Category Archives: The World around Us

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 ….

A Day Trip to Tulbagh and a Coffee ‘Shop’ with a difference

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.

The vineyards at Grande Provence with the Drakenstein Mountains in the background

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 …

Canola fields outside Wellington, Western Cape

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

Roadside flowers near Wellington

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.

Church Street Tulbagh

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

The Coffee Shop
Tables set up in the field – now that’s social distancing!

Abandoned cottage in Franschhoek

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

Road Block

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 ……

Mossel Bay – The Point (Again)

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.

Mossel Bay – The Point

Mossel Bay, like most coastal towns, has many weather moods, from sunny and bright to overcast and stormy

These photos were taken during one of our regular visits to The Point at the western end of the bay, our favourite place for a take-away coffee which we enjoy while sitting in the car and soaking up the calm that the scene brings to us. It also happens to be a great spot for seabird watching, which is dependent on the prevailing winds, ocean currents and tides as to what may pass by, but that is a subject for another day…

These photos are straight from my iphone without any cropping or editing

Hermanus – Flowers on a Hill

Hermanus

And now for something different …. well, we all need a change sometimes.

In January this year, before the restrictions of lockdown descended on us in March, we travelled to Hermanus from Mossel Bay for a short break after the busy Christmas and New Year period, when Mossel Bay bulges at the seams. Hermanus lies about an hour and a half’s drive south east of Cape town – for us it was a bit further coming from Mossel Bay but still a comfortable half-day’s drive.

The town is famous for its whale-watching opportunities, particularly Southern Right whales, but also other whale species. The whales can be seen from the cliffs all along the coast from as early as June and usually depart in early December. It’s hard to believe that these magnificent creatures were once hunted in the nearby town of Betty’s Bay.

On our first day in Hermanus we explored the town, including a quick visit to a small complex of boutique type shops – on a whim we popped into a wine shop and ended up being persuaded by one Roetter Smit (a born salesman) to do a gin-tasting session under his personal guidance. Well, it was fascinating and Roetter had us tasting all kinds of interesting combinations, fortunately with just the tiniest sips so that we weren’t incapacitated for the rest of the day.

The Rotary Way

After a lunch at Lizettes restaurant – delicious Asian flavoured fish and chips – and a quick stop at Voelklip beach to refresh our memories of this lovely spot, we headed back through town until we found the turn-off signposted Rotary Way.

We remembered driving up the Rotary Way scenic drive during a previous visit to Hermanus, perhaps 20 years ago, and recalled, rather vaguely, the views of Hermanus from the top, so we decided to take a drive up this scenic route, which winds its way up the mountain overlooking the town.

Hermanus is in the Cape Floristic Region and thus has one of the highest plant diversity levels in the world. The principal vegetation type of this region is Fynbos, a mixture of evergreen shrub-like plants with small firm leaves (Info courtesy of Wikipedia)

Hermanus Rotary Way

We soon realised that the drive was a perfect opportunity to get acquainted with the beautiful, delicate, flowering fynbos shrubs that lined the road higher up and we stopped frequently, under Gerda’s guidance, for closer views and photos of some of the more distinctive species. Here is a selection of the photos that I took – for the time being the flowers will have to remain nameless as our reference books on Fynbos remained behind in Mossel Bay when we returned to Pretoria (well, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it}

And the view of Hermanus? We almost had to tear ourselves away from the flowers to see if the views down to the town were as good as we remembered – the verdict – definitely

Hermanus Rotary Way

Furry Caterpillars Congregating

I went for my usual walk this morning, accompanied by Saartjie (pronounced Sarkie) the Border Terrier that is almost like another grandchild when we visit Mossel Bay, being the darling of our daughter’s family and right across the road from our house in the golf estate where we are spending the lockdown period.

Saartjie loves a walk around the estate and insists on hugging the perimeter of the fairways which are mostly lined with dense bush – she has power in her little legs that defies belief, dragging me across open stretches to the closest bush, then sniffing and poking her nose into the bush as we walk.

On the way back, passing yet another bush, I spotted out of the corner of my eye a twig that seemed unnaturally hairy and on closer inspection saw it was covered in a layer of small hairy caterpillars – clearly some form of lepidoptera but I have not been able to put a name to it.

They have definitely not heard about the need for social distancing!

Fun in the Forest – Fungi, Frogs and Fangs

You would think that a walk in the forest, with the intent to do some casual birding, would be a safe, relaxing pursuit …. despite having grown up with fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood and the like where all kinds of monsters lurked among the trees. Well, that’s what I thought when we went on a day trip in January this year to the Woodville “Big Tree”, near Hoekwil in the southern Cape and I persuaded Gerda to walk the trail through the pristine forest that surrounds the Tree.

Alert readers (that’s all of you, I’m sure) may remember my story of the ghostly dove in this same forest -(https://mostlybirding.com/2018/02/06/into-the-wilderness-a-forest-a-big-tree-and-a-ghostly-dove/) – I was expecting a similar experience of secretive birds with soft calls, but as it turned out, the birds were scarce. And yet there were plenty of other interesting, even exciting things that had us stopping frequently along the trail ……

Fungi

The forest holds a remarkable variety of fungi of different shapes and colours, some of which I photographed – unfortunately I have no idea of their names as this is one part of nature that I have no expertise in at all (and I don’t own a field guide). Nevertheless I was fascinated by their variety

Here are two in one photo – the whitish ones shaped like funnels and the large flat brown one to the left of the photo.

Another photo of the whitish funnel shaped fungi, this time with my hand included to give an idea of size

Another example of a large disc shaped fungus – about the size of a large dinner plate

And lastly this delicate umbrella shaped fungus – it has the appearance of the mushrooms we eat, but this one could easily be of the poisonous variety. It was about the size of a large mug

Frogs

Well, frog singular, actually – it leapt into the undergrowth as we approached and I was just able to get a partly concealed photo as it did its best to remain hidden from view. I am hesitant to put a name to it (but we can call it Freddie the Frog if you like) as my frogs reference book is under lockdown in Pretoria while we are likewise under lockdown, but in Mossel Bay. However an App that I downloaded points to it being a Raucous Toad (Sclerophrys rangeri) based on colour, markings and distribution

(Possible) Raucous Toad

Fangs

The major excitement of the day was provided by none other than a dark green, almost black, snake that slithered across the track a few metres in front of us. It was a Boomslang – known to be docile rather than aggressive – but scary nonetheless. It was around 1,5m long and I was happy to grab a photo or two from what I felt was a safe position on the opposite side of the track to where it was weaving its way through the leafy green undergrowth. After a couple of heart-pumping minutes trying to follow its progress, it disappeared from view and we continued on our way along the forest path, now a tad more alert for any movement around us.

Feathered friends

Birds were scarce, other than in the vicinity of the Big Tree itself and, as expected in forest habitat, it was all about the calls – as we commenced the walk, there were some calls that I could not immediately identify, but I eventually decided it had to be Olive Bushshrikes, which have a variety of calls.

On the other hand, the shrill “Willie” calls of Sombre Greenbuls were more obvious, their calls following us all the way along the walk. Black-headed Oriole and Terrestial Brownbul each called once during our walk and the cry of a distant African Fish-Eagle confirmed its presence – probably at a dam beyond the forest perimeter. On the way out, at last, a Cape Batis hopping about in the branches actually showed itself, making our day in the forest just a little more pleasurable.

Flora

And for good measure (and the chance for one more alliterative heading) this flower caught my eye – I believe its name is Scadoxus puniceus, commonly known as the paintbrush lily

Which all goes to show that birding just has to be the best pastime – you never know what is around the next corner.

I hope that the current lockdown period finds you in a safe and comfortable place …….