Leaving Cape Town on a miserable, very rainy Sunday morning we headed out on a coast road which should have been a spectacular drive, but alas all we saw were clouds!
We stayed over at the Bontebok National Park near Swellendam in the Western Cape and even there it was raining so we really didn’t get to enjoy or explore the park. We simply parked the camper, sat huddled up inside eating supper early, drinking OBS (Sherry) and going to bed early. We woke early in the morning to leave and as we were driving out were met with snow on the Swellendam mountains. Not a whole lot but no wonder we were so cold!
We continued our drive back up the coast heading for Storms River in the Tsitsikamma National Park. Since our last stay here about 3 years ago, which I loved, I have always wanted to come back, so I was very excited to be visiting again. The weather continued to be miserable and we nearly got blown away when we got out the camper down by the beach. It was at this very windy moment that I spotted some Terns flying (trying to fly) overhead and after getting a few shots of them I could happily say they were Swift Terns and could finally tick them off my list properly. We had some lunch on the deck at the restaurant and were pestered by the Red-winged Starlings which were flying around trying to find any scraps left over. I love bird watching and learning about birds but I’m not a fan of holding birds and most definitely not a fan of birds flying around me especially when I’m eating!
As we came out the restaurant the rain had started pouring again. We jumped in the camper and went off to set up camp…which only involved deciding which way to park the camper so that we didn’t get blown over. We sat out the rain and waited for those heavy clouds to pass. They eventually did and we could get out to take some photos of the dramatic sea, cloud and sunset scene. I also went in search of some birds…Right in front of the camp sites there was a large flock of Kelp Gulls, who were then joined a White-breasted Cormorant. Further on I came across some super cute Dassies (Rock Hyrax) and in particular one family who was huddled together trying to stay out of the wind. Nearby there were also some more Black Oystercatchers.
The next morning I went in search of the Swift Terns, and boy did I find them. In fact, I found an entire flock of them roosting on the rocks down at the bottom of a small cliff. They were only visible right from the edge of the cliff and that’s why I missed them when we drove passed this area the day before. It was great to see so many together and I was able to get a really good look at them as they began their day by preening and taking some warm-up flights before heading out on their days activities.
I then went for a short, quick walk through the forest at Storms River. My goodness but there was bird activity everywhere. At times I couldn’t keep up, didn’t know where to look and I was hearing so many bird calls and songs. It was amazing and knew straight away I would need to come back yet again just for the birds. I saw an Ashy Flycatcher, Terrestrial Brownbuls, a Chorister Robin-Chat and what I would only later identify as a Knysna Woodpecker. I got a good look at it with my bino’s but the photos of the woodpecker were terrible and dark and needing serious editing to make the bird visible. But it was definitely a Knysna…a bird people have high on their wish lists.
We left the Tsitsikamma and were headed for a spot just north of East London. It was a long days driving and we were happy to be stopping for the day. We stayed at the Areena Riverside Resort, which looks like a fun family spot in busy holiday seasons but when we were there, there were only a handful of people. There were some more Ashy Flycatchers here which seemed very tame and relaxed as I got closer and closer to them. That night I thought I heard a Scops Owl calling? Again I had a moment of doubt, did I really just hear that? It’s not the area I would think a Scops would be as I only know and associate them with Kruger. But you do get them down there so perhaps it was, but I haven’t put it on my list. A Southern Black Flycatcher also showed itself and posed nicely. The next morning there were African Green Pigeons calling, and Black-headed Orioles and Cape White-eyes feeding on the coral trees around us.
We then left Areena and headed through the old Transkei to arrive back in Kwa-Zulu Natal. On the route through the Transkei we actually saw Vultures on a carcass. The drought is very evident in those areas, everything was so dry. I’m sure this was just an animal that had died of natural causes, which had then attracted the vultures. There wasn’t anywhere to stop so it was only a very quick drive-by look at them.
We spent the night at the Umtentweni Caravan Park on the South Coast. There wasn’t too much bird activity on the afternoon we arrived there besides the Egyptian Geese which kept following me (I’m really not a fan of Geese!). The following morning however there was lots of bird song and activity all around. There were male Village Weavers busily building their nests, a Purple Crested Turaco croaking away high in the trees and then some small birds flying back and forth across the park who also seemed to be nest building. Spring is in the air! On closer inspection and photo taking, I realised they were Mannikins. My initial thought was just Bronze Mannikins but when I looked at the photo something didn’t look right, it looked bigger than normal. Could it be a Magpie Mannikin? I checked in my books and found that they are uncommon, rare and near threatened in South Africa. Another conundrum for my list. Later on as I searched the net for pictures of Magpie Mannikins I came across an article about them which said there is actually a good population of them living in….yup, in Umtentweni itself, so that helped to confirm my thoughts fantastically! I also spotted a boldly coloured yellow and black bird which I had never seen before. I followed it as it flew off to another tree and got a great look at this Dark-backed Weaver, a really pretty bird I think. In the same area a Lesser Honeyguide also made an appearance, if brief, but it allowed a good look at him. I haven’t had such a clear look at this little bird before, so that was great.
We left the caravan park and headed up towards Umhlanga on the last official day of our cross-country road trip. We had to detour off the main road just north of Umtentweni to watch some whales that I had spotted jumping and performing out at sea. I’m guessing they were Humpbacked Whales, a mom and her calf maybe. They were far out but with bino’s you could see them so nicely, it was amazing to see those huge tails and fins come out the water and then slap down heavily.
We stopped in at Scottburgh caravan park for breakfast at the little cafe there. This is a new addition since way back when I was a kid and we used to go on holidays there. The cafe is right on the beach front and has amazing views, it was really great. I went exploring the rock pools, like we did when we were kids, but I could have easily spent a lot more time doing that again.
For the next few days we would be staying with my sister and her family in Umhlanga to celebrate my nieces 2nd birthday. The birding didn’t stop there though. As we arrived at the venue for Ruby’s birthday party we were greeted by the whistled call of a Brown-hooded Kingfisher which even got Ruby’s attention. I love that she is into birds! I sat outside one day watching a Spectacled Weaver coming and going from its nest, a perfectly designed and built structure with a long entrance tunnel.
And so comes the end of this series of posts about our 3 week road trip around South Africa!
51 new birds on my year list