Winter Birding – Part 4 – Gharagab

The last two nights of our Kgalagadi National Park visit were spent at the Gharagab Wilderness Camp, a truly beautiful place, which can only be accessed with a 4×4 vehicle.  It is a place of quiet and solitude and we saw little other than the birds around the camp, although a few antelope did come to drink at the waterhole.  Reading in the visitors’ book, we saw many stories of lions and hyenas that often spend the night in the camp, keeping the residents awake with their antics, but unfortunately they did not visit us.  We did get a glimpse of a Honey Badger one afternoon, but it was quite far off and it soon disappeared!  The tents at Gharagab are very comfortable and we really enjoyed our stay there!

The drive out was enjoyable and some soft sand had to be negotiated before we again reached the Nossob river for our drive down to Twee Rivieren and out of the park.  Kori Bustards abounded along this section and we probably saw around 40!

We spent the night at the Kgalagadi Lodge, just 5 km outside the entrance.  It was comfortable and well equipped and can be recommended as a place to stay if unable to secure bookings at Twee Rivieren.  From there we headed for home, stopping once again in Calvinia, where, as expected, it was cold!

We recorded only 102 bird species for the trip.  Hopefully, our next visit will be in summer, when all the migrant species are present.

Winter Birding – Part 3 – Nossob

We moved from Mata Mata to Nossob, where we spent four nights, once again occupying one of the new riverside cottages.  These are very comfortable and give one an uninterrupted view of the river, however, there were very few wild visitors to our section of it.  Whereas we had previously had wonderful sightings of Lanner Falcons catching Namaqua Doves at the Nossob Camp, these were totally absent during our visit.

There were no cats to be seen in the Nossob river whilst we were there, but we saw many antelope and we were, of course, fascinated by the antics of the Lanner Falcons that appeared to be hunting doves at most of the surrounding waterholes!  I spent many hours trying to capture them with my camera – a very frustrating task, but imagine trying to do it with film!! The Red-headed Finches appeared in huge flocks to drink and they too were troubled by the predating raptors.

Despite it being winter, we saw a number of snakes, the most impressive being a Cape Cobra.  There were also many Bataleurs and we enjoyed their antics at the waterholes.

Winter Birding – Part 2 – Mata Mata

We spent three nights in one of the comfortable riverside cottages in Mata Mata Rest Camp.  Looking out over the river bed whilst enjoying an evening braai, we saw Gemsbok and Blue Wildebeest, with occasional Red Hartebeest, and were visited every evening by scavenging Jackals.

Our drives down the Auob river provided excellent game viewing with abundant animals including Lion, Leopard and Cheetah.  The birds were somewhat limited with the absence of all the migrant species, but we had good sightings, nevertheless.  The temperatures varied from -2 degrees in the morning, to 28 degrees in the afternoon, and the days were clear with not a cloud in the sky!  Needless to say, the sandy roads remain very corrugated and one rattles along gathering a great deal of dust, but that is just part of the overall experience that is the Kgalagadi NP.  Traffic is minimal, so one is never unable to get close to animals.

Winter Birding – Part 1 – Calvinia to Kgalagadi

We traveled from Hermanus to Calvinia in wet, rainy and cold weather and spent the night at The Blou Nartje, a comfortable guest house with some good historical connections.  The trip from there to Upington was uneventful, with little to see in the way of birds.  The scenery, however, is typical Karoo/Bushmanland and very bleak.  Occasional outcrops of dolerite litter the landscape with the boulders showing desert varish.  Near Brandvlei there was occasional water at the roadside, attesting to recent rains, and by the time we reached Kenhardt, spring flowers were starting to show.

Upington is dominated by the Solar 1 power generating facility that rises some 60 metres and is visible from around 50 kilometres away.  We spent the night in the upmarket Riverplace Manor, where we could view the birdlife present on the Orange river. Next morning we traveled the relatively short distance to the Kgalagadi National Park and proceeded to our first stop at Mata Mata.

To the Dams

Our walk this morning took us to the Fernkloof dams.  The weather was lovely and warm with a slight berg wind keeping the temperature up.  The lower dam is quite low but the middle one was full to overflowing!   Sadly the path is in a very poor state so it was not very safe walking beyond the lower dam.

There are not many flowers in bloom, but the proteas are giving their usual Autumn show and we saw some beautiful blooms, not least the Waboom, or Protea nitida.  There were also some wonderful purple Gladiolus maculatus.

Walking in Fernkloof

Only 7 Hurriers showed up for this morning’s walk which went up Kanonkop and then back down via Adder’s Ladder.  Despite this, Renee and I managed to separate ourselves from the group, as we went off hunting for Orchids (wrong season, I know, but we had had a report of an out of season flowering Acrolophia ustulata) and we never got to the Kanonkop summit for tea!

The flowers were largely absent, but the weather was beautiful and clear and we all had a good bit of exercise!

De Bos Wetland Trail

De Bos has, through Frank Woodvine, developed a wetland trail through their farm in the Hemel en Aarde Valley.  Frank led us through this area this morning and we were all enthralled to see what he has done, developing paths and points of interest.  De Bos has also done a great deal of development for tourism, and there are picnic sites spread around the property , complementing the magnificent tasting room that was recently opened.

The wetland area abounds with fynbos birds and the potential for spring flowers was evident.  The area will be well worth visiting again in September.

More Images from our Birding in Botswana, Zimbabwe and RSA


May – A month of Birding. Part 7 – Johannesburg to Hermanus

It was strange getting back into our car and driving again, but we hit the road from Jhb on Sunday morning, so were able to travel out with little traffic.  Our destination was Kuilfontein near Colesburg, but we made a detour to the Willem Pretorius Reserve south of Kroonstad as we had some time to spare.  It was sad to see that he area has suffered neglect, but we nevertheless saw quite a few birds and some good game including Sable Antelope.

We had a comfortable night and a good meal at Kuilfontein.  In the morning we were greeted by the calls of the Blue Korhaan and were delighted to see a pair close by.

We traveled on to Cradock and the Mountain Zebra National Park.  This a beautiful area and the park is well stocked with a good variety of game.  We saw lions, many antelope and buck as well as some good birds.  Regretably, we never saw the elusive Melodious Lark, so that will have to wait for another time!  Early rising meant that we found our car covered in ice, and the temperature was close to zero, but luckily we had some sun to warm us up on our full day there.

We drove down the N10 from Cradock to Port Elizabeth and then on to Knysna.  It is a good road and not having been that way previously , we found the N10 very interesting.  After a night in Knysna with family, we returned home to Hermanus, havng spent exactly four weeks away and having seen no less than 359 bird species.  Not bad for a winter trip!

May – A month of Birding. Part 6 – Hwange to Johannesburg

We met a contact of Graham’s on the road down to Bulawayo.  He asked us if we would like to have a chat and a cup of coffee, and we were overwhelmed when he took us onto two farms owned by the Randell brothers.  We saw a very fine selection of habitats and birds and were then entertained to tea and then lunch by these very generous people, who live in the most beautiful homes.  It was a real pleasure to meet them!

We carried on through Bulawayo to our destination at the stunning Matobo Hills Lodge, surrounded by the wonderful granite domes and boulders of the Matobo National Park.  This proved to be a very good birding area – no specials, and therefore probably ignored by most birders, but what we saw was spectacular and the birds were abundant.  Our cottages were very comfortable and excellent food was served in the outdoor dining area.

After two nights we traveled south once more towards Louis Trichardt, stopping at the Hillside Dams and Gardens in Bulawayo.  This was another very good place to visit and is a worthwhile stop.  The border crossing at Beit Bridge proved relatively easy and we were soon at our overnight destination at Shiluvari Lodge on the banks of the Albasini dam.  We birded in the area that evening and the following morning, before heading back to Johannesburg, but with a final stop at Polokwane Reserve, where we sought and found the Short-clawed Lark.

Graham had once more proved to be a very good guide and host and he always kept us well fed and watered!  He has been leading birding expeditions in southern Africa for twenty years and his experience is put to good use, as he knows everything there is to know about the area and its fauna. He can be reached at ‘Reach Africa Birding’

To be continued ….