All posts by Don Reid

South African nature enthusiast with a passion for Birding, Photography and Travelling to interesting places to discover more about Southern Africa and the World

It’s a Shore Thing – The Sequel (Part 2)

Continuing the story of our trip to Bronkhorstspruit Dam Nature Reserve not far from Pretoria, where we were fortunate to find the rare vagrant Baird’s Sandpiper with relative ease ….

After locating the Baird’s Sandpiper and spending some time admiring this tiny adventurer all the way from the Arctic, we spent the next couple of hours driving slowly as close to the dam shoreline as we could, scanning every metre of it as we went.

This paid off with several more good sightings of waders and other birds, many of them the same species as I had recorded during an atlasing trip a few weeks prior, but with some exciting new additions –

Starting with an uncommon species which we found in the short grass which covers most of the open ground between the track and the shoreline of the dam …..

Western Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava (Geelkwikkie)

Western Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava (Geelkwikkie), Bronkhorstspruit Nature Reserve

The Yellow Wagtail is not a wader as such, but it favours similar habitat to some of the waders, particularly fringes of dams with short grass. It is not unusual to find the far more common Cape Wagtails pottering about in their perky fashion among small waders, but during the summer months it pays to check out all the wagtails as they could include this uncommon non-breeding migrant, which arrives in small numbers from its breeding grounds in eastern Europe and western Asia

Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia (Groenpootruiter)

We also came across this fairly common wader which can be found right across southern Africa at inland and coastal waters, but seldom in numbers, often alone – we saw just the one during our couple of hours of careful scanning

Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia (Groenpootruiter), Bronkhorstspruit Nature Reserve

Generally one of the easier waders to identify and get to know, even at a distance, due to its long-legged appearance, relatively large size and slightly upturned bill

Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia (Groenpootruiter), Bronkhorstspruit Nature Reserve

The Greenshank is one of the longer-staying Palaearctic migrants, arriving from its “home” in European Russia and eastwards from as early as August and departing again between February and April

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos (Gewone ruiter)

Another wader that belies its name by not being particularly common, this was one of just a couple that we came across

Once you are “into” the intricacies of identifying waders, the Common Sandpiper soon becomes familiar, with its standout features being its uniform brown upper colouring contrasting with a clear white underside. The white gap between shoulder and breast band (not clearly visible in my photo) is often a clincher

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos (Gewone ruiter), Bronkhorstspruit Nature Reserve

It prefers firmer surfaces than other waders and can often be found alongside wagtails on rocks, firm sand and gravel rather than wading in the water itself

It is also a long-staying migrant from its “home” which stretches from Europe to Japan, arriving in southern Africa from August and departing from January to April

Red-capped Lark Calandrella cinerea (Rooikoplewerik)

And now for something completely different ……

Arguably one of the better known larks, which otherwise get a lot of bad press by being called “little brown jobs” or LBJ’s by those new to birding, this one is hard to confuse with any other lark species due to its distinctive rufous crown and breast side patches

Red-capped Lark Calandrella cinerea (Rooikoplewerik), (Adult) Bronkhorstspruit Nature Reserve

Their preferred habitats include bare ground and edges of wetlands so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to find one not far from the dam edge, nevertheless we were most pleased to find this individual with a tiny morsel in its beak.

Red-capped Lark (Adult)

We immediately guessed that the morsel was intended for a juvenile being fed by the adult, and looked around – nearby was a well-camouflaged, inconspicuous bird with no matching features but there was no doubt of its lineage as we watched the adult feeding the morsel to it then rushing off to find more. Lovely to watch and a unique sighting!

Red-capped Lark (Juvenile with Adult)
Red-capped Lark (Juvenile with Adult)

Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida (Witbaardsterretjie)

Now, sharp readers will quickly realise that terns are not waders – but I have other reasons for including these images …..

Firstly, terns commonly roost at water’s edge in between sorties over the dam close to the shoreline, floating in the wind, looking for prey and dipping down to grab it.

As we drove slowly along the shoreline at one point, I noticed a flock of about a dozen Whiskered Terns flying low in their usual fashion, heads down, floating in the light wind, looking for prey and dipping down to grab something then joining the flock again.

Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida Witbaardsterretjie, Bronkhorstspruit Nature Reserve

What was different was that they were flying above solid ground rather than the water, something I have not seen before – clearly there were enough small insects in the short grass or flying about just above it to persuade the terns to hunt away from their usual habitat.

They presented a beautiful sight as they flew towards our vehicle, veering away at the last moment, flying away for a distance, then turning back to repeat the circuit. They are such elegant birds in flight …..

Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida Witbaardsterretjie, Bronkhorstspruit Nature Reserve

It’s a Shore Thing – The Sequel (Part 1)

A couple of weeks ago I posted about a selection of Waders (Shorebirds) and other water birds that I had encountered during an atlasing trip to Bronkhorstspruit Dam Nature Reserve not far from Pretoria.

Well, I wasn’t expecting to visit this nature reserve so soon again, but an alert received this past Saturday from SA Rare Bird News run by Trevor Hardaker (the second item in his alert below) had me reconsidering fairly quickly – a Baird’s Sandpiper would be a lifer for me and, having been spotted just 45 minutes drive from my home in Pretoria, it was an irresistible twitch.

The Twitch

I was not keen to join what I expected to be a twitcher scramble on the Sunday so I waited for Monday morning, when I picked up Koos Pauw at 6.30 am and we headed east along the N4 highway, then took the R25 and R42 turnoffs to take us to the nature reserve access road.

The many twitchers making their way to the dam the previous day combined with heavy overnight rain had turned the gravel access road and the nature reserve tracks into a muddy jumble in places – no problem for my Prado but we felt for the hardy twitchers in small sedans who we saw later in the reserve – no one got stuck while we were there but the road was worse on our way out, so those drivers would have had to use all their skills to get out without a problem.

More of a quagmire than a road – there’s already an ‘escape road’ forming on the right

We couldn’t help chuckling when we saw two Yellow-billed Ducks swimming in one of the larger puddles in the bumpy nature reserve track – how opportunistic, but it left us wondering why they chose a muddy puddle instead of the vast expanse of dam just 50 metres away.

From previous experience of twitches at popular, accessible birding spots such as this, I knew the best way of finding the target rare bird after an alert is to drive to the area where you expect to find it, then look for parked cars – this was my strategy and it worked, but only just!

As we approached the approximate position along the dam edge given in the alert, a vehicle was heading towards us – we stopped to chat and the friendly driver offered to show us “the Baird’s” as they had just come from its location, with no one else around at the time. We accepted with alacrity and a couple of minutes later we were at the right spot and watching the Baird’s Sandpiper ourselves – success! (cue the Beatles “With a little help from my friends”)

Baird’s Sandpiper Calidris bairdii Bairdse strandloper, Bronkhorstspruit Nature Reserve

We had nevertheless armed ourselves with some knowledge of the species and its main identifying features, in case we were faced with finding and identifying it ourselves – but our newfound friend quickly informed us that we only had to look out for the ‘small wader with a limp’ as it seems it had injured its leg, so the task of picking it out among the other small waders was very simple. The video clip below shows just how pronounced its limp was

Baird’s Sandpiper Calidris bairdii (Bairdse strandloper)

The Baird’s Sandpiper falls into the wader family known as the Calidrids, breeding at Arctic latitudes of Alaska and Canada and usually migrating to South America during the austral summer.

Occasionally, as with this one in all probability, a single bird is blown off course by adverse weather conditions, or its ingrained directional instinct goes slightly awry and they end up in southern Africa instead. Not without an almost unfathomable effort of course, for its journey would have taken it across the Atlantic Ocean at some stage.

Baird’s Sandpiper Calidris bairdii Bairdse strandloper, Bronkhorstspruit Nature Reserve

Less than 20 records exist of sightings of this species in the southern African region, since 1984 – prior to that there is just one record from 1863! So its status is rightly given as a very rare vagrant

Each red dot represents an individual record over the last 37 years

Waders without clear features which set them obviously apart from other similar sized waders can present a real challenge to birders and the Baird’s Sandpiper falls into that category. If it hadn’t had the distinct limp we would have had to resort to looking for the features given in the illustration below from the Roberts app

So that’s how I added the latest lifer to my Southern African list – simple really …….

As with my previous visit we spent the next couple of hours driving slowly as close to the dam shoreline as we could, scanning every metre of it as we went. This paid off with several more good sightings of waders and other birds, many of them the same species as I had recorded before, but with some exciting new additions – more about these in a follow up post

References

Finally, just a mention of the two outstanding sources that I have used for the information in this post :

Firstly, Roberts VII Multimedia Birds of Southern Africa – the go-to guide for detailed information on all of Southern Africa’s birds

Secondly, the more focused Chamberlain’s Waders – The Definitive Guide to Southern Africa’s Shorebirds by Faansie Peacock (No, that’s not a made up name!)

The Call of Summer

There are numbers of migrant birds to southern Africa that herald the start of the Austral (Southern Hemisphere) summer from September each year, but two stand out as the icons of summer’s arrival and become the subject of excited messages on the various birding chat groups as they are spotted or heard for the first time in the early summer months

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica (Europese Swael)

One is the Barn Swallow, which has become the best-known of the migrant swallows, certainly because it outnumbers the others, is highly visible and occurs virtually across southern Africa.

Barn Swallow, Kendal area, Gauteng, South Africa

A staggering, estimated 20 to 40 million “Barnies” (as they are known to birders who like nicknames) migrate to Africa from western Europe and another 40 to 80 million from eastern Europe and Asia annually on their southward migration, many of which end up in southern Africa.

Barn Swallows, Roodeplaat Dam near Pretoria, South Africa

In southern Africa, during the summer months, they can be found just about anywhere outside the built up areas of cities, preferring moister, open areas such as grassland, pastures, cultivated fields and vleis and occurring in loose flocks of varying numbers.

Barn Swallow, Devon near Johannesburg , Gauteng, South Africa

Anyone who has witnessed Barn Swallows settling in their thousands into their roost at the end of the day, as we did many years ago near Umhlanga, will not forget this amazing sight.

I have been fortunate to see Barn Swallows in other parts of the world during our travels in the northern hemisphere summer, including Europe, Canada, Malaysia, Cuba and Egypt.

Barn Swallow, Annasrust farm Hoopstad, Free State, South Africa

Their status in southern Africa is ‘non-breeding Palaearctic migrant’ which means they breed ‘at home’ in the northern hemisphere, so we do not see any nesting behaviour, which is why I was particularly excited to find a nest tucked under a roof overhang during a trip to western Canada some years ago.

Barn Swallow on nest, Bow Lake, Alberta, Canada

Interestingly, these Barnies looked a little different to what we are used to seeing in SA – clearly these particular swallows would not be seen in our country as their migration path southwards would take them to South America.

Another encounter on a different continent, during a cruise on the Danube River, had me equally excited – it was April and Barn Swallows were flying above the river right next to our river cruise boat and I realised that they must have just arrived back from their return migration at the end of the Austral summer, with anything up to 10,000 kms ‘under their belt’.

Barn Swallow, Danube River at Linz, Austria

Which brings me to what inspired this post ……

Red-chested Cuckoo Cuculus solitarius (Piet-my-vrou)

First some background –

My bird atlasing trip this past week took me to Ezemvelo Nature Reserve some 70 kms north-east of Pretoria, a small nature reserve comprising mainly rolling grasslands. Before arriving at the entrance gate at the entry time for day visitors, I had managed to complete 2 hours of atlasing in the pentad immediately west of Ezemvelo and was looking forward to spending time in the reserve, which I had last visited in 2013.

After completing the gate formalities, I headed to the Reception a few kms from the gate, paid for my day visit and parked at the nearby picnic spot, nicely located under large trees near a low tree covered hill and overlooking a small dam.

I literally had the whole place to myself – I’m sure it gets busier over weekends but on a weekday the only visitors are probably keen nature lovers such as myself, of that rather pleasant age when you, rather than others, decide how you are going to spend your day.

As I enjoyed coffee and rusks, I heard the familiar summer sound of a Red-chested Cuckoo – or Piet-my vrou (pronounced piet-may-frow) as most South Africans know it, a name based on the 3-syllable call which carries long distances and is often difficult to trace.

Red-chested Cuckoo Cuculus solitarius (Piet-my-vrou), Ezemvelo

I would hazard a guess that, doves aside, this is one of the best known calls of all birds in South Africa, with farmers often referring to it, somewhat hopefully, as the “Rain Bird” because it’s arrival coincides with the hoped for start of the summer rains in large parts of SA.

The call I heard suddenly sounded very close and I walked to the nearby trees, camera in hand, to see if I could find it. This is a bird not easily seen as they tend to choose a branch in the depth of well-foliaged trees to perch on and call. I followed the call and was thrilled to find the Cuckoo after a short search and approached carefully, not wanting to scare it away.

Red-chested Cuckoo Cuculus solitarius (Piet-my-vrou), Ezemvelo

I took a couple of photos, thrilled at getting this rare chance to photograph the species, but mildly disappointed that it refused to turn around and show its front. With a few photos under the belt I decided to try to get a video while it was calling and managed to complete a short clip before the bird flew off, leaving me very pleased with my first reasonable images of a Red-chested Cuckoo in 40 or so years of birding!

Here’s the video –

Red-chested Cuckoo (Piet-my-vrou)

It’s a Shore Thing

My atlasing trip last week included time spent in Bronkhorstspruit Nature Reserve, which lies on the southern side of the dam of the same name and is an easy 40 minutes drive east of Pretoria

Before reaching the reserve entrance, I had spent time recording species in the habitats that I was not expecting to find inside the reserve and had a pleasing list of 30 species by the time I reached the entrance, a number of which I had found at a bridge crossing the Bronkhorst Spruit on a quiet side road.

On entering the reserve I passed a few herds of antelope enjoying the long grassveld habitat of the dam surrounds before heading to the dam’s shoreline, which I knew from previous visits was ideal habitat for waders – or shorebirds as some prefer to call them.

Waders are notoriously challenging to identify in the early stages of birding, but time is on your side in this wonderful hobby/pastime, which usually becomes the dominant one for the rest of your life once you’ve got into it. As you progress and have more opportunities to watch waders in action, you learn to look for certain features and identification becomes easier, making you wonder why you battled so much in the beginning.

Here are the waders and a few other birds that I came across as I drove slowly as close to the shoreline of the dam as I could – I had to divert here and there to avoid disturbing the fishermen who also enjoy this environment ….

Ruff Philomachus pugnax (Kemphaan)

Ruffs fall into the wader family known as the Calidrids, breeding at Arctic latitudes and migrating to southern Africa during the austral summer. There would be no difficulty identifying Ruffs during the breeding season, as they take on a spectacular breeding plumage, but we see them in southern Africa in their drab non-breeding state, looking like many of the other waders. One of the most numerous summer waders

What to look for :

  • Size medium (M : 29-32cm F 22-26 cm)
  • Medium length bill, slightly drooping
  • Longish, usually orange legs
  • Scaled appearance on back
  • White feathers at bill base
Ruff Philomachus pugnax (Kemphaan), Bronkhorstspruit Dam

Sanderling Calidris alba (Drietoonstrandloper)

Sanderlings also belong to the Calidrids family, breeding in, and migrating from, Siberia and Greenland to southern Africa, where they arrive from September. Inland records are quite scarce as most head to coastal beaches, but Bronkhorstspruit Dam has seen some records of this species on an intermittent basis. This was the only one I saw during my visit and is only the 4th record for the pentad, out of 170 cards

What to look for :

  • Size : Small (18-21 cm)
  • Distinctive light colouring separates the Sanderling from most other waders
  • Short, stout bill
  • Dark shoulder patch (hidden by white feathers in my photo)
Sanderling Calidris alba (Drietoonstrandloper) Bronkhorstspruit Dam

Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula (Ringnekstrandkiewiet)

The first of the “Small Plovers”, this palaearctic migrant flies up to an amazing 18,000 kms from its breeding grounds to southern Africa

What to look for :

  • Size : Small (17-19 cm)
  • Relatively easy to identify with its broad black breast band contrasting with the white collar
  • Very short, stubby bill
  • Orange legs
Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula (Ringnekstrandkiewiet) Bronkhorstspruit Dam

Three-banded Plover Charadrius tricollaris (Driebandstrandkiewiet)

The second of the “Small Plovers”, this is a common freshwater wader in southern Africa, where it also breeds

What to look for :

  • Size : Small (17-18 cm)
  • Distinctive with its double breast band and red eye-ring
  • Bobs up and down in animated fashion
Three-banded Plover Charadrius tricollaris (Driebandstrandkiewiet) Bronkhorstspruit Dam

Little Stint Calidris minuta (Kleinstrandloper)

This smallest of waders always makes me think of an old gent in a faded brown overcoat – they habitually walk about with head bowed which, along with their small size, makes them easy to pick out among a group of waders. The Little Stint is a Palaearctic migrant. those arriving in South Africa from September are thought to breed in northern Europe

What to Look for :

  • Size : Very Small (12-14 cm)
  • Short, fine-tipped dark bill
  • Bowed posture while wading
Little Stint Calidris minuta Kleinstrandloper Bronkhorstspruit Dam

The Others

Some of the other birds occupying the shallow wading areas and margins of the dam that I came across –

Grey-headed Gull Chroicocephalus cirrocephalus (Gryskopmeeu)

This fairly common inland Gull had been attracted to the shallows by a dead fish on which it was scavenging.

One of the easiest Gulls to identify inland as it is usually the only one. At the coast one has to be a bit more judicious in arriving at an ID – the Hartlaub’s Gull is of similar size and general appearance so a more detailed look will show the differences

Grey-hooded Gull Chroicocephalus cirrocephalus (Gryskopmeeu)
Bronkhorstspruit Dam

Juveniles are there for the sole purpose of confusing birders, or so it seems – they often look so different that it’s easy to imagine it may be a completely different species

Grey-hooded Gull (juvenile) Bronkhorstspruit Dam

Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida  Witbaardsterretjie

A small flock of Whiskered Terns were resting at the dam’s edge – any terns seen inland are likely to be one of two species – this one and the White-winged Tern. They can be difficult to distinguish in flight, but resting like this it is a fairly easy ID

Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida Witbaardsterretjie Bronkhorstspruit Dam

This one decided to stretch its wings then flew off, showing off the beauty of the feathers that make up the wings and tail

Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida Witbaardsterretjie Bronkhorstspruit Dam
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida Witbaardsterretjie Bronkhorstspruit Dam

Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia (Reusesterretjie)

My favourite Tern was nearby, on its own – the Caspian Tern is the largest tern (at 51 cm) in the region and is a breeding resident. Apart from its size, the standout feature is its large red dagger-like bill.

Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia (Reusesterretjie), Bronkhorstspruit Dam

And these two waterbirds make it onto this post simply by sticking close to the shoreline, allowing me to get reasonable images as I studied the waders

Cape Shoveler Anas smithii (Kaapse slopeend)

Cape Shoveler Anas smithii (Kaapse slopeend), Bronkhorstspruit Dam

Yellow-billed Duck Anas undulata (Geelbekeend)

Yellow-billed Duck Anas undulata (Geelbekeend) (Adult with Juvenile), Bronkhorstspruit Dam

To end off – a mystery wader at water’s edge – extremely large and well feathered – definitely not a Stint……

Supersized Wader, Bronkhorstspruit Dam

Tietiesbaai ! (Cape Columbine Nature Reserve) – Flowers, birds, beaches and a lighthouse

It was our last day in Paternoster and we were in two minds as to where to spend it – there are a number of wild flower spots within comfortable driving distance from the town, but in the end we decided to limit our driving and explore Tietiesbaai (Cape Columbine Nature Reserve), right on the doorstep of Paternoster.

What a good choice it turned out to be!

Cape Columbine Nature Reserve (Tietiesbaai)

Firstly, if you mention to another South African you have been to Tietiesbaai, it is bound to raise a smile, even a snigger. Why? Well translated directly Tietiesbaai would be the equivalent of “Boobs Bay” in English.

Depending on which source you prefer, the name Tietiesbaai derives from either a prominent fisherman of years past called Jacob Titus who drowned there or from the smooth round boulders that are a feature of the bay. Whichever you prefer, it is a worthwhile place to visit, especially in spring flower season.

Cape Columbine Nature Reserve (Tietiesbaai)

In complete contrast to our visit to the West Coast National Park the previous day, we had the whole nature reserve almost to ourselves, apart from a handful of other intrepid visitors. This gave us the chance to stop on a whim and climb out to have a closer look at some of the attractive flowers, explore the isolated and mostly deserted beaches and coves and generally just do as we felt like.

Cape Columbine Nature Reserve (Tietiesbaai)

Just as an introduction to Tietiesbaai / Cape Columbine, some facts –

Cape Columbine Nature Reserve lies on the west coast near the village of Paternoster

It is the furthest westerly destination in the Western Cape Province and covers an area of 263 hectares along the rocky stretch of coastline

It was declared a nature reserve in 1973 and boasts the last manually controlled lighthouse to be built in South Africa.

The lighthouse was built in 1936 on Castle Rock and is usually the first lighthouse to be seen by ships coming from Europe, being visible from up to 50 kms away

It was just after 11 am when we set off through Paternoster and were soon on the neatly scraped gravel road to Tietiesbaai, the sea almost always in view and the road increasingly lined with a multitude of colourful wild flowers.

The road between Paternoster and Cape Columbine Nature Reserve (Tietiesbaai)
Cape Columbine Nature Reserve (Tietiesbaai)

Numbers of birds were enjoying the bounty of Spring and I soon added Rock Kestrel, Large-billed Lark and Grey-backed Cisticola to my list.

Rock Kestrel Falco rupicolus Kransvalk, Cape Columbine Nature Reserve (Tietiesbaai)
Large-billed Lark with small insect in beak Galerida magnirostris Dikbeklewerik, Cape Columbine Nature Reserve (Tietiesbaai)

After entering the gate where we had to fill in a form and pay the nominal entrance fee, we headed into the reserve proper and found ourselves at a turn-off, signposted “Sea Shack” which seemed worth exploring – the track was just wide enough for one vehicle, so we hoped we wouldn’t encounter any returning vehicles.

We needn’t have worried as we were literally the only car on the track which wound its way down to the rocky shoreline, where we found a small cove with a line of simple ‘shacks’ – the Sea Shack on the signpost. There was just one gent in residence and he drove off soon after we arrived, so we had the cove to ourselves.

Sea Shack, Cape Columbine Nature Reserve (Tietiesbaai)

There were birds on the rocks a short way out, but just too far to see clearly with the binos, so I clambered over the seaweed and small rocks close to the shoreline to get a better view.

Cormorants and Terns, Cape Columbine Nature Reserve (Tietiesbaai)
Cormorants and Terns, Cape Columbine Nature Reserve (Tietiesbaai)

Cape Cormorants were well represented as were Swift Terns and a lone smaller bird turned out to be a Ruddy Turnstone – always a special sighting.

Ruddy Turnstone Arenaria interpres Steenloper, Cape Columbine Nature Reserve (Tietiesbaai)

As I watched the Turnstone, a Pied Kingfisher came into view, diving for a small fish right in front of me and flying off with its catch – I tried to get a photo in flight but could only capture a fleeting glimpse of it disappearing with the fish held in its beak.

Pied Kingfisher with fish catch Ceryle rudis Bontvisvanger, Cape Columbine Nature Reserve (Tietiesbaai)

Nearby, we found the perfect spot to enjoy our tea and snacks, parked at the end of an even bumpier track that ended amongst the rocks at the sea edge.

Teatime spot, Cape Columbine Nature Reserve (Tietiesbaai)

Patches of colourful wild flowers had established themselves everywhere, looking as if they had been planted by a landscape gardener

Cape Columbine Nature Reserve (Tietiesbaai)

We were so engrossed in enjoying the flowers, the time passed without us realising it

We continued along the track, stopping frequently at Gerda’s behest to view and photograph flowers we had not yet encountered, until we found ourselves at a junction with the ‘main’ road where we turned back, somewhat reluctantly, towards Paternoster.

A Cape Bunting on a small rock had me stopping yet again for a quick photo

Cape Bunting Emberiza capensis Rooivlerkstreepkoppie, Cape Columbine Nature Reserve (Tietiesbaai)

Even the unusual lichen on a dry bush was colourful enough to warrant closer inspection

Lichen, Cape Columbine Nature Reserve (Tietiesbaai)

The road back passed by the lighthouse, which sits on one of the higher points in the reserve, then took us back to the entrance gate.

Lighthouse, Cape Columbine Nature Reserve (Tietiesbaai)
Cape Columbine Nature Reserve (Tietiesbaai)

All in all a spectacular day among wild flowers and rugged coastal scenery.

Knock knock …… who’s there?

We are getting back into our Pretoria routine after 3 months in Mossel Bay, and I decided to go out atlasing in Roodeplaat Nature Reserve one morning this week. Heading into summer the weather in Pretoria is already warm with temperatures in the low 30’s and the skies are clear – some rain has fallen but the ‘big’ summer rains accompanied by the typical highveld thunderstorms have not yet arrived – hopefully they are not far off.

It was a good morning’s atlasing with 71 species logged on the Birdlasser app, including one which put on a brief display for me (well that’s what I like to think) ….

I was out of the car listening to a Lesser Honeyguide calling near the nature reserve offices, when I saw what looked like a woodpecker fly from a tree to a bare wooden utility pole. I could not make out what it was as it seemed to be purposely hiding from me so I approached carefully until I had a partial view and took a few record photos.

It then started pecking at the pole in a rhythmic fashion creating a loud drumming sound and I immediately wondered why, as there was no hope of anything edible to be found and the pole was completely unsuitable for nesting or similar purposes.

Here’s the short clip I filmed of the woodpecker, which I later identified as a Bearded Woodpecker, in action – do excuse the shakiness of the images – I had to film it at a distance on full zoom so as not to scare it away and the wind blowing didn’t help matters.

Best viewed in full screen mode ….

Bearded Woodpecker (Female) ‘drumming’ (Baardspeg / Dendropicos namaquus)

A read through of the species habits on the Roberts app on my phone provided the following insights into this behaviour – nothing to do with food or nesting it seems –

Presence often given away by loud, distinctive call, or by loud tapping (while foraging), or drumming.

Moves out of sight behind a branch in response to danger.

Both sexes drum frequently, mostly early morning; used in territorial advertisement and to establish contact with partner.

Drums in bursts of ca 1 sec at ca 12 strikes/sec, beginning fast, then slowing; usually on a high dead branch (same branch often reused); audible to 1 km.

Roberts VII Multimedia Birds of Southern Africa

It flew off after a while and I continued with my atlasing, pleased at having witnessed this behaviour and at having everything one wants to know about birds available on my iphone.

West Coast National Park – a Feast of Spring Flowers

Top of our list of things to do during our visit to Paternoster in September this year was the trip to West Coast National Park and specifically the Postberg section which is only open during August and September each year and which has a reputation for producing spectacular displays of wild flowers at Spring time.

West Coast National Park

It was our first full day in Paternoster, having arrived the previous afternoon and we had already tasted some of the culinary delights that this small town has to offer – a beautifully prepared Kabeljou with rice and veg at De See Kat restaurant.

West Coast National Park (WCNP) is around 120 kms from Cape Town – the map shows its position relative to Cape Town and Paternoster –

After a superb breakfast at our Paternoster guesthouse, we set off for the West Coast National Park via Vredenburg and the R27, a distance of just over 60 kms to the gate. As we approached the turnoff to the gate, we were amazed to find a queue – two abreast – of cars waiting to enter the Park and joined the back of it. I was very glad we had chosen a weekday for our visit as, judging from the popularity of this park during the wild flower season, the weekend was bound to be a lot more crowded.

West Coast National Park

Fortunately the queue moved along nicely and a half hour later we were into the park and heading in the direction of the Postberg section, along with a string of cars all heading the same way.

We made a couple of stops along the way to Postberg section, which lies in the northernmost part of the park, mainly to break out of the stream of cars, but also to have a closer look at some of the roadside flowers. One of these stops was at a parking spot overlooking the lagoon.

West Coast National Park

All along the road were patches of flowers which just begged closer inspection and of course a few images

A turn-off from the main road through the park took us towards the sea, the road bordered by masses of flowers

West Coast National Park

At Tsaarbank picnic spot we lunched on – wait for it – Provita with cheese spread and the tea we’d brought along (talk about fine dining!) and watched wild waves crashing into the rocky shoreline.

Tsaarbank, West Coast National Park
Tsaarbank, West Coast National Park

Then we entered Postberg proper and found ourselves surrounded at times by multi-coloured flowers spreading across fields and hills – what a display!

West Coast National Park

Fortunately the many cars had by now dispersed in different directions, giving us and others the freedom to stop and admire the many varieties of flowers and just take it all in.

The road took us on a circular route, eventually joining the exit road, which took us past more magnificent displays of flowers, until we found ourselves back at the entrance to Postberg.

All that remained was to make our way slowly back to the main entrance gate where we had entered earlier and head back to Paternoster along the R27 road, reflecting on a truly memorable day.

Paternoster – Spring Flowers, Birds and Beaches

Continuing the story of our ‘Wild Flower Season’ trip to the West Coast town of Paternoster…..

Getting there

After breakfast we left Klein Welmoed Farm near Stellenbosch, dropped granddaughter Megan off at her university hostel, then headed to Paternoster via Wellington, Malmesbury and Vredenburg.

The road runs through the wheat belt of South Africa – almost endless fields of dark green wheat with smaller fields of canary yellow canola providing a dramatic contrast.

Occasional patches of ‘natural’ veld held colourful sprinklings of wild flowers to break the monotony of the cultivated fields and had me braking and reversing to get some photos.

Then we were in Paternoster and soon found Paternoster Dunes Guesthouse which, as the name suggests, lies on the land side of the dunes overlooking a wide expanse of unspoilt beach

The view of the beach
The Guest House

Just to get us further into flower appreciation mood, the patch in front of our room, the middle one in the image above, held some bright orange flowers

After a rest (we are pensioners after all) I took a walk along the beach to the end of the bay and looked up at the dunes which were covered in growth with a mass of yellow flowers

I climbed to the top of the dune and walked to where the houses stopped, finding a view into the distance with more yellow flowers in abundance

Caterpillar of unknown species, specific to the plant on which I found it by the looks of it as they were only in one small area

During our visit I discovered that there were a few bird species which found the patch in front of our room to their liking, including the Yellow Canaries and Karoo Scrub-Robin pictured below as well as Cape Bunting, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and many Common (European) Starlings


Yellow Canary (Geelkanarie) Crithagra flaviventris in full song
Karoo Scrub-Robin (Slangverklikker) Erythropygia leucophrys scanning the surroundings from its favourite perch on a low bush

On a morning walk along the beach in front of the guesthouse, camera in hand, with the wind blowing the sea into a frothy jumble and overcast skies, several Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gulls wading in the shallows caught my eye and with some gentle persuasion lifted into the air, providing some nice photo opportunities in the soft, even light

As I walked along the sand I spotted movement on the dry sand ahead and approached cautiously, knowing that the subject matter would race off if I got too near. Sure enough, three tiny White-fronted Plovers watched me carefully as I got closer, initially moving away in slow short bursts, then speeding off like top 100m sprinters, barely touching the sand between strides

And a few more photos of Bek Bay at different times of the day

I came across this interesting beetle scavenging among the rocks

The last afternoon produced the most spectacular sunset of all as the cloud-filtered sun cast its rays on the choppy sea. Many Terns were plunging into the sea offshore – too far to differentiate between species until a Common Tern seemingly chased a much larger Caspian Tern so that they passed close to where I was watching from the beach

Paternoster turned out to be an excellent choice as our base for the short stay, being within an hour’s drive from West Coast National Park and literally next door to Cape Columbine Nature Reserve, both of which we visited – more about that in upcoming posts

Flowers on a Roof

A couple of my recent posts have had a Flower theme – here’s another of a slightly different bent…

An old municipal building along one of the main arterial roads in Mossel Bay, a substation probably, has the distinction of being the only building I have come across which is adorned with lilac flowers at this time of year, changing it from an invisible utilitarian structure into one that drew my attention as I drove past and brought an immediate smile to my face

I hope it does the same for you ….

Sparrow shadow-boxing

While parked at a material shop, waiting for Gerda, I was entertained by a female Cape Sparrow who was “shadow-boxing” a supposed rival she saw in the chrome frame to the grille on my SUV

I have seen several birds doing something similar but usually when they see their reflection in a glass window or door or occasionally the car mirrors, I haven’t seen one doing it in the reflection of the chrome

Just shows there’s always an entertainment potential with birds…..

Here’s a short video I took with my iPhone