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.

Riviersonderend Flood Detour

How do you know when you have inadvertently done something kinda stupid and gotten away with it without breaking anything? Easy, you see this in your rear view mirror.

How did we get into this situation? Simple, we didn’t want to turn around when the road looked like this.

But then it got a bit more tense — note the whirl pool on the left bottom of the picture

And then we decided to investigate

And the road went ever onward and turning places became less obvious. And road kinda disappeared at times.

And then we were out

Interesting trip

Gannaga Pass

I love passes, mountain passes that is. Just recently we traveled up the Gannaga Pass which is on the eastern edge of the Tankwa Reserve.

It is a spectacular pass carved the Master Artist of Passes, Bains. The man had an eye for sweeping, spectacular lines and his passes show his skill. His dry walling is spectacular too. Join us on a trip up and down the Gannaga Pass.

The Guardian of the Pass. Looking like an escapee from a SciFi movie, this rock formation faces up the pass.

The pass sign board. You gotta have this picture to show you were there!

Botter Bos halfway up the pass which you can see sweeping down the right of the picture.

Life clinging to the rocks

Framing


Those Bains dry walls still standing.

Gannaga Lodge at the top with a nice storm cloud.

All the modcons

Looking back at the Lodge.

Looking down

Amanda at the top.

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.

Swartberg Pass

If you haven’t travelled the Swartberg Pass you have missed an amazing South African experience. The Lonely Planet books rate this pass as the best in South Africa and I am inclined to agree with them – and believe me I have seen some amazing passes in my life. The pass is 25 km long and we took 2 hours 30 minutes to get to Prince Alfred from the foot of the pass. Why, well come with us, and do see why and what you have missed in not following it.

The Swartberg pass is a Bains pass and, as with all Bains passes has an almost artistic flow to it. It also has a a prison on it, reminding us that the passes in early South Africa were constructed with convict labour.

The pass starts off slowly and the local (Oudtshoorn) backpacker lodges provide bikes and transport to the top and you can ride down the pass on a bike. Not something I would recommend to the faint heartd or those who do not like being shaken.

Pretty flowers, calm slopes lure you into the pass.

Why is Amanda holding the flowers? The wind is already blowing strongly here.

The ruins of a toll gate.

Typical of a Bains Pass, dry walling is the norm, not the exception. Where he got his dry wallers from, I do not know, but the dry walls still stand.

The road as Tolkein wrote, “Goes ever on.”

And then we met the time waster. A golden banded sunbird. We stalked it for nearly half an hour before getting these pictures.

And then the top. Note the effects of the wind. The tripods were being blown over.

Looking down the other side of the pass.

Flowers. The wind is gone again.

A clever depth of field picture.

This what those curves look like properly focused.

And then it just keeps on dropping.

Looking back up the way we had come.

How did we get some of those pictures. Simple we climbed.

Cape Fold Mountains. You can see why they are called that.

The jail.

How does one relax on Swartberg Pass? Tai Chi of course.

Disas on Table Mountain

I climbed Table Mountain and found the red disas that endemic to table mountain. Red Disas or more accurately, Table Mountain Disas is the flower that the Western Cape sports teams use as their emblem.

Aside from nearly killing myself in the climb up, it was an amazing experience and well worth the sore legs.

The really nice thing about being in the richest floral kingdom on earth is that there are ALWAYS a number of species flowering, no matter what time of the year you go out looking. This trip was no different.

Just to give you some idea of the difference between our floral kingdom and the rest of the world, Table Mountain alone has more flowering species than the entire United Kingdom has.

Here are some of those pictures:

I went up Skeleton Gorge and you can see the steepness of the trek.

Me. I had to prove I was there and not looking too exhausted.

The top. At last! Muizenberg in the distance and False Bay in the background.

An unidentified blommie until I looked it up and lo and behold, another disa! Disa Ferruginea. Pays to do some reseach doesn’t it?

King Protea (Protea Cynoroides). The dew drops are for real. I was up there very early.

Campylostachys cernua. I was sorry I looked this one up. Blommie is so much easier to spell.

Gladiolus Monticola. I think. If you are a botanist, break it to me genly if I have gotten it wrong, but it is rather photogenic.

And here ladies and gentlemen is the star of the show. Disa Uniflora, the red disa, pride of table mountain. Take your pick. Pretty isn’t it and really worth the walk.

This guy came out to see what all the fuss was about and kindly agreed to be photographed.

More gladiolus? There were lots of them and they really look much better than the pictures make them out to be.

There were literally hundreds of disas. They are DIFFICULT to photograph. They live in dark holes surrounded by bright sunlight. Metering the camera is a nightmare and camera shake quite a common problem.

A waterfall. It had disas in it, but I couldn’t get disas and the waterfall, so just imagine disas!

He joined me for lunch.

More Disas!

This scene was so much like something from Lord of the Rings, I just had to take it. The End of the Road!

Agathapanthus Africanus. Growing wild on the Back Table.

Hely Hutchison reservoirs on the Back Table and the end of the disa route.

The way down. Nursery Ravine. And believe me it doesn’t nurse anyone!

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

Hikers Descending Lions Head under a New Moon

The new moon sets behind Lions Head as hikers descend from the top after watching the sunset.
moon

img_0983

During that photographic session I saw a green deep sky object. I am still battling to identify it and figure out why it is green. The red circle on the right is a hiker, the red circle on theleft is Venus, but what is the green object?

venus