Report by Sally and Paul Bartho
Continuing from Part 2
After three nights in Dwarskersbos and exploring Velddrif and West Coast National Park we wondered where to go next. Eventually we decided to head inland to see the Cederberg mountains. Sally had previously camped in a pretty place called Algeria – in the Cederberg. She was keen to return so that is where we headed for two nights.
The site is run by Cape Nature. The campsite was relatively empty with about only 4 other camps taken. Most of the sites are well treed, some on grass but the more popular on sand or stone for the views and shade. Several nice sites overlook the stream and rock pool where you can take a dip.
Each night cost R240 – a bit of expensive for what it offered. The campsite ablutions also had no toilet paper. It is a drastic drive to get there up a stony pass for 18 kms. A long way back down to get toilet paper in Clanwilliam!
Birding here was limited to around the campsite, its trails and along the stony roads. Needless to say we did not record many species in the two days there. Our best sighting was a Greater Kestrel. The Southern Double-collared Sunbirds next to our campsite were special to hear but virtually impossible to spot as the tree foliage was well dense.
Another bird we wanted to see was the Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. Out came Birdfinder. Skitterykloof Pass it said was the best known place to see it. So that was where we had to go next.
Skitterykloof Pass is about half way along the R355 from Ceres to Tanqua Karoo – about 80 kms from Ceres. Our choice was to stay in Ceres and drive out from there or alternatively stay in a small self-catering cottage within a 20 km drive.
We chose the latter and stayed at Gezellig Genot at R330 a night – bring your own bedding – also limited power available. We parked the trailer beside us and despite the heat (41 C) for two days the batteries were only half depleted keeping our fridge/freezer to temperature.
A quick exploration was called for on the afternoon of our arrival. Despite the heat we went to find Skitterykloof Pass. Driving south we passed the Tankwa Padstal and took the first right after it. A further three kms and we were there.
Steep hillside to the right and the picnic site on the left. We searched up and down the rocky slopes for several hours with not a sign of anything – nothing calling. Most unlikely to succeed – after all Birdfinder is over 10 years out of date. Disappointed – we headed back to the cottage.
The next morning we were up bright and early getting back at Skitteryskloof Pass at 06h30. Passing several Black-chested Snake-Eagles, a Booted Eagle – pale phase and a family of Karoo Korhaans on the way.
The hillsides were still in shadow as we traipsed up and down the road for more than an hour. The sun started to hit the sides of the cliffs and it was getting hot. Back down the road again to the bridge – nothing then back up again.
Suddenly we hear its call (having studied it before going). Well that is the first step – now to find it.
Out of the blue we saw it flitting from one Aloe to the next sucking nectar we assume. As we follow it, it gives us chances to positively identify it but never stops long enough for a decent photo. As we head back up to the picnic site we spot several more. In all we were lucky to see the bird 5 or 6 times. What a beautiful bird – our Aloe flitter.
A few other species were heard and some seen in Skitterykloof.
Back at the cottage we luxuriate on the patio and spend the afternoon spotting from there. The nearby trees were constantly being visited by birds all day long – even in the middle of the day. There were Pririt Batis, Fairy Flycatchers, Namaqua Warbler, Karoo Scrub-Robin, White-backed Mousebird, Karoo Prinia, Cape Bulbul, Cape Spurfowl and most entertaining a gang of White-throated Canaries with their huge beaks almost the size of their heads.
Then to cap it all, with the close of the day, a pair of Rufous-cheeked Nightjars flew about us calling.
As hot and dry as it was we much enjoyed our stay there.
On leaving we stopped at the Tankwa Padstal for some more of their explosive home-made Ginger Beer. The bottles took three minutes to open painfully watching as the gas escaped. Open it quickly and the contents explode all over you. Fortunately the sales lady informed us in time.
So where to next? Head back to Stilbaai we decided. But first to drive the dirt roads from Swellendam to De Hoop – loads of Blue Cranes seen the last time 9 years ago.
Best stay at Bontebok NP as the campsite in De Hoop, as we remembered it, was not only double the price but also in a very poor state. Apparently they have done up the ablutions but the campsite is now closed for restoration. They still take passing trade at a whopping R370 per site.
Bontebok was at R245 per night and R150 for the non-weekend third night.
We planned to pay a visit to De hoop to see what birding they would offer (being next to the river and sea).
The dirt roads did not disappoint – there were Blue Cranes in every large field, Buzzards a plenty – Common and Jackal and numerous Capped Wheatears. After a couple of hours and little distance driven we realised that if we want to see De Hoop before 15h00 we had to get a move on. Of course our GPS took us through farmers fields before we turned around and found our own way!
At De Hoop birding was limited. Most of the area to get to both the sea and the river was through low dense scrub.
Birds were heard but seldom seen. The Southern Double-collared Sunbird called everywhere and we were lucky enough to see it briefly. The Cape Grassbird however was not so shy and it was seen several times displaying nicely.
Baboons were on Sentry duty and other critters seen included Cape Zebra, Bontebok, a rather forlorn Eland, a Striped Mouse and White-tailed Mongoose.
African Black Oystercatchers were seen on the rocks and in the coves at the seaside but not much else.
On the river frontage there were Great Crested Grebes and the occasional South African Shelduck.
And this unidentified Sunbird.
Our second day at Bontebok started reasonably brightly so we took the chance to catch up on the laundry – all by hand. However by the time we had finished washing up the sky was looking ominous. First a dribble then wind and rain. Luckily the sheets had more or less dried but the rest waited patiently for 2 days to get to a tumble drier..
The rest of the day was spent with shopping and catching up on housekeeping tasks. The rain kept up and we expected to leave the next day in the rain – not much fun decamping in the rain.
But we were fortunate. The rain had stopped during the night and we hung out the washing to get as much drying time as possible.
Then we packed up and headed for Stilbaai to get a second chance to see the Red-necked Buzzard. Weather predictions were not favourable and we expected to have to stay a couple of nights to get any chance of seeing the bird.
We knew they were renovating the road from the N2 to Stilbaai but it was a shock to see how much they had achieved and more sections of the road with Stop and Go – up to 20 minutes wait at each. And there were three – all of which we hit at the head of the line.
Half way along the third Stop and Go we turned off to Melkhoutfontein towing our trailer on the off chance we could find the Buzzard.
We get to the power station on the left and stop, blocking the bus station entrance. Out we get and scour the poles etc with no luck.
So we decide to head into Melkhoutfontein on the off chance of finding it there. After a short distance as we headed that way, Sally saw a faded blue sign on the left indicating the direction to both the old and new St. Augustine’s Churches. The old was on the right down a narrow track. We gave it a miss as we were towing. So into town. Nothing.
On the way back out, I see my GPS promises me that there is a way out from the narrow dirt track and I take it – with Sally in trepidation. After about 500 metres we get to an open area with a cemetery and the old church on our left.
And a Bokmakierie to greet us.
We stop and within a few minutes we see a Buzzard flying overhead – Common. Rats.
Then as I am thinking of turning the trailer round I see another Buzzard. Very pale undersides. Could be it. Out for a photo as it circles around and I get several shots then it flies and perches in the pine tree by the old church. That was the bird we wanted to see.
As I tried to get closer to get some better photos it took off and disappeared out towards the sea. Well we had seen it but I was keen for a second chance to photograph it. We waited half an hour but I wanted another 15 minutes. As we waited another couple of birders arrived.
As we chatted one of them – the wife – said “What’s that bird on the pole?” on the path to our right going in the direction of the blue-roofed school. Sure enough it was back and it allowed us to get several grey sky shots before it flew.
Well we had achieved our goal for Stilbaai. So we decided to head on to Wilderness and try to get ahead of the weather. During the first Stop and Go back out of Melkhoutfontein there is a dirt road to Albertina and a shortcut to the N2 – about 20 kms of dirt and gravel but better than hanging around in the Stop and Goes.
We settle for several nights in Wilderness NP.
Hurray they have a drier for our damp clothes. Our campsite is right by the river.
Three weekday nights here in camp with power on the river R525 (includes the 40% pensioners discount). The ablutions work well although a bit away from the site we chose.
The next day to celebrate Valentine’s Day we decide to head for Prince Albert to have lunch – via Swartberg Pass! Quite a scenic drive but a bit nerve-wracking at times – especially going downhill – numerous tight hairpins and the stony road wide enough for one and a half cars.
Birds were few and far between but we did see a Dusky Sunbird near the top as well as a Blue Crane and chick on the way up.
Lunch at “O is for Olive” four kms north of Prince Albert – Lamb chops – delicious. We take the longer (distance) route back and save ourselves a couple of hours on the Swartberg Pass alternative.
The following day was spent birding in the camp and going to the lakes and their two hides.
Campsite birding however was the most productive.
A point to note. After eventually finding the Half-collared Kingfisher Trail we were surprised to find we either needed a campsite permit, Wild Card or R40 per person. We had none of the these on us so ended up not doing the trail. We had heard it lived up to its name the day before with a Narina Trogon also making an appearance.
The campsite had a resident Black-headed Oriole and many Knysna Turacos. Seventeen were seen together in one tree on the opposite side of the river from us.
We enjoyed being next to the river despite the campsites around us being busy.
Nothing like a dip to cool you down!
The evening before we left, the clouds above developed a red glow with a straight band of red moving towards the sea. Strange and interesting. Out came the camera to capture the picture. Then no sooner than the pictures were taken the sky opened with rain and hail. We had to move fast to get everything under cover.
To be continued in in the final Part 4