Mossel Bay in July – A Winter’s Tale

At home in Mossel Bay

The first 10 days of our July stay in our second home town were characterised by cold, wet weather almost every day – typical Cape winter weather you might say, but the locals insist it is exceptional for Mossel Bay, which is punted as having one of the mildest climates in SA.

It hasn’t been conducive to going atlasing in the early morning, so I have taken the lazy option of doing most of my birding and atlasing in the Golf Estate where our house is located with short visits to some selected spots in the Mossel Bay area to find the species not occurring in the estate itself.

Mossel Bay Golf Estate
View of the golf course from our garden
Mossel Bay Golf Estate - nature reserve area
Looking down at the nature reserve area from the walking trail

The Patio Option

Our enclosed patio looking over the golf course and the sea has proved to be the ideal spot for viewing the birds that visit our small garden, particularly when they perch in the neighbour’s trees, which are at eye level a just a few metres from the first floor patio.

Regular visitors include the usual Doves (Laughing, Cape Turtle- and Red-eyed) and Sparrows (Cape and Grey-headed) while Streaky-headed Seedeaters have been prominent for the first time that I can recall.

Cape Sparrow
Cape Sparrow
Streaky-headed Seedeater
Streaky-headed Seedeater (which used to be called Streaky-headed Canary)

A Cape Weaver started building his nest with a neat ring of grass as the frame for the ball-shaped nest to follow, but unfortunately abandoned it at that point.

Weaver starter frame of nest
Weaver starter frame of nest

The honeysuckle hedge below the patio was not in flower but we still had both Southern and Greater Double-collared Sunbirds visiting, probably on their way to the many flowering Aloes in the estate, which are at their colourful best in the winter months.

Southern Double-collared Sunbird
Southern Double-collared Sunbird (Greater ditto is identical other than a broader band of red)

Others dropping by were both of the common species of Mousebird, Speckled and Red-faced and both presented nice photo opportunities.

Speckled Mousebird
Speckled Mousebird
Red-faced Mousebird (calling)
Red-faced Mousebird (calling)

The ubiquitous Cape Sugarbirds are abundant in the estate and seem to be in a state of excitement most of the time – just shows what a fancy long tail does to you.

Cape Sugarbird
Cape Sugarbird
Cape Sugarbird
Cape Sugarbird (taken on my I-Phone)

Then there are the Bulbuls with the familiar Cape Bulbul not at all shy to show himself, while the Sombre Greenbul remains hidden in the bushes but makes up for it with his piercing call “which sounds a bit like “Willie” (which is also the Afrikaans name for it)

Cape Bulbul
Cape Bulbul
Cape White-eye
Cape White-eyes move through the foliage in small flocks

A Yellow Bishop was a surprise visitor, as I had only ever seen them in the Fynbos which fills the nature reserve area between the last row of houses and the rocky headlands along the shoreline. It was in its duller winter plumage, heavily streaked and giving a glimpse of bright yellow back as it flew off.

Yellow Bishop at the feeder (winter plumage)
Yellow Bishop at the feeder (winter plumage)

Feeding the masses

I bought a bird-feeder and some seed at Agri, our local co-op and installed it below the patio, hoping for some seed-eating visitors. Well, it was packed with birds the next day – Sparrows, Seedeaters (they used to be called Streaky-headed Canaries), Bishops and Weavers all vying for a spot. In the frenzy some seed fell to the grass below and was quickly taken by the Doves and even the Cape Spurfowl which are very common in the estate.

Cape Spurfowl
Cape Spurfowl

Going Walkabout

When the weather allowed, I did some walking around the estate and down into the nature reserve area of Fynbos. The latter was alive with Yellow and White-throated Canaries flitting about, plenty of Sunbirds and a Bokmakierie or two.

White-throated Canary
White-throated Canary

And the scenery was special – most of the fynbos was in flower creating beautiful spreads of tiny purple, pink and white flowers against the backdrop of grey skies and cobalt ocean beyond the cliff edge.

Fynbos
Fynbos
Fynbos
Fynbos
Fynbos
Fynbos

For a few minutes the icy wind was forgotten and I took some photos with my pocket camera (which I sometimes use for communication as well – they should call it an I-Camera rather than an I-Phone)

Other fynbos favourites were out and about – Karoo Prinia vociferous as always and Southern Boubou skulking in the bushes, while Bar-throated Apalis moved about restlessly,  calling chit-chit-chit all the while.

Let’s go down to the Sea again …….

Seabirds are always a feature of birding in Mossel Bay and there were plenty in numbers if not species. Kelp Gulls are common, even over the estate which they use as a direct route to their roosts along the cliffs.

Kelp Gull
Kelp Gull

Down at the Point there were numbers of Swift Terns flying past just off the rocky shoreline, some harried by Subantarctic Skuas, large all brown seabirds with distinctive white wing flashes, hoping for a dropped morsel. Their Afrikaans name Roofmeeu translates directly to “Robbing Gull” which describes their habit of pestering other seabirds until they drop or disgorge some of their food.

Subantarctic Skua
Subantarctic Skua

During the first week there were signs of the annual “sardine run”, when millions of these small fish move up the east coast of South Africa in massive shoals, drawing all kinds of sea- and bird-life along with them. From the patio we could see some of them enjoying take-aways :

  • schools of dolphins numbering in the hundreds
  • a few whales breaching – they are annual visitors to the bay
  • Cape Gannets galore, turning and diving straight down in their typical fashion
Cape Gannet
Cape Gannet

Winter is certainly a worthwhile time to visit Mossel Bay, but let’s face it, Spring and Summer are a lot better from most points of view! Can’t wait to return later in the year!

On the statistics front, my total bird list during this visit was 110 species of which about 60% were in the estate itself and the rest during side trips in and around Mossel Bay and a two-day “culinary and birding trip” to the Robertson area (watch this space for more on that subject)

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