Trip report: van der Stel Pass

A small group met in rainy conditions, which had already put off some of the potential participants, ready for a morning of birding. Nonetheless, our guide for the day, Johan van der Westhuizen, was bullish that conditions would be better where we were heading and we were keen to head out.

Hawston Sewage Works

Our first stop was the vlei outside the Hawston Sewage work. Cape Shovelers, Yellow-billed Ducks and gulls were present in good numbers. An unidentified duck presented a challenge as it hid its head away. With a dark rufous body hidden in the low reeds was it a Southern Pochard? The mystery was solved as it lifted its head, in unison with the rest of its party, to present its white face. White-faced Whistling Ducks hiding in plain sight! African Swamphen and Black Crake called from cover. Lesser Swamp Warblers sang and flittered about low over the water along the reed edges.

Meer-en-See and Karwyderskraal

The next stop was to the Bot River near the Meer-en-See site. With the recent opening of the lagoon mouth, there were large areas on muddy shoreline. Large numbers of Kittlitz’s Plovers scurried across the newly accessible areas. Flamingos were taking advantage of the shallower water with both Greater and Lesser Flamingos being present. 

But the rain continued, and we lost some of group before we moved onto the Karwyderskraal Road in search of Ludwig’s Bustard. Unfortunately, we did not locate the either the Ludwig’s or, the more commonly seen, Denham’s Bustards. 

Greater and Lesser Flamingos walk through the shallows
Flamingos (Andrea Buys).
A pair of White-faced Whistling ducks scan the activity around them.
White-faced Whistling Ducks (Ruth Vary)
A female Southern Double-collared sunbird probes a flower.
Southern Double-collared Sunbird (Andrea Buys)
A group of Western Cattle Egrets and Sacred Ibis fly over a bridge.
Western Cattle Egrets (Ruth Vary)

At this point our party was down to four, determined to continue despite the undesirable conditions. The perseverance paid off and the clouds lifted as we progressed towards the steel bridge near the start of the Swartrivier Road. Water birds were plentiful at the site. Several Southern Double-collared sunbirds sang their territorial songs and chased each other about. On a return leg we stopped at the bridge again and were treated to a dispute between a pair of Blacksmith Lapwings and a pair of Black-winged Stilts. The lapwings were unrelenting in their pursuit of the poor stilts!

A juvenile Jackal Buzzard sits on a dead tree stump.
Juvenile Jackal Buzzard (Ruth Vary)
A Black-winged Kite scans its surroundings.
Black-winged Kite (Andrea Buys)
A Rock Kestrel looks for prey while on a fence post.
Rock Kestrel (Ruth Vary)
A Jackal Buzzard soars above, in front of stormy clouds.
Jackal Buzzrd (Johan van der Westhuizen)

Hawston View Road

We proceeded to the Hawston View Road. The route provided good opportunities to view some of the resident raptors. Jackal Buzzard juveniles were scrutinized near some of the more forested areas. Were they maybe Forest Buzzards? Alas, no. But we did a good view of a Rock Kestrel right along the side of the road.

The Hawston View road itself provided good birding for smaller birds. The bishops were in their non-breeding plumage. Nonetheless, the Yellow Bishops displayed their remnant yellow patches as they flew about. High above a Cloud Cisticola sang it’s display song. We did not see it above us but saw tiny speck descending on the side of the hill with the characteristic ‘tik-tik-tik’ notes. Both Yellow and Brimstone Canaries were added to our list for the day in the same spot.

Birders meet a woman riding a horse in the road.
Meeting some of the locals (Andrea Buys)
A Bar-throated Apalis scans for food in the undergrowth.
Bar-throated Apalis (Andrea Buys)
A Fiscal Flycatcher peers towards the group of birders.
Fiscal Flycatcher (Johan van der Westhuizen)
A Western Barn Owl roosts quietly in the rafters of an old barn.
Western Barn Owl (Graeme Hatley)

van der Stel Pass

Reaching the van der Stel Pass Road were headed towards the Vyeboom side. But it was getting late in the morning at this point and a coffee and lunch break was necessary. While having our coffee we could see the Rock Martins soaring above us near a rocky outcrop. Cape Batises called from the riverine thicket on the opposite side of the field. Before moving on we encountered one of the residents, Sugar Boy, out for a walk with his rider. The horse was intrigued by the birders visiting his home turf.

The highlight of the road was seen when we encountered the Somerset West Bird Club outside an abandoned barn. A Western Barn Owl was quietly resting inside and provided good photo opportunities.

But we were heading back at this point hoping to pick of a few extra sightings for the day. Johan was trying for Olive Woodpecker and Brown-backed Honeybird. Unfortunately, we dipped on both. Regardless, it was a good out for the small group with a total tally of seventy-eight for the day.

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