Into the Wilderness – A Forest, A Big Tree and a Ghostly Dove

Forest Magic

There’s nothing like a walk in a natural forest to heighten the senses – once you have walked a short distance into the forest, the background sounds of daily life are gradually reduced and eventually all you can hear are the sounds of the forest itself. The bird calls become prominent and even the rustle of leaves as a bird or small creature moves through the canopy or the forest floor can suddenly be heard.

If you are lucky enough to have a patch of forest to yourself, you can almost feel a bubble forming around you as you enter a private world with just the forest sounds, the smell of the trees and the soft feel of the leaf-strewn pathway for company.

This was my experience during a recent visit to the Woodville “Big Tree” forest near Hoekwil in the Southern Cape. The forest lies beyond the Wilderness (not the actual kind, this is a village near George much favoured for holiday homes and as a retirement spot) just off the old George – Knysna road with the main attraction being the massive Yellowwood tree a stone’s throw from the parking area and picnic spot. Estimated to be over 800 years old and standing 31m tall it is more than impressive and one can only wonder how pristine our country was when it was a mere sapling, long before any human interference.

How we came to be there

Gerda and I had decided to explore the Garden Route beyond George for the day and she was the one who suggested we head for the Wilderness  for lunch at one of the popular restaurants in the small village centre, followed by a drive through the countryside east of Wilderness.

We set off in perfect weather, sunny and warm with just a whisper of wind and enjoyed a pleasant light lunch of tapas – chunks of hake and calamari with tasty side sauces. From there we took  a slow drive to Woodville forest  via Hoekwil and we were soon at the parking area. I found a shady parking spot and left Gerda contentedly knitting (making sure there were picnic goers and a forest warden nearby – you always have to be wary in our beloved country) while I explored the forest trail beyond the Big Tree.

The Trail

The trail is fairly easy and an hour is more than enough time for a slow walk while stopping to listen and look around. In the back of my mind was the thought that I still had not seen a Lemon Dove, despite being very close to them on a few occasions – so I stopped a few times to play their call, initially with no response.

By this time I had seen a number of forest specials such as Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler (Geelkeelsanger), Chorister Robin-Chat (Lawaaimakerjanfrederik), African Paradise Flycatcher (Paradysvlieëvanger) and Cape Batis (Kaapse Bosbontrokkie)

Woodville Big Tree Forest Walk
African Paradise Flycatcher, Woodville
Cape Batis

About a third of the way along the trail, I was near a large fallen tree when I heard a rustle behind me. Turning, I saw a dove-like bird fleetingly as it flew across the trail and my heart skipped a beat or two – could this be the one I had hoped for?

I crept back as quietly as possible until suddenly a bird flew out of the leaf litter right next to the trail and for a few seconds perched on an open branch, not 3m away.  It was a Lemon Dove (Kaneelduifie) and I may have let slip an expletive in my excitement as we eyed each other face to face. Desperate for a photo of this beauty I slowly went to lift my camera but at that moment the dove decided to vanish, literally, and flew back across the trail. I was convinced it had not gone far and stood at the point where I expected to find it again, scanning the forest floor and trees for several minutes but to no avail – it had disappeared like a ghost in the night.

Lemon Dove (Roberts Bird Guide app)
Lemon Dove Distribution (Roberts app)

Roberts Bird Guide describes the Lemon Dove as “Secretive and difficult to see, especially when it freezes to avoid detection”, which I can verify from this experience.

Buoyed by this sighting, I walked along the rest of the trail in a state of happiness, taking in all the various sights and sounds right down to the interesting fungi growing on trees and stumps. A rustle in the undergrowth and a harsh churring call drew my attention and after some chasing of shadows amongst the dense foliage I was pleased to track down a Terrestial Brownbul (Boskrapper).

Terrestial Brownbul

Towards the end of the trail another call, like an owl hooting while being shaken, had me wondering until I dredged my memory cells and came up with Olive Pigeon (Geelbekbosduif) – a quick play of its call on my Roberts app confirmed the ID. I left the forest to the repeated call of a Red-capped Robin-Chat, which I later suspected was a Chorister Robin-Chat mimicking its cousin, but who knows?

So my short walk produced one lifer that I had long hoped for as well as a pleasing selection of forest specials, all of which left me with a big smile and something to share with Gerda, patiently waiting in the car.

11 thoughts on “Into the Wilderness – A Forest, A Big Tree and a Ghostly Dove”

  1. Nice Hike description Don… I hope my hike in July will yield some gems. We are doing the Northern KwaZulu game parks and forests

    1. Larry, you’ve got me there! What I do know is that it was for many years known as the Cinnamon Dove, but when SA’s bird names were “internationalised” some years ago there was already a Dove in the far east (I think) which had the same name, so they changed the SA bird’s name to Lemon Dove. Will do some research in my bird book library and see if there’s an answer

      1. And the answer is ………. “a lemon”. Only joking but seriously, I am interested in the answer.

      2. I found the following possible explanation in “The Complete Book of Southern African Birds” (1989) :
        ” Speculation on the origins of its other common name, Lemon Dove, includes the following possibility. In the southern Cape these birds often came out of their forest homes into the citrus orchards that were established by early settlers. It was not that the Dutch settlers preferred lemons to oranges; indeed they had more orange trees. But the Dutch name for an orange is lemoen – so the birds that the Dutch called Orange Doves were called Lemon Doves by the British.”
        How about that!

  2. Thanks Donald, That is a quaint story – colonial heritage dare I say ! From my armchair I see the the lemon link, all be it tenuous, with Lemon-Breasted Canary, Citrine Wagtail even but Lemon dove, no….. . My research has thrown up a diiferent tale which I will share with you shortly.

  3. Thanks for sparking my interest in the Lemon Dove. I am familiar with this bird having seen it regularly in Kirstenbosch on my dog walking route. I knew it as the Cinnamon Dove which from its colouration seemed to me apposite.
    SASOL Birds of Southern Africa (Third Edition 2014) has the following to say ; “the name Lemon Dove is derived from the W African race which has lemon-coloured underparts”.
    Bannermans Birds of Tropical West Africa Vol II (1931) describes the following birds ;
    Sao Thome Lemon-Dove ; Fernado Po Lemon-Dove ; Annobon Lemon-Dove ; Cameroon Mountain Lemon-Dove ; Southern Cameroon Lemon-Dove ; Forbes’ Lemon-Dove ; Princes Island Lemon-Dove.
    None of these birds have any lemon colouration (unlike the Yellow-Bellied Fruit Pigeon ….. avian equivalent of a Red Herring which does have lemon-coloured underparts).
    I am not sure that tropical W Africa is ideal for citrus orchards so I am reluctant to apply your “lemoen” theory. I will let you know if I come across anything more conclusive in the naming of the Lemon Dove. Phew, off for a glass of wine now.

  4. Further observations from my armchair on the Ghastly Dove :
    The Birds of South Africa – Layard (1867), Cinnamon-Dove of Colonists “Not uncommon about Rondebosch, near Cape Town. Found also plentifully at the Knysna.”
    The Birds of South Africa -Layard & Sharpe (1875-1884), Rufous-breasted Wood Dove, “This species, which is the Cinnamon Dove and Lamoen Duif (Lemon Dove) of the colonists, is not uncommon about Rondebosch, near Cape Town; and it is also found plentifully at the Knysna.”
    …. and now for my personal favourite
    A First Guide to South African Birds – Leonard Gill (1936), Lemon Dove, Cinnamon Dove, Lemoenduif, “It is difficult to account for the name “Lemon” Dove becoming attached to this bird.”

    1. Some fascinating stuff arising from your research – those reference books are seriously vintage! I tried posting the question on facebook birding sites but no response – it will have to remain unconfirmed yet speculated for the time being

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