Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Drakensberg to Cape Town

The final part of the trip was much less about birding and game watching, and more a bit of a road trip and city break. Given the biodiversity and wealth of wildlife in South Africa, it was impossible to get away from great birds, and I couldn't resist the odd stop here and there.

After leaving Hluhluwe, we headed for Harrismith where I'd spent 3 months back in 2008. This took us not too far away from the forest board walk in Eshowe, so we stopped there to break up the journey. Unfortunately we were there mid-morning on a hot day, with some sort of school event making a racket nearby, so needless to say it wasn't at it's best. Highlights included Narina trogon, Lemon dove and Chorister robin chat.

Chorister robin chat being skulky

Lemon dove in very dim light under the thick canopy

After a pretty long drive, with only an always disappointing Wimpy burger for relief, we were grateful to be arriving in Harrismith with a few hours of daylight left. Plans were made with Michael and Kate (with whom we were staying) to head  out to Clarens for dinner, which would take us through Golden Gate NP, a really spectacular place around sunset, especially on the plains where large numbers of antelope gather in late evening
Golden Gate NP is named after the glorious golden colour of the rock outcrops
Large numbers of antelope like these springbok and blesbok gather on the plains at dusk
After a lovely meal, we decided that we would stay in Harrismith a second night, so as to give ourselves a day to do some walking in the Drakensberg the next day. The plan was to drive up to the Sentinel car park, and try and walk up to Mont aux Sources plateau. Unfortunately, the Micra let us down (or my courage did), and I couldn't get it up the extremely rugged track to the car park. Luckily the tarmac lasted far enough to get to the Witsieshoek Hotel, where the hotel manager puts out bones to feed the Lammergeier. They had already been fed when we arrived, but the manager kindly agreed to put more bones out, whilst we got stuck in to some apple crumble in the hotel restaurant. The birds arrived so quickly I had to dash out and abandon mine, but they did give stunning views, better than any pudding!

Lammergeier being mobbed by White-necked raven
And this young Lanner dropped by, before getting mobbed by a Black-shouldered kite
We then headed round to Golden Gate to go walking, and to have a look in the vulture hide. There weren't any vultures but a few jackals were scavenging around the carcasses.

African stonechat
Cape longclaw
Cape rockthrush

Long-tailed widowbirds
Red-chested cuckoo
Southern bald ibis
Streaky-headed seedeater

The next day we were in for a long and somewhat monotonous drive across the Karoo, stopping for the night in an amazing little hamlet called Nieu Bethesda. 
African Hoopoe on the lawn of the water tower we stayed in at Nieu Bethesda
Blue cranes in the Karoo
Buff-streaked chat, Eastern Cape

Spot the meerkat

We then headed down into the Western Cape, via a rubbish night in a train in Mossel Bai. We had a very pleasant day the next day however, dropping in to De Hoop NR on the way to Hermanus, and getting great views of several Southern Right Wales just offshore, as well as Bontebok, Cape Zebra and Eland. Hermanus was even better, with another great wildlife experience vying for highlight of the trip when we went cage diving with great white sharks, and dropped in to Betty's Bay for the penguin colony, also scoring an Ichneumon/Egyptian mongoose on the way in. We finished off the trip with a few days R&R in Cape Town, although I managed to escape to Kirstenbosch botanical gardens and Strandfontein sewage works to do a spot of birding.
Southern Right Whale, De Hoop
Cape Sugarbird in the Capefold mountains
Agulhas long-billed lark, near De Hoop
African black oystercatcher, De Hoop
Capped wheatear, near De Hoop
Grey-winged francolin, De Hoop
White-throated swallows, near De Hoop
Kittlitz's plover, Groot Braksrivier
African penguin, Betty's Bay

Cape Batis, Kirstenbosch gardens
African paradise flycatcher, Kirstenbosch gardens

Water dikkop, Strandfontein Sewage works

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