Lake St. Bernard
25th to 28th February 2014
Lake St Bernard is situated in East Gruiqualand – between Underberg and Kokstad and found after 24 kms on the D609 (heading west). Cottage No. 3 is situated right at the Lake’s edge with great panoramic views of the lake surrounded by mountains. There are 2 other cottages well spread out on the site.
Most people come here for the trout fishing – the reason why our friends, Sally and Chippy decided to stop here on their way to St Francis. Chippy is passionate about his fishing. We were fortunate that they asked us to join them for the three days at LakeSt. Bernard.
Driving in to the Lake, on the D609 rough road, we came across a large wetland area with numerous Sakabulas – Long-tailed Widowbirds – struggling with their enormously long bulbous tales.
After unpacking and some lunch the two Sallys and I set off to explore the waterfront while Chippy prepared for his afternoon of fishing. There were a number of water birds about as well as the odd raptor.
On return we found Chippy stuck in the reeds casting his rod – and it was not long before he started landing the Rainbow Trout. Unfortunately it is “catch and release” otherwise we would have had 5 large trout for dinner.
Fishing is obviously quite an art with colourful flies “woolly buggers – green, white and red”, “Olive Red Eyed Damsels”, “Black Zonkers”, “White Death” to name a few all to catch the cockfish and hens. (You need to learn patience, a whole new language and have nimble big fat fingers to boot!).
The birds around the Lake were plentiful including dozens of Hadeda Ibis; Spur-winged and Egyptian Geese; Black-headed Herons; Blacksmith Lapwings (Lapsmiths for short); Pied Startlings; Ant-eating Chats as well as Banded Martins; Barn, Greater Striped and White-throated Swallows; Cape Longclaw; Cape Weavers; Jackal and Steppe Buzzards.
For us it was up early each day and in the vehicle to explore the area in search of birds. On the first morning out we visited the St Bernard’s Peak Mountain Lodge to check out the birds in their grounds – instead we ended up climbing part of the mountain behind the lodge – looking for the mountain specials. We were not disappointed as we saw Cape Vulture, Cape Rock-Thrush, Bokmakerie, Buff-streaked and what we think is a pair of Familiar Chats – or could they be Sickle-winged Chats – see photos.
In the afternoon we drove some of the by-roads and came across a secluded amphitheatre of mountains – green, imposing and enthralling. The rivers were flowing and there were wetlands everywhere.
On the way we came across this most unusual bird sitting by the road.
Grey-crowned Cranes entertained us, Amur Falcons were on all the power lines and we managed to see other lovely species including Yellow Bishop.
The final full day, Sally and I drove a bit further afield in search of alternate habitats but in this area the landscape was pretty constant for miles. However we did come across another large lake with Whiskered Tern, White-backed Ducks, Cape Shoveller and tens of Red-knobbed Coots. Further on we came upon a Black-shouldered Kite with his catch and on the way back a Drakensberg Prinia calling like mad.
We did come across a couple of unusual birds – an Amur Falcon with a blonde head and a Common Fiscal (we believe) with a dark front.
In all we saw and or heard 75 different bird species.
Finally it was time to leave – up early as usual. Sally and Chippy headed south for St Francis and their house on the northern bank of the Krom river (Hudsonian Godwit land at present).
For us it was back to Durban and to prepare for our departure for the Kruger two days later – Crocodile Bridge and maybe a chance to find the White-throated Bee-eaters if they are still there.
On the way out we were treated to the sight of a Diedrick’s Cuckoo in the misty wetlands – also a sunny Cape Longclaw.
Lake St Bernard – a little gem and a pot of Gold.