Thursday 9 January 2020

Down at the Cape

Back in December 2019, I went to South Africa for a family holiday with my wife, our lad and daughter-in-law. We had a loose itinerary, spending a few days in Cape Town before heading north to a game reserve at Aquila, and then driving on to Knysna which is on the south coast for a few days, then west to Hermannus for another couple of nights before driving back to Cape Town airport and coming home - a glorious two weeks holiday! I'm not going to bore you with a load of bird listings, as this wasn't a 'birding' holiday, but thought I might share some of the more notable sightings we had along the way.
We started our holiday with a trip up to Table Mountain (which is fantastic!) Birds of note here were Red-winged Starling, White-necked Raven and lots of Speckled Pigeons - and of course - the good old House Sparrow!

Red-winged Starling

Speckled Pigeon

Stopping off at Camps Bay as we returned to our hotel, African Oystercatcher and Hartlaub's Gull were to be found in the bay.

Hartlaub's Gull

African Oystercatcher

We visited Cape Town Botanical Gardens (we do love to go to botanical gardens wherever we are!!)
and despite the rain, added quite a few birds including Cape Wagtail, Cape Whiteye, Cape Turtle Dove and Southern Double-collared Sunbird (anything that started with 'Cape' was a lifer for me - and there are quite a few!)  The lad and his wife had gone off in a different direction from us but called us to say they had found an owl roosting. They walked back to meet us and took us to see it - how he found it, i really don't know, but from then on I called him Hawk-eyes! 

Cape Wagtail

Cape Spurfowl

 Olive Thrush

Cape Whiteye

Cape Turtle Dove

Cape Canary

Cape Robin-chat

Spotted Eagle Owl (definitely 'bird of the day')

Can't go to Cape Town without visiting Boulders Beach.......

African Penguin

African Penguin

Kelp Gull with nesting material

Rock Hyrax (Dassie) sunning itself on the boardwalk at Boulders Beach

......and of course, we really had to go down to Cape Point and The Cape of Good Hope!! This is an amazing reserve, and the birds of note here were Ostrich, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape Widowbird (Yellow Bishop) and Malachite Sunbird

Male Ostrich

Female Ostrich

Fiscal Flycatcher

Malachite Sunbird

Cape Grassbird

We did manage to squeeze in a 'proper' birding day so we decided to visit the Strandfontein Sewage Works which proved to be very productive. This is more of a wetland now with just a small area given over to the sewage works. Lots of water birds were seen, and in good numbers; theses included Greater Flamingo, Cape Shoveler, Hottentot Teal (great name!!), Maccoa Duck, Red-billed Teal and Cape Teal and there was a tip not far away with lots of Kelp Gull swirling around with White Stork - both in massive numbers and an impressive sight to see!  We also saw Yellow-billed Duck, White-faced Whistling Duck, Cattle Egret looking lovely in their breeding plumage, Red-knobbed Coot and a couple of raptors - African Marsh Harrier and Yellow-billed Kite. I got talking to a local birder who was keen to share with me an African Jacana (which is not a common bird for this site) and helped me to find the Hottentot; whilst looking at these ducks a wader flew across my vision which I followed, only to see it land on the water. My first thought was a Phalarope-species and I said as much to the local lad who got extremely excited, and, as the bird alighted from the water, he managed to view it. Luckily, the bird flew towards us, circled and came back down onto the lagoon, and, sure enough, it was a Red-necked Phalarope, which is a real rarity for the area. The local birder very quickly put the news out and was extremely happy, and a 'twitch' ensued!  All in all, a great day!
Here are just a few images of the thousands of birds we saw at this site

 African Jacana

Black-headed Heron with his lunch

Blacksmiths Plover

Black-winged Stilt

 African Pipit

Cape Shoveler

Cape Teal

Cattle Egret

Cape Weaver

Greater Flamingo

Just a few of the Hartlaub's Gulls

 Hadeba Ibis

Red-billed Teal

 White-faced Whistling Duck

Black-necked Grebe

 Hottentot Teal

We left Cape Town after a very enjoyable few days, and drove north to Aquila Game Reserve for a two night stay. This is a really nice private reserve covering 18,500 acres. We had a few game drives and below are some images of some of the wildlife we were lucky enough to see - but surprisingly, we didn't see that many birds! - The birds of note on the reserve were African Spoonbill, African Shelduck, Mountain Wheatear and Ringed Plover with other birds around the accommodation and restaurant area including Familiar Chat, Rock Martin, Karoo Scrub-robin, Cape Siskin, Southern Red Bishop and Southern Grey-headed Sparrow

 Eland Gazelle

Black-backed Jackal

African Elephants


 Giraffe - trying to hide!?

Hippos leaving the pool at dusk for their nightly forage

 The dominant male

 One of Africa's few remaining Rhino's

 Rock Hopper


 Zebra (a.k.a Donkey in pyjamas!)

Zebras having a dispute

African Reed Warbler

 Cape Bulbul

Southern Red Bishop 

Cape Sparrow

 Southern Grey-headed Sparrow

 Cape Siskin

Mountain Wheatear

 Southern Masked Weaver

Chacma Baboon searching the bins as we left the refreshment station on the reserve

Large male Chacma Baboon

On leaving Aquila, we continued south to the coastal town of Knysna for a few more days. The accommodation gardens were the most fruitful, bird-wise. Amethyst Sunbird, Fork-tailed Drongo, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Streaky-headed Seedeater and Common Waxbill were just some of the birds to be seen. We went across to Knysna Headlnds where, despite heavy rain, we still managed to see Bar-throated Apalis, Southern Boubou and African Dusky Flycatcher, along with a pair of nesting Peregrine

African Dusky Flycatcher

Amethyst Sunbird

Bar-throated Apalis

Fork-tailed Drongo

 Southern Boubou

 Southern Double-collared Sunbird

Brown Hooded Kingfisher (in the rain)

The final leg of our journey was west to Hermannus. The local birder we met at the sewage works had told us to look out for Blue Cranes in the stubble fields on the road to Hermannus, and also gave us site for the elusive Rockjumper on the road from Hermannus to Cape town. We passed many miles of stubble fields and thought we were going to miss out - but finally - Blue Cranes!

Blue Crane

We were only at Hermannus for two nights,and we had one day booked for cage diving for sharks so not much time was left for any birdwatching, but we did find a small reserve very close to where we were staying called Fernkloof Reserve which turned up Cape Sugarbird (at last!) along with Helmeted Guineafowl, African Paradise Flycatcher and Sombre Greenbul. The shark dive was a great experience, and although we didn't see any Great White (they hadn't been seen for a couple of weeks), we did have amazing encounters of 'Bronzies' (Copperhead Sharks) which were about 3 metres long. Very exciting to see them so up-close and personal! 

 Male Cape Sugarbird

 Female Cape Sugarbird

On our final day, we set off early and took the coast road back to Cape Town (approx 75 miles), calling in at Rooiells en-route, hoping to see the Rockjumper, as this is a well known site for this species. Despite spending a good three hours looking for it, it wasn't to be - but we did manage a few more new birds, which ended our holiday on a high; Ground Woodpecker, Cape Rock Thrush, Cape Bunting and brilliant views of Orange-breasted Sunbird

Cape Rock Thrush

 Cape Bunting

 Orange-breasted Sunbird

132 species were seen, with almost 80 new birds for me - not bad for a non-birding holiday! 
South Africa is a great holiday destination, with fantastic friendly people wherever we went. 
I haven't finished downloading all of my images yet (I did take quite a few!!) so I will be posting anything I think you might like to see.

As always, thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed the images of the birds (and animals) of South Africa.