South Africa Oct 05—26, 2006
Posted by Geoff Lockwood
Our first visit to the world-famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens was a great introduction to the fascinating flora and birds of the Cape. Our driver dropped us off at the top gate and we slowly meandered our way through the various sections down towards the main entrance, reveling in the spectacular scenery and the chance to stretch our legs. Tiny, jewel-like Southern Double-collared Sunbirds darted between flowering proteas and heaths; gorgeous Swee Waxbills foraged along the edges of the flowerbeds; and a high-pitched trill drew our attention to a feeding Forest Canary only yards away. A flock of Red-winged Starlings took to the air in noisy flight?the afternoon sunlight illuminating their rust-colored primaries. The dashing shape of a Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk explained the sudden panic?and then the gardens quietened down again. The ringing, duetting calls of a pair of Southern Boubous (an endemic bushshrike) drew our attention to the birds as they quietly foraged around the base of a clump of grass-like restios, and then a harsher crowing announced a female Cape Spurfowl picking her way across the lawn with a covey of small chicks. A stand of proteas provided our first sightings of the striking Cape Sugarbird, and then breathtaking views of a male Orange-breasted Sunbird busily probing for nectar only feet away from us.
Wakkerstroom?in the high-lying grasslands in the eastern interior of the country?always offers great birding, and this year was no exception. We arrived in the afternoon and, after checking in to the lodge, we headed for the bridge over the Wakkerstroom Vlei (or wetland). The late afternoon light was brilliant and illuminated a nest of three large Spotted Eagle-Owl chicks that gradually became more active as evening set in. Their bobbing and weaving as they studied us (and each other) had us all entranced, while all around us African Snipe, Purple Swamphens, and a variety of ducks and herons vied for our attention.
The next morning we drove out of town on a road that took us up into the high plateau grasslands. Stopping at likely habitat on the way, we were treated to stunning views of a pair of striking Yellow-breasted Pipits displaying over a small marshy hollow, and then, as we were about to drive off, even better views of a gorgeous male Sentinel Rock-Thrush feeding in the short grass next to the road. Great views of the tiny Ayres’ (or Wing-snapping) Cisticola followed and, as we were about to turn around to head back for breakfast, an Eastern Long-billed Lark was located feeding only yards from our bus. The bird gave us superb views, and it was a happy and hungry group that headed back for breakfast?a great start to a day that would later give us a further three endemic lark species, as well as four different species of bustards!