Trip Report: The Agulhas Plains

This report was provided by Ruth Vary.

It was a surprisingly chilly morning, before dawn, when six of us set off from Eastcliff Spar on Saturday 24 February. We were due to meet up with Riaan, our guide for the day, at The Black Oystercatcher.

Leaving Hermanus, the alert “ Birding Boys” quickly spotted a Black Crow, a Common Buzzard and a Jackal Buzzard. Speeding along we soon reached the Grootbos Road turnoff, and, kicking up a storm of dust on the gravel, we eventually arrived at the Black Oystercatcher and enjoyed a quick cup of coffee and chat. Seven of us then set off towards Agulhas. The bird count rose rapidly, including a Denham’s Bustard, a large flock of Spurwing Geese and another smaller flock of Egyptian Geese. The devastation from the huge veld fires now became apparent. A bleak burnt landscape of black, grey and brown stretched far ahead, to the coastal dunes.

The wind was now rising and fine white dune sand, streamed like a pennant off the dunes. Our bird count was now nearing 30 and we had seen Bokmakierie, Cape Longclaw, and Red-capped Lark. Capped Wheatear and a Crowned Lapwing were spotted in patches of grass and a beautiful young Steenbok eyed us, curious and unafraid, from behind a fence.

The wind continued to rise and we paused at a small dam, crowded with water birds. We saw Red-billed Teal, Yellow-billed Duck, White-faced Whistling Duck and Cape Shoveler.

Moving on, Kobus parked alongside a dairy farm feed lot, and we took photos of Cattle Egret, the usual sparrows, doves, starling and some Jersey cows. Our bird tally now exceeded 50.

Kobus, with his brand-new eyes, was invariably first to spot and identify birds. Johan Olivier captured picture-perfect closeups, while Johan van der Westhuizen was so mesmerizingly swift, that birds fleeing, or taking flight, were instantly captured on camera.

We turned off onto a subsidiary gravel road and, on a distant hill spotted a herd of graceful Grey Rhebuck (often mistaken for the Mountain Reedbuck) with their long slender necks and big ears. Always alert, they soon took flight.

Numerous Barn Swallows swooped in the sky and some took refuge on the ground, in the almost gale force wind. The interior of our vehicle, ourselves and our camera equipment were now covered in a fine, powder-coating of ochre dust. Undeterred we added a Black-wing Kite to our ever-increasing list.

Some of our party left, and the remaining birders decided to visit Platbos Forest Reserve… a Conservation Trust area, just off the Grootbos Rd.

We drove past the odd settlement of Wolvensgat, a couple of old cottages and a trio of new ones. We stopped to take photos of a Rock Kestrel perched on the branch of a fallen tree, before entering Platbos. A magical reserve. Driving slowly through the dense indigenous forest we heard numerous birdcalls. Johan Olivier enticed the Greenbul, Amethyst Sunbird, Bar-throated Apalis and Cape Batis to within a few meters of the vehicle… Many photos were taken. We continued along the narrow road and parked in the shade of forest trees. Johan took us for a little walk and we had our picnic with a dense carpet of leaves under our feet and a towering forest canopy above our heads. Various forest bird species called and flitted from tree to tree. A very, very, special place.

After lunch we stopped at Flower Valley, a very pretty place, but sadly saw very few birds and we set off homewards.

Whizzing along the R43 between Grootbos and Stanford, Kobus unbelievably spotted a Pale Chanting Goshawk perched precariously on top of a power pylon. Making a swift reverse he parked on a rough, gravel section, of roadworks.

We completed the outing with a short visit to Die Vette Mossel, bringing our recorded bird species to 73.A wonderful and memorable day of birding. Thank you to my companions and all the amazing organisers.  

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