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Western Cape 2018: New Year with Friends and Birds


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When arriving back to the cottage in the afternoon, Gemma asked me if we have any plans for that last night of the year. As I was kinda expecting the question, the answer was "No". And on the next question, would we like to join them for this evening, the answer was a resolute "Yes!".


This was our first New Year Eve on the southern hemisphere, and it was as good as it gets! Gemma and Tarrone picked up Gemma's mom Rosie, and we then parked in front of the white house where Gelatto Mania is (see my first post). The small restaurant named Tapas was our home for the night. Although not exactly the number of persons they have expected in our party, space was found quickly, and other friends were also starting to arrive. 


One thing is assured, if you go out with South Africans you are assured that it will be a lively night! They are all very communicative people, and they love to have fun and good times. Both of us have thoroughly enjoyed this evening, and hopefully we have represented Slovenia well!


No dress code needed for entering Tapas



The Dry Group was not dry for a long (Gemma, Tarrone, Zvezda and Rosie right to left)5a965ab26a674_WC052-Hermanus.JPG.3f8739844fc44644b1a88cb9d6b6a3e9.JPG



Musicians took the stage and temperature started to rise



Representing South Africa and Slovenia on the dance floor: Rosie and Alex



Happy New Year 2018!!!




We have left the party early after the midnight as we needed to be at Stanford at 10:00 o'clock. The town was unusually calm; Gemma did woke up to say Goodbye to us:


The host, the guest and the dog


Edited by xelas
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Chatper 2: De Hoop



First day of the new, even more exciting year! And we have started it on African soil. It must bring us some serious travel luck. But first we needed to make it to Stanford as at 10:00 I have had a river boat tour booked. It was not sure if the captain will be there, you know, the New Year and all, but although we were the only guests on his boat for this tour, he waited us near the river.


Rivers and lakes and any water body, when it is smooth, gives me a great pleasure. Views are usually great, and if the boat is of proper construction, also photography is easy. Luckily the River Rat was just that, and its captain a great guy with whom we have spent 90 minutes of leisure ride up and down Kleinrivier, getting our first BY birds for 2018!


Kleinrivier looks full and refreshing



On the river banks:


Little Egret



Reed Cormorant



African Swamphen



The Captain and His Boat



Edited by xelas
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For driving to De Hoop Nature Reserve we have used the route via Elim and Bredasdorp. Most of the drive was on tarred R43; I have chosen this route because people said Elim is a funky little town, and there is Black Oystercatcher restaurant about midway. The Elim indeed is a little town with very old time Dutch architecture but the Black Oystercatcher was closed. Of course, it was 1st of January! Thus we have stopped in next towh, Bredasdorp. Not only to fill up the car but also to fill up ourselves. And it was a good stop, for both.


Main square with church in Elim



More visitors enjoying the town



Flames Grill&Pub in Bredasdorp



Burger was as tasty as it looks




When on the gravel road again the traffic thinned out and we could stop for some bird photography.


Blue Crane



Pied Starling




The road to De Hoop does not have a number but the turn off is clearly identified by a sign of the reserve. The quality of the road was good;  gravel yes but not corrugated. The countryside is farming style.


Gravel road to De Hoop



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I've been lured to De Hoop Nature Reserve by splendid description of this location in @michael-ibk's trip report Blue Cape, White Waters & Red Dunes, and everyone planning to go to Western Cape should read it. It was also about the right distance between Hermanus and Wilderness. It is a private reserve thus a bit on the expensive side. We did not afford ourselves to stay in one of those nice and comfortable cottages, but luckily near the campsite there are 5 smaller units called "rondawel"; they surely are round  ;). It was a good decision as nearby camp was empty of visitors but not empty of birds. And the rondawel was well appointed, small fridge, comfortable bed, only communal toilet and shower (2 units each for 5 rondawels) were about 10 meters away. They are positioned on the cliff above the large lake. The lake is natural, formed when the sand dune blocked the exit to the sea of the Soutrivier. The Nature Reserve is owned by De Hoop Collection; there is also a well known restaurant on site named The Fig Tree. Eating in restaurants is not my thing but for two nights, I recon, I should treat Zvezda with some fine dinning, and Michael has written such good things about the food.


Approach road, only a short segment, is paved




The most famous animal of the Reserve - Bontebok




Our "round house" looked small outside ...




... but was bigger inside ...



... and we were pleased with it.



Main complex with restaurant was only a short walk away ...



... and the food, while a bit on the fancy side to me, was very tasty!










Edited by xelas
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While De Hoop is a Nature Reserve, it surely is very different experience to what we have had so far in Africa. It looks more like a family retreat; also the activities offered are those of mountain biking and hiking, so not very much what we usually (or ever) do. There is basically only one road that one can drive on, and the whole area is mostly covered with fynbos and a couple of shrubs. We have seen only very limited number of mammals, both in species and in quantity. The Bontebok has been already mentioned, from the rest we have seen zebras and one band of yellow mongoose and Chacma baboons, thus I am desperate enough to add a photo of an ostrich, just to show you more photos :(.










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In addition to self-guided activities like relaxing, hiking, relaxing, biking, relaxing, and more relaxing, there are also guided activities offered by the Reserve. The more interesting ones for me, which should help us with getting closer to the birds, are Guided Eco Boat Trip (two outings one at 09:00 and the second at 11:00, duration 90 min) and Bird Watching (06:00, duration 3 hrs). In addition to what the web site says now, there was also a Cliff Walk, duration 90 min. 


Based on then available information I have booked a Bird Watching (at 06:00) and a Boat Trip at 11:00. On arrival I have confirmed with the staff at the reception that both tours are scheduled to depart as planned.


Early morning up (which will be the routine for the rest of this trip), and preparing the needed birding equipment (hiking boots, binoculars, long lens) we have positioned ourselves at the meeting point a few minutes before 06:00. About 10 minutes past six o'clock a group of South Africans joined us. A slightly uneasy feeling started to develop inside me, after looking at the shorts and the crocs they were wearing. And no binoculars?! Not even a decent camera??


My fears were confirmed when our guide came, 15 minutes past starting time. His first words were, after giving us a what I have interpreted as a mix of a bedazzled and frightened look: "I do not know much about birds." Which was a gross overstatement. The guy knows nothing about birds!! Thus instead of a leisure walk with many stops to listen to the birds, and maybe even taking some photos of them while getting their ID etc, this walk turned into a fast forward event, when the rest of the group only intention was to get back to the much needed breakfast and coffee, and us trailing behind trying to see at least a rear end of the flying away or hiding away birds. With only one longer stop which was used by our guide to give us a marketing speech of the Reserve, we have ended our "birdwatching" after 90 minutes :angry:!! Whoever knows me can vividly picture myself with the glaring eyes and fumes exiting my ears and nostrils, in the best of toro bravo cartoon edition.


Not only our morning birding was ruined, we came back early enough to join the first boat cruise, while the light would still be of some quality. No chance, no one from the reception have thought of offering us to join the earlier boat cruise although only 3 persons were on that boat.



Funny looking Sacred Ibis ...



... who was probably sticking its head inside the foam where Black-winged Stilt was walking




A group of Greater Flamingo kept themselves at safe ( as in long) distance from us




The boat we could be on (passengers were our neighbours at rondewal units)





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@xelas Enjoying this report - how frustrating your morning sounds to have been. I hope the day (and the stay) improved.

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Luckily there is nothing better to calm me down as the nice ride on the boat <_<. There was only one other couple with us, which gave plenty of space, and possibility to steer the captain towards birds. Also the light was better then I was afraid of. Below are Top 3 birds from the boat:


Take-off by African Fish Eagle



Giant Kingfisher having crab for brunch



A Hamerkop posing




As can be seen from above photos the shores are rocky or steep cliffs; personally I prefer the reed and grass of the "normal" rivers, but it was a nice ride.

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The most scenic part of De Hoop is for sure its coastal sand dunes area. There is where deep green of the fynbos meets the aquamarine ocean with sugar white sand dunes in between, and deep blue sky above. The road to this part is in reconstruction so hopefully future visitors will have more comfortable way to reach it. While the ocean for sure is not for swimming there are tide pools for whoever wants to cool down (we have not walked that far), and whoever decides to enjoy the sun on the beach, fine sand dust skin peeling is included free of charge ^_^.


In winter there are excellent views of whales; in summer we have had to be satisfied with birds.


The colours were so rich one has to see them with their own eyes to believe









Not a dream beach for any swimmer




African (Black) Oystercatcher on the coastal cliffs ...



... and Fiscal Flycatcher in the fynbos



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Most of our time while in De Hoop we have dedicated to bird photography. It can be done either from the inside the car or by walking. Our preferred system was to park the car near the small pond that was lying at the start of the road exiting the main building/restaurant/camp. On one side of the road is a bigger manmade pond probably used to clean the waste water. On the other side of the road a small natural pond attracted many animals and birds at all times of the day. We have stayed there for 60-90 minutes each time that we either drove out or on return.


Best vantage point



Another view



African Snipe



Three-banded Plover



Cattle Egret



Chacma Baboon



Also birdwatching?!



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We have searched for birds also:



A. along the main road that traverses the Nature Reserve; birds were spotted mostly in the mid section where there are some bushes. Best early in the morning when the sun is on the right hand side when driving towards sand dunes.


Agulhas Long-billed Lark







B. around the main building/restaurant; big birds on the lawn and several species of sunbirds and like in the flowering trees (forgot to ask for the tree name so anybody knows please tell me)


Cape Spurfowl



Helmeted  Guineafowl



Southern Double-collared Sunbird



Cape Sugarbird




C. around the campsite; there were no campers at the time of our visit so we could roam around freely, as also the birds


Southern Boubou



White-throated Canary




So much about De Hoop; it is not a proper "safari park" but it does have its own charm. If looking only for mammals then better to go elsewhere. For birds and mix of scenery, and for 2 nights, we were happy to experience it.


Would we repeat to visit it? Probably not. It did not ticked enough of our "like it" boxes to do it. But it surely deserves at least one-time visit.


Cape Turtle Dove in setting sun



Sunset at De Hoop



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Chapter 3: Wilderness



The idea of staying in Wilderness was born after reading @PeterHG excellent trip report "From Cape and Coast way up to North (SA 2017)" and after being reassured personally by Peter, during his visit to Slovenia, that Kingfisher Country Lodge is definitively The Place to stay for anyone enthusiastic about birds. As we have booked this trip really early no problems with availability although KCL is widely known to be a hotspot for birders around the world.


As we were in no hurry we took the gravel shortcut over Malgas to reach R324 and from there another gravel country road towards Slangrivier where we joined the #2 highway for our in-between destination, Mossel Bay.

In Malgas there is one of only 2 remaining man-powered ferries left in South Africa. We have used this type of ferries before, but never with this specific type of power. Best to show in photos:


Ferry ramp at Breerivier, Malgas







The story of our Mossel Bay stop started in Okakuejo Camp, Namibia in May of 2017. Those interested can read about how we met with Rudolph and Eliza in post #234 here: 


Rudolph kindly invited us to visit him and Eliza if ever we will be in that part of the country. Well, he learned soon enough that I keep record of such invitations, and a meeting was quickly organised. Rudolph and Eliza lives in a nice suburb a bit out of Mossel Bay, with great views over the ocean. Their house is on the outer rim and thus many birds came to their garden. One is a very territorial Whydah that earns to be named: Frkkie (or at least that is what I have remembered). This is Frkkie's usual "this is my territory" pose:




and this is when he is an a mood to attract some interest by females:




As a trucker, Rudolph also helped me to fix a small problem with brake pipe of the rear wheel; nothing serious and me under the car with Rudolph giving me pro instructions we have fixed it quickly.


It was a short stop only, this time, as our hosts were visibly unhappy with the fact that we will not sleep over at their place. So, Rudolph and Elize, next time we will make Mossel Bay our stop for a night or two! By now you already knows that I am a "promise keeper" type of a person :D

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@xelas thank you so much for bringing the colours of De Hoop alive, the white and the blues and the green are so dramatic and scenic. I also liked the range of birds that you saw, although I can see that the walk was a huge disappointment.


Looking forward to your stay at Kingfisher Country Lodge and visits to Wilderness NP.

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Wilderness is a small beach resort town. Long sand beaches on one side, and a string of lakes - vleis - on the other side of the dune range are the main attractions for visitors. It is known for its mild climate over the whole year, so outdoor activity fans, and birders are getting a lot of the bang for their bucks. We came there to do birding.


First I have to correct my mistake: it is a Kingfisher Country House where we have stayed. Sorry for this mistake, Sue and Phil. Here is the link to their website: http://www.kingfish.co.za/ . So Sue runs the house, and takes care of the birds and birders. Phil is the gardener; I offered him a "room and a table" at our house if he will ever want to stay in Slovenia for a couple of weeks (our garden would surely benefit from him giving some serious professional TLC  ). But more about the house and the garden later.


Sue arranged a bird guide for us. Ad not just any bird guide; Peter Ginn is a veteran birder, and author of 12 books all related to birds. Peter was born in 1938 ... but nothing on him shows that fact! I hope birding will keep us young(er) also.

We have started this day very early, before breakfast. Our first destination was a protected patch of local forest near Hoekwil where the main attraction is Woodwille Big Tree - an 800 years old giant Outeniqua Yellowwood tree.
Inside the forest is a circular trail, relatively easy to navigate and to walk. Our main target was Narina Trogon; we have heard the bird, Peter tried his best to lured it out of the dense canopy, but to no avail. For Narina Trogon we will have to repeat the visit to Wilderness. For Trogons in general I hope we will have more luck in Costa Rica.


In general there were not that many birds we were able to photograph inside the forest, and the conditions were not that good. But we have enjoyed the walk, and even more the company of very knowledgeable Peter.


On the way to Hoekwil - African Olive Pigeon



800 years and still growing - Outeniqua Yellowwood


P.S.: Zvezda told me I am stealing her photos :unsure:; this one is to level the score :lol:


On the way from Hoekwil - Black-shouldered Kite




WC 121A - Wilderness.JPG

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I remember that tree well! A pity about the Trogon ( I did not see it either), but you did get that Olive Pigeon. And Costa Rica will take care of the Trogons I’m sure!

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@xelas If I 'd known you were visiting this area, I'd have suggested that you spent a few days at our place. You practically drove past it.

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6 hours ago, Soukous said:

@xelas If I 'd known you were visiting this area, I'd have suggested that you spent a few days at our place. You practically drove past it.


Martin, I would (will) be honoured to be your guest if only I would knew beforehand! There is always next trip to that part of South Africa possible (summer for flowers&whales), I will put your invitation into my itinerary; only please send me more details :)!

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As always enjoying your report and Zvezda's fantastic photos! Such vibrant colors!

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On the map, the Road 2 highway is flanked by the Indian Ocean (and sand dunes) on one side and a series of lakes on the other side. This is very green area due to all the water there, and thus birding is very good. Several options: Kingfisher Trail follows the Touwsrivier upstream, and then there is also Brown-hooded Kingfisher Trail. The shores of Island Lake are not good for bird watching as the lake itself is a popular spot for water-skiing. Next lake, Bo-langvlei is already much calmer one, and there is a Malachite Bird Hide open to public. On the far end of next lake, Rondevlei, is Rondevlei Bird Hide. This is where Peter took us first.


One thing I have to mention here; the gravel roads between the Wilderness National Park / Touwsrivier Bridge and Rondevlei Bird hide were all in atrocious state! Even for someone that have endured the Etosha corrugations, these were just plain awful; and while one can understand that Etosha is huge, there are just so many visitors in and around Wilderness that deserves the roads to be much better maintained.


Back to bird hides. Both were well positioned, with some perches at strategic position. We have seen usual suspects, but not much of smaller birds. From Rondevlei Bird Hide:


White-breasted Cormorant and African Darter on the perch



African Spoonbill looking for snacks



Glossy Ibis displaying its shiny colours




From Malachite Bird Hide:


Intermediate Egret looking tentatively



Crowned Cormorant




There is also the third bird hide. It is positioned walking distance from Kingfisher Country House on the bank of the Touwsrivier; its name is Gallinule Bird Hide. It is usually closed and if locked then ask for the key at Fairy Knowe Backpackers reception. We went there on our last day early morning, and it was very slow morning for birds so only photos of the hide:







Our guide par excellence Peter Ginn is author of many bird books. Buying bird books is as much a hobby as birding is, so we were delighted when he said that there is a signed copy of his last masterpiece: The Ultimate Companion for Birding in Southern Africahttp://www.birdbook.co.za . It really is a masterpiece in two volumes of coffee table size. Also quite heavy, and by buying it Zvezda has had to renounce the rest of the souvenirs due to flight weight restrictions. But even she is not sorry to get it, with Peter's personal signature. This is now the second book signed by the authors themselves.


The Guide and the guided




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In the afternoon we have revisited the Malachite Hide, not much activity there, and the corrugated road deterred us from going to Rondevlei Hide again. Instead of we drove to Wilderness, also because we did have late breakfast but no lunch. Wilderness does not have a specific centre of the town. There is a large lawn for picnics and some parking place and several restaurants, so we stopped at one. The general vibe is of young & active having a jolly good time ... and we have enjoyed the vibe. The food at this restaurant was burger style, and why not, burgers in South Africa are very tasty. 


Jackal Buzzard on the road to Wilderness



This is the kitchen I like ... with chefs one can chat with ...



... and a tasty but not pretentious food



Levaillant's Cisticola ... 



... asking "Are you photographing me ?!"



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Fantastic birds (especially the fish eagle and black-shouldered kite - those eyes!).

But I'm especially captivated by how you've captured the environment.

This also looks like you had a very fun time.

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Thank you, @Marks! We are very glad that you like our landscape photos. And yes, we have had a lot of fun on this trip! 

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As already mentioned above, staying at Kingfisher Country House is a must for any bird lover. This grand house with comfortable rooms equipped in what I can only describe as Old English style is a perfect spot to relax after a day of intensive birding ... with even more birding! Sue keeps in-house impeccable clean while Phil does the same for the outside. There is a pool also, yet best asset is the verandah that goes along the front of the house, and many bird feeders that are well stocked throughout the day, thus attracting about the every bird in the vicinity ... and then more. Sue told us that this January the number of different species were just plain low, yet we have had great time taking photos from close to the MFD (minimum focusing distance). Although the light under the canopy of the large tree was not good, and ISO was often between 3200 - 6400 or above, close proximity allowed for decent photos.


We have been appointed the corner room ...






... and this part of the verandah was ours to enjoy




Breakfast for gourmands was home made and fresh each morning




The best table of the house



Edited by xelas
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And what have we seen?! Here below are the more colourful ones.



Cape White-eye



Chorister Robin-Chat



Swee Waxbill



Common Waxbill








Edited by xelas
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The Star of the Show deserves it own post: 


Knysna Turaco







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