Trip report: Paul Cluver outing

This report was provided by Jill Wheater.

After a week or so of high temperatures and humidity, Saturday 23rd March, dawned grey and drizzly with a promise of cloud but lighter skies. Optimistically 12 cars met in the Onrus carpark determined to beat the damp climes and excited at the prospect of birding on a wine farm. Birds and wine – you can’t get better than that! 

We drove out towards Elgin and the wipers stopped intermittently but the drizzle and low-lying mist remained. The approach to the estate passes a large lake covered in delicate blue water lilies and populated with Yellow-billed Ducks, White-backed Ducks, Cape Teal and White-faced Whistling Ducks, with the usual assortment of Coots and Geese. One of the birders set up his spotting scope which provided crystal clear views of the far side of the dam.

What a treat when a purple heron landed on the far side and minutes later proceeded to consume a very large fish! The heron was lightning fast, and we all watched fascinated as the fish disappeared down the powerful throat of this graceful bird. Speed and strength were demonstrated and minutes later the grace and dignity were back … and the tummy was full! 

The drizzle continued as we drove towards the main reception but undeterred we parked under the magnificent oak trees at the Paul Cluver estate; flasks and rusks were out, raincoats donned, and we were ready for an adventure. Paul Cluver came to join us and what a pleasure to meet this generous, self-effacing owner of the estate. Age seemed just a number as he nimbly jumped into his land rover and raced ahead of us to indicate the route!

Paul took us to the first dam, seeing splendid Bontebok along the route, and we explored the water and the surrounding hillside. The Rietvlei dam is large and the landscape breath-taking, but the misty weather was keeping the birds at bay. Plenty of Yellow Bishops; and Cape, Brimstone and Yellow Canaries were spotted along with an African Stone Chat, Southern Fiscal and Fiscal Flycatcher. Birds of prey were in short supply with only a Jackal Buzzard making the list.

The estate has a complete mix of vegetation from wetland to fynbos to grassland which made for very enjoyable viewing and the fynbos was showing magnificent colours in the wet weather. Cape Sugarbirds were spotted here and Orange-breasted Sunbirds enjoying the fruits of the flowering proteas. The roads were steep and, in many parts, washed away so we took the safe route back to another set of dams, drove through the lush apple orchards and ended up back at the estate for lunch and wine-tasting. Two Black-headed Herons were seen at the last dam and there was a host of Western Cattle Egrets following the tractor. The whole area is teeming with Helmeted Guineafowl and their chorus could be heard everywhere.

The restaurant at Paul Cluver serves excellent food and it was a treat to sit by the log fire – yes, it really was quite cold – sip a superb glass of wine accompanied by delicious food. The wine-tasting and restaurant area is surrounded by beautiful gardens and magnificent wooden benches and tables. Despite the gloomy weather, we all had a great birding outing and many thanks to Ruth for making the trip possible and of course, Johan for excellent organisation as always. The bird count was still a respectable 52 and the complete list can be seen by selecting the link below. We are all ready for our second visit in the sunshine!

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