Paul and Sally Bartho
From Cape Town we headed for Eland’s Bay and a campsite Sally had read about in the Caravan and Outdoor Life Feb issue – Ventersklip overlooking Verlorenlei (the lost marsh) leading into the sea. Negotiated price from R480 to R300 for 2 nights.
Unfortunately the water level was low so water bird sightings were few at the campsite.
We decided to stay two nights and use it as a base to bird in the area in particular to try and find the Protea Canary along the Paleisheuwel Road (off the N2 eight kms south of Clanwilliam) and to visit Lambert’s Bay to see the Cape Gannet colony.
Protea Canary first – a lifer for me but not Sally. Sally had seen it when we visited Betty’s Bay some years ago. I was too slow carrying my binoculars, scope and camera at the time.
We drive along the Paleisheuwel Road to the craggy gorge, stopping and searching for some time. Then at one spot we stop. I let Sally out and park out of the way of the traffic. As I get out Sally calls me – she has it in her binocs. Sure enough by the time I get there it has gone!
Another hour traipsing up and down the road in the area getting dust blasted as the traffic seemed unnaturally heavy on this off-road dust bowl. It seemed there were White-throated Canaries everywhere and no Proteas. We saw Cape Buntings, a Verreaux’s Eagle overhead and a Lesser Honeyguide foraging. No Protea Canary.
And then as we were about to give up and after much persistence we spot a Protea Canary, get a good look at it. Unfortunately not able to get a photo as it was not stationary long enough. This is the tree it was seen in.
On the way back we head for Lambert’s Bay and the Cape Gannet colony.
Once in Lamberts Bay we stop and look at the hundreds of Cormorants on one of the rocky outcrops. Virtually all were Cape but we did spot one Crowned Cormorant.
Then to the bedlam of the Cape Gannet colony. Now a R5 parking charge and R40 per person to visit unless you have a Wild Card.
On the way in there were many Terns (Common, Sandwich and Swift) on the rocks leading to the Gannet colony. And some White-breasted Cormorant youngsters.
We headed for the Cape Gannet viewing hide. It looks like an out of place rock which gives it character.
The rock was strewn with a heaving mass of adults and juveniles. The juveniles a very dark fluffy grey in contrast to their parents.
Birds were everywhere in the air circling around perhaps to get away from their demanding young. Interesting to watch their behaviour towards each other. But also interesting to see how they landed. They would come down to land, put on the brakes, carriage down, feet on the ground, still too fast forward so using their nose/beak to the ground to counterbalance their forward motion.
Even a seal put in an appearance sticking one flipper out of the water.
On the way out we were amazed at the size of the dolosse- put there as an effective sea break.
And then we were sent on our way by the Man of the Sea – an eight foot giant,
We might have stayed another night at Ventersklip but the wind coming off the vlei was excessively strong and cool especially at night. Our canvas took a right beating in the wind.
Not having a planned itinerary we headed south towards Velddrif and the municipal campsite in Dwarskersbos – just over 12 kms north of Velddrif. Weekend rates R201 per night and the third night R100. This is a well shady campsite right by the sea so sometimes a bit windy. Another quirk – bring your own loo roll.
Our plan using Birdfinder was to bird the area around Velddrif and to meet up with friends in the West Coast National Park. They were staying in Langebaan.
We gained access to the local Cerebos salt pans, however they were very disappointing – some Greater and Lesser Flamingos and not much else. No waders, a few Great Crested Grebes, the odd Cape Wagtail.
We visited the rundown hide on the north bank of the Berg River in town. It is important to visit when the tides are low as the mud flats become more visible.
There was a greater variety of birds to be seen from the hide. Many Flamingos of both varieties, numerous Greenshank, the odd Marsh Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilts, Great Crested Grebe, Three-banded and Kittlitz’s Plovers, Gulls – Kelp and Grey-headed or Hartlaub’s, Grey Heron, Karoo Prinia, Cape Wagtail, Little Egret, Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, Sacred and Hadeda Ibis, Terns – Swift, Sandwich, Little and White-winged, Great White Pelican, Grey Plover, Avocet, Cormorants – White-breasted and Reed, Pied Kingfisher.
We also explored the area behind the salt pans. Heading south over the bridge we turned right and drove three kms to a dirt track leading up to the pans. At the first corner we started to see some waders – Common Greenshank, Kittlitz’s and White-fronted Plover, Grebes – Great Crested and Black-necked. Also on the inside of the corner there were Chestnut-vented Warblers and several Karoo Scrub-Robins. A worthwhile excursion close to town.
On our drive to Velddrif Buzzards were commonplace on the poles by the road – Common and Jackal Buzzards. We took the road along the north side of the river beyond the bird hide and on the way back explored some of the beachside tracks.
On one stretch there were several cosy and rustic fish restaurants (which we tried out the following day), some with decking over the water.
At one point along there we spotted the Yellow-billed Stork previously reported in Trevor Hardaker’s Rarities reports. We took a photo and sent it to Trevor as an update.
Then we headed for Langebaan and the West Coast NP travelling via Paternoster. Along the way we had a great nearby sighting of Blue Cranes and their two juveniles. And at another stop Namaqua Sandgrouse and Namaqua Doves.
Then there was one mystery bird which we still find difficult to identify. If you do, then please let us know – (firstname.lastname@example.org). Could it be a Large-billed Lark?
In West Coast NP, we met our friends from Durban at the Seeberg Hide.
What a special place it turned out to be apart from the very long walk down to it. There were 4 huge groups of different birds – small waders in particular Little Stints all lined up in neat rows; A variety of Terns –Sandwich, Swift, Common and Little; large groupings of Greater and Lesser Flamingos and last but by no means least Bar-tailed Godwits (there must have been well over a hundred together).
Occasionally each group would take off for some reason. They swarmed together like schools of fish in the sea and then settled back down again. That was quite a sight to see.
The Bar-tailed Godwits took turns to display themselves on the shoreline right in front of the hide. Amongst them were Little Stints, Curlew Sandpipers and other waders which we took ages to identify. You know what they say: If it is not this and not that etc then it must be a Knot – Red Knots in fact. Well done Sally in IDing them.
Then we had a Lesser Flamingo striding out in front of the hide trying to take off – which it eventually managed.
The fresh water hide – Abrahams Kraal, our next stop – was productive with sightings of some of the more common water bird species – Common Moorhen, Little Grebe, Red-knobbed Coots with chicks, Yellow Canaries and Cape Sparrow as well as a pair of Cape Shovelers.
Then we all went to Geelbeck for a snack among the trees next to the Restaurant. The wind was pressing but the sun warmed us up. As we sat eating, Cecil’s sharp eyes noticed a Rock Kestrel sheltering itself from the wind in an alcove immediately above the entrance to the restaurant. It was not at all perturbed by guests entering only feet below.
Another long walkway to the Geelbeck Hide proved well worth it. Sally had got the tide right – 4.5 hours after Cape Town high tide according to Birdfinder. There were little or no birds to be seen in the marshes alongside the walkway. All were to be found on the mudflats in front of the hide. What a variety of waders and other water birds even an Eurasian Curlew was spotted, again by eagle-eyed Cecil.
Fortunately one side of the hide was protected from the wind and that also proved the more interesting side to see the birds.
Our campsite in Dwarskersbos was a birders delight. During the day we were serenaded by a variety of small birds all day long (at night the tree above our campsite was the local dove roost who left their calling cards all over our caravan and car).
During the night we had a pair of Spotted Eagle-Owls calling above us – Woo; WoWoo. During the day we noticed that there was one roosting above us and another in a nearby tree.
Then we had to think where to go next.
To be continued in Part 3.
Paul and Sally Bartho