Birding on the Symphonia

We went on a cruise with 2000 other birders looking for pelagic birds.

We got some really great shots and had a really good time. We left Cape Town in the late afternoon

Lions head and Table Mountain

The sunset was marvelous

Then next day, the birds

And then back again.

There is a video here

 

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Birding Trip Down the Cape Peninsula

We were approached to test an app for logging birds during a competition. The organisers needed people to log birds from all over the country in an arbitrary manner. We volunteered.

My wife Amanda and I live in Cape Town on the slopes of Table Mountain.

Table mountain is the  base of a triangle of land, a peninsula and being really original, we call it “The Peninsula” but we may on occasions refer to parts of it as the “South Peninsula”.

The first European name of “The Peninsula” was the “Cape of Storms” so named by a very wind blown Portuguese explorer who was blown past the tip of Africa and had to beat his way back to find land again. This picture of a yacht under a single genoa sail and trailing a sea anchor will give you and idea of the power of our local wind.

Winds can gust up to 70 km/h which is when  the harbour is closed, people get blown off their feet and buses get blown over. Cape Town is beautiful, but you do not really want to go out in one of our serious gales. You can see pictures of a serious winter storm here. We did, and survived. We reserved tent in the Smitswinkel Tented camp for Saturday evening and set out at 12 on Saturday morning to our first stop, Milnerton Lagoon. The mountain on the right is Devils Peak

It doesn’t look windy but at that stage it was blowing at about 30 km/h. The white spots you can see in the water are Greater Flamingos. In the following picture, Pied Avocecs work the mad flats.

Having scored about twenty bird species we moved on to Intaka Island and still in sight of  a bit ofTable Mountain and Devils Peak through the construction site. The cloud you can see is the Table Cloth and only arrives when the wind is really moving.

Intaka island is a water reclamation site for Century City. It really is a special place surrounded by the city and is open to the public. You can take a ferry from the big shopping centre and cruise at your leisure around the whole area. Read more about Intaka here. We scored the cute picture of the day here too.

Red Knobbed Coot chicks just starting to fledge.

Bath time, weavers in partial mating plumage. We moved onto Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens where we “knew” there were baby owls to be seen. No such luck they had moved on. But the scenery and the flowers made up for it.

The top picture is a Mountain Dahlia and the bottom one is an unusual picture of a King Protea. Normally they are shown fully open. This one is partially open which, I think makes a nice difference. Kirstenbosch is in the Fynbos Biome which has the most species of plants (9000 ) in any biome but it is also the smallest biome in area. See more on Kirstenbosch here.

We moved on towards Smitswinkel bay and we both assumed we knew where the tented camp was. Down by the sea, at Smitswinkel bay.

You can see the settlement with the end of the peninsula, Cape Point, in the distance. The only access is down a gravel path so we loaded our bag with sleeping bags, dinner and a bottle of bubbly and set off down.

Only to find that the tented camp was back up the slope and 2 km further. Please note that the bay is a jealously guarded piece of property and visitors are not really welcome. So we climbed back up, drove the 2 km and found the tented camp.

Nestled in a grove of wind blasted flowering gums, it is one of the overnight stations for the four day Hoerikwagga Hiking Trail which traverses the Table Mountain chain.

The accommodation is basic, but comfortable. Problem is that when the wind is blowing the tent thunders quite dramatically.

By this stage we had gotten 44 birds and were seriously considering going straight home, but the Cape Point Nature reserve was right next door, so next morning we headed that way.

Looking back toward Cape Town, the sea blown flat by the howling wind. The wind was really strong, we watched with some amusement as a Cape Longclaw flew up, was blown backwards, gave up and took to walking.

Everlastings. The hillside was covered in them.

A Black Headed Heron caught and lost a snake, then stood staring into the bush the snake had vanished into for a long while before giving up and moving on.

This is a screen shot of the BirdLasser App we use for tracking our sightings. A great app, limited to South Africa.

In all we got 62 birds, which considering the wind was not a bad score

Bird Tree – Groot Brak

We went to Groot Brak River to attend a bird identification course. Before leaving we wandered around town and found this amazing tree. The tree is a huge Norfolk Pine just near to the river. In day light it appears as if it is dying. All the top leaves are stripped off.

However at night, the tree is alive with birds. The following pictures were taken in the early evening.

From a distance it doesn’t look like much. However, the closer you get, the more amazing it becomes. I estimated 100 birds. I was wrong. I will leave you to count.

There are at least 11 occupied nests in the tree. The following sequence is of a heron approaching its nest.

SASOL Tankwa Birding Bonanza

The Tankwa Reserve has intrigued me since the time I inadvertently drove the R355. How, you ask do you “inadvertently” drive the longest road between two towns in the whole of South Africa. Easy, is the answer, you just turn left just outside of Calvinia, looking for a quick road home after looking at the Spring Flowers. Simple really.

What I didn’t know was that the R355 has, to misquote the Eagles, “A nasty reputation as a cruel road.”

Problem is that there is this oil shale that litters the country thereabouts. From a distance it doesn’t look too bad. A bit black maybe, but not too bad.

Its when you get closer that it gets to look a bit more threatening.

Those shards are razor sharp and cut holes in tyres without much effort. To make things a bit more tense, the closest garage and petrol station is 150 km away. And to complete the picture, there is NO cell phone coverage. None of our national cell phone companies has got this area “covered’. Which can be a bit problematic if you slash your tyres in a place that looks like this:

And it gets awfully hot or awfully cold, depending on the time you happen to be there.
That is Skoorsteenberg in the distance and to quote Mike Lodge (who made some informed comments – thanx Mike) “It is the place where all the oil companies have been investigating fracking.” This will not be a fracking site, but has been part of intensive exploration by the oil companies.

This is picture of  Pramberg in spring. Picture supplied by Mike Lodge and taken by Carl Gerber. The spring flowers are, I am told superb and the picture gives some idea of the effect of the spring rains on this barren land.

Having thoroughly dissuaded you from visiting, let me change tack and insist that you MUST see this reserve. If you love drylands and what the Americans call “Big Sky Country” this is the place for you.

On the eastern edge of the reserve is the Gannaga Pass a beautiful, rugged Bains Pass and a must do if you are into mountain passes as I am.

The seer-oog flowers bloom in April and wait for the Spring rains in September for water.

Some more flower pictures

Hoodia. Nice to look at, but kinda smelly.

There are mammals in the Reserve and they are fairly easy to photograph.

And other critters.

The roads aside from having sharp tyre cutting shale are good and well kept and the country is photogenic beyond belief.

I even saw some humans.

Actually that is Amanda and our guide and mentor Johan, a voluntary ranger who showed us the Reserve with patience, courtesy and friendliness.

Here is Johan stalking Mountain Wheatears in the grass. And before you start wondering and worse still muttering, yes, I did play with the images. There has been some tampering. And to show my complete brazen cheek, a couple of art photos.

There are farmhouses and labourers cottages spotted all over the reserve. We stayed at Paulshoek.

Take a look in the SANParks website to get a better idea what the places are like. As with all SANParks accommodation, the place was clean, well stocked with equipment and comfortable. The next picture is not official accomodation, but it made a great hook for a landscape picture.

But we were there for the birds. And here are some of the pics we got.
Sparrows you will see aplenty.

Morning song

And art pic and a bird at once.

White backed mouse birds.

Rock Kestrel

Jackal Buzzard

Baby Martin

Sand grouse

Gabar Goshawk

And a moonrise to finish off.

A trip to De Hoop Nature Reserve

 

Wet, dirt roads, wild weather. Just the best way to travel.

Getting across the Breed River is done at Malgas by pont. The only still operating pont in South Africa

The flood waters from the last floods left debris high in the trees

Still pulling as the sun sets

Blue Cranes

The reserve lying before me.

A protea

Fiscal Shrike Bath  Time

Weird shapes of trees caused by wind

Bulbul

Southern Booboo

Rock eroded by wind and water.

Fly Past

Don’t disturb me. Can’t you see I am basking.

Fossilized Dunes

Whale Tail

Chalet on the Beach.

Pelican

Grey headed gulls

Swallows nesting

Fishing

Astro Photography in Bontebok National Park

We went to the Bontebok National park to do some astro-photography. The park is small but beautiful.

Bontebok Park website is here:

There were some clouds early in the evening which cleared up and by 2 am the stars were gorgeous.
Sunset. Clouds to ruin the “seeing”. Nice pictures though.

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10 pm. Still clouds but they do add some interest.

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2 am and the camera is out of focus. Pictures are still pretty good though.

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Cape Point – The Fairest Cape in all the World

We visited Cape Point Nature reserve and got a bit suntanned, a couple of new birds and as usual some really great images,

Buffelsbaai. I had a swim trying out the new action camera, but was warned out of the water by the surfers. Said they had seem some sharks and fairly close in.  This is Dylan braving the shark infested seas…

IMG_3717More surfing pics here.

Its a shark, really. How do I know? It moved faster than the surrounding kelp. Seriously, they were not very big and didn’t seem to take much notice of humans in the water.

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Platbos on the Atlantic Side was so very beautiful.

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Of course a polarising filter helps.

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Dissent in the family. Juvenile birds always give trouble.

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Smitswinkel Bay

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Erica – they seem to like the disturbed edges of the roads.

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