Trip report: Jessie Walton’s Farm 

This trip report was kindly provided by Jill Wheater.

The last outing of the year for Overberg Birding was destined to be a special one as we headed off to Jessie’s farm in Elgin. The day was clear and calm as we drove out on the R43, already being rewarded with the sight of soaring Yellow Billed Kites, two Blue Cranes and a Fish Eagle patiently waiting for breakfast in the lagoon. Turning onto the Highlands Road we headed into the lush landscape of the Elgin valley, one of the most intensively farmed areas in South Africa known for its apples and more latterly, successful vineyards.

Jessie Walton has been keeping a record of birds on their farm for the last 30 years and her enthusiasm for the bird world extends to rehabilitation and recently research into the Brown-backed Honey bird. The area is also known as Keurbos Bird Reserve, and we were all looking forward to spending time in the famous bird hide on the dam. However, with 22 keen birders we decided to split into two groups and the second group took a walk in the surrounding wetland and obtained different views of the dam from a viewing platform. A small island in the middle of the dam was the focus of attention and the dominant large tree was currently full of breeding activity. Many hungry beaks could be seen – and heard – demanding attention from their parents and it was a delight to see the baby chicks of the elegant African Darter and Reed Cormorant in this tranquil environment.The walking group were lucky enough to see a Giant Kingfisher fly out of the nesting tree, but we were all treated to views of Black Crake, Black Crowned Night Heron, a Malachite Kingfisher and a Black Headed Heron. White Throated and Greater Striped Swallows treated us to incredible acrobatics across the water and the Lesser Swamp Warbler was a first for a few of us. Striking blue water lilies and the delicate yellow fringe lilies just added to the beauty of this stretch of water.  

The power of nature was hypnotic, and we could all have happily stayed in this tranquil place away from the rest of the world for the day. But lunch was calling, and we drove onto to visit the Keurbos nursery, also owned by Jessie Walton. Honestly, we didn’t see too many birds in the nursery! But for many of us our eyes were suddenly trained downwards looking at this incredible array of plant life we were forgetting to look up! Cape Canary, Cape Batis, Malachite Sunbird and Cape White-eye were just a few of the smaller birds seen in the nursery. The nursery was dominated by an enormous ancient oak tree beneath which was found growing a wild gladiolus, quite an unusual find.

Jessie had kindly allowed us to use her home for our picnic lunch but before settling into the magnificent view we wandered up the hillside as she explained the different types of vegetation in various areas, all the time spotting a bird here and there. Accompanied by her faithful dogs she relayed her recent story of being given a Spotted Eagle Owl nestling by the local vet and how she had managed to introduce the orphan bird to a Spotted Eagle Owl on her property. Successful adoption and 3 more nestlings! Her video recordings and photographs of this fascinating story can be seen on the Facebook page of Keurbos bird reserve.

Whilst enjoying these incredible views from the farmhouse a Jackal Buzzard could be seen soaring high above in the distance mountains. As it came closer, Jessie “called” it and you could see and feel the acknowledgment from this powerful bird to a woman of strength and courage who has dedicated her life to improving the natural habitat of the local environment. On that poignant note it was time to leave and reluctantly we waved goodbye to this gem in the Elgin valley.

Many thanks to Graeme and Johan for guiding us on such a special birding day and again to Jessie for her selfless hospitality. A total of 59 species were recorded

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