Birding in the West Coast National Park

The Hermanus Bird Club organised a three day outing to the WCNP and we were lucky enough to be on it.  We were accommodated at the comfortable Duinepos camp and birded not only in the park, but also at Veldrif and at the saltworks at Kuifkopvisvanger farm.  The latter proved to be a treasure in terms of waders, although we did not see our target bird, the Red-necked Phalarope.  We managed to identify 120 birds in all, so were well pleased with our effort.

Despite forecasts of rain, we managed to stay dry as the showers fell on Monday night.  The veld was much in need of some water and the plants and animals must have been delighted!  A cold westerly wind meant that we froze in some of the bird hides, but birders are a hardy lot and they shivered in silence!

Orchid Hunting at Barrydale – Day Two

Our day started with a visit to the Barrydale Information Centre, where we hoped to get directions to a nature reserve in the area.  There wasn’t one there, but the very helpful lady in the office contacted the local conservation officer who gave us permission to visit a portion of the mountain which had been burned in the pass.  This was great news, but there was more to come.

She put us in touch with Hildegard Crous, who propagates wild orchids in her own laboratory in Barrydale, so we set off to visit her.  This turned out to be a great move as she is doing fantastic work and had a number of interesting specimens at hand. She was very happy to show us around and we were very impressed with her knowledge and hospitality.  Years of patient work are starting to pay off and we saw the results of her dedication in the form of beautiful specimens of Disa barbata and Bartholina etheliae. She also showed us a couple of really spectacular Pelargoniums that she had grown.

We then proceeded to the Tradouw Pass again and this time into the burnt section of the mountain, where we immediately started to find Orchids.  We managed to identify Pterygodium acutifolium, Ceratandra atrata, Disa bivalvata and Disa reticulata, Evotella carnosum, Satyrium stenopetalum and Satyrium acuminatum. It was wonderful to be back amongst our favourite flowers!

There were, of course, many other wonderful species to see and we were well pleased with our day, and the entire Barrydale experience.  We had met some wonderful people and had achieved around 12 different orchid species, albeit that a few were well past their prime.  We also identified 58 bird species in the area.

Orchid Hunting at Barrydale – Day one

We set off with friends on Monday, full of enthusiasm for our trip to Barrydale, where we hoped to get access to the recently burnt sections of the Tradouw Pass in order to seek new orchids.  Our lunch stop at Swellendam was something of a let-down (literally) when Brent found he had a flat tyre and it took quite an effort to get it changed and repaired.

This meant a later-than-intended arrival at our accommodation, Bronze Grove farm, a delightful spot between the pass and Barrydale.  We did, however, stop near the pass summit and had a look at the roadside plants, of which the yellow Chinkerinchee  (Ornithogalum dubium)was the most abundant.  Also present were some Moraea ramosissima and Pterygodium catholicum, although the latter were somewhat past their best. It was too late once we arrived at the farm to do much more than settle in and make plans for our first day in the area.

On Tuesday morning we made our way into the pass and set off down the old road, where we started to see some interesting plants, although the area had not been burnt. Amongst them was a patch of Disa sagittalis, a new plant for all of us, so we were not disappointed.  The scenery along the river was spectacular and we wished we could access the burnt area on the other side, but we found no way across.  There were many other good species, but my lack of knowledge of the area precluded much in the way of identification.

In the afternoon we managed to get permission from a neighbouring farmer to walk on the burnt section of the his mountainside farm and had a good few hours exploring.  The veld was beautiful, with abundant, Moraeas (especially M angusta), Bobartias, Pelargoniums and Watsonias. We found dead Holothrix species and on or two Disa bracteata but no other orchids



Walking the Oystercatcher Trail

Ten good friends set out on Monday morning to hike the Oystercatcher Trail.  We had spent the night in Mossel Bay and started our walk full of enthusiasm and excitement at what lay ahead.  Our route took us south to the St Blaize Trail which hugs the cliff top to the west of the town.  It was a good day for walking and Alicia, our guide, was a mine of information, stopping frequently to point out interesting features of the landscape.

Ready to set off!

We were soon within the Pinnacle Point estate and were somewhat bemused by the opulence of the housing there.  Each new builder seems to strive to make something bigger and better than any other and it all appeared to be an exercise in bragging. Luckily we had to go past the clubhouse, and made the most of the opportunity to down a cold beer as we were pretty tired by this stage.  A few kilometres further on we arrived at Dana Bay, our destination, having completed 14 kms and feeling every bit of it as the route had taken us over some rough ground, which was hard on the aging legs and feet!!


We returned to Mossel Bay for the night, having been let down by our original Dana Bay accommodation, but returned the next morning for our hike to Boggomsbaai.  This entailed 14 km of beach – a doddle some might say, but the tide was coming in and this made for soft sand underfoot and we were once again a bit bushed by the end of the day, especially as it was a hot one and we had to climb up to our accommodation at the comfortable Sandpiper cottages.  There we were very well looked after and had great food! Alicia had been joined by Chris, and between the two of them, we were kept apprised of our surroundings.

We were scheduled to walk 21 km on the last day, but sore feet dictated that we reduce that distance by 10 km, so we started from Fransmanshoek and completed the last 12 km to our pick-up point on the bank of the Gouritz River, whence we were ferried across to the right bank before returning to Boggomsbaai for our last night. There we had another excellent meal preceded by fresh oysters and champagne – what a pleasure!!  Well done to the team and well done to the Trail staff.  We enjoyed it all!

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….