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

The Eyes Have it! (Part 1)


Cormorants are not generally regarded as birds that are high on the list of desirable birds to see – unless it’s a potential lifer of course. When you’ve been ‘into’ birding for a while the most that a cormorant is likely to elicit is a slightly off-hand “Oh, there’s another Reed Cormorant” or “Hey, have a look at that Little Grebe just to the right of that White-breasted Cormorant”.

But there’s more to cormorants than meets the eye – or eyes in this case …..

During one recent day trip, I found an opportunity to visit the area which we know as “The Vlei’s”, to the east of the small town of Wilderness, and spent a pleasant hour or so in the bird hide at Langvlei.

Boardwalk to the hide at Langvlei Wilderness

There were numerous waterbirds on the vlei, mostly Coots but also significant numbers of Grebes, more than I can recall seeing in any location before and including all three southern African species – Little Grebes, Great Crested Grebes and a few Black-necked Grebes. However, they were too distant for photography.

Also distant was a long line of dark birds on the water, as the image below shows, and once I had the scope in position, I could see that it consisted of a few hundred Reed Cormorants, again more than I can recall seeing in one location before. As I watched the line, a few of the foremost swimmers flew up out of the water and circled back to the rear of the “queue” where they settled down in line again. I can only assume they were performing some kind of feeding strategy.

Close to the hide a dead tree stump has been strategically placed and perched on it were two cormorants – the larger White-breasted Cormorant and the somewhat smaller Reed Cormorant.

White-breasted Cormorant above, Reed Cormorant below

The light was favourable, so I took a few shots then zoomed in on their heads and took a few more. And that’s where the magic came in! In contrast to their rather dull appearance and less than comely shape, the cormorants have some of the most stunning eye colours of the bird world.

White-breasted Cormorant (Witborsduiker) (E-bird : Great Cormorant)

Phalacrocorax lucidus

Starting with the brilliant green eyes of the largest cormorant in our region, commonly found in saltwater and freshwater habitats across southern Africa

Now this species is somewhat ungainly on land, but once in the water it will outswim Michael Phelps by a long way – that’s if you can get it to swim in a straight line and stay within its lane. And all it uses are its feet which have four toes connected by webbing, which it uses to propel itself most effectively through the water when chasing prey

It uses that hooked bill to secure small fish, which are eaten underwater, while bigger fish are brought to the surface to juggle into a head-first swallowing position.

Worldwide this species is often referred to as Great Cormorant and occurs across 6 continents – I have seen Great Cormorants in Australia, Canada, UK and Europe during our travels abroad

Reed Cormorant (Rietduiker) (E-bird : Long-tailed Cormorant)

Microcarbo africanus

The Reed Cormorant is substantially smaller than the previous species and has a similar distribution across our region, but unlike the White-breasted (Great) Cormorant it is restricted to the African continent, occurring in most of sub-Saharan Africa

And the eyes? Red instead of green, but just as striking!

Reed Cormorant, Langvlei Wilderness

A surprising fact (courtesy of Faansie Peacock’s wonderful birding app called Firefinch) is that the feathers of cormorants are less waterproof than those of other birds – the reason is that this makes them less buoyant and allows them to sink when hunting underwater. This also explains why they spend much of their time out of the water with wings spread to dry. It is also believed that they swallow stones for additional weight, much like scuba divers wearing lead weights on their belts.

Cape Cormorant (Trekduiker)

Phalacrocorax capensis

I wasn’t expecting to find a Cape Cormorant alongside the other two species at Langvlei, as they are generally known as an exclusively marine species, but this one clearly thought a day away from the rough seas would be to its liking

Cape Cormorant (Phalacrocorax capensis / Trekkormorant), Rondevlei Wilderness

Mossel Bay’s Point is a wonderful place to watch seabirds and Cape Cormorants are regular passers-by (or more appropriately flyers-by) flying low and fast over the ocean, singly or in pairs or in long skeins of up to a couple of dozen at a time.

This is usually late afternoon when we like to get a take-away coffee and sit and watch the sea and its inhabitants, which can be anything from humans surfing and snorkelling to seals, dolphins or whales (in season), while yachts and boats of various types and sizes make their way to and from the small harbour nearby.

I haven’t been able to establish where these passing Cape Cormorants roost, but it is probably one of the quieter stretches of beach further east towards Great Brak River and beyond.

Never mind, just look at those turquoise eyes!

Cape Cormorant (Phalacrocorax capensis / Trekkormorant), Rondevlei Wilderness

This marine species is distributed along the coastline of South Africa, Namibia and Angola

Spotted Eagle-Owls Aplenty

We relocated to Mossel Bay towards the end of last year – somewhat unexpectedly, although it was always part of our medium-term planning. So you can expect the emphasis of my blog to shift towards the Southern Cape and away from the northern parts of our country, where we have lived for some 50 years.

However the Southern Cape, and in particular Mossel Bay are very familiar to us, having spent ever-increasing periods in our house here over the last 12 years and is the perfect place to spend our retirement years.

Our home in Mossel Bay is situated in the Mossel Bay Golf Estate which has a variety of habitats and gardens which attract many species of birds and this brings me to the subject of this post – the Spotted Eagle-Owl, which “put its hand up” (figuratively) to become the focus of a post by popping up in a number of places around the Golf Estate over the past few weeks.

It also seemed like a good opportunity to get back to the essence of my blog, which after all is called “Mostly Birding” for a reason ……

Here are some images of Spotted Eagle-Owls taken over the last while around our home and on my walks in the estate and adjoining nature areas:

Spotted Eagle-Owl bubo africanus Gevlekte Ooruil

Neighbour Catherine, knowing my interest in all things birding, popped over in the middle of the day to say there was an Owl in her garden, so I went to have a look, taking my camera of course. There it was perched on the garden wall and I surmised it was a juvenile, based on the lack of the “ears” (not really ears but protuding tufts of feathers for camouflage, not for hearing) which are a feature of the adults

‘Goodness, but it’s tiring being awake all night – am I ever going to get used to this …’

Spotted Eagle-Owl Bubo africanus Gevlekte ooruil, Mossel Bay
Spotted Eagle-Owl Bubo africanus Gevlekte ooruil, Mossel Bay

‘Hmmm – suppose I should keep a watch out even though I’m still young’

Spotted Eagle-Owl Bubo africanus Gevlekte ooruil, Mossel Bay

A few days later I noticed another Owl, this time an adult, sitting on the window cill of the neighbour’s house in broad daylight. More than likely the parent of the above juvenile.

Spotted Eagle-Owl Bubo africanus Gevlekte ooruil, Mossel Bay Golf Estate

A week or so later again, neighbour Jan, phoned to say there was an owl in the trees in his back garden, between our two properties. I could not see it from our balcony which is a level higher than Jan’s house so I went downstairs to our garden and quickly spotted the owl on a branch partly concealed by foliage. I positioned myself as best I could without disturbing the owl and took a few shots against the strong backlight of the morning sun.

Spotted Eagle-Owl, Mossel Bay Golf Estate

My daily late afternoon walks take me all over the golf estate – my favourite walk being the one that takes in the nature area to the south and west of the estate as there is always something of interest.

One of my walks included an unusual encounter with an owl, which stood in the middle of the track as I approached and didn’t seem intent on flying away. I waited for a while to see what it would do, concerned that it was ill or injured, but after some 10-15 minutes I walked slowly past it as it moved to one side, eyeing me all the way but seemingly relaxed.

I kept a look out for this owl on my later walks as I was concerned about its health – I believe it was the same owl I spotted twice on the golf course itself, flying about without a problem so assumed it had recovered from any problem it may have had.

This species is well-known in the suburbs of our cities and towns and is often heard calling softly – wooo, hooo – and perched on roofs and streetlights from where it hunts insects, reptiles, rodents and the like.

Oh, and it’s good to have neighbours who keep you informed about birdlife in the garden ….

Friemersheim (Southern Cape) – Small Town is an Art Gallery!

South Africa is many things – a “World in One Country” is one description that is often used. A recent trip to the small town of Friemersheim reminded us just how rewarding it can be for those prepared to go off the beaten track and explore some of the so-called backwaters of our amazing, sometimes frustrating, never boring, country.

Where is Friemersheim?

This small town, described by some as a hamlet, lies a short distance inland of Great Brak River, itself a small town on the coast of the southern Cape

A Bit of History

I had travelled through this small town on a couple of occasions in recent years while bird atlasing in the area, but there was never a reason to stop or explore the town other than to find a few birds to add to the atlas list that I was occupied with at the time.

Wikipedia has the following to say about the history of the settlement :

A small agricultural community about 15 km from Groot-Brakrivier, Friemersheim was founded by a German missionary in the early nineteenth century. In 1869, through the efforts of Reverend Johann Kretzen of the Berliner Missionary Society, a school and church were built on the farm Gonnakraal, which Kretzen had bought for his sister.

After his sister’s death in 1872, he bequeathed the farm to the Dutch Reformed Missionary Society, and later it was renamed Friemersheim, after Kretzen’s town of birth in Germany. It remained in the ownership of the Dutch Reformed Church until the 1960s, when it was sold to the state

Art Gallery?

Friemersheim was firmly placed on the tourist map during lockdown, when South African artist Fourie Ackermann, who moved to the area in 2015, decided to liven things up with murals painted on the walls of local houses. And did he make a good job of it!

It is an ongoing project it seems, as new murals ‘pop up’ on houses throughout the spread-out town on a regular basis. Our drive through the village wasn’t done in a planned fashion – after driving most of the main street we turned off and meandered along some of the side streets, discovering murals along the way.

These are some that we found, but there are more hidden away in spots we didn’t get to, so there’s a reason to return ….

Parked Truck and a Rhino getting an apple from Young Girl

The murals are executed in some detail and many leave you momentarily wondering what is real and what is a result of the artist’s undoubtedly vivid imagination. Quirky comes to mind as you find one mural after another, all of which tend to raise a smile, even a loud chuckle – and that I’m sure is what Fourie Ackermann was aiming for.

At first glance of this one, the Rhino being fed an apple is obviously painted, but the GMC truck in the garage has you looking twice, then realising it’s also a mural. The two people in the garden are real by the way.


You feel as if you can climb in and drive away – but it’s actually a blank wall…


Bataleur and a Tannie (She’s real!)

The chatty, friendly owner of this house posed in front of the mural of a Bataleur Eagle at our request and told us a bit about the murals elsewhere in Friemersheim. Her mural was one of the first done by the artist and according to the Tannie (pronounced “tunnie” – the respectful Afrikaans term for Auntie) took the artist just two days to complete.

The addition of a balloon to many of the murals is just another quirky ‘signature’ by the artist

Murals, Friemersheim

Whales and a Boy in a boat

Some of the murals, such as this one, are completely unexpected after seeing mostly animals and birds depicted – this one depicts whales underwater reaching out to a boy in a boat


Girl at a Window, Shark….!

As with the previous images, this old home stands alone on a hill and would hardly be noticed if it wasn’t for the murals

Murals, Friemersheim

The same home, showing the side view with its depiction of a shark ‘popping out’ of the wall. Just look at how the wall is drawn back like a curtain to reveal the fearsome shark

Murals, Friemersheim
Murals, Friemersheim

Friendly Man waving, Goat in Window

Yet another small home on a hill with the door painted to look like a larger than life man waving to you. Oh, and he’s wearing a Springbok rugby jersey!


Beyond quirky is this depiction of a goat standing on a window ledge with curtains billowing and outsize butterflies fluttering


Cape Sugarbird on Protea


Another Friendly Man waving


Horse and Donkey with Cat, Pretty Window

Here again you need to look carefully – the garden and flowers are real and blend in wonderfully with the rather odd menagerie and the window that looks so real but is painted on a blank wall. And there’s one of those balloons again


Cheetahs and a (Real) Dog

When we stopped to view these cheetahs, we were wary of the fierce looking dog which leaped aggressively towards us – but was restrained by the chain to which it was tethered. We felt some pity towards the unfortunate dog in this situation, although this breed does not enjoy a good reputation.

Nevertheless, the Cheetahs were fascinating, especially the one climbing through the ‘hole in the wall’.


This town is a treat to see if you are ever in the area!

Spring Flowers Trip 2022 – West Coast National Park

This is the last of my series of posts on the Spring flowers trip we undertook in 2022

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,

Decision Time

Our trip had met all of our expectations and we felt more than satisfied with what we had seen and done during our trip so far. Day 7 of our trip was to take us from Paternoster to Cape Town and we debated whether or not to visit the West Coast National Park on the way there or to skip it this year, having ‘done’ it just a year ago.

Fortunately, as it turned out, we decided to head to the Langebaan gate of the Park after our last breakfast at Paternoster Dunes Guest House, and ‘play it by ear’ as to how much of the Park we would have time to explore, bearing in mind the distances involved in getting to the Postberg section of the park, which is only open during the flower season months, and the numbers of other flower viewers we were likely to encounter.

On the way to Langebaan a roadside Jackal Buzzard on a utility pole had me braking for a quick photo

Jackal Buzzard Buteo rufofuscus Rooiborsjakkalsvoël, Paternoster

Langebaan Gate to Postberg

After finding our way through the residential areas of Langebaan, we arrived at the gate into the Park where 12 cars were waiting to enter. The queue moved quickly and we were soon in the Park and making good progress to the T-junction where we turned right towards Postberg

West Coast NP

We like to stop at every interesting bush to have a closer look at its flowers – the following two images are an example of a bush appearing fairly nondescript, but once you get up close and personal the flowers are quite striking

West Coast NP
West Coast NP

And so our journey went, all the way to Postberg section, stopping frequently, hopping in and out of the car to get a closer look and a photo from the right angle.

A few others seemed to be doing the same, but the majority passed by with hardly a glance, eager to get to Postberg for the massed displays of flowers – to each his own, but we prefer to take in everything we see

Now if only I knew the names of some of these beauties – it took me a few years to build up a reasonable knowledge of birds, now it seems to be taking even longer to learn more about the flowers and I still feel like a raw beginner

West Coast NP
West Coast NP
West Coast NP
West Coast NP
West Coast NP
West Coast NP

Once into the Postberg section of the Park, we joined the many vehicles driving the gravel roads and admiring the incredible displays of multi-coloured flowers – irresistible for more photos!

West Coast NP
West Coast NP
Cape Spurfowl among flowers, West Coast NP
West Coast NP

At one point on the return journey to the gate, the sky was filled with Gulls, wheeling above the flower-bedecked flats – quite a sight to see!

West Coast NP
West Coast NP

Edible Flowers too!

And on a lighter note – did you know that some of the flowers in the park are edible? Well, I can confirm this is so, as you will see from the following photos of a cookieata sweetieae that we came across as we drove to Postberg – it is well known in the Biedouw Valley

Cookieata sweetieae, West Coast NP
Mmmmm, rather nice

And that, dear readers, is how the cookie crumbles

My Photo Pick for 2022

I have taken a bit of a sabbatical from blogging so far this year, so to get things going again I thought I should take a belated look back at 2022 …..

During 2022 my photo library increased by some 2000 images and for this retrospective (Yes! I’ve always wanted to use that word) I have limited my Photo Pick to the 40 images which appeal to me the most, often for different reasons – some are technically good (well, I think so anyway) others are reminders of a particular moment or place or special sighting – the very brief comments tell a bit of the story of each image. So to start with ….

The Places

One of the first places we visited in 2022 was the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley near Hermanus – the evening light was magical

Hemel en Aarde valley

I love the moodiness that overcast skies bring to a scene and this one had the benefit of a sunlit foreground and overcast background

Botlierskop road

The classic view of Table Mountain from Milnerton beach, a stone’s throw from where I was born

Milnerton beach

This unusual view of the southern Cape coast was taken from my seat in a plane on its way to land at George

Coastal views from plane

A double rainbow over Mossel Bay just begged to be photographed

Mossel Bay Point

Our drive to Weltevrede farm near Prince Albert was an absolute delight with views like this around every bend

Road to Weltevrede Farm, near Prince Albert

Evening tranquility at the dam on the farm Prior Grange near Springfontein, Free State

Prior Grange near Springfontein Free State

Our stay in Victoria, Australia provided widely contrasting experiences

Farmlands, Wurruk, Sale Victoria
Great Alpine Road, Mt Hotham

Atlasing in the southern Cape around Herbertsdale provided this beautiful early-morning scene along the winding road

Herbertsdale Area

Another moody scene, this time with fishermen providing the focal point

Mossel Bay Point

Paternoster beach was another excellent spot for sunset photography, with gulls adding that extra punch


The flowers in the Postberg section of the West Coast National Park were spectacular (a separate post on this still to come)

West Coast NP

Another view of the iconic mountain that I grew up with, this time from the waterfront at Cape Town

CT Waterfront

The Birds

I spend most of my photographic energies on capturing images of birds, not always successfully. These are some of the better ones

Namaqua Dove Oena capensis Namakwaduifie, (Juvenile) Kleinberg area

The photo of a Cape Longclaw shows why it was given that name

Cape Longclaw Macronyx capensis Oranjekeelkalkoentjie, Klein Brak

This is a photo by Estelle Smalberger who kindly allowed me to use her images. What a privilege it was for me to be the one to first find this species – never before recorded in southern Africa!

Laughing Gull (Estelle Smalberger)

Such elegant birds….

Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta Bontelsie, Strandfontein WWTW

Cape Weavers treated us to a show while building their nests in front of our patio

Cape Weaver, Mossel Bay Golf Estate
Spike-heeled Lark Chersomanes albofasciata Vlaktelewerik, (race alticola) Balmoral area

Some of the birds seen during our Australia visit

Grey Butcherbird Cracticus torquatus, Sale Victoria
Maned Duck Chenonetta jubata (Male), Bright Victoria
White-faced Heron Egretta novahollandiae, Sale Common NCR
Laughing Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae, Raymond Island Victoria

My favourite bird photo of the year! Just seeing this scarce bird is a treat, capturing an image in flight from one bush to the next is a bonus

Protea Canary Crithagra leucoptera Witvlerkkanarie, Herbertsdale Area
Yellow-billed Duck Anas undulata Geelbekeend, Rondevlei Cape Town
Bar-throated Apalis Apalis thoracica Bandkeelkleinjantjie 9race capensis), Herbertsdale south

Cormorants are not colourful birds, but those eyes….!

Reed Cormorant Microcarbo africanus Rietkormorant, Malachite hide Wilderness

Darter creating an arty pose

African Darter Anhinga rufa Slanghalsvoël, Malachite hide Wilderness

The Cape Batis likes to stay concealed so I was happy to capture this image as it flitted about in the depths of a bush

Cape Batis Batis capensis Kaapse bosbontrokkie (race capensis), Rondevlei Wilderness

Not as clear an image as I would have liked but the in flight action is just perfect

Rock Kestrel Falco rupicolus Kransvalk, Piekernierskloof Pass

Our favourite Cape Town destination is Kirstenbosch – always an opportunity for a few pleasing images

Cape White-eye Zosterops capensis Kaapse glasogie (race capensis), Kirstenbosch

The Other Stuff

We visited a butterfly sanctuary which was great for close ups of some of the beautiful specimens

Butterfly sanctuary, near Eight Bells Inn

Nice to watch the Zipline in operation at the Point in Mossel Bay – now if I was a tad younger…..

The little village of Friemersheim has been turned into a living Art Gallery (more in a future post)

Murals, Friemersheim

That sign conjures up all kinds of thoughts, doesn’t it?

Bronkhorstspruit Area

A view from the inside of the Singapore Airlines plane that took us to Australia via Singapore

Flight to Singapore

A tranquil scene on one of my atlasing trips

Leeukloof, Eight Bells Area

Cow in the flowers….behind barbed wire

Saronsberg Estate Tulbagh

People in the flowers on a sunny day

Biedouw Valley

I can’t imagine a life without photography .. or birding of course

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


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.


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.


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!

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