The Mountain Zebra National Park

After leaving Van Staden’s, we set off for Cradock and the adjacent Mountain Zebra National Park, where we spent four very comfortable nights in one of the new Rock Chalets.  The park is set in Karoo mountains with extensive surrounding plains which abound with Mountain Zebra, Springbok, Black Wildebeest and many other species.  We were concentrating on birding as 1 March was the starting day for our Big Birding Year Southern African Challenge.

On our first morning we went on a three hour walk in the park commencing at first light.  Imagine our surprise, on rounding a bend in the path, to find a pair of Buffalo bulls glowering at us!  We quickly made a detour around them and set off up a mountain.  It was a stiff walk, but did not produce much more in the way of animal confrontations, but we really enjoyed every minute of it and manged to see a few good birds and animals.

Our days were spent driving through the park looking for good sightings of the local wildlife.  Birding was a bit disappointing, in that we only achieved 83 species in four days of intense searching, but we nevertheless got some good species.

A night drive on Sunday was interesting in that we saw no less than four Aardwolf, a relatively shy and seldom seen member of the Hyena family.  We also saw many other small nocturnal animals, but only one owl.

In Our Garden

IMG_3524
Cape Grysbok in our garden

I have just seen this beautiful one-horned Cape Grysbok in our garden at Prestwick Village in Hermanus!  Little wonder that we struggle so to get things to grow.  At least we now know what eats most of our flowers!

Baboons

A birding walk on Lemoenkop, in the Fernkloof Nature Reserve, this morning turned up a few good birds, as well as a meeting with a small troop of baboons.  The latter were in our path and were not inclined to move on when approached.  John walked to within a metre or two of the Alpha male, but he would not budge, until John made to throw something at him.  Only then did he trundle away.  Austrian visitors with us were quite disconcerted by the whole thing and were very glad when the path eventually cleared!

Birding at De Mond

During a birding trip to De Mond Reserve today, we were somewhat disappointed to see far fewer birds than anticipated.  Where we had expected to see many Larks and Pipits, there were hardly any, and the large flocks of waders that normally characterise the lagoon edge at De Mond were down in numbers.  Along the road in to the reserve, however, we were very lucky to see a Red Backed Shrike and a European Honey Buzzard.  These are rarities in this part of the world.

Then on the edge of the lagoon we were very interested to see large groups of Hermit Crabs in absolute feeding frenzies, but we could not determine what was attracting them.  A photo showing such a group is appended below.

Cormorants Galore!

A call from a friend alerted me yesterday to the presence of huge numbers of Cape Cormorants on the rocks at Platbank, Hermanus.  I rushed down and was blown away by the literally thousands of birds that had gathered on the rocky shoreline!  It was a really amazing sight and one that will always be remembered, especially since this is not a normal roosting spot for them.  Presumably they had been feeding and were resting up before their next foray into the ocean. I searched for other species amongst them, but to no avail – they were all Cape Cormorants!

 

Bontebok National Park

We spent four days at the park outside Swellendam, two of them on our own and two with the Hermanus Bird Club.  It was a successful birding adventure and the club recorded 120 species from 23 members who attended, whilst Renee and I got 121.  Whereas the club total represented only Bontebok Park sightings, we had three birds from outside the park – and they were good ones – a pair of Crowned Eagles soaring over the entrance to Grootvadersbos, a Black Sparrow Hawk and a Hamerkop.

Within the park we were thrilled to hear a Buff-Spotted Flufftail.  It lured us with its haunting call for two nights without stopping for more than five minutes at a time!  We obviously never saw it, as they are such secretive birds and it was somewhere in the dense riverine bush and quite inaccessible!  Other specials were the ubiquitous Black Harriers, an Osprey, Jacobin Cuckoo, Knysna Woodpeckers and displaying Denham’s Bustards, as well as a good selection of Larks, with the Cape Clapper Lark the most recognisable, as it delivered flawless aerobatic displays.

We climbed to the waterfall at the Marloth Reserve – an excellent walk through a natural forest, but very steep towards the end where we encountered the waterfall and a beautiful rock pool.  We did not see one bird in the forest!

We had also planned to walk in Grootvadersbos Reserve, but were very disappointed to find it closed, as the road was being repaired.  We wanted to see Narina Trogon and some of the rarer Flycatchers that occupy this special habitat (and I, of course, wanted to find some epiphytic Orchids).

 

Raptors and their Prey

Our trip to the Kalaghadi provided an opportunity to observe Lanner Falcons and other raptors hunting down Namaqua Doves.  This occurred at most waterholes and it was fascinating to see how successful they were.  During on short spell at the Nossob waterhole we saw no less that 5 kills by the falcons.  The photos below show some of the action.

The Kalaghadi TransFrontier National Park

We set out for the Kalaghadi on Tuesday 7 June and spent our first night at Papkuilsfontein in the quaint Rondekraal cottage.  Alri was the perfect hostess, as always, and brought us a delicious meal which we enjoyed in front of the fire.  Next night saw us in Upington where we once again had a pleasant stay before driving through to Twee Rivieren for our first night in the Park.

We stayed a total of 10 nights in 5 different camps, but the ones that stood out were the wilderness camps where there are never more than 4 couples and where the camps are unfenced and each one overlooks a waterhole.  The atmosphere was wonderful and we spent many hours watching animals coming to drink and graze without any concern for the visiting humans.  Drives in the park yielded further good sightings and provided for many pleasurable hours despite the poor corrugated roads.

Unfortunately, being winter, we did not see that many birds and our trip list only numbered 127 species, but there were good sightings nevertheless and we were fascinated to see the Lanner Falcons preying on the Namaqua Doves at virtually every waterhole. They are superb hunters and were joined on one occasion by a couple of Shikras and a Gabar Goshawk, also looking for their dove dinner.

Urikaruus, where we spent three nights was wonderful, with a herd of no less than 44 giraffes coming to drink one evening!  It was, however, extremely cold and when the outside temperature fell to minus 3 degrees in the morning, it was about the same indoors. We had to sleep wearing beanies and socks and with three blankets and a duvet on our beds, but still felt frozen by morning!

We returned yesterday, spending another very cold night in Calvinia on the way.

 

3/5 in one image

Its not often that one can capture 3 (Elephant, Rhino and Buffalo) of the Big Five in one image.  Perhaps it is a sign of the drought in the Kruger Park; just a pity the other 2 (lion and Leopard) were not also present, but that would have been asking a bit much!

_MG_9951
Three of the Big Five