We don’t like to let an opportunity pass us by and, with the severe travel limitations that the Covid pandemic has brought upon all of us over the past year or so, it was an easy decision to extend our recent essential trip from Mossel Bay to the Western Cape, to include a visit to the West Coast during the ‘flower season’
Our plan was to spend four nights in the Stellenbosch area, conclude the ‘business’ part of the trip, see some of the family and spend some time with our eldest granddaughter Megan who is at University there, then continue to the West Coast town of Paternoster for some flower season touring.
After looking at various options we chose to stay at Klein Welmoed Guest House which is located on a working farm that lies off the main road between Somerset West and Stellenbosch. This turned out to be a good choice as we had a large cottage which comfortably accommodated ourselves and granddaughter Megan (she was only too happy to ‘escape’ from the university hostel for a few days) and the surrounding farm area proved to be ideal for exploratory walks when the opportunity arose.
We had to check in by 2.30 pm so we left Mossel Bay earlier than usual and arrived at Klein Welmoed on time, after a drive that was made comfortable and relaxed by the light traffic and good weather, which allowed us to enjoy the picturesque route lined with farmlands and with a constant backdrop of mountains.
As soon as we were parked at the cottage and before unloading the luggage, I could not resist capturing some images of the beautiful view and the fields filled with arum lilies and other flowers.
The Walks – Flowers, Birds …. and a few sheep
A late afternoon walk took me to the large dam along a pathway that was sodden in places – Cape Canaries were calling non-stop and Red and Yellow Bishops worked their way through the reeds, while on the dam Coots, Little Grebes and Cape Shovelers were busy making the most of the last light.
As I scanned the reeds on the other side a Purple Heron momentarily popped up and Little Rush Warbler called, ending the day on a high birding note
After a filling breakfast, I set off for a lengthy walk with no set plan, just following paths that I came across. This initially took me past marshy areas with reeds, then skirted the orchards and vineyards that make up most of the farm.
There was plenty of birdlife in the reeds including a Karoo Prinia flitting in and out of the reeds, pausing to look at me for an instant, and Levaillant’s Cisticola calling and popping out briefly, but not long enough to snatch a photo – these birds require a quick draw!
A Pied Crow in flight caught my eye and as it was not too high I attempted an in flight shot which turned out OK
I was pleasantly surprised to find rafts of white and yellow flowers next to the pathways and between the lines of trees in the orchards – this augured well for the ‘real’ flower spots we would be visiting later in the week.
The orchards attracted a different set of birds including Cape White-eyes (pictured below), Fiscal Flycatcher and Fork-tailed Drongo
And the sheep ….. returning from my first late afternoon walk I noticed that one ewe had given birth to a lamb, which was still showing signs of the birth and I watched for a few minutes as the ewe prompted it to stand up on very wobbly legs. Just a day or so later the tiny lambs were eagerly following mommy
We are just back from a week-long trip to the Western Cape where we spent time in Stellenbosch with our granddaughter who is at university there, as well as three days in Paternoster on the West Coast exploring some of the Spring Wild Flower spots in the area
This is just a foretaste of the memorable time we had admiring the spectacle of millions of wild flowers that erupt at this time of year – those in the know are saying this is one of the best flower seasons in many a year.
We did not expect to find many wild flowers in Stellenbosch but the guest farm we stayed on gave us a taste of what was to come
Our stay in Paternoster was a delight as we were right on the beach
The Postberg section of the West Coast National Park opens for two months over August and September and we spent an enthralling afternoon exploring it
The next day we drove through the Cape Columbine nature reserve to Tietiesbaai enjoying the rugged scenery softened by a multitude of flowers
There’s more to come on each of the four spots highlighted here…..
Our road trip to the Eastern Cape in March this year included a 3 night stay in Mountain Zebra National Park near Cradock, only our second stay in this “off the beaten track” National Park, but enough to cement it as one of our ‘new favourite’ parks to visit. What it lacks in Big Five game, other than some introduced lions which are not easily seen and a small herd of Cape Buffalo, it makes up with other animals not generally seen elsewhere including the Zebra after which the park is named and interesting antelope species.
On the birding front, the park is known for its drier habitat species and I was looking forward to doing some atlasing and adding to my year list without much expectation for anything unusual – but as all birders know – ‘always expect the unexpected’ and a bird that had eluded me for many a year was about to become the highlight of our visit ….
What also sets this park apart is the ambience – peaceful yet wild with panoramic views once you reach the plateau, which is at an altitude of about 1400 m, a couple of hundred metres above the main camp. The camp has around 25 comfortable chalets with patios which overlook the plains and distant hills, an ideal spot for some ‘stoepsitter’ birding.
We left Addo mid-morning, initially heading east towards Paterson and joining the N10 National Road heading northwards to Cradock, where we stopped at a coffee shop for a light lunch, then drove the last 12 km to the Mountain Zebra National Park gate. The main camp (pictured in the heading image) is another 12 km along a rather corrugated gravel road which thankfully changed to tarmac for the last stretch.
The reception was efficient and friendly and we soon found our chalet No 20 almost at the top of the gently sloping road that runs through the camp and got ourselves settled in.
After a brisk walk, the air was suddenly chilly with the sun setting behind the surrounding hills, so I donned a jacket and headed to the stoep for a bit of late afternoon birding. The stoep furniture did not match the rest of the chalet in terms of comfort – in fact I’ll go so far as to say the chairs are possibly the heaviest, most uncomfortable ones I have ever come across. However I didn’t let this small detail bother me and carried one of the living room cushioned chairs outside for that all important sundowner time.
The view made up in no uncertain terms for the furniture and with beverage in hand I scanned the surroundings, soon finding a few species typical of the more arid landscape
Next morning was very relaxed – being Sunday we were up late-ish and most of our morning was spent on the stoep. Apart from the species already shown, other prominent species were Familiar Chat, Red-eyed Bulbul, Red-winged Starling, Acacia Pied Barbet, Bokmakierie and several others.
Striped Mice crept cautiously out of the low bushes to grab a morsel in front of the stoep, scurrying back to safety at the slightest movement. Using very slow hand/camera movements I was able to get a few shots of these cute creatures. They are also known as four-striped mice based on the four characteristic black longitudinal stripes down their back.
Another striped creature, this time a lizard, put in an appearance alongside the mice, each not taking much notice of the other, probably after small insects that wouldn’t necessarily be on the mice’s menu. With its distinctive stripes, I thought this would be an easy species to identify but the Reptile book I have groups lizards into a few main groups without providing photos of each regional one so I was only able to narrow it down to what I thought was a Mountain Lizard
After lunch we set off on a drive on the Rooiplaat Loop, the most popular circular drive and about 25 km out and back. Before ascending to the plateau we spent some time at the picnic spot near the main camp (also mentioned in my earlier post on the Honeythorn Tree) where a few birds were active, including a lone African Hoopoe – such a handsome bird and always a treat to see, even though they are quite common.
A short way further on we came across a group of Vervet Monkeys including a mother and youngster who posed like pros in the lovely shaded light – I am always drawn to their eyes which look so bright and intelligent.
A short climb up the tar road took us to the plateau where the grassland stretched to the horizon, with pockets of game visible in the distance – the return leg took us closer to some of them so I used the opportunity to get some pleasing images, particularly of the Mountain Zebra foal with its parent.
The birds were not plentiful but several of those we came across were species not regularly seen outside of this particular habitat – three species of Lark on the ground (Eastern Long-billed, Spike-heeled and Red-capped Larks), Scaly-feathered Finch and Neddicky in the few trees and a glimpse of Grey-winged Francolin just showing in the long grass.
This handsome Jackal Buzzard was no doubt on the lookout for prey –
Larks are a favourite of mine – not the most striking of birds, in fact just the opposite, but that is their attraction and finding them in grassland habitat feels like a real accomplishment, often followed by some serious research to confirm the ID.
We had completed the full circuit of Rooiplaats Loop and started descending the road which winds down from the plateau when I heard a call which caused me to brake sharply – it went like this
Gerda said “what is it, why did you stop so suddenly” – my reply, in an elevated state of excitement, was something like “oh boy, this is a bird I’ve been trying to find for a looooong time”
We were into perfect habitat for what I thought it was – rocky hillsides with large boulders – and after a quick scan I found it on one of the boulders – African Rock Pipit!
The Pipit. a lifer for me, was perched on the boulder and emitting its distinctive, repetitive call every few seconds and I was doubly pleased to be able to get a few decent photos of it in action
To celebrate we went to the park’s restaurant for dinner that evening and, unsure what to expect, were very pleasantly surprised to find brisk service, good food and friendly personnel to round off an outstanding day.
When we spend time in Mossel Bay, such as the during the last two months, we like nothing more than to explore the area around this part of the Southern Cape, driving the main and country roads and taking in the scenery and sights. Nowadays we tend to pack a picnic lunch or tea, which just feels safer, even though we have both had our vaccine shots, but a venue with outside seating and that is not too crowded is always an alternative that we consider.
At this time of year many of the Protea and fynbos species come into flower and from past experience we know that there are many places to view them within an easy driving distance from our home, one being the Robinson Pass on the R328 route that connects Mossel Bay with Oudtshoorn, twisting its way through the Outeniqua Mountains and rising to 860 metres before dropping away again.
Before getting into the pass proper, the road passes Eight Bells Mountain Inn, one of our favourite spots for lunch or tea (or even both) so this was where we headed to get our trip off to a good start, pulling into the small parking area after a 40 minute drive and stopping under the massive tree that was mostly bare but showing signs of the approaching Spring.
We had left home in light rain, but by the time we got to our lunch stop it had cleared with just enough cloud cover to make the light good for photography. After a tasty lunch (their ostrich burgers are recommended) we ventured further up the pass and were soon into the zone where the Proteas were flowering. Gerda’s photos give an idea of what the roadside looks like at this time of year –
I drove as slowly as possible, keeping an eye on the rear view mirror for approaching vehicles, as the road is narrow with few chances to overtake, pulling off wherever I could safely do so to allow faster vehicles to pass and to give us a chance to have a closer look at the multitude of flowers. That proved to be the right strategy as we noticed some hidden, small flowers among the much bolder Proteas.
Now my botanical knowledge is not on a par with my birding knowledge but I spent a while paging through our books on Proteas and Fynbos and have hopefully identified them correctly…..
Continuing up the pass, we soon reached the top at 860 metres and some way down the other side there was a safe place to pull off and turn around for the return journey. Gerda had spotted a prominent pink Protea on the way down which we soon found – there was enough of a margin to pull off and take a few shots.
Other Proteas caught our eye further on
And those that shall remain unnamed (only because I could not find them in the reference books)
The view down the pass and across the valleys and distant mountains was worth a stop on the way back
Just to round off the day we returned to Eight Bells in time for afternoon tea and their superb apple pie with ice cream – I mean, why just do it if you can over-do it!
During our visit to Franschhoek a week ago, we spent a very pleasant afternoon on a trip to Tulbagh, about 100 kms drive from Franschhoek, via the towns of Wellington and Paarl. It was a beautiful sunny day and the country scenery in this part of the Western Cape is particularly pleasing, with winter crops of canola and lucerne stretching to the horizon.
It was close to lunchtime and being peckish we stopped at the Grande Provence wine farm and had a light meal in their informal deli restaurant which set us up nicely for the day out.
On the road again, we soon passed through the outskirts of Paarl and Wellington, after which the landscape changed from vineyards to fields brimming with winter crops.
The canola fields are a real drawcard for photographers of all kinds and, like many, I find it hard to resist trying to get that ‘special’ shot but usually end up with the ‘standard’ landscape view of bright yellow canola fields with some contrasting mountains and sky/clouds in the background – still worth sharing I think …
At the spot where this photo was taken, there were also signs of the first Spring flowers at the roadside. It won’t be long before the countryside in parts of the Western and Northern Cape erupt with flowers
We had not visited Tulbagh for perhaps 25 years, so weren’t sure what to expect, but after driving down the main road, which looks like most other small town main roads, we were absolutely taken with the beauty of the architecture along Church street just a block away. I don’t know of any town in SA which has so many outstanding examples of Cape Dutch architecture in one street. We spent a pleasant half hour or more admiring the houses, some of which are now museums and art galleries, as we drove slowly down the road.
And the coffee ‘shop’ with a difference? Well on the way back, passing Hermon, we spotted a large sign announcing COFFEE and pulled off into a small parking area cut into a lucerne field where, lo and behold, an enterprising farmer had created the most unique coffee spot you could imagine
A couple of my recent longer posts have highlighted what I like to call “Stoepsitter birding” – which is the relaxed kind conducted mostly from a comfortable seat, preferably accompanied by suitable snacks and beverages to make sure the energy and spirit remains at a high level. Both were in favourite locations, one in Satara Camp in Kruger National Park, the other at Verlorenkloof Resort not far from Macahadodorp in Mpumulanga Province.
Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape has the honour of completing a trio of outstanding locations and places where Stoepsitter birding comes into its own.
The criteria are simple – suitable habitat to attract a variety of birdlife, a comfortable spot from which to observe the comings and goings of the birdlife, without disturbing them too much and the time and patience to devote yourself to this activity. It also helps if the birdlife and small wildlife is habituated to humans and happy to share their world with us, which for the most part is certainly the case in Addo.
Addo Elephant National Park
Our road trip in March this year included a three night stay in Addo, in a comfortable chalet with a view over a part of the Main Camp and a raised deck where we could spend a large part of the day (depicted in the heading image), while reserving the afternoons to venture out on game/birding drives.
The variety of birdlife that came to visit was exceptional, many of them drawn by the surrounding trees and shrubs which held a cornucopia of edible avian delights – nectar filled flowers, berries, small insects and suchlike.
Weavers were the most prominent and numerous birds that visited, represented by no less than three different species, all belonging to the Ploceus genus. Weavers can be difficult to ID in their winter non-breeding plumage, but there are still enough clues to narrow the identification down when faced with similar looking yellow birds.
Village Weaver (Bontrugwewer / Ploceus cucullatus)
The Village Weavers outnumbered the other two weaver species and were frequent visitors to the flowering trees right in front of our chalet. My limited botanical knowledge would make this a type of Coral Tree (Erythrina genus) with its bright scarlet flowers but I’m open to correction….. which I have received (see comments below) and I now know this is in fact a Weeping boer-bean (Schotia brachypetala / Huilboerboon) so called, apparently, due to the copious amounts of nectar during flowering which overflow and ‘weep’
In breeding plumage the Village Weaver is fairly easy to distinguish from other masked Weavers, but this male was in eclipse plumage, the “in-between” stage when they are in the process of transitioning to their duller non-breeding plumage. The red eye and spotted-backed appearance confirmed the ID
Cape Weaver (Kaapse wewer / Ploceus capensis)
In non-breeding plumage the Cape Weaver male is still fairly easy to identify with its white eye colour and heavy bill, although lacking the chestnut brown wash over the face and neck which it shows during the summer breeding months. This is also the largest of the yellow weavers, by length and mass, but size is not always a dependable way to ID a bird unless the other candidate is sitting right next to it.
The female is less distinctive with brown eyes but the heavy bill helps to separate it from other non-breeding female weavers.
Spectacled Weaver (Brilwewer / Ploceus ocularis)
The Spectacled Weavers are easily distinguishable with their black ‘spectacles’ and black bill, while the black bib says this is a male.
Two species of Sunbird were drawn to the nectar produced by the flowering trees, very different in appearance but equally striking as they went about the business of extracting the nectar with long down-curved bills and even longer tongues to probe the flowers.
There were several other species that visited the chalet surrounds, not all of which chose to pose for a photo, but those that did seemed quite happy to be ‘in the picture’. Here are the species that spend most time in the trees and shrubs –
This member of the Canary family (The Afrikaans name confirms it) is a great singer and fond of sitting in an exposed position, so is hard to miss, but can be confused with the similar looking White-throated Canary
Franschhoek, a small town some 90 minutes from Cape Town, is well known as the historical home of the French Huguenots, who settled in the area and turned it into a little piece of France.
We have been spending the last few days here at one of the many guest farms, surrounded by bare, gnarly vineyards in their mid-winter form and venturing out to explore the beautiful valley which lies between towering mountains.
There are stunning landscapes around every corner and some of the best preserved Cape Dutch architecture in the Western Cape, but what really caught my eye was this abandoned cottage, with the remnants of a small garden still visible, just a stone’s throw away from the impressive Huguenot Monument
Abandoned buildings, especially such as this, always set my mind to wondering about the people who lived there and called it home, perhaps several different families over many decades, far removed from the elegant homes that are a feature of modern day Franschhoek
After the recent cold and rainy weather in the Mossel Bay area, I was glad when the weather brightened this past week, allowing me the opportunity to get out for some bird atlasing. I headed west of Mossel Bay to an area I had targeted over the weekend and found myself on a gravel country road, quiet and with no other traffic, so I wasn’t expecting to encounter a road block ……
I don’t mind admitting it left me feeling a bit sheepish ……
On one of our recent outings to The Point, just 10 minutes away from our Mossel Bay home, we spotted a rainbow forming over the sea in the distance.
I snapped a shot while driving (very slowly) and hastened to find a spot to capture the rainbow before it disappeared. It did not have the full bow of a ‘proper’ rainbow but formed an almost vertical column disappearing into the low clouds hanging over the sea – quite unusual.
Once satisfied with the images I noticed a number of surfers in the sea – not unusual as this is a favourite surf spot, but the light was so perfect for photography that I could not resist trying my hand at some “surf’s up” images.
Further on we found a parking spot to enjoy our tea and watch the passing birds – the Cape Cormorants are regulars at the Point and once again the light was still good enough to capture a couple in flight, on their way to their roost somewhere further up the coast.
When we returned to our Mossel Bay home recently we were thrilled to find the Cape Weavers (Ploceus capensis/ Kaapse wewer) hard at work building nests right outside our upper floor living area. They provide endless entertainment with their constant activity, never stopping from dawn to dusk.
The post has been updated to include an image of the chicks being fed – they are growing fast