2023! – A Beacon of Hope…..

It’s strange how things cross your path when least expected – I was out for my last late-afternoon walk of the year, enjoying the fresh, mind-clearing wind and keeping a look out for birds in the conservation area close to our home in Mossel Bay.

I was heading back up the hill along the narrow track that leads through a sea of fynbos, most of which lacks any sort of flowers at this time of year, when a flash of bright red caught my eye – I lifted my binos and saw to my delight that it was a lone flower, poking out above the sea of green like a beacon…. of hope, I decided right there

This comes with my wish to everyone for a blooming good 2023!

Fire Lily

Spring Flowers Trip 2022 – Tietiesbaai : Bay of Plenty….. Birds

The Background

With wonderful memories of our Spring Flowers trip through parts of the Western Cape in September 2021 still fresh in our minds, we decided to do a similar, but different, trip in September 2022. Our planned route was to take us to Tulbagh for one night, then three nights each in Clanwilliam and Paternoster. To round off the trip we treated ourselves to a three-night stay in Cape Town’s Vineyard Hotel, in celebration of our birthdays which “book-ended” the trip,

Not just Flowers

My previous post described the rugged beauty of Tietiesbaai, particularly during the ‘flower season’ when rafts of colourful flowers add to the already spectacular views of sea and rocky shorelines.

What we found during our previous visit, and again this September, is that Tietiesbaai can also lay claim to being a birding spot that is the equal of some of the better known and more recognised birding destinations in this part of the country

From the moment we entered the main gate into the reserve the birding was interesting and took our attention away from the flowers many times.

A Familiar Raptor

We came across several raptors during this trip, none more so than the Rock Kestrel, which we encountered many times. Before reaching the reserve proper, we found one on a utility pole, surveying the landscape, probably hoping to find a field mouse or small lizard to swoop down on. Raptors generally get edgy when you slow down and stop and will often fly off, only to settle on the pole a bit further away. This one was no exception, so I made sure my camera was ready before stopping, leapt out and tracked the kestrel with my camera as it took off – fortunately capturing an image in flight, albeit from behind.

Rock Kestrel, Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai

Birds among the Fynbos and the Flowers

Once we were through the gate there was abundant bird life with the typical birds of the fynbos prominent – Grey-backed Cisticola, Yellow Canary, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Karoo Prinia and Cape Bunting.

Yellow Canary Crithagra flaviventris Geelkanarie, (male race flaviventris) Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Karoo Scrub Robin Erythropygia coryphaeus Slangverklikker (race cinerea), Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai

Even more prominent were the Karoo Larks (SA Endemic) which we came across a few times, some of which were foraging on the ground, while others were calling and displaying avidly, no doubt hoping to attract the ‘right sort’ as it were

Karoo Lark Calendulauda albescens Karoolewerik (race albescens), Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Karoo Lark Calendulauda albescens Karoolewerik (race albescens), Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Karoo Lark calling and displaying

A particular thrill was finding a covey of Grey-winged Francolins among the flowers – always difficult to photograph as they tend to dash off into the bushes as you approach, so I was happy to be able to snatch a few images before they disappeared

Grey-winged Francolin Scleroptila africana Bergpatrys, Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai

Birds among the Rocks

Our stop for tea was in the same spot as a year ago – along a short, narrow, bumpy track between the rocks near the “Sea Shacks” (basic accommodation for visitors).

Nearby many Cape Cormorants were resting on the rocks and as we drove along the track we came across Ruddy Turnstones – no less than 30 of them according to my quick count! Now, Turnstones are fairly common summer migrants to our country from the arctic tundra region, but seldom have I seen more than a couple at a time, so this was a sight to behold!

Even from a few metres they can be surprisingly hard to spot as the next photo illustrates – their colouration blends in with the rocks, stones and kelp littering the shoreline

Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres Steenloper, Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres Steenloper, Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai

Another summer migrant to SA – from the Palearctic region – Curlew Sandpipers, were also around in numbers but nowhere near those of the Turnstones – the two species seemed happy to share each other’s space

Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea Krombekstrandloper, Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Ruddy Turnstone and Curlew Sandpiper, Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai

A (Turn) stone’s throw away was a single White-fronted Plover, a common coastal resident most often seen on open beaches – if you can spot them – they are masters of “hiding in full sight”

White-fronted Plover Charadrius marginatus Vaalstrandkiewiet (race marginatus), Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai

Protective Plover Parents

And then the highlight of our day ……

Heading back to the main track after enjoying our tea among the rocks, we spotted a pair of Kittlitz’s Plovers – looking rather anxious it seemed to us. The reason was obvious when we saw two juveniles in the short grass nearby – looking oh so cute – two balls of fluff with long legs and huge feet

Kittlitz’s Plover Charadrius pecuarius Geelborsstrandkiewiet, Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Kittlitz’s Plover juvenile, Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai

As we spotted them, one of the chicks scurried across the shale to its parent and literally disappeared before our eyes. The following sequence of photos shows how it “buries” itself in the belly feathers of the parent until just the legs are left dangling out

Meanwhile the second chick, much braver, walked about in the track, then rather hesitantly across the rocks, before heading to the adult as well.

Kittlitz’s Plover, (Very young juvenile) Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai

We had gradually edged the car past this scene to avoid disturbing them any further when the other adult set about trying to lead our “metal monster” away by doing its “mortally wounded act” right in front of our vehicle

Kittlitz’s Plover acting wounded to distract us

Eventually I was able to edge past this adult as well and we continued on our way

Discovering a Nest

Further along I spotted a small bird in the distance flying towards a shrub with yellow flowers, then promptly disappearing from view – into the middle of the shrub it seemed. I watched carefully as we got closer to see where it had got to, only to see it emerge from the shrub and fly off low and rapidly.

It was all too quick to ID the bird which was small and brownish, but my curiosity got the better of me and I stopped alongside the shrub, got out and walked around the car to have a closer look as I had a hunch there was a reason for the bird’s behaviour.

Sure enough, when I carefully parted the branches a nest with three eggs was revealed and I set about finding the parent’s ID by going through some of the possible suspects on my Roberts app. My second guess was correct – Cape Bunting

Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Cape Bunting nest, Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai

So, our flower-viewing day at Tietiesbaai had turned into a birding bonanza as well, much to our delight!

Spring Flowers Trip 2022 – Tietiesbaai : Bay of Plenty….. Flowers

The Background

With wonderful memories of our Spring Flowers trip through parts of the Western Cape in September 2021 still fresh in our minds, we decided to do a similar, but different, trip in September 2022. Our planned route was to take us to Tulbagh for one night, then three nights each in Clanwilliam and Paternoster. To round off the trip we treated ourselves to a three night stay in Cape Town’s Vineyard Hotel, in celebration of our birthdays which “book-ended” the trip,

I would recommend clicking on the images where appropriate to view in larger scale and appreciate the beauty and perfection of the flowers.

Flowers in abundance

The full breakfast at Paternoster Dunes is a gourmet affair, presented with flair and with unusual flavours – just what we enjoy as a treat. Adding to the enjoyment is the view from the upper floor dining room with its panoramic windows looking over the wide expanse of beach below and across the waves to the distant headlands.

During brekkie we got chatting to a couple from Vryburg – well Gerda got chatting, I just nodded my head occasionally – and as often happens when you get chatting with strangers, we had a glimpse into each other’s lives, which is always interesting.

The sun was shining, holding the promise for a bountiful day’s flower viewing, so after breakfast we set off to visit Cape Columbine Nature Reserve, which has the well-known ‘alternate’ name of Tietiesbaai (literally ‘Boobs Bay’ for the international readers).

Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai

The reserve gate lies just a few kms from the guesthouse and once we had paid the nominal fee and entered, we travelled very slowly, with plenty of birdlife and beautiful spreads of flowers demanding our attention all the way.

Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai

The sea is almost always visible from the sandy road into the reserve and tracks leading off the main route took us closer to the rocky shoreline where we admired the rafts of flowers in shades of yellow, orange and white, with the odd contrasting colour here and there, all against the rugged backdrop of sea and rocks.

Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai

I don’t know of any other spot along the West coast that provides the same spectacular combination of scenery, flowers and birdlife – we were spoilt for choice!

Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai

Even without the flowers, Tietiesbaai is worth a visit, but in flower season the carpets of stunning flowers add another dimension to the reserve, making it a must-visit spot, in our opinion.

Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai

Strangely, not that many people have cottoned onto this as, during our visits in September last year and again this year, we have found that we have the reserve mostly to ourselves, allowing us to stop at random along the narrow tracks without the worry of blocking the road for others.

Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai

The birds we came across were many and varied, with a couple of special encounters which had us excited and fascinated – I will be featuring the birds in a follow-up post as they, and indeed the flowers, are both deserving of a separate post.

Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai

Once we reached the campsite, right on the edge of the sea, we made use of the neat ablutions and turned back towards Paternoster, taking the ‘upper’ road past the lighthouse.

To end off let me share some of the images of individual flowers that particularly caught our eye

Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai
Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai

And to absolutely end off, even the fungi look like attractive flowers (well, I think it’s fungi …..)

Cape Columbine NR – Tietiesbaai

Oh, and please do enjoy the Christmas weekend wherever you may find yourself!

Spring Flowers Trip 2022 – Clanwilliam to Paternoster

The Background

With wonderful memories of our Spring Flowers trip through parts of the Western Cape in September 2021 still fresh in our minds, we decided to do a similar, but different, trip in September 2022. Our planned route was to take us to Tulbagh for one night, then three nights each in Clanwilliam and Paternoster. To round off the trip we treated ourselves to a three night stay in Cape Town’s Vineyard Hotel, in celebration of our birthdays which “book-ended” the trip,

I would recommend clicking on the images where appropriate to view in larger scale and appreciate the beauty and perfection of the flowers.

Travelling to Paternoster

Today’s trip was less about flower viewing and more about getting from one place to another with the minimum of fuss, so we were not planning any specific stops – more of a ‘play it by ear’ approach was to be the order of the day. As it turned out, the day was interesting but probably doesn’t warrant a separate post, however I wanted to treat this series of posts as a daily report of the trip, so this one is just for completeness. (hey, I’m a QS – we are obsessive types)

After another full breakfast at Yellow Aloe Guest House, which took longer than usual as everyone came to breakfast at more or less the same time, we left Clanwilliam with many fond memories of our short stay.

Rather than heading down the N7 National Road, we took the coastal route, which would take us along quieter regional roads past a number of small towns – including Lamberts Bay, Leipoldtville, Elands Bay and Velddrif.

Near Elands Bay

Along the way there were small patches of flowers here and there and I slowed down as we passed, but did not stop as we had seen many glorious flowers the previous day in the Biedouw Valley

On the way to Elands Bay we noticed patches of red in the gravelly margin bordering the tar road and stopped to have a closer look as it did not look like anything we knew. Closer inspection didn’t enlighten us, but I took a few photos of this rather strange ‘growth’ in an environment which hardly looked as if it could support anything but weeds.

Near Elands Bay

We took a quick detour to Elands Bay just to see what it looks like – the town centre left us less than impressed but the beach provided a sweeping view of the wide sands, wind-whipped sea and distant headland which demanded a photo. Easier said than done, as the wind was so strong, I had to brace myself, legs spread wide and shielding my eyes from the sand, in order to get a couple of moody shots with my iphone.

Elands Bay

Feeling peckish we popped into Rooidak padstal just outside town and got a pie for lunch – which I couldn’t finish as it was rather stodgy, then carried on along mostly straight, very flat roads to Velddrif.

Just after we turned off towards Paternoster, the road passed some of the salt pans that Velddrif is known for and I slowed, then stopped at the roadside to do a quick scan – several interesting birds were making the most of this very specific habitat and I spent about twenty minutes getting a few shots from a distance.

Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta Bontelsie, Velddrif
Kittlitz’s Plover and Little Stint, Velddrif
Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor Kleinflamink, Velddrif
Lesser Flamingo and Pied Avocet, Velddrif
Lesser Flamingoes taking off, watched by Caspian Terns, Velddrif

Paternoster

The last stretch to Paternoster was in light rain and we reached our booked accommodation – Paternoster Dunes Guest House – around 3 pm where we were welcomed and soon settled in. They serve coffee/tea and cake every afternoon at 4 pm so we climbed the single flight of stairs up to the dining area and lounge which has magnificent views across the beach and beyond.

During our previous stay we had not managed to fit the afternoon tea session into our busy days so it was a particular pleasure to do so this time around, while the rain came pelting down and the strong wind tested the beach-facing windows to the extreme.

Paternoster
Paternoster

Neither of us felt like going out for dinner so we cancelled the booking that we had and ‘ate in’ on what could best be described as ‘dehydrated steak and chips’ – actually beef biltong and crisps with provita and cheese on the side – surprisingly satisfying when washed down with a glass of decent wine.

The rain subsided a bit later, so I took a walk along the beach with a light drizzle in the air and the wind still gusting quite strongly – that helped to blow all the day’s driving-induced cobwebs clear away.

Paternoster

The combination of a low sun, cloudy skies and wheeling gulls made the scene especially photogenic, and I snapped happily away with my iphone before heading back to our cosy room to relax and plan the next day’s activities. Tietiesbaai, here we come, ready or not!

Paternoster
Paternoster
Paternoster
Paternoster
Mussel shell in the sand

Spring Flowers Trip 2022 – Biedouw Valley

The Background

With wonderful memories of our Spring Flowers trip through parts of the Western Cape in September 2021 still fresh in our minds, we decided to do a similar, but different, trip in September 2022. Our planned route was to take us to Tulbagh for one night, then three nights each in Clanwilliam and Paternoster. To round off the trip we treated ourselves to a three night stay in Cape Town’s Vineyard Hotel, in celebration of our birthdays which “book-ended” the trip,

I would recommend clicking on the images where appropriate to view in larger scale and appreciate the beauty and perfection of the flowers.

Biedouw Valley

After another substantial breakfast served on the stoep of the Yellow Aloe Guest House (fruit and yoghurt, full English breakfast), we set off to ‘find’ the Biedouw Valley which we had often read about since becoming interested in the annual Spring Flowers of Namaqualand and the West Coast. It seemed to be one of THE places to see the spring flowers in the area and we wanted to see for ourselves if that was indeed the case. (Spoiler alert – it was!)

The weather report was encouraging – 20 degrees C and sunny – almost perfect conditions for the flowers to be open during the core flower-viewing hours of 11 am to about 4 pm (just the opposite of ideal birding hours).

Heading out of Clanwilliam on the northern side, we crossed the Jan Dissels River and joined the R364 regional road which took us into the mountains. A signboard indicated “Pakhuiskloof Pass for next 21 kms”, heralding the start of a drive through fascinating mountain scenery unlike any we have seen before – so this is the Cedarberg that people rave about!

Pakhuiskloof Pass
Pakhuiskloof Pass

The mountains have the look of being ‘built’ rather than formed, with rows of gigantic, squarish blocks topped by rocks weathered into a myriad of shapes, many of them strange, some vaguely reminiscent of known forms – Gerda pointed one out that looked a bit like an old man sitting in a chair.

The road was exceptionally quiet, so we stopped regularly to take in the views and photograph some of the interesting roadside flowers.

Pakhuiskloof Pass

Soon we reached a turn-off signposted “Biedouw Valley / Wupperthal” which immediately became a gravel road that twisted through hills, then started its descent into the valley which we caught glimpses of far below.

Biedouw Valley

Halfway down we came across several vehicles that had stopped and we did likewise, joining the knots of fellow flower-spotters who were meandering about, admiring the multi-coloured rafts of flowers, pointing and photographing at every turn.

Biedouw Valley
Biedouw Valley
Biedouw Valley
Biedouw Valley

Further down, a track branched off to the left and took us past even more extensive patches of flowers in full bloom, stretching into the distance.

Biedouw Valley
Biedouw Valley
Biedouw Valley
Biedouw Valley
Biedouw Valley

We were pleased that we could recognise some of the flowers, the names of which we had learnt over the last couple of days. Highly satisfied, we continued into the valley proper and found ourselves at a small Padstal (Roadside shop) which we discovered had opened that day!

Biedouw Valley

The owner Joubert even came to greet us excitedly at the car as we parked outside the converted garage – both he and his wife worked in Clanwilliam and were trying their luck with this venture on the side – real ‘salt of the earth’ people who deserve to succeed, although the flower season is for a very limited time. Naturally, we left with a few packets of home-made goodies after greeting our new-found ‘friends’

Biedouw Valley

That was also our turnaround point and, on the way back, while still enjoying the abundant flowers, we looked out for birds and other interesting creatures, a few of which posed nicely for me.

Grasshopper doing its best to look like the surrounding soil – and succeeding!
Biedouw Valley
Hamerkop Scopus umbretta Hamerkop, Biedouw Valley
Boland Brown butterfly, Melampias huebneri, Biedouw Valley
Biedouw Valley
Familiar Chat Cercomela familiaris Gewone spekvreter (race familiaris), Biedouw Valley

Heading back through the pass I stopped a few times to listen and look out for the Cape Rockjumper which favours this habitat, but without success.

The grave of C Louis Leipoldt – considered to be one of the great Afrikaner poets and writers – lies not far from the road through the Pakhuis Pass and we stopped to pay our respects briefly, then continued to Clanwilliam where we enjoyed a late lunch / early supper at Bella Louise restaurant to round off a perfect day of exploring.

Pakhuiskloof Pass

And to end with ….. this flower looks almost as good from the back as it does from the front

Biedouw Valley
Biedouw Valley

Spring Flowers Trip 2022 – Clanwilliam, Lamberts Bay

The Background

With wonderful memories of our Spring Flowers trip through parts of the Western Cape in September 2021 still fresh in our minds, we decided to do a similar, but different, trip in September 2022. Our planned route was to take us to Tulbagh for one night, then three nights each in Clanwilliam and Paternoster. To round off the trip we treated ourselves to a three night stay in Cape Town’s Vineyard Hotel, in celebration of our birthdays which “book-ended” the trip,

I would recommend clicking on the images where appropriate to view in larger scale and appreciate the beauty and perfection of the flowers.

Clanwilliam Wild Flower Show

After a solid breakfast served on the stoep of the Yellow Aloe Guest House with a view over the lush garden, we set off to find the “Blommekerk / Flower Church” where the annual Wildflower show is held and which the reports suggested was well worth a visit.

Well, we didn’t have far to go as we found it was right across the road from our guest house!

Clanwilliam

The displays of living flowers take up the whole internal area of the small, historic church and are wonderfully done and arranged so that they represent different regions

Wildflower show, Clanwilliam
Wildflower show, Clanwilliam
Wildflower show, Clanwilliam
Wildflower show, Clanwilliam
Wildflower show, Clanwilliam

A side room of ‘special’ flowers was really interesting with every imaginable, and some unimaginable, shapes colours and sizes represented. A plaque nearby had the words of the well-known Afrikaans poet DJ Opperman inscribed on it – his description of the wonder of the Namaqualand flowers is stirring (if you understand Afrikaans)

Wildflower show, Clanwilliam

Equally fascinating was a display of unusual succulents with the cutest names that had us smiling, even chuckling, along with others around us

The common name for this one in Afrikaans translates as “baby’s bum”

Argyroderma testiculare – Bababoudjies – Wildflower show, Clanwilliam

And this one is – you guessed it – Thumb and finger!

Dactyloptis doigitata – Duim-en-Vinger – Wildflower show, Clanwilliam

Ramskop Wild Flower Reserve

After a short spell of shopping for some necessities we headed to the Ramskop Wild Flower Reserve just outside town, overlooking the Clanwilliam Dam.

Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam

The gardens were superb and we spent a good hour or two wandering along the pathways, seeing new species at every turn and taking lots of photos

I haven’t tried to describe the flowers – in this case the photos do the talking. Oh, and I haven’t named all of the flowers as I am no expert in botanical matters and in any case I don’t have all my reference books with me in Mossel Bay (a hazard of living in two places)

Quiver Trees – Kokerbooms – atop a rise in the flower bedecked Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Cape Robin-Chat, Clanwilliam
Erica (Heath family), Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Wachendorfia multiflora – Common Butterfly Lily – Kleinrooikanol – Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Lampranthus – Vygie, Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam

While I was photographing the vygies a butterfly flew past literally under my nose and momentarily fed on the flowers – I took a few images of which one came out showing a nice side view of the butterfly as it landed on the flower – what a stroke of luck!

Citrus Swallowtail butterfly on Lampranthus species – Vygie, Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Protea compacta (?), Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam
Ramskop Wild Flower Garden near Clanwilliam

Lamberts Bay

With much of the afternoon left and feeling like a late afternoon lunch, we drove through town and headed to Lambert’s Bay about 60 kms west of Clanwilliam. Gerda had read about Isabella’s Restaurant at the harbour being the place for fresh fish (makes sense) so we went straight there and enjoyed an excellent meal – I had Kabeljou, Gerda had Yellowtail and we finished it off with a small but decadent waffle.

Lamberts Bay harbour – the turrets on the building in the far background are where the bird hide is

I was keen to see and experience the bird hide on the “island” where Cape Gannets breed and roost – the island is in fact joined to the mainland at the harbour by a walkway. Unfortunately, the walkway was closed for maintenance until December and the last boat trip was already back in the harbour so there was no way to view the Gannet breeding colony except from afar – oh well, maybe another time….

Lamberts Bay

To end the day I went for a walk through the streets of Clanwilliam as dusk fell

Clanwilliam

Spring Flowers Trip 2022 – Tulbagh to Clanwilliam

The Background (Repeated from the first post)

With wonderful memories of our Spring Flowers trip through parts of the Western Cape in September 2021 still fresh in our minds, I said to Gerda some time during July – “Let’s go see the flowers again”. She responded positively and the game was on!

First step was to decide on our route and where to base ourselves along the way – the main drivers in those decisions were to avoid travelling too far from our Mossel Bay home and to spend three nights in a couple of strategic places which would allow two full days of exploration in each without feeling rushed in any way. This is how you do it when you reach that age where the second special tax rebate kicks in ….. in fact the trip was our birthday present to ourselves, falling nicely between our two birthdays just 13 days apart.

Day 2

Google Maps suggested the 151 kms from Saronsberg near Tulbagh to Clanwilliam would take 1 hour 42 minutes – we managed to stretch it to almost 6 hours through some serious meandering and plenty of stops!

Map Tulbagh to Clanwilliam

After checking out, we first visited the Saronsberg cellar and came away with half a dozen wines – two for us, the rest presents for family – and a bottle of olive oil

At the gate, on a whim, instead of heading left we turned right and travelled a few kms to Twee Jongegezellen winery where we had a walk around the historic wine farm.

Twee Jongegezellen Estate Tulbagh
Twee Jongegezellen Estate Tulbagh

It was disappointing to hear that Nicky Krone, a classmate of mine from the 60’s and one of a long line of Krones who ran the farm for generations, no longer owns the farm after losing a costly legal battle with a supplier of bottles some years ago. It seemed to us that the farm had lost its spirit when the Krones departed, retaining only the physical beauty.

Twee Jongegezellen Estate Tulbagh
Twee Jongegezellen Estate Tulbagh

Haeding back down the road towards Tulbagh, we stopped in the town at MIT (Made in Tulbagh) and bought more local wine after chatting to the owner and a friendly local gent who had popped in and knew the ins and outs of the Tulbagh wine route.

Tulbagh

The owner also advised us against the ‘back road’ route I had in mind to get to Citrusdal, so instead we took the shorter route via Gouda and Porterville along roads we have never travelled before. Prominent along this route were the Canola fields in full bloom and when we passed some fields with a wind farm in the background it was a photo opportunity not to be missed. I stopped and clambered up an embankment to get to the high fence so that I could poke my lens (well, the camera’s actually) through the mesh.

Near Tulbagh

Once we intersected with the N7 National road we headed north and soon found ourselves at the start of the Piekernierskloof Pass where, again on a whim, we pulled off at Kardoesie Padstal where we had a pleasant light lunch and bought some padstal ‘stuff’ – dried figs and peaches, home made cookies.

Piekernierskloof Pass
Piekernierskloof Pass

While having lunch I googled the name of the pass – Piekernierskloof – and came up with some fascinating information about the pass; the first known route through the mountains was a bridle path in the 1660’s; much later in 1858 Thomas Charles John Bain, the famous builder of many a pass in SA, built the first road, a gravel route named Grey’s Pass after the then Governor of the Cape. In 1957 the current route was completed and renamed the Piekernierskloof Pass.

Piekernierskloof Pass

If, like me, you are wondering about the name, let me put you out of your misery – Piekernier came from the Dutch word for pikemen, who were lancers equipped with pikes (a long thrusting spear used in European warfare) posted to the area in the 1660’s to protect farmers from Khoikhoi raids

Piekernier / Pikeman

While Gerda was exploring the padstal shop, I was exploring the surroundings for birds and spotted a Rock Kestrel perched on a pole – it took off just as I was taking some shots and I was fortunate to catch it nicely in flight with wings spread. We were to come across this species several times over the ensuing days

Rock Kestrel Falco rupicolus Kransvalk, Piekernierskloof Pass
Rock Kestrel Falco rupicolus Kransvalk, Piekernierskloof Pass

Back on the N7 we stopped a couple of times to view and photograph some of the interesting roadside flowers, especially the yellow flowered bushes that we had seen along the road where it cut through the mountains

Piekernierskloof Pass
Piekernierskloof Pass
Piekernierskloof Pass

At last, we reached Clanwilliam and found our ‘home’ for the next 3 days – Yellow Aloe Guest House just off the main road through the town. Once settled in we enjoyed a rest with the sliding door opened wide to take advantage of the cool fresh air – the weather had turned surprisingly warm and just in time as it was 1 September – “Spring Day” in SA.

Yellow Aloe Guest House, Clanwilliam

The abundant bird life in the garden kept us entertained for the next while, including all 3 species of Mousebird – Speckled, Red-faced and White-backed.

The garden at Yellow Aloe Guest house, Clanwilliam

We were looking forward to exploring the town of Clanwilliam and the surrounding area the next day, in the hope of finding those massed flower displays that the facebook pages were raving about

Spring Flowers Trip 2022 – Mossel Bay to Tulbagh

With wonderful memories of our Spring Flowers trip through parts of the Western Cape in September 2021 still fresh in our minds, I said to Gerda some time during July – “Let’s go see the flowers again”. She responded positively and the game was on!

First step was to decide on our route and where to base ourselves along the way – the main drivers in those decisions were to avoid travelling too far from our Mossel Bay home and to spend three nights in a couple of strategic places which would allow two full days of exploration in each without feeling rushed in any way. This is how you do it when you reach that age where the second special tax rebate kicks in ….. in fact the trip was our birthday present to ourselves, falling nicely between our two birthdays just 13 days apart.

Day 1

Day 1 (31st August 2022) was all about getting to Tulbagh from where we would ‘launch’ our flowers trip proper. The drive of around 350 kms from Mossel Bay was comfortable yet busy on roads which seem to get fuller with each passing year. Our route took us past Swellendam, Ashton, Robertson, Worcester and Tulbagh to our overnight stay on Saronsberg Wine Farm where we had booked one of their Vineyard Cottages, which turned out to be comfortable and well fitted out.

Saronsberg Estate Tulbagh
Saronsberg Estate Tulbagh

After arriving at 4 pm and settling in I had a look for birds near the cottage, then set off on an exploratory walk around some of the farm roads.

The first bird that caught my eye was the very common Southern Fiscal – not usually of specific interest but this individual was struggling with some sort of prey so I stepped closer and found it had caught a small snake and was busy trying to “butcher” it by hooking it on to a protruding twig and pulling – presumably to expose its flesh.

Common Fiscal Lanius collaris Fiskaallaksman (race collaris), Saronsberg Estate Tulbagh
Saronsberg Estate Tulbagh

Birding on the farm while walking produced the usual species for the most part, with a few specials such as Alpine Swifts, a Purple Heron and a Spotted Eagle-Owl in the tall Eucalyptus trees that line a part of one of the farm roads.

Saronsberg Estate Tulbagh
Saronsberg Estate Tulbagh

Dinner was Roosterkoek – traditional grilled bread filled with savoury mince and cheese – bought at a popular roadside restaurant at Buffeljagsrivier near Swellendam – they call them “Sloppy Joes” and are very filling to say the least!

On the way we had seen occasional signs of emerging spring flowers and on Saronsberg the unplanted fields had a sprinkling of yellow flowers, which augered well for the trip to some of the renowned flower hotspots over the days ahead

Saronsberg Estate Tulbagh

So, a quiet start to our Flowers Trip but lots to look forward to, with our next stop being Clanwilliam the next day

Australia May 2022 : A Glimpse of Melbourne

I have to admit that I wasn’t planning another post on our Australia visit earlier this year, but when I reviewed the photos of our brief visit to Melbourne before taking the flight back to SA, I decided to add just one more – I hope you will agree it is a worthwhile addition.

There’s a lot to like about Melbourne, based on our two short visits so far – in 2019 and now in 2022. It has that pleasing mix of features that sets the great cities apart from the more mundane ones – nicely positioned at the sea and straddling a large river, modern architecture contrasting with some beautiful older buildings, a great transport system (where else can you ride for free on a central city tram), some charming parks and gardens and just a feeling of all-round cleanliness and efficiency.

As with our previous visit, we decided to get to Melbourne a day before our flight back to SA to allow for some exploration. As it turned out Stephan and family accompanied us to Melbourne and we visited Sea Life Melbourne before they dropped us off late afternoon at our hotel in the city.

Sea Life Melbourne

After walking for a couple of blocks in light rain from the parking garage we were in the aquarium – along with half the population of Melbourne it seemed. The aquarium is impressive and spreads over a few levels with brightly lit tanks contrasting with the darkish interior.

Here is a selection of the images I took with my Iphone (my camera was far less effective in these lighting conditions)

Sealife Aquarium, Melbourne
Sealife Aquarium, Melbourne
Sealife Aquarium, Melbourne
Sealife Aquarium, Melbourne
King Penguin, Sealife Aquarium, Melbourne
Sealife Aquarium, Melbourne
Sealife Aquarium, Melbourne
Sealife Aquarium, Melbourne

Streets and Arcades

That left us with a full day in the centre of Melbourne, which we started with a breakfast in our hotel – Treasury on Collins, a beautifully maintained classical building with a long history as a banking institution, now serving as a boutique apartment hotel.

Treasury on Collins hotel, Melbourne

Later we ventured into the surrounding streets – destination the famous (among Aussies) Myer department store where we browsed the several levels (reminding me of Stuttafords from way back when in Cape Town) and ended up in the Brunetti restaurant for tea and a cake chosen from a long glass cabinet full of the biggest variety of tempting cakes that we’ve seen in a long time.

Myer Dept store, Melbourne
Brunetti restaurant at Myer, Melbourne

On the way back to the hotel we followed a route which took us through two of the arcades that Melbourne is known for – beautifully restored wide passages between the surrounding buildings.

Royal Arcade, Melbourne
Royal Arcade, Melbourne
Block Arcade, Melbourne
Block Arcade, Melbourne
Block Arcade, Melbourne
Block Arcade, Melbourne
Block Arcade, Melbourne
Block Arcade, Melbourne
Block Arcade, Melbourne

Back on the streets we passed a few stately older buildings that caught our eye with their attractive facades, symmetry and scale

Melbourne
Melbourne
Melbourne

Back at the hotel we relaxed and psyched ourselves up for the two long flights that lay ahead the next day, via Singapore to Jo’burg

Cloud formations from 10,000 metres – taken from our seat during the flight from Melbourne to Singapore

Footnote : a special thanks to Sea Life Melbourne for including penguins in their displays – without that this post would have been devoid of any birds and I would have had to consider changing my Blog name to “HardlyAnyBirding” ….

Australia May 2022 – Raymond Island : Revisited

It was our last weekend in Australia and we were more or less back to health after a second bout of flu, so were keen to get out and about before heading back to SA.

When Stephan suggested a day trip to Raymond Island we jumped at the chance and set off late morning along the very pleasant “back” road to Paynesville. The country roads in Victoria (and probably in other states) are often lined with mature eucalyptus trees which give them a particular character and form a stately ‘ tunnel’ as you drive through…

Road to Paynesville, Victoria

Along the way a couple of raptors caused some excitement – well, I got excited, the others in the car just smiled :

  • Swamp Harrier – a couple of seconds view as we swept past a wetland were enough to pick up the important clues – low flight, white rump, swamp habitat and of course the all-important ‘giss’ which convinced me that it was a Swamp Harrier – and a lifer to boot

There was no time to get a photo so I am posting this beautiful image courtesy of the photographer –

By JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16315120

  • Black-shouldered Kite – almost an equally short view but the familiar giss in flight and black wing ‘shoulders’ were enough for a positive ID
  • Whistling Kite – flying up from the roadside as we passed, this is a bird I have come to know quite well as they are regularly seen around Sale
Whistling Kite, (photo taken on Sale Common)

On reaching the waterfront at Paynesville, we parked and walked, looking for an open restaurant, and came upon Alma’s which turned out to be a good choice for the fish and chips we were thinking of – really tasty and served with a good salad.

Outside the restaurant a Noisy Miner was going about its business pretty much ignoring the people passing by – so much so that I was able to get a close-up with my Iphone

Noisy Miner Manorina melanocephala, Paynesville, Victoria
Raymond Island Victoria

After lunch it was time to explore Raymond Island, so we joined the short queue for the ferry and were soon on the island, where we turned left along the shoreline then inland and right across the island to Gravelly Beach.

Raymond Island Victoria
Raymond Island Victoria
Kangaroos, Raymond Island Victoria
Raymond Island Victoria

Some of the birds spotted along the way :

  • Pacific Gull – quite common but far outnumbered by the Silver Gulls
Pacific Gull, Raymond Island Victoria
  • Little Pied Cormorant – a few perched on poles in or near the water
Little Pied Cormorant, Paynesville & Raymond Island, Victoria
  • Great Cormorant – as the name suggests a much larger Cormorant
Great Cormorant, (photo taken on Sale Common)
  • Australian Golden Whistler – with a name like that you would expect a colourful, spectacular bird, however this was the rather dull immature version of the species. I spotted it in a tree as we passed by and asked Stephan to stop – it looked a lot like the Grey-headed Sparrow that we are familiar with in SA and I was only able to identify it after some time spent paging through the bird book (which always takes me back to my early days of birding). The male would have been a lot more obvious with its bright yellow colouring…
  • This poor photo was all I came away with after almost pulling a muscle or two trying to get my aging body into a position in the car to get a decent view of the bird, which did its best to frustrate me … but – it was another Lifer!
Australian Golden Whistler Pachycephala pectoralis, (Immature) Raymond Island Victoria

At Gravelly Beach we walked about enjoying the view up and down the deserted beach

Gravelly Beach, Raymond Island Victoria

Another road took us back to the nature area where we parked again and walked a section of the Koala trail, coming across a few of these cute, sleepy creatures.

Koala, Raymond Island Victoria

Along the way we also found

  • Laughing Kookaburra – very habituated to humans as they allowed us to approach to within a couple of metres of where they were perched
Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae, Raymond Island Victoria
  • Eastern Rosellas – a flock feeding on the ground
Eastern Rosella platycercus eximius, Raymond Island Victoria
  • Wallabies – a pair in a garden – the wildlife and the people who live on the island seem to get on well with each other
Wallaby, Raymond Island Victoria
Wallaby, Raymond Island Victoria

It was late afternoon by now so we headed back to the ferry and were soon on the road back to Sale, having spent a memorable day in a charming part of Victoria

Adventurous Birding, Atlasing and Travel