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

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

Spring Flowers – and Some Birding : Klein Welmoed, Stellenbosch

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.

Getting there

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 view from Klein Welmoed
Pastures filled with 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

The dam at Klein Welmoed
Southern Red Bishop  Euplectes orix  Rooivink
Yellow Bishop  Euplectes capensis  Kaapse flap

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.

View of Klein Welmoed from the pastures

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!

Karoo Prinia  Prinia maculosa  Karoolangstertjie

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

Pied Crow  Corvus albus  Witborskraai

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.

Rafts of flowers in places
Blacksmith Lapwing  Vanellus armatus  Bontkiewiet

The orchards attracted a different set of birds including Cape White-eyes (pictured below), Fiscal Flycatcher and Fork-tailed Drongo

Flowers between the rows of trees in the orchards
Cape White-eye  Zosterops capensis  Kaapse glasogie

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

Dorper sheep (a South African breed developed by crossing Dorset Horn and Blackhead Persian sheep)

Spring Flowers on the West Coast

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

Klein Welmoed Farm Stellenbosch

Our stay in Paternoster was a delight as we were right on the beach

Bek Bay Paternoster

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…..

Mountains, Zebras and a Pipit on the Rocks!

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.

Stoep chairs designed to keep you away from them !

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

View from the stoep, Mountain Zebra NP
Red-headed Finch (Amadina erythrocephala / Rooikopvink) (male race erythrocephala), Mountain Zebra NP
White-browed Sparrow-Weaver (Plocepasser mahali / Koringvoël), Mountain Zebra NP

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.

Striped Mouse (Rhabdomys pumilio), Mountain Zebra NP

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

Lizard – unsure of species but possibly a type of 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.

African Hoopoe (Upupa africana / Hoephoep), Mountain Zebra NP

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.

Vervet Monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus / Blouaap), Mountain Zebra NP
Vervet Monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus / Blouaap), Mountain Zebra NP

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 plateau, Mountain Zebra NP
Bontebok, Mountain Zebra NP
Springbok, Mountain Zebra NP
Mountan Zebra, Mountain Zebra NP
Mountan Zebra, Mountain Zebra NP

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 –

Jackal Buzzard (Buteo rufofuscus / Rooiborsjakkalsvoël), Mountain Zebra NP

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.

Eastern Long-billed Lark (Certhilauda semitorquata / Grasveldlangbeklewerik) (race algida), Mountain Zebra NP

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!

Rock Pipit habitat, Mountain Zebra NP

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

African Rock Pipit (Anthus crenatus / Klipkoester), Mountain Zebra NP
African Rock Pipit (Anthus crenatus / Klipkoester), Mountain Zebra NP

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.