BIRDING IN THE GREAT FISH RIVER NATURE RESERVE

The dry winter is not the best time to observe birds in the Great Fish River Nature Reserve – certainly not from within the confines of one’s vehicle over very rough roads which jolt one from side to side, along with having to be extra vigilant about avoiding being scratched by the Vachellia thorns on the branches that protrude well into the road in places. Birding is often an adventure waiting to happen.

This is the reed-lined entrance to the Kentucky Bird Hide overlooking the Khwalamanzi Dam.

Given the prolonged drought in the Eastern Cape, we should not have been surprised to be greeted by this:

In February 2015 the dam looked like this.

Then we saw a flock of Yellow-billed Ducks.

And a pair of Egyptian Geese were nesting on a mound in front of the bird hide.

At least there was a small herd of kudu to see this time!

A careful scrutiny of the surrounds and much patience revealed a Brown-hooded Kingfisher waiting to catch – who can tell what?

I later spotted another one at the picnic site adjacent to the Great Fish River.

On our way out, I saw a Cape Wagtail posing on a fence.

My bird list for this visit is as follows:

Bar-throated Apalis
Black-eyed Bulbul
Bokmakierie
Boubou
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
Cape Glossy Starling
Cape Robin
Cape Wagtail
Egyptian Goose
Emerald-spotted Wood-dove
Fiscal Shrike
Fork-tailed Drongo
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Ostrich
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Pied Wagtail
Speckled Mousebird

MOUNTAIN DRIVE

The road up Mountain Drive is narrow and rocky.

In places it is very rocky.

Yet, it so worth the trip for the magnificent views across town from the top!

There were butterflies aplenty skimming the top of the grass, chasing each other, or landing briefly on flowers, trees or even on the stones – where I photographed this orange beauty.

Other insects were burrowed into some of the flowers waving in the wind.

Several termite mounds show signs of repair – note the different coloured mud.

The Cussonia spicata (Cabbage) trees are in bloom, their greenish-yellow terminal double umbels of 8-12 spikes per unit dominant on the skyline.

Other interesting flowers are the bright red Burchellia bubaline (Wild pomegranate)

As well as the beautiful orange of Leonatis leonurus (Wild dagga / Lion’s tail)

 

EARTH DAY IN ADDO

What better place to celebrate Earth Day than to spend time away from a built-up environment: we chose to visit the nearby Addo Elephant National Park. Some visitors had close-up views of lions, spotted hyenas and even a black rhino. We didn’t draw that card, but observed a number of interesting things nonetheless.

It is the rutting season for kudu. Large herds of kudu does accompanied by one or two males appeared in several sections of the park we drove through, especially around Rooidam. Our attention was drawn to a loud hollow-sounding ‘thunking’ noise close to the road: two kudu bulls were sparring; kicking up dust as they locked horns and pushed each other this way and that.

What magnificent horns they sported. This is the victor of that encounter.

The heat drew herds of elephant to the bigger waterholes. We watched a group of four adults and two youngsters approach the small Marion Baree waterhole. They sprayed themselves with water on arrival.

They then moved to the mud hole next door, where the elephants scooped up balls of thick mud to throw over their backs.

By then the water in the concrete-lined dam had settled so a few drank before watching patiently as a youngster claimed the shallow dam for its own fun.

One has to watch out for dung beetles crossing the road at this time of the year.

Zebras with their painted faces did not disappoint.

Several came to quench their thirst at Domkrag.

A large flock of Pied Starlings came to join them.

A Karoo Scrub Robin came to investigate.

An inquisitive Egyptian Goose approached our vehicle at Hapoor.

Several Fork-tailed Drongos kept an eye on us at the Rest Camp water hole.

As did some Cape Glossy Starlings, looking magnificent in the late afternoon sunlight.

My bird list for the day:

Redwinged Starling
Barthroated Apalis
Fiscal Shrike
Speckled Mousebird
Southern Boubou
Common Moorhen
Redbilled Teal
Backsmith Plover
Redknobbed Coot
Spurwing Goose
Karoo Scrub Robin
Pied Crow
Common Ringed Plover
Egyptian Goose
South African Shelduck
Bokmakierie
Black Crow
Cape Sparrow
Greater Doublecollared Sunbird
Cape Turtle Dove
Cape Robin
Sombre Bulbul
Southern Black Korhaan
Helmeted Guineafowl
Crowned Plover
Pale Chanting Goshawk
Cape Wagtail
Grey heron
Forktailed Drongo
Cape Glossy Starling
Laughing Dove

TSITSIKAMMA NATIONAL PARK

If you are seeking a place in which to relax in a pleasant environment, the Tsitsikamma Section of the Garden Route National Park is a wonderful destination to consider. We recently spent four days camping at the Storms River Mouth and can attest to its natural beauty. The first hint of the spectacular scenery comes from the Paul Sauer Bridge over the Storms River on the N2. There is something magical about those deep, rocky gorges and the fynbos-stained water so far below.

I never tire of the distinctive smell of fynbos and seaweed as one drives down the road winding through the forest to reach the rest camp. Tsitsikamma is a Khoisan word meaning, “place of much water”. There is plenty of it too, from the booming breakers crashing over dark rocks to the little streams one crosses on the forest walk – and the Storms River. The waves and the verdant landscape of trees hugging the steep cliffs are endlessly photogenic – especially at sunrise and in the late afternoon.

There is a lot to do too, from swimming in the pool watched by Kelp Gulls and dassies (rock hyrax), bird watching, exploring the rock pools, and walking through the forest.

On previous visits we have walked the start of the Otter Trail as far as the waterfall (a 6km round trip) but on this visit – in the company of very young children – we confined ourselves to the 1 km Loerie Trail through the forest and a walk to the suspension bridge over the Storms River Mouth. It was from this vantage point that we saw a group of visitors kayaking in the sea.

The latter walk is very pleasant for one follows the boardwalk through coastal forest. Every now and then one gets spectacular views of the sea through the trees.

The suspension bridge crossing the Storms River Mouth leads to a pebble beach, which is a lovely place for a snack.

The Loerie Trail is a very pleasant way of experiencing the indigenous forest. There are steps to help one up the steep slopes.

Steps leading down.

One can appreciate the patterns on tree trunks;

The colours of the forest floor;

Get a feel of the ancient legacy of the trees;

A pair of African Dusky Flycatchers took little notice of us as they perched on the fence nearby to hawk their prey throughout our stay. We were fortunate to see a pair of African oystercatchers near the pool late one afternoon as well as Paradise Flycatchers flitting through the coastal bush next to our campsite.

MARTELLO TOWER

The purpose of our trip to Fort Beaufort was to see the Martello Tower, which formed part of the extensive British fortifications authorised for the Eastern Cape by the then Governor of the Cape, Sir Benjamin D’Urban. The tower was constructed by the Royal Engineers in about 1844 and was manned until 1869. It is unusual for a Martello Tower to be erected so far inland, as they were more commonly used for coastal defence.

Martello Tower

Dressed stone from local quarries as well as baked clay bricks were used for its construction. The base is 9,6 metres in diameter and the tower is 9,5 metres high. The stone walls are 1,9 metres thick. The garrison’s quarters were situated on the middle floor of the tower, with the magazine situated on the ground floor. There are four firing ports, each with a flue above it to carry away the smoke from the muzzle loaders that were in use at the time.

Martello Tower flue

There is also a fire place for warmth during the winter and all the smoke from this and the weapons comes out from a chimney vent at the top of the tower.

chimney opening

That is where the flat gun-roof is, with a Machicouli gallery for defending the entrance from above.

Machicouli gallery

The tower was originally equipped with a nine-pounder swivel gun that could traverse a 360 degree arc. A reproduction gun carriage is there to give visitors an idea of what the original looked like and a different gun is lying on the floor.

cannon

The Martello Tower was declared a national monument in 1938. It is disturbing to note that figs have got a firm hold on the walls – destruction of these is vital for the safeguarding of the masonry.

fig damage

While in Fort Beaufort, we looked at the historic Victoria Bridge over the Kat River.

It is the oldest triple-arch bridge in the country. The bridge was designed by Andrew Geddes Bain and Major C.J. Selwyn and was built by the Royal Engineers in 1844. Having visited it some years earlier, I was relieved to note that several large trees that had been growing out of the stone walls have been removed in the interim.

Victoria bridge

There is a forest of alien vegetation growing on the banks below it though!

Victoria Bridge