We arrived back in Cape Town on 28 October 2015. After getting our rental car and purchasing airtime and data for the phone we were off in search of birds. The goal was the Cape Rockjumper. Our Rockjumper tour guide Greg had mentioned an area called Rooi Els. We read up on the site, but found the directions confusing. We went down the right road, only not far enough. We turned around and headed for Betty’s Bay and the Africa Penguin colony. This place was nicer than Boulder Beach mostly because there were less people and a larger area to view, with a great ocean scene with waves crashing in on the rocks. Also it seemed to me there were more Penguins. And, as a bonus, there were nesting cormorants, including the Bank Cormorant. A bird we hadn’t seen yet and is not always easy to find. Here are a series of lovable “penguin” photos.
There are artificial nest boxes here for the penguins and at one there was an adult penguin with four young – babysitting? The typical number of eggs laid is 1-2, so not sure how this one ended up with four chicks.
Also present were Rock Dassies (or Hyrax) with young. The young are so cute, the parents not so much.
We stayed the night at a great place called Featherbed in Somerset West. Nice area and private B&B with kitchenette. I found the place (an apartment above the garage) on AirBNB. I highly recommend this place if you ever find yourself in Somerset West, South Africa. I would want to stay here if I were going to just hang out in the Cape Town area for a week or more. Maybe if we ever come back….
The next day we went back to Rooi Els to drive the road we were on yesterday, this time all the way to a gate and then set off on foot down the road in search of the Cape Rockjumper. We found the bird and zoomed in with the scope! They nest among the grasses and rocks on the hillside, occasionally jumping up on a rock to look about or preen. Two different birds did just that. No photos, unfortunately. The birds were too far away for good photos. We needed the spotting scope to get decent views of the birds as it was. The birds nest on private property and the owners are nice enough to allow birders to use the road in search of the bird.
From there we drove along the coastline from about a 100 km before heading inland to Swellendam, our home away from home for the next two nights. This town has lots of B&Bs, lodges, etc.. They also have the best pizza I ever tasted (Woodpeckers Deli and Pizzeria), except for the deep dish pizza my sister and her late husband cooked at their restaurant. But we did bird along the way, of course.
We woke to overcast skies but that didn’t stop us from heading to De Hoop Nature Reserve for some birding. The 31 km trip took us two hours because we kept stopping to check out the various birds en route. This is wheat farm country so lots of larks about. However, the surprise for the area was a Spotted Thick-knee, which generally forages at night, and a Spotted Eagle Owl sitting on a hay bale.
At De Hoop Nature Reserve we birded the area around the reception area, and went on a 3.5 km hike adjacent to the lake. Some people ahead of us said they had seen two snakes – big ones, and these people were going no further. We birded on and luckily missed the snakes. Not much warmth out for snakes.
The Nature Reserve borders the Indian Ocean so off we went to check out what birds might be hanging out there. We spotted about five African Black Oystercatchers, several Kelp Gulls, and had one Damara Tern fly-by. Other than those, not much bird activity.
We had one more place we wanted to check out – Potsberg Mountain (also part of the Nature Reserve), where there is a breeding colony of Cape Vultures. When we got to the ticket office we told the park ranger why we were there and she gave us a map and told us where the birds could be seen via a trail. What she didn’t say was that we had to do a strenuous 2-mile hike up the mountainside, all within 2 hours (when the gate closed). Off we went, up and up and up and up. Finally I stopped, scanned the slopes and spotted several vultures. We got good looks of them, but decided to keep climbing. After about 500 yards or so we stopped and scanned again. Fewer birds circling, but better views. Since we got good looks and were concerned about the gate closure we turned around and headed back to the car. It wasn’t any easier going down than it was going up since the trail was very rocky. We made it back in time to exit the reserve before closing time. Didn’t want to be fined for being late.
The next morning we woke to rain and it pretty much rained all day long. We decided to take it easy and check out some weavers (not the birds, but people who use looms to weave items) in Barrydale. Along the main drag (Route 62) they have a lot of cute shops and eateries. We made our purchases and headed back to Suurbraak, the location of our nights lodging (also obtained through Airbnb). But first, since it wasn’t raining only overcast, we first went to Grootsvadersbosch Nature Reserve to search for the Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler. Unfortunately we didn’t see the bird, only heard it. Not good enough for me to “tick” the bird on my life list.
The place we are staying at requires us to cross a bridge when it isn’t underwater. Luckily the bridge was still above water when we got to it. We were fearful of an overnight rain, but no rain and no water running over the bridge when we left the next morning. The sky did look to be clearing somewhat so we headed back to Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve. By the time we got there – we had to ascend in elevation – the clouds had moved in, there was a light mist, and a strong wind. We waited about 15-20 minutes to see if the weather would change any, but no luck. So down the hill we went along muddy roads. We decided to drive to our next destination for the night – Oudtshroon – via Route 62 since the route goes over a beautiful canyon pass. We stopped in Barrydale to check out the Karoo Weavers again and bought a few tea towels. Tea towels in South Africa are expensive for some reason, but we were happy to support the local economy. I would have bought more but I don’t have room even for the tea towels. I’ve given a few things away but the contents of my bags seem to be growing, not shrinking. Will leave a few more items while in Ethiopia.
The trip to Oudtshoorn was wet, wet, wet, and it continued to rain into the night. We stayed at a cute B&B (Earthbound B&B). South Africa needs the rain, but we got caught in the rain while walking back from lunch and we were soaked to the bone. Glad we didn’t have too far to go – perfect conditions for hypothermia.
From Oudtshoorn we made our way back to the coast and Wilderness National Park. This area isn’t what we thought it would be, i.e., “wilderness”. I think the park got its name from the nearby town of Wilderness. The park is pretty piecemeal, but we did visit two bird hides the first day, which netted us two life ducks – Southern Pochard and White-backed Duck. I was so hoping to see the Southern Pochard on this trip. Great birds. The bird hides were a little hard to find. The park needs to work on their maps and signage.
We stayed the night in the Knysna (pronounced niz-na – hard i) at the Puluma B&B located near the head of a bay. So after depositing our things in our room we headed to the head of the bay to check for the Knysna Warbler – a secretive bird. The bird kept its secret. The day was beautiful however, so a short walk to the rocky viewpoint was worth the trip. Prior to getting to the head of the bay we had to pass the estuary where shorebirds and waders were feeding frantically. Fun to watch them.
The next day we headed back to Wilderness National Park to hike the “Half-collared Kingfisher Trail” (which later merges with the Giant Kingfisher trail). This trail leads to a waterfall and is 7.2 km round trip. The day was cool, but sunny and we made the hike along with about 50+ other souls. Of course when you slowly bird along the way you see a lot more people than if you had simply hiked the trail.
We heard then saw several Knysna Turacos. This bird is huge but hides so well. I love these birds and this one did not disappoint. Okay, maybe disappointed a little when it wouldn’t come out so I could get a good photo. Go figure. Of course it didn’t help that we were on a suspended boardwalk so anytime some walked by there was no way I could hold my camera still and we all know most birds don’t stay still for long either. I was just happy to see the bird.
We also got a good view of the Half-collared Kingfisher, which was a surprise. We didn’t expect to see the bird because they are not common. But the bird posed for us on a branch for a few seconds before flying off – stopped long enough for good views, but not long enough for a good photo, or any photo really. Am I becoming obsessed with photographing birds? I think so.
Also along the trail we spotted a Red-breasted Cuckoo, which is also a secretive bird. It’s call sounds like “whip-poor-will”. An interpretive sign identified the bird as often heard but seldom seen. It was the bird’s flight to an adjacent tree that allowed us to see the bird at all since it wasn’t calling at that time. We were happy to see these three new birds, two which we really didn’t expect to see at all on this trip.
We have about a week left in South Africa. We will make our way up the coast to Durban where we will catch our flight to Ethiopia. I do not think we will have much internet coverage in Ethiopia so I will have to post a three-part blog of our Ethiopia bird trip once we return to the US in early December. Also, I suspect I won’t be able to complete a post for our last week in South Africa until we return to the US.
Next stop – The East Cape of South Africa and then Ethiopia. Until then … IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD