Monday 9 September 2013

Western Cape Province, South Africa.

We had a very enjoyable stay in the Western Cape province.

On our arrival in Cape Town Elis and I hired a car and headed for Noordhoek, where we were due to stay, south of Cape Town. At some point we missed our turn (largely due to concentrating more on the wonderful scenery than the directions) and ended up on Simon's Town. Upon studying the map we noticed we were not far from the famous Boulders Beach where the African Penguins reside, and of course we couldn't resist it. The added bonus of checking out these fascinating birds was that we saw our first African Black Oystercatcher of the trip!

African Black Oystercatcher Haematopus moquini

African Penguin Spheniscus demersus
Cape Town is a real contrast to hot and dusty Johannesburg. The scenery was superb with much lush green vegetation and those spectacular mountains. The fynbos habitat was incredible with the diversity of plant life, which inevitably leads on to a rich eco-system full of birds. It was good to hear that many of the areas that had been overtaken by invading Australian trees were being reclaimed and the original natural fynbos habitat restored. We started our stay with Chris Spengler at Afton Grove, if you haven't already done so, make a point of staying there next time you are in the area, it is great; great food, great company and great birds in the garden. Chris also took us birding and showed us some very special birds including this lovely Cape Sugarbird.

Cape Sugarbird Promerops cafer

Cape Sugarbird Promerops cafer
With Chris Spengler in typical fynbos habitat.

After saying our goodbyes to Chris, we headed north to Table View, and aptly named seaside town with spectacular views across the bay to Table Mountain.

View across to Table Mountain from... Table View!
Here we met Trevor and Margaret Hardaker, two very friendly and welcoming people who immediately made us feel at home, we had an enjoyable dinner and discussed our options for the following day. Thanks to the good firtune we had earlier in the trip and our unscheduled stop at Boulder Beach, we had reduced the target species to just two. Trevor, I could see, was confident.

Trevor and Margaret Hardaker.
The next morning we headed north out of Table View along the R27 to a set of salt pans that are privately run by a friendly farmer called Jan Kotze near Velddrif. Although we didn't take advantage of it, it is possible to stay at his farm, and later in the year when the waders return in earnest I bet it'd be a great place to visit. Not that there was anything wrong with our visit. It took all of 3 seconds for Trevor to show us our first target of the day Chestnut-banded Plover, and what a charming little bird it was. We estimated that there were perhaps 50 individuals at this site. It seems that the bird has developed a liking for salt pans and can be found almost exclusively in, on or near them.

Chestnut-banded Plover Charadrius pallidus
This Near Threatened species may be at risk due to declining habtat quality according to BirdLife but its resilience to habitat change is not known. Hopefully as it has adapted so well to salt pans in the Western Cape, this is a good sign that they are adaptable.

Chestnut-banded Plover Charadrius pallidus
We also had great views of a Spotted Eagle Owl that had made a nest on a haystack.

Spotted Eagle Owl Bubo africanus
Moving on we saw many superb non wader species and enjoyed the amazing flower cover on the fields we drove past.

West Coast National Park, Western Cape.
Eventually we ended up at Mauritz Bay and started our search for species number two, the White-fronted Plover. Although it took slightly longer than Trevor had clearly anticipated, we soon came across these lovely birds among the rocks along the shore. I was a little surprised to see them in this habitat having always read about them being a sandy beach bird.
White-fronted Plover Charadrius marginatus

However I was not disappointed as I spent a good long time able to watch a pair go about their business of catching sand flies in a sandly area as I sat upon a rock with the sun warming my back. A very special moment that filled me with much pleasure and peace. I really do love Charadrius plovers, but then I say that about all waders, I know.

White-fronted Plover Charadrius marginatus
The following morning after another superb evening and dinner with the Hardakers, Margaret volunteered to come along with us to try and find the elusive Rockjumpers again. This time we were successful I'm glad to report. We first saw one high up the slope and breathlessly climbed to get better views.

Cape Rockjumper Chaetops frenatus
As we were leaving we came across another right by the track!

Cape Rockjumper Chaetops frenatus
This concluded our stay in southern Africa and we headed for the airport and home.

We'll be back!

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