backup day in case we can’t go out on our pelagic trip tomorrow. We eat dinner at our B&B, Whale View Manor, a fancy looking big house with white pillars and a very steep driveway, plus 20 steps to the reception. The dinner is lamb shanks, which several of us don’t eat, though they are beautifully presented.
Sat Oct 3 – We head out to sea at 7am, after a light breakfast of yogurt and fruit and toast. I’m wearing a patch for seasickness, and it works perfectly. The seas are ‘lumpy’, as one of the boat guides says, and it is a good day for seasickness. There are 3 other folks, aside from our 5 (2 of ours pass on the trip), and the 2 women in the other group are hanging over the side of the boat, feeding the fish, poor women. It is parents and their college age daughter, for the daughter’s birthday, and I’m betting that next year she will ask for a different present.
I spend most of the day on a bench just inside the cabin, next to the open door and window, so I can see what’s going on, but I’m out of most of the spray. The people on the back of the boat gets drenched repeatedly. There are 3 local bird experts on the boat, and they are dressed for it, in rain jackets and pants, but I’m not.
We see lots of albatros, both shy and black-browed, lots and lots of white-chinned petrels, plenty of greater shearwaters, and about another 6 or 8 good pelagic species. My favorites are the small wilson’s storm-petrels, but we also see one beautiful cape petrel, with white patches in the wings, and giant petrels. These guys are amazing, as they can shout out id’s with just naked eye views. It is too rough to use your binos most of the time, as you have to hang on with at least one hand, often two. I’m thrown off my bench at least twice, and that’s when I’m hanging on. 3-4 meter seas, and lumps moving in several directions, it’s a rough ride. But we survive and see some good birds, though most of us are glad not to be going out again tomorrow.
Sun Oct 4 – we drive to the east along the coast, passing Muzienburg and heading through several villages on the coast. We head to the Hottentots-Holland Mountains, very rocky and steep, turn off the main road at Porter Drive and come to a gate, where we park. The sign says private property, but birders,hikers and bikers are welcome to enter. We walk along the dirt track with the mountain slope rearing up to our left. It is pretty chilly and windy, I’m glad I have all my layers on.
We find at least two different groups, three per group, of Cape Rockjumpers, and the guys get good photos. The birds are most obliging, even though they are silent, but it is fun to watch them hop from rock to rock.
We also get spectacular looks at Orange-breasted Sunbirds, posing on beautiful protea yellow flowers in the thick coastal fynbos scrub.
Then we continue to the east to Stony Point bird refuge, where the penguins nest. There is a boardwalk where you can walk around and through the penguin colony, watching them hop rock to rock to get in the surf. There are four species of cormorants nesting here as well.
We eat lunch at the restaurant at the penguin colony, decent hake and chips, which is a type of white fish. I get mine grilled, not breaded, and it is a lot of fish.
On our way back to the west cape, where we are staying on the east side at Whale View Manor, we stop at Will’s favorite t-shirt shop. Coincidentally it is next door to an ice cream shop, so we have to hit that as well. Traffic is really ugly right here, due to construction, so Athol stays with the van as he is double parked to the side.
Mon Oct 5 – we drive back over the mountain to Capetown, leaving early to try and beat the worst of the traffic. We make it through Capetown and head north. About 100km or so we get to the West Coast National Park, where we spend the day. This is coastal fynbos, low scrubby bushes, lots of flowers, and we see some good birds here.
There are several bird hides, or blinds, that overlook ponds, and we see lots of shorebirds, both greater and lesser flamingos, red and yellow bishops, and the beautiful Southern Black Korhaan, a lovely bustard that flies in right behind one of the hides.
We eat lunch at the one restaurant, Geelbek, outside in the back under trees full of weavers nesting, and begging. I have a delicious quiche (the quiches have all been very tasty in South Africa), and a nice salad. Wish I had room for dessert, they have a bunch of fabulous looking cakes on display. We get our first rock martin at the restaurant, and a beggin fiscal shrike at our feet.
Then we drive about another 80-90km to Ceres, to the Village Guesthouse, our B&B for the last two nights. Funny the difference between the places we have stayed. This one feels chintzy, hard to define exactly why, but they have lots of rules, do this, don’t do that, very limited internet, small rooms. It feels more like a backpacker place rather than an upscale international tourist place. The previous Whale View Manor was beautiful, and of course it was right on the water, so we had great sunrises and views of the ocean from our room. Plus the people seemed friendlier, again hard to define.
Tues Oct 6 – 6am departure to drive about 80km north into the Karoo, an arid, desert-like habitat with a bunch of specialities, mostly larks, buntings, canaries, and some special warblers. 40km of pavement, then 40 more on dirt. The desert is beautiful, full of a gorgeous purple blooming succulent that covers the land to the horizon. You can see they have had some good rains recently.
We see lots of birds. We score big time with a pair of Black Harriers, and 5 or 6 Pale Chanting Goshawks, as well as lots of LBJs, a variety of new larks, chats, buntings and warblers. One of the toughest is Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, which we find up a steep, rocky gorge after Athol plays its call. Mark finds a pair up on the rocky slope, and they sit out on the rocks, bouncing around but we all get good looks.
We head back to the B&B for a late lunch, then head out again shortly after 3pm on a different road. Our B&B has a nice fountain where Cape Canaries are bathing, with weavers in the trees, so there are nice birds right here in our garden. An inmature, very spotted, Cape Robin-Chat joins us for our sandwiches under the big tree, looking very much like a young American Robin.
We drive about 16km up another road to the Gydo Pass, and stop at a pullout on the right where there is a small trickle of water coming from a pipe. Lots of birds are coming in for drinks and bathing, and Willie spots the Protea Canary, our target bird, as soon as he steps out of the van. We watch the birds for 30-45 minutes or so, very entertaining. They are jumpy and don’t let us get too close for photos, but with binos I watch another immature spotted Cape Robin-Chat beggin from its beautifully marked parent at the water. Plus Cape white-eyes and a gorgeous Orange-breasted Sunbird, as well as the Canary, come in repeatedly. A nice way to end our trip.