A Mountain near McGregor

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.

Birding near McGregor

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.

The ‘Flock at Sea’ – Birding in the Southern Ocean

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 approximate route

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.

Birding at McGregor

We spent two nights in a delightfully restored cottage in the hamlet of McGregor this week.  The reason for our visit was that I wanted to see some of the Karoo birds that occur in the area, so as to be able to augment my list for the Hermanus Bird Club Challenge – a sort of competition in which participants are required to see as many bird species as possible in a fixed time and area.  We were not disappointed, achieving a trip count of 83 species, of which 12 were new to my challenge list.  These included such Karoo specials as the beautiful Fairy Flycatcher, Karoo Chat, Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Rufous-Eared Warbler and Grey Tit.

Agulhas Plains Birding

We spent three nights in the Agulhas National Park close to the southern tip of Africa. This afforded us the opportunity to explore the region thoroughly and, at the same time, do some good birding.

We were not disappointed in the results, picking up 118 bird species. Included in our list were a couple of rare vagrants; (two) European Rollers and (eight) Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters.

At De Mond Nature Reserve we were surprised by the paucity of birds around the lagoon. Normally there are hundreds of terns – we only saw one Caspian Tern and no others. It was the same with many of the other waders that normally frequent the area, however, we did see three Black Tailed Godwits and a single Bar Tailed Godwit, along with a Eurasian Curlew.

Driving around the National Park is not easy as the only roads are from the main road in to the various accommodation units, which are widespread.  Poor road maintenance means a bumpy ride and the authorities should carry it some urgent repair work. The fynbos along some of these roads is, however, good and we saw a variety of wild flowers and many small antelope on the adjoining farms.

All in all it was an excellent break and served to remind us of the wonderful nature available in this unsung part of South Africa.

The Panty Bar at Paternoster

Readers who saw my post on our trip to Kamieskroon and Paternoster may have wondered why the Panty Bar at the Paternoster Hotel is so named.  For those in the dark, I attach a picture of part of the ceiling – this should clear up any confusion!  Of course, some readers may claim to have worn these items – best you keep this information to yourself!


Flowers and Birds in Namaqualand

The arrival of Spring always brings memories of Namqualand’s fabulous flowers, so we once more hied off to Kamieskroon for a few days.  It was overcast and wet all the way there, but by Friday it had cleared and we set off up the Kamiesberg Pass and spent the day exploring little traveled roads to the north-east of the town.  Not only did we see good flowers, but there were many birds to record as well.  Next day was spent in and round Skilpad Reserve and then on to the Wildeperdehoek Pass, before heading back to the hotel at Kamieskroon.  On Sunday the temperature soared to 38 degrees and we got all but lost on farm tracks to the south-west of the town.  The flowers were wonderful and we saw many different species.

Next day saw us travelling south to Paternoster, where we stayed in the Paternoster Hotel, probably best known for its famous Panty Bar!  On the way we stopped to look for birds at Verloren Vlei, Rocher Pan and Velddrif.  We returned to Velddrif on Tuesday in a futile search for a Red Necked Phalarope, but sadly, we failed to find it!

We spent Wednesday in the West Coast NP where we visited all the bird hides and drove around Postberg to see the flowers.  Unfortunately, many had been trampled by the week end hordes, but the show was spectacular, nevertheless.

We managed to record 141 bird species, met some interesting people and renewed our ties with the area in which we spent many years whilst living in Kleinzee.