With the new year barely out of the starting blocks, it’s once again time to select the photos which best represent our travels and nature experiences during 2021, plus a few others that appeal to me for various reasons. Despite the ongoing restrictions brought upon all of us by Covid 19, we still managed to travel fairly extensively, although it was limited to the borders of South Africa.
I’m hoping you will find some of my favourite images to your liking – if you do, please take a moment to mention them in the comments at the end of the post.
It was a revelation to look back over the year’s images and realise that, in fact, we did manage to travel to many places across South Africa. Our longest road trips were those between the two places we call home – Pretoria and Mossel Bay – and the pendulum seems to have swung in favour of the latter town, where we spent slightly more time than in Pretoria for the first time. My bird atlasing activities were somewhat handicapped this past year by other factors – nevertheless I did get out on atlasing trips on a fairly regular basis, mostly in the vicinity of one of the two home bases
2021 stands out for me as the year we did not visit Kruger National Park – I can’t remember when this last happened! Visits to a couple of the smaller Parks partially made up for this but I’m afraid my selection of wildlife photos is poor by comparison to previous years
Reptiles are interesting creatures and I love it when the opportunity to photograph them at reasonably close quarters arises – here are a few examples – unfortunately I have not got around to positively identifying the first two yet
The Other Stuff
And the rest – photos that don’t fall into a category but have a certain character that appeals to me
A few weeks ago we visited a small Nature Reserve in the Free State Province, in search of a rare bird, but were forced to turn around due to the poor condition of the road inside the reserve after heavy rains, which were just not suitable for the standard sedan we were driving.
As we headed out of the reserve we could see heavy weather building up on the horizon and I stopped to take a couple of images with my I-phone – I was quite pleased with the contrast between sunlit grassland in the foreground and the dark build-up of weather in the background.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Patches of colourful wild flowers had established themselves everywhere, looking as if they had been planted by a landscape gardener
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
Even the unusual lichen on a dry bush was colourful enough to warrant closer inspection
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.
All in all a spectacular day among wild flowers and rugged coastal scenery.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Then we entered Postberg proper and found ourselves surrounded at times by multi-coloured flowers spreading across fields and hills – what a display!
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.
Continuing the story of our ‘Wild Flower Season’ trip to the West Coast town of Paternoster…..
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
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
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
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
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…..
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
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.