Trip report: Birding in the Strandveld

This report was kindly provided by Jill Wheater.

It was a cold, chilly morning as we left Hermanus heading towards Stanford. As the light began to grow, the mountains mirrored against the lagoon was a spectacular sight, a reflection of the power of nature. This set the tone for an awesome birding drive through parts of the Overberg. The day was crisp and clear, perfect for birding. Ably led by Riaan, 18 of us headed out in 6 cars, excited by the prospect of a day of birding and camaraderie ahead of us. We are so privileged to live in such majestic surroundings and be able to spend the day making new friends who share the same appreciation of nature.

The Uilenkraals estuary at sunrise (Graeme Hatley)
The route for the morning
Riaan leading the group (Graeme Hatley)

We travelled along the R43 with our first stop at the estuary bridge across the river Uilenkraals. We were greeted by three cheeky Pied Kingfishers on the wire and the river stretching out in front of us in the early morning crisp air. Sorry, Anton, we didn’t check for bowties, but they were busy chatting so probably females! Fishermen were trawling for shrimps for bait on the wet sand and the strong early morning sun’s rays shone sharply on one of the kingfishers on a dead tree in the riverbed. A photographer’s dream. We had already seen several Jackal Buzzards, Cape Cormorant, Reed and White Breasted Cormorants, Blacksmith Lapwings and Little Egrets.

We continued along the R43 towards Rietfontein and onto a dirt road towards Wolvengat and on our second stop walked down to a dam. Guided by Graeme, we listened for the call of the elusive African Rail. The land stretched out beyond the dam in patches of bright green with the blue water far in the distance. The reeds were alive with activity and allowed us to see a Giant Kingfisher, and plenty of Coots and Moorhens. Strangely, there were numerous Pied Starlings darting around the water’s edge.

Driving along dirt roads looking for birds was a new experience for some of us and the use of walkie talkies was very helpful. With Graeme and Johan guiding us we couldn’t lose concentration for a second! “Rock Kestrel on the left”, “Jackal Buzzard on the pole 50m ahead”, “Cape Weavers and Canaries flitting up and down”, “African Pipit between the rocks on the right”. Very sharp, experienced eyes to observe all those species, especially the birds on the ground in the bush. Thank you, guys, it was really helpful having someone to tell you to look left or right! Despite Graeme’s patience we still didn’t spot the Rock Kestrel; I think it flew every time we just reached the pole! Next time …

Female African Stonechat (Ally Ditchfield)
Grey-backed Cisticola (Ally Ditchfield)
An African Pipit shakes off after having a bath (Graeme Hatley)
Bokmakierie (Johan van der Westhuizen)

We continued along the dirt roads admiring the birds, the magnificent scenery and areas abundant in deep pink protea and thick fynbos. We were often treated to small groups of springbok, the energetic steenbok and a small group of grey rhebok. This was some birding trip! 

The sighting of the day had to be a Secretarybird and two Denham’s Bustards taking a stroll in the field next to us. With much excitement we all leapt out of our cars to see, what we realized, was a rare experience. A little further down the road we spotted two more Denham’s Bustards – male and female – and were lucky enough to have them in the binoculars for a while before they took flight, which was equally dramatic. Shortly after this two Blue Cranes flew overhead and we spotted two Black Headed Herons in the distance. It was definitely time for breakfast after such excitement.

Steenbok (Johan van der Westhuizen)
Cape Grassbird (Johan van der Westhuizen)
Capped Wheatear (Ally Ditchfield)
Southern Red Bishops and Common Waxbills (Ally Ditchfield)
Blue Cranes (Graeme Hatley)
Cape Longclaw (Ally Ditchfield)

We continued along the dirt roads stopping every now and then to determine whether we were looking at larks or pipits. Quite a challenge for the novices amongst us but with Graeme’s help we spotted the African Pipit and an Agulhas Long-Billed Lark. Listening to the call he managed to show us a Cape Longclaw, ultimate bird spotting.

We stopped in the Agulhas National Park and scanned the dam below for water birds; a Fish Eagle calling from a dead tree on the edge of the dam. Malachite sunbirds hopped around us and the view of the reserve, expansive and full of wildlife, was a call to return and discover this reserve more fully.

Female Malachite Sunbird (Johan van der Westhuizen)

Pristine homesteads in the lush green countryside, the iconic windmill peeping out from behind the trees, cattle and flocks of egrets and the dirt road stretching into forever, just made this the most perfect day. Slow, determined birding produced a total of 74 species including all of those in the article and the Cape Sugarbird, Karoo Prinia, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Kittlitz’s Plover, Black Crake, African Hoopoe, Southern Black Korhaan and a Bokmakierie, to mention a few more.

Many thanks to Riaan for creating this circular route and to the experienced birders for guiding on this journey of discovery.

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