A Winter Birding Traverse – Part 13 – Sanbonani to Hermanus

Our journey from Sanbonani took us down to Clarens in the eastern Free State, but not before we had had to cope with early morning rush hour traffic in Mbombela! The trip was uneventful and, with around 600 kilometres to cover, left little time for birding along the way.

We did, however, visit the Golden Gate Highlands National Park, where we experienced the beauty of the area in the setting sun.  At the vulture restaurant we did not see any vultures. and had to be content with a pair of Cape Longclaws pecking at the carcasses.

Our accommodation at Mill Pond Cottage was excellent and we awoke to a temperature of -3 degrees!  The birdbath in the garden had 15 cm of ice in it! Holding a frozen steering wheel was not too pleasant as we departed for Graaf-Reinet, but things soon warmed up and we had a pleasant drive down the Lesotho border.

On arrival we immediately set out for the Valley of Desolation, hoping to see some good birds, but there were none.  The best birds were in The Drostdy Hotel, which is presently home to the fabulous collection of original bird paintings that were commissioned for the first Roberts Guide. There are about 50 plates on show and they are well worth a visit.

Besides the bird paintings the hotel is full of wonderful botanical art as well as many artefacts from the early days of Graaf-Reinet.  The wine list in the restaurant was also something to behold!

From Graaf-Reinet, we had a good run home to Hermanus.  We had been away for 5 weeks and it would take some getting used to not birding all day! Our trip list numbered 393 birds – not bad for winter.  We covered 10300 kilometres – an average of 26 km per bird, and I estimate that we spent around 250 hours actually birding!  It was a truly memorable experience.

Grahame Snow who runs Reach Africa Birding Safaris was an excellent guide during the Zimbabwe leg of our journey.  I can recommend him to anybody interested in birding in the southern African region, where he conducts a wide variety of different excursions.

A Winter Birding Traverse – Part 12 – Sirheni to Sanbonani

We left Sirheni with long faces and travelled across to Louis Trichardt and then down the N1 to Pretoria, where I had an appointment the next morning.  Once that was out of the way, we set off east again to Sanbonani, a time share and hotel complex close to Hazyview.  Sanbonani has magnificent gardens and lies in a V between two rivers.  There are many birds to be seen and on a single walk around the property we recorded 56 species!

Not only that, but we had a couple of early nocturnal visits by a local hippo that chose to walk right up to our verandah on the first night we were there.  We spent a day in the Kruger Park and another in the farming area around Hazyview, and then it was time to set out for home.  We had had a good dose of northern birding, which would remain in our memory for a long time.

To be continued….

A Winter Birding Traverse – Part 11 – Satara to Sirheni

Leaving Satara Camp we traveled north to Shingwedzi for a night en route to Sirheni.  It was early and as we reached a grassy section of the park, we were delighted to see huge numbers of Francolin and Spurfowl along the road edges.  Then suddenly we saw smaller birds and, on stopping, were very pleased to see that they were Harlequin Quails. There must have been around 30 of them spread in small groups over about a kilometre or two.  This was a real bonus as we had not seen any for many years.

At Shingwedzi, we looked for Verreaux’s Eagle Owl along the river, but without success. There were, however, many other birds in small parties and we were happy to park close to them and observe their interactions.

After a night at Shingwedzi we went further north to the very comfortable small camp at Sirheni.  The dam that the camp fronted on to has been washed away, so there was only the dry riverbed in front of us.  We spent three nights there and were visited every evening by a leopard or two, unfortunately after dark, so we did not see them, but they made a lot of noise!

Travelling north from Sirheni took us to Punda Maria, where the Flycathcer Trail was rewarding in that it brought us close to a flock of Crested Guineafowl.  Roads in the camp vicinity proved to be good for birding as well. On our second day we visited Pafuri, really enjoying the scenery and wildlife that the area had to offer.  We saw many elephants and antelope.

This was our last stop in the Kruger Park and we did not relish the idea of leaving.

To be continued….

 

A Winter Birding Traverse – Part 10 – Pretoriuskop to Satara

Our drive from Pretoriuskop to Satara was typical of the Kruger Park in winter.  Not as many birds as we might have liked, but interesting, nevertheless.

The Satara camp had many birds, including the African Mourning Dove.  Its plaintive, but melodious call greeted us on arrival.  In the evening an African Wild Cat visited looking for food – a beautiful animal.

Drives out to the east gave us an opportunity to see a group of cheetahs on the look out for prey, but they were not too serious and were still in the same spot 4 hours after we had first seen them.

The weather was warm and we measured 17 degrees first thing in the morning and by mid afternoon it had risen to around 30 degrees!  Not bad for winter.  We could appreciate the lure of the Lowveld.  If only we could find more birds, but then again, it was the worst birding season.

To be continued….

A Winter Birding Traverse – Part 9 – Johannesburg to Pretoriuskop

Our journey from Johannesburg to Pretoriuskop in the Kruger Park, meant that we were back in our vehicle again and we missed having a guide and travelling companions. Now we had to do all the work by ourselves, including finding and identifying the birds. Suddenly things got more challenging!!

Our trip to KP was uneventful.  We were glad to be back on good roads again, but the opportunities to stop and wander around had diminished quite considerably.  We checked into our cottage at the Pretoriuskop Camp and settled down with a cold beer!

Early next morning we were out and drove to the Afsaal camp site where we met up with our friends the Rosses. They had invited us to join them for breakfast and they certainly prepared a feast.  Of course, we were joined by many Cape Glossy Starlings and Yellow-billed Hornbills, all vying for a treat.

We spent three nights at Pretoriuskop and were able to see a good variety of game and many birds.  I got a long desired lifer – the Cut-throat Finch – at last!!  The weather was balmy and we had a very comfortable stay with good birding within the camp.

To be continued….

 

A Winter Birding Traverse – Part 8 – Marondera to Johannesburg

We left Marondera with heavy hearts, knowing that our Zimbabwe trip was coming to an end. Our drive to The Lion and Elephant, a hotel on the way to Beit Bridge was fraught – the roads and traffic were terrible and we were all glad to arrive at our destination unharmed!  We did stop along the route to once again search for the Boulder Chat and on this occasion we were rewarded with a good sighting of around 4 birds.

The Lion and Elephant was comfortable and Alice stood us all to drinks to celebrate having achieved 700 birds on her life list.  In fact, she ended the trip with around 740, so she really did have an exciting time.  I had recorded 4 lifers, so was also well pleased.

Crossing the border at Beit Bridge was a whole lot easier on the way out than on the way in and we were soon back in SA and the phones started to react again!

With some time on our hands we decided to stop in at the Polokwane Game Reserve, on the edge of the city.  This afforded us the opportunity to add a few more species to our trip list, bringing the total for the outing with Grahame to 319!  Not bad for winter.  Alice got quite excited when we spotted a Short-clawed Lark and once again lost her favourite glasses!  After some considerable searching we eventually found them, but not before we had driven over them.  Miraculously they were unharmed and Alice was ecstatic!

We were soon back in Johannesburg and, despite the excellent roads, had to endure a traffic snarl-up as a result of an accident on the highway between Pretoria and Jhb.  We had had a fantastic trip and were sad to say goodbye to our travelling companions of the past two weeks.

To be continued….

A Winter Birding Traverse – Part 7 – Nyanga to Marondera

After leaving Nyanga, we traveled through some wonderful scenery and excellent Miombo woodland en route to our farm stay outside Marondera.  This gave us an opportunity to see Bronzy, and many other, sunbirds as well as Gurney’s Sugarbird and some typical Miombo residents.  A patch of flat-crowned Acacias proved particularly rich in bird species, however, photography was very difficult.

We arrived at the farm outside Marondera and were greeted by our charming hostess, Jen. The magnificent home is situated in a huge garden with acres of lawn leading down to a lake, which had many water birds.  The gardens abounded with sunbirds, waxbills, weavers and lapwings.  Right nearby is the Gosho Park, a preserved piece of Miombo woodland where we spent many hours amongst the boulders and Masasa trees, chasing elusive, but rewarding, bird parties.  A Wood Pipit was a lifer for me, and we saw many Miombo Tits, Bee-eaters, Puffbacks, Bush Shrikes and even some Black-eared Seedeaters.

We also visited a nearby wetland, where we walked in muddy water looking for flufftails, etc.  We managed to put up all three varieties of longclaw, including what was a lifer for most of us, the Rosy-throated Longclaw.  Also seen were Yellow-mantled Widowbirds, Pale-crowned Cisticola, African Snipe and the high point of the day for me, a Marsh Owl, which I nearly stepped on and which gave me a huge fright when it suddenly took flight!

Our accommodation was superb and Jen made sure that we never went hungry. Birding breakfasts can be very late, but she never complained!

To be continued….