This morning was very cold but beautifully clear. We walked in Fernkloof ahead of our bi-annual planning meeting which was held on the lawns near the hall. It was invigorating especially when a cold breeze came up as we climbed Lemoenkop.
Prior to that we had had a wonderful sighting of Victorin’s Warbler. Being able to find this bird and show it to Ed and Sally, for whom it was a lifer, gave me as much pleasure as seeing it for the first time myself would have done! It really made the day for some of us.
On Monday morning on our way to Cape Town we popped into the Strandfontein Sewage works to get a quick update on the local birds. We saw nothing new, but nevertheless enjoyed the outing to one of my favourite birding spots. The pictures below show a few birds that I managed to capture, the highlight being the Rufous-Chested Sparrowhawk, which we managed to get really close to.
Today Renee and I went to the little Karoo near McGregor in search of a Protea Canary. We did not find one, but in our efforts we found a wonderful road up to the communications tower on Galgberg. The road climbs from McGregor at an altitude of 240 mamsl through farmland and eventually onto a tarred service road to the tower. It is a narrow and steep road that winds up to a final height of 1400 mamsl! The views are spectacular and the vegetation is beautiful fynbos. We saw a couple of klipspringers and very few birds, but it was well worth the drive. Luckily we did not meet any other traffic on the road.
We had lunch, an excellent meal, at the lovely Cafe Temenos, complete with peacocks and a small art gallery, on the main road in McGregor.
Renee and I visited Strandfontein this morning hoping to see the African Crake and Knob-billed Duck that have recently been reported there. We were not disappointed as we managed to see both of them. Luckily we ran into Trevor Hardaker and he put us on the right track. The Crake was especially rewarding as it walked right up to us and seemed quite unafraid.
In addition to these two birds we saw another 53 species, so the visit was certainly worthwhile. Light drizzle accompanied us as we arrived there, but it soon dissipated and we had good, clear, if cold, weather.
Today our weekly walk took us up Adder’s Ladder and onto the jeep track before coming back down to the Visitors’ Centre via Kanonkop. It was cool and we covered 6 km. The high point of the walk for me was not getting up to 340 mamsl, but finding a Hottentot Buttonquail when we got there! This was a very fine addition to my Challenge list.
Yesterday we went to McGregor and the Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve in order to try to supplement our Karoo birding list. We had wonderful clear warm weather with no wind whatsoever, but nevertheless, the birds we wanted to see eluded us. Sadly, the dams are still empty and the area is in desperate need of rain. Our afternoon was punctuated by a few isolated drops and there was some thundery activity around, but it remained dry and dusty!
Interestingly, we saw an enigmatic black, white and grey bird with a clear breastband. It was obviously a wagtail, but the lack of any brown colouration suggested that it had to be a Mountain Wagtail. This meant a bird very far out of its area and also out of its habitat, so we were reluctant to name it, but there really was no other choice. I did not get a photograph!
We managed to add three birds to our challenge list, but have yet to see any Eremomelas or Penduline Tits. A journey up the mountain into good protea growth also failed to produce a much-needed Protea Seedeater.
Birdlife South Africa (BLSA) certainly pulled off a major coup with the 2017 Flock at Sea. Around 1950 lucky birders took part in what must have been the most spectacular birding event ever held in the Southern African region. We had four nights at sea and three full days of birding, ending this morning when we returned to Cape Town and docked at 7:00 am.
Our vessel was the MSC ‘Sinfonia’ and, because there were sufficient birders on board, BLSA had control over where we went. This enabled us to seek out ocean eddies and up-welling currents (not that we always found them) and, thereby, find good concentrations of foraging seabirds. For me it was really exciting as I managed to see a total of 25 seabirds, 12 of which were lifers! The bird of the cruise was undoubtedly the Light-mantled Albatross, previously only seen by 2 birders in the region! This trip enabled hundreds to see it and my only regret is that I did not get a photo of this very rare bird.
Apart from the birds, the trip provided an opportunity to renew old friendships and make new ones, as well as enjoy the chance to get off land and see something of the Southern Ocean. We had winds of up to 75 kph with quite heavy chop, but luckily the swells were not too heavy. Birding was not easy as the birds seldom came within 100 metres of the ship and many had to be identified at greater distances, but there were many experts on board. They readily shared there knowledge and guided those of us not so well-versed in seabird identification.
In addition to spending time on deck with binoculars and cameras on hand, there were also many talks on birds, the most enthralling of which were the two presentations by the world’s great seabird expert, Peter Harrison. His passion for albatrosses brought tears to the eyes of many who were present. It certainly was a memorable event and a vast improvement on the first Flock at Sea which took place in 2013.
Queuing on arrival at the docks
Sailing out of Cape Town
A tugboat escorting us out
Signal Hill and the CT Stadium
Table Mountain as we departed
Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles as we left
Chum being dragged behind the ship
Some of the birders at the stern of the vessel
Possible immature Southern Giant Petrel?
Northern Giant Petrel
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and Cory’s Shearwater