alaskabirder

Its a Great Day to Bird

Month: October 2015

Namibia – Okavango – Victoria Falls – Bird Tour (Part 1: Day1-6)

Okay I was going to do one long blog but thought I might bore people with too many photos and text.  I have a lot of photos.  So I am spitting the blog posts into three parts.  Since the trip was 18 days long, I am doing Days 1-6, Days 7-12, and Days 13-18.  Here goes . . . . . . . . .

When we touched down in Livingstone, after going through heavy turbulence prior to landing, I was surprised to see only one other plane at the terminal, and it was a small commuter plane.  We were told they only get about 2-3 flights per day and when those people deplane, the plane takes on passengers and then quickly departs.  Our welcome to Zambia was  HOT, HOT, HOT a big change in temperature after being along the cool West Cape.  Hard to imagine we are going to bird in these hot temperatures for 18 days.

Livingstone, the town, itself is not inspiring but the nearby Victoria Falls was awe-inspiring!  We stayed at a place called Gloria’s B&B.  Trip Advisor and booking.com gave it good reviews, but we weren’t overly impressed.  The window in our room was missing a window pane and the screen had a hole in it – think Mosquitos.  The doors – bath room and entrance – took some effort to lock.

We walked into town the first day for dinner – about 1.5 km – and passed only one other white couple.  Most of the blacks wouldn’t look at us, a couple of them gave us hostile looks or sneers, and only a few said hi and only if we spoke first.  They have to see a lot of white people in town since we are big part of their tourism economy.

Day two in Livingstone we went to a defunct golf course to bird.  We walked there and back – about 6+ kilometers.  We only saw three other white people walking during our walk to and from the golf course.  We were approached by a caretaker at the golf course telling us a little bit about the historic looking, shuttered club house and then requesting a donation because he was hungry.  Unfortunately we didn’t have any local currency so gave him South African Rands instead.  I’m sure he will be able to change it at a bank or on the streets.

We stopped at a local store to buy soft drinks (yea they sell Pepsi) and water.  I only seem to drink soft drinks when it is really hot outside.  For some reason I seem to crave a cold cola drink.  However, it was not to be – at least not yet.  The store wouldn’t take South African Rands.

Oh and the electricity went out around 6:00 am and didn’t come back on until 2:00 pm.  After going to the golf course it was too hot outside so we went back to the guest house.  There they had ice cold Coke, but no air conditioning.  We took it easy in the afternoon and then headed out again for dinner.  Another pleasant experience walking among the locals.  I’m surprised at their attitude as tourism is big business here.  While soft drinks and bottled water and eating out is less expensive than in South Africa, lodging is not.  Also if you want to take a taxi to the falls – approximately 15 kilometers from town, it costs around $10-$15 US Dollars.  I think anyone who has a car in town offers their services as a taxi.  As we are out walking the taxi drivers will honk their horns wanting to know if we want a taxi.

Let the tour begin……

Day 1
We joined our birding group and the first biding hot spot – the Livingstone Sewage Works!  The sewage works is a series settling ponds which attract lots of great birds, including a White-cheeked tern (life bird), as well as lots of shorebirds (Wood Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs (only the second recorded sighting at this location), Common Sandpiper, Ruff) and waterbirds (Black Crake, Squacco Heron, Glossy Ibis, African Purple Swamphens, and a Lesser Moorhen [life bird]).

We had to crawl under some wires to get to the ponds.  The fence was an electric fence but our guide Greg said it was dead and proceeded to grab the wires and crawl through. I grabbed the wires and had a shocking experience – in both hands.  Yikes!!!  Luckily not too painful and no damage to the hands.

After the sewage works and heat exhaustion by one of our group, we went back to our hotel for a siesta and to cool off.  Under the searing sun, it sure gets hot here (47 degrees celsius on this day we were told), so waited until late afternoon to head to Victoria Falls.  Got a fantastic bird – Schalow’s Turaco (bird for the day)- but there was virtually no water falling over the rocks on the Zambia side of the river.  We are at the tail end of the dry season so water is a scarce commodity.  Apparently the falls are best viewed in April, when water levels are at their peak.  Kind of disappointing, so we had the imaginative view of a curtain of water cascading over the very long cliff face into a deep gorge.

Next we went in search of a Collared Palm Thrush at an area popular for local, and we found the bird as soon as we drove up.  Next stop was the Bush Front for the Bearded Scrub Robin.  We had to work a little harder for that bird, but we did find it.

I mentioned earlier that people in Livingstone do not seem happy with all the foreigners.  However, at our hotel our lunch waiter was the friendliest person around, with the biggest smile.  So cute – wanted to bring him home.

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Our vehicle for the trip

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Broad-billed Roller

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At the Livingstone Sewage Works looking for waterbirds

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One of the sewage ponds

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They have a problem with Water Hyacinth too

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Victoria Falls – I can see Zimbabwe  from this view.

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During the rainy season this entire area would have water falling over it, rather than this small trickle.

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Another view of the floor of the Zambezi River

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Zambezi River at sunset

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Another view of the Zambezi River

Day 2
We left the hotel early and headed to our next night’s lodging in Namibia – Kalizo Lodge.  We had to cross the border – getting our passports stamped saying we were leaving Zambia, and getting our passports stamped for arrival in Namibia.  In Namibia we waited over an hour standing in line to get permission to enter the country.  In the hallway there was a sign regarding corruption and how the government is fighting it.  Maybe they shouldn’t.  Things might run more smoothly with corruption, because without it we got incompetency instead.

We birded along the way, stopping off at an area known for the occasional Racket-tailed Roller.  Greg played the song for the roller and almost instantly the bird came in with a vengeance looking for the intruder.  The roller did its “roll” several times (fun to watch), then landed in a nearby tree for a great view.  Woohoo!!!  This was my bird for the day.

We got to Kalizo Lodge late afternoon and birded the area.  We did flush a Square-tailed Nightjar, which was a good find (and a life bird).  Luckily the bird didn’t fly too far off and ‘posed’ for us.

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Nice to see wildlife again, such as these Elephants. The babies are so cute.

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Countryside

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The people here are very poor – living in huts

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They burn the trees to create charcoal to sell to other locals. Pile of charcoal near the road. The charcoal is used primarily for cooking.

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The thatch roofs of their homes are made from reeds.

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We were fortunate to see four (only two shown here) Southern Ground Hornbills. The hornbills love burned areas.

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Usually only small areas of habitat are burned at any one time.

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Countryside

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More local housing

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In town – lots of people selling items alongside the road.

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The Hope Kitchen.

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Anyone need an outhouse?

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African Hoopoe

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We had lunch along the Zambezi River. Seems like a lot of water here. Not sure why so little going over the falls.

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Baby Dark-capped Bulbul. The parents were feeding the chick shortly before the photo was taken.

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Red-eyed Dove hiding in the tree

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We walked through this area in search of a Rufous-bellied Tit. No luck.

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Lots of termite mounds. Some quite tall.

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See how dry the ground is?

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You don’t see many painted houses

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Black-bellied Bustard

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I thought this art work at our lodge was cool

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Swamp Boubou

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Where we spent three nights.

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Square-tailed Nightjar.

Day 3
We went to check out some nearby wetlands, finding several new species and a number of birds we had seen before.  We weren’t out too long, because it just gets too hot.  And speaking of hot, the heat is drying up all the wetlands in the area – if they aren’t being drained by locals for planting.

We had several hours to take a siesta so Jack and I birded the lodge grounds.  The lodge owners put a sprinkler hose into a tree and the sunbirds were a real treat to watch as they flew in for a shower bath.  The water attracted other birds as well, including the Violet-backed Starling – what a brilliant bird!  The male is so beautiful when the sun hits its back.

We tried earlier for a Shelley’s Sunbird.  The bird was high in the tree and I was getting warbler’s neck (a sore neck from looking up for so long), so I decided to lay down on the raised walk way.  Sure saved my neck and I got the bird.

In late afternoon we headed to a wetland area to look for Greater Painted Snipe and African Snipe.  Our guide flushed up the African Snipe, but none of us saw it.  At this wetland however were a large number of Marabou Storks and Yellow-billed Storks;  we had about nine Hamerkops, a number of shorebirds, plenty of Squacco Herons, and several African Skimmers actually skimming the water.  Fun to watch.

Then it was off to see the Southern Carmine Bee-Eaters breeding and roost site.  WOW!!! only mildly describes the sight of several thousand beautiful birds actively digging their nest burrows and flying in and out of the immediate area.  I think I took several hundred photos of the bee-eaters.  Now to limit it to a few to include in the blog (see Day 4).  We decided to come back the next morning to see them again.

At night we went in search of the Swamp Nightjar.  According to Greg, our tour guide, only 15% of the tours have seen this bird.  We increased that percentage.  Greg played the call and within minutes the bird came flying in.  We put the spotlight on the bird and sat and watched it for several minutes.  This is one beautiful bird – definitely my Bird of the Day.

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Yes, they still use dugout canoes here

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Coppery-tailed Coucal

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Bird tracks in the Sand. It was a big bird.

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We do come across a few wetlands. Unfortunately many are being drained to create farmland. I understand the need to eat, but hate to see the wetlands disappear.

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Pied Kingfisher

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This is an actual outhouse.  People can get very creative if needed.

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Southern Carmine Bee-eater

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Wattled Lapwing

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Arrow-marked Babbler

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What I won’t do to see a bird. The bird was Shelley’s (appropriate) Sunbird and it was high in the tree.

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Swallow Nest

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White-fronted Bee-eater – it’s mouth is open to cool off.

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Peter’s Epuliet Fruit-eating Bat – Ugly creature.

Day 4
In the morning we went back to the Carmine Bee-eater site around 6:30 am just after sunrise.  Lots of birds still about.  Fun to watch them dig their nests in the ground – shooting sand out behind them.  Sometimes into the faces of other birds.  Lots of birds in the trees looking like Christmas ornaments.

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Then it was off again to our next location.  We spent most of the day on the road.  It was HOT, HOT, HOT, HOT, HOT, HOT, HOT outside.  I guess you get the idea that it was really HOT outside.  I’m not used to the heat and our vehicle does not have air conditioning (air is ‘conditioned’ by putting down the windows and getting wind burn).  There were a number of other things wrong with the vehicle too, like uncomfortable seats but we bird on….

We did make a few stops along the way.  One to check for an Arnot’s Chat (did not find it), and whenever anyone spotted a raptor  that was not a Yellow-billed Kite.  The Kites are quite common.  We saw a lot of them while in South Africa as well.  It is easy to tell the Kite by its tail and flight pattern.  Makes identification easier in the confusing world of raptors as dots in the sky.

We did stop along the Okavango River (aka Kavango) before reaching our destination for the night (Mahangu Lodge), where we spotted a Rock Pranticole.  Small grayish colored bird, with a red bill.  They like, of course, the rocks.  Nearby were a bunch of kids swimming in the water (they had the right idea).  They loved seeing us.  The young boys were totally naked, while the young girls (yes, with breasts) were naked from the top up.  However, when they saw us the boys quickly put their underwear back on and the young girls got dressed.

Speaking of naked.  At the lodge I went out to find our vehicle to help bring in our bags.  I wasn’t paying attention to which hut I went into and walked into a hut where an older man had just come out of the shower naked.  Luckily he had enough time to react and cover parts up certain parts of his body.  Boy was I apologetic and embarrassed.

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Lilac-breasted Roller

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Trees with leaves

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I bet that umbrella helped keep her cooler as she walked down the hot road.

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Firewood Anyone?

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Hot and dry – area where we looked for the Arnot’s Chat – no luck in finding the bird.

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Striped Kingfishers in the same wooded area

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Dark Chanting Goshawk

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Red-creasted Korhaan

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Dusk

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These young kids were really excited to see us.  They kept calling out in their native tongue and hiding or posing when we brought out our cameras.

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Our hut for the night. Was small, but nice. We did lose electricity twice for short periods of time. The lodge was along the Kavango River.

Day 5
After birding the grounds at the lodge, where we got several new species, including the Meyer’s Parrot and the Ashy Flycatcher, we headed to Mahango Game Reserve.  We did see a lot of wildlife – Zebras, Giraffe, hippos, Sable and Roan Antelope, Bushbuck, Greater Kudu, Baboons, Vervet monkeys, and Warthogs.  We also saw some new birds, including the Crimson-breasted Shrike, the Red-billed Spurfowl, and Southern Pied Babbler.  All cool birds.  The area here, however, was dry, dry, dry.  Not sure what the animals eat.

We left Namibia (but we will be back) and entered Botswana.  I have been wanting to visit the famous Okavango Delta in Botswana for some time now.  I’m here – sort of.  We only see a really small portion of the Delta headwaters.  I think the only way to get a real idea of the immensity of the delta is to fly over it (will have to be satisfied with a Google Earth view).

We stopped at the Drotsky Lodge (very nice, and expensive I hear) where we boarded a boat to travel down the Kavango River to our accommodations for the next two days- Xaro Lodge.  This is a very nice area and lodge.  We are staying in upscale tents, complete with toilets and showers.  Very quiet here except for the birds and the hippos in the water.  At night you can here the hippos snorting and splashing away, and as grazers they come onto land at night, meaning the grounds of the lodge.  We did do some night owling and spotted a pair of African Wood Owls.  I really do like owls.  Earlier in the day we had a Pearl Spotted Owl.  Jack and I had seen this species in Kruger National Park.  Tomorrow we will go exploring along the Kavango River in search of the magnificent Pel’s Fishing Owl.

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These are solar jars. You can put anything inside as decoration. Would love to bring a couple of them home but no room in my suitcase.

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I liked this art on the side of one of the buildings at the lodge.

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There were a lot of these little signs posted around the lodge. I think this one was the best.

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First Beagle I’ve seen in Southern Africa

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Our first sighting of Meyer’s Parrot

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More examples of living conditions of many blacks in the country. Not sure why corrugated metal is popular. I would think it would retain heat. Maybe not???

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Countryside

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Sable (female) Antelope

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Giraffe

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Roan Antelope

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Zebras, which our guide pronounced Zebra (like Debra). Was confusing whenever he called out the name.

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Red-billed Spurfowl

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Dry, dry, dry

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White-backed Vulture

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Burchell’s Starling (I believe)

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Hippos

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Countryside

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This reserve was very dry – not much rainfall in Namibia this year.

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Ostrich chicks – these were seeking shade. Not much shade around to find.

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Violet-backed Starling. This was one beautiful bird (seen at Drotsky’s)

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Lots of White-fronted Bee-eaters along the Kavango River. They build their nests in the side of the river banks.

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Little Bee-eater

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Bee-eater nest holes

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And plenty of Nile Crocodiiles – some REALLY big ones.

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Tall grasses and reeds along side the Kavango River.

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Pied Kingfisher family

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Giant Kingfisher

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Water Monitor

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Bee-eaters sticking their heads out of the nest holes

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African Skimmer …

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… coming in for a landing

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Long-toed Lapwings

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The tent cabins at Xaro Lodge. This one was ours.

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Side view.  Very nice inside.

Day 6
We did some early morning birding around the lodge grounds and called up an African Barred Owlet.  The lighting was bad so no decent photo.  After breakfast we headed up river (north) on the Kavango River to the town of Shakawe.  There were actually a lot of birds along the way and once we reached Shakawe our eagle-eyed boatsman spotted got the Pel’s Fishing Owl in a riverbank tree.  Now this bird knows how to stay hidden.  We spent at least a half an hour trying to get the boat in position for everyone to get on the bird.  Luckily the owl did not fly off.  But with so much vegetation in the way and in a moving boat it was hard enough trying to see the owl let alone photograph it.  I had to sit on the bottom of the boat to get the right angle to see the bird.

After lunch we headed down river in search of Lesser Jacana and African Pygmy Goose. We got the African Pygmy Goose, but not the Jacana.  These geese (although not true geese) are very small – hence their name “Pygmy”.  Cute though.  The males head reminded me of an eider.

Today was another hot day, but a cool and relaxing float on the river, ending in a beautiful sunset.

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In search of the African Barred Owlet

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Clawless River Otter near our cabins

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Reed flower heads

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Water Lily

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Papyrus Grass and Reeds

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The reeds are cut and used as thatch for roofs and fencing

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Local carrying reeds to market

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Stored reeds waiting for transport

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Pied Kingfisher at nest hole in river bank

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Giant Kingfisher

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Slaty Egret – not a common bird

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African Fish Eagle with fish

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Reed Transport in dugout canoe

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Carmine Bee-eaters

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Nest holes

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The one splayed out is actually cooling off

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Water Thick-knee

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Carrying reeds from the boat

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African Skimmer

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Burned area – the fire was started by young boys. Burned a large area along the river – on both sides.

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Long-toed Lapwing

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Malachite Kingfisher

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Female African Pygmy Goose

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Side channel of Kavango River

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Lily Pads

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African Jacana with chick

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Wait there was a duck there …

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Dugout canoes with fishing nets

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Male African Pygmy Goose

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Little Bittern high up in the reeds and grass

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Sunset on the Kavango River

What great days to bird despite the HOT, HOT, HOT weather.   Coming soon – Part 2 (Days 7-12).

West Coast National Park

The West Coast National Park is known more for its bird life than its wildlife (mammals).  The vegetation here is thick and therefore it is difficult to see many of the mammals of the park.  In our three days at the park, we only saw the Rock Hyrax (Rock Dassie, Rock Rabbit), Bontebok, Steenbok, and Eland.  The Eland was a new species for us, so we felt fortunate to see several of them.  I think we might have even missed seeing those if someone else hadn’t stopped alongside the road to view them.   We spent a total of three days in the park.  Our first day we had overcast skies and some light rain (more like a mist).

The Park

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The Birds

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Greater Flamingo – note the black tip of the pink bill

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Lesser Flamingos – they are much pinker. Not sure why.  Guess they eat different food than the Greater Flamingos.  Heads buried as the roost.

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Yellow Bishop

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Male ostrich

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This White-throated Swallow built its nest in the bird hide

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White-breasted Swallow

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Hartlaub’s Gull

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Cape Shoveler

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Common Whimbrel

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Cape Wagtail

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Red-knobbed Coot

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Male Yellow Canary

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Cape Spurfowl

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Levaillant’s Cisticola – the wind was trying to rearrange its feathers

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Kittlitz’s Plover

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Pied Avocet

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View from the bird blind

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I thought this was a great sign on the bird hide

Mammals

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Eland

The second day we visited we had sunny, blue skies.  What a difference.  I thought that since the first day was Sunday by Monday everyone would have left and gone home – wrong.  Spring break here.  Lots of people came out to enjoy the sights and sounds of the park.

The Park

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The Birds

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African Sacred Ibis

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Black-winged Stilt

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Pied Avocet coming in for a landing

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Lesser Flamingo – its bill is a very dark rose color

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Southern Black-bellied Korhaan

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Common Greenshank

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Juvenile Kittlitz’s Plover

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Eurasian Curlew

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Cape Sparrow with nest material

Bird Hides and Wildlife Signs

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Okay not a bird – Jack at one of the bird hides graciously carrying the scope. Sure glad we brought it.

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There are a lot of tortoises along the road. Great sign.

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This is the sign for the Seeberg Bird Hide. The plant was taking over the sign.

West Coast National Park has five bird hides (bird blinds) and we went to all five at least one.  My favorite is the Seeberg Bird Hide.  That may be due to the fact we were there when the water levels were at their optimum. One of the hides hasn’t been used in some time.  You have to take a 20 minute walk to the hide so I don’t think many people go, even birders.  The hide is in disrepair, looked like snake haven,  and the bird life was minimal – might be a timing issue again as the tide was going out.  Still it was nice to get in a short hike.  As I said before, we’ve done a lot of car birding – birding from the confines of our car.

This is the bird hide we walked some distance to get to but decided not to enter. Needs just a little bit of repair.

This is the bird hide we walked some distance to get to but decided not to enter. Needs just a little bit of repair.

I really do like this park due to its proximity to water which brings in many waterbirds.  During low tide there were a lot of shorebirds feeding – new ones for us like the Curlew Sandpiper (hundreds), Little Stint, White-fronted Plover, Eurasian Curlew, Kittlitz’s Plover.  I do love shorebirds.  My bird court to date is 340 species observed and identified (ha ha ha) in South Africa.  I suspect of that total, I have already seen 20-30 of those species in my other travels, so lots of life birds.

On the third day at the park, we traveled to a picnic area to see what wildlife we could observe.  Not much.  The vegetation is very thick.  In a few areas where the vegetation was thinner we did see a Bontebok and a Steenbok.  We were hoping to see Zebras, which can be found in the park, but no luck.  When we were returning to the park entrance, Jack saw a snake in the road.  He thought it was dead.  We stopped to check it out and found that the snake was alive, just warming itself.  We then watched as a Pied Crow come flying in and attacked the snake, skillfully avoiding the snake lunges.  We thought it killed the snake, since it was munching on the snake – pulling out its innards.  After a few bites the crow left for good.  We got near the snake (while still in our car) and I noticed it moving, so not sure if alive or not.

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The Birds

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Cape Weaver

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Female South African Shelduck

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Shorebirds

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And more shorebirds

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Female Weaver taking a bath

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Female Namaqua Dove

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Note the size difference between the Greater and Lesser Flamingos

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Youngster – Kittlitz’s Plover

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Male Southern Double Collared Sunbird – there were four-five of these sunbirds feasting on these flowers

Reptiles and Mammals

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Boomslang (name of snake) – these snakes are poisonous.

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Pied Crow coming in for the kill

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Pied Crow wrestles with the Boomslang

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Dead or dying Boomslang following interaction with Pied Crow

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Bontebok

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Another LIzard – maybe I should have bought a lizard id book?

We stayed at a guesthouse in Langebaan.  This area is a resort community of sorts.  All the houses are constructed in a Mediterranean design.  I like the style, and being it is on a huge bay it fits.  Great views and nesting African Oystercatchers on the beach and Cape Gannets flying just off the shoreline.  Pretty sweet.  If you ever make it this way consider staying at Perle of Paradise.  The owners – Jolene and Paul – are very gracious hosts.  We were treated like family.

Another day we went to check out Cape Gannets on an island near Saldanha, which is located close to Langebaan.  You actually enter a military area to get to the nature reserve.  We did a nice hike, checking out the birds, mammals (Springbok and Steenbok), the dead whale (at least that is what we think it was – awfully big to be anything else), and just enjoying the scenery.

The Nature Reserve

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The Birds

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Yellow-billed Kite

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Kelp Gulls on a dead whale

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African Oystercatchers – there were a lot of them along this coastline

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African Oystercatcher – sure looks like our Black Oystercatcher doesn’t it?

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Grey-backed Cistacola

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Large-billed Lark

Other Wildlife and Interesting Tidbits

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Steenbok

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Black Lizard of some kind

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Nest Box – not sure for which bird. We did see a Rock Kestrel on the platform, but it could have been waiting for birds to come out or go in.

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Lots of shells on the beach. We wanted to take some home, but no room in our luggage.

From there we went to the Rocher Pan Nature Reserve.  This area I really loved.  It is near the ocean, you have an ephemeral waterbody (pan), fynbos vegetation, and lots of birds.  The nature reserve had three different hides from which we could check out the birds using the pan.  We did get two new life birds here – Cape Teal and Little Bittern.  The only way we found the bittern was checking out the cute South African Shelduck chicks.  Timing is everything.

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Rocher Pan

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Rocher Pan

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Fancy picnic area – South African’s love to cook on the braai (barbeque).

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Cape Teal

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Glossy Ibis scratching an itch

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Ruff

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Little Grebe

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Red-knobbed Coot in search of food

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Caspsian Terns

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Greater Flamingos

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White-backed Mousebird (again – but I love how these birds hold on to tree branches)

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Trail leading to one of the bird blinds

I hated to leave this area.  I could easily spend a couple weeks here checking out the area and its bird life.  But, we must continue onwards as we get ready to take our first bird tour to Victoria Falls (in Zambia), Okavango Delta (just barely – drats), and Namibia.  This is an 18-day tour but we are headed to Livingstone, Zambia two days early to check out the town and the falls.  Our days will be long so I do not intend to post a blog about this portion of our trip until we return to South Africa at the end of the month.  Plus we won’t always have internet services.

Until then – IT’S  A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

Cape Town

After leaving Tulbagh we drove to Cape Town via Darling.  Darling is a popular area for wildflowers.  We went to two different wildflower reserves, but most of the flowers had already bloomed and bird life was scarce.

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One of the flowers we saw at the Oudepos Wildflower Reserve near Darling

We made it to Cape Town and our accommodations at Largo House, which is located about a 5 minute drive from Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens (where we plan to go the next day).  We got to Largo House about 2:00 pm, unloaded our luggage, and off we went to an adjacent river garden park across the street.

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Almost all of our accommodations have required a skeleton key.

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View across the street from Largo House.

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Common Waxbill

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Cape White Eye

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A “BUG” Hotel? First one I’ve ever seen.

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Butterfly

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Swee Waxbill

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Helmeted Guineafowl

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Pincushion plant

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Now this is a channelized watercourse.

Kirschenbosch Gardens

We paid a visit to the gardens.  My goal, of course, was to find birds.  This place is always mentioned as one of the key places to bird in Cape Town.  I must say I was disappointed in how few species we saw – only 24.  While I don’t know most of the calls, what I did hear were the same birds over and over again, with the Southern Double Collared Sunbird and Cape White-eye being the top contenders for singing.  Despite the lack of bird species, I did come away with two life birds – Forest Canary and the Lemon Dove.  Both great birds (aren’t they all).

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Cape Robin Chat

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Cape Francolin – poor birds were chased by children

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Southern Double-collared Sunbirds – they were everywhere chasing each other around. Spring is in the air.

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This sunbird is feeding

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Lemon Dove

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Egyptian Goose – this goose had just got done taking a bath

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Any they say Vulture’s have faces only a mother could love – Helmeted Guineafowl.

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Forest Canary

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Cape Canary

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Cape Batis nest

The flowers in the gardens were beautiful, although I expected more flowers.  We spent 8 hours in the garden and did a lot of walking uphill affording a commanding view of the city.  One good outcome, we did get some exercise out of the day.

The Gardens

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The Flowers

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The Trees

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Camphor Trees

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Didn’t get the name of this tree

In the gardens is an elevated walkway.  I thought from this walkway we would see a lot of birds – not so much.  Again mostly sunbirds and white-eyes.  Still it was good to see birds.

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The walkway

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Me on thew walkway. It wasn’t raining, but the morning was cool. Later in the day the sun came out and it was much nicer/warmer.

The gardens included an area of native species that have become invasives elsewhere in the world – fascinating.  Also there was a part of the garden dedicated to threatened and endangered plants.

We also hiked in the surrounding mountains.  The gardens and trails are well marked so easy to know where you are going.

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Trail sign posts

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No that isn’t a golf course down below, but the gardens.

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View of Cape Town from our trail

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View of the mountains from the gardens

Speaking of sign posts, they had a signpost near one of the entrances that indicated distances to places in other countries.  We were surprised to see “Missouri” (Jack’s home state) on the signpost.

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Jack at signpost

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We were wondering how they picked “Missouri” to include on the signpost. I wonder how many people who visit the botanical gardens have ever heard of Missouri?

The next day in Cape Town we woke to rain.  It seems to be raining a lot in South Africa.  The country is experiencing a drought so I am sure many people are happy to get rain.  We did get out later in the day and walked along the Liesbeek River again (across the street from Largo House).  Saw a Common Chaffinch (female) for another life bird.  Not too bad of a day.  We had planned to hike up to Lion’s Head which gives one a 360 degree view of the city, but with the rain we weren’t going to see much.

Next we are headed north along the coast to West Coast National Park and Langebaan (our base for three nights).

Until then ……… IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD.

Tanqua Karoo Area

The next stop on our whirlwind tour of South Africa was the Tanqua Karoo area (south of the Tanqua Karoo National Park) located northeast of Cape Town – about a 2.5 hour drive if you drive like most people in South Africa.  If you drive like us, it takes twice as long.

We made reservations to stay at a place called Klein Cedarberg.  This is an off-the-beaten path accommodation located near Ceres, South Africa.  For some reason I envisioned the area as being totally undeveloped – wrong.  Like America, people will try to farm the desert.  Lots of large apple orchards and farms in the area utilizing water dams (affecting streams), as well as some private nature and/or game reserves.

The accommodations at Klein Cedarberg were very basic.  No heat, and no real updates to the rooms in quite some time.   I didn’t read my email carefully enough as the room rate was per person, rather than per room.  I was wondering why we were getting such a good rate for a room, breakfast, and dinner.  Well, we didn’t get such a great rate.  This accommodation, which was the most modest of all the places we have stayed, turned out to be one of the most expensive – $55.00 per night, per person.  Live and learn.  Of course there aren’t a whole lot of places to stay in the area.  We did get a chance to talk to the owners and get their perception of life in South Africa.  Makes one glad to be an American.

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Klein Cedarberg

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Our quaint room

We did some birding, but the scenery alone was beautiful.  They must have had a recent rain because a lot of the native flowering plants were in bloom – mostly purples.  Gorgeous.

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We were amazed that these two rocks were just balancing here. What is holding them upright?

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This is a small store (aka padstall) located out in the middle of nowhere. We hear they are quite busy on the weekend.

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Roadside picnic area.  Now is this an exciting spot to stop for lunch or what?

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Let me introduce you to the Hyrax (or Rock Dassie). In an earlier blog I said it was the size of a gerbel. I retract that statement. They are the size of a small dog. They look to me like a character from a Doctor Suess book.  The area also related to the elephant – go figure.

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Southern Black-bellied Korhaarn

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Karoo Scrub-Robin

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Cape Weaver

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White-necked Raven

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Karoo Prinia

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Pale Chanting Goshawk. I wonder how they got their name?

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Greater Striped Swallow enjoying the rain

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Some type of aloe plant, I believe.

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This plant was really strange looking

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Aloe plant of some kind

Near Ceres, we did spot a single Blue Crane feeding near the road.  Never one to pass up an opportunity to photograph a great bird, we stopped.  Earlier, we also stopped to check out a new bird for us – the Capped Wheatear.

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Blue Crane

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Blue Crane

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Capped Wheatear

At Klein Cedarberg, our host (he owns 1000 hectares) asked whether we were interested in rock art.  We said sure.  So we jumped into his Izuzu truck (an old beater with over 600,000 km on it – so he says) on off we went.  I was surprised at the size of the rock art – small.

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Rock art

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Werner’s finger pointing to the pictographs

The first day in this area we had good weather.  However, we did note that the clouds were increasing and it looked as though it might rain.  The next day as we headed out in search of birds, in particular a Cinnamon-breasted Warbler (did not find the bird), the sky opened up and it did rain.  When we were traveling down the road at our glacial pace, we encountered a group of people participating in a 256 km trek on foot through this area.  Most of the participants were women and not all were dressed for the rain.  I hope no one became hypothermic.  I was glad we were in our car, although we did get somewhat wet as we went searching for the warbler – and me in jeans.

We left the Karoo area and headed to Tulbagh for the night.  This area is beautiful – lots of green crops and high mountains.  The owner of the farm cottage where we stayed for the night said the town’s claim to fame was an 6.0+ earthquake in 1968 that destroyed many of the buildings, which were later reconstructed.

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The view from our farm cottage

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This view too

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Our farm cottage for the night – with living area, kitchen, bathroom, and large bedroom.

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And of course I had to check out the birds. This is a juvenile Common Fiscal (a type of shrike).

The next morning as we were leaving the Tulbagh area we  were ‘bird driving’ – always on the lookout despite the traffic.  In a farmer’s field there were over 30 Blue Cranes, along with a ‘white mass’ of Cattle Egrets and African Sacred Ibis.  Nice to see a large flock of Blue Cranes – South Africa’s National Bird. Unfortunately they were too far away to get a decent photo.  Instead I had to settle for an African Pipit and a Black-shouldered Kite.

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Okay, not a bird but a cool looking sheep. The farm where we stayed raises sheep.

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African Pipit – amazing how this bird hangs onto the wire

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Black-shouldered Kite hovering

Our next stop is Cape Town.  We will spend three nights in Cape Town to explore the amazing Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden & Table Mountain before heading north to the West Coast National Park.

Regardless of the weather – IT’S  A GREAT DAY TO BIRD.

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