Spring day at Kirstenbosch

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens is currently exploding with colour and teeming with animal activity.

With all the flowers that are blossoming, there is a prolific amount of birds around the gardens. I had a couple of first time sightings again, which is always exciting when spending time outside.

One of these sightings occured at the start of the trip already. I saw a couple of small Swee Waxbills on the lawn. To my surprise I saw them numerous times around the garden, throughout the day.

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One of my goals for the day was to capture some great action around the protea and pincushion sections. I had not seen the King Protea in the garden before so I really wanted to pay a visit there. I really hoped that I might see a Sugarbird or Malachite Sunbird feeding from the King Protea. To my delight, a male Cape Sugarbird actually paid a visit and spent a brief moment on the King Protea.

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The Cape Sugarbirds were very active during the morning and I spent a considerable amount of time with them.

One of the more common birds that a lot of people might ignore, or find a nuisance, is the Helmeted Guineafowl. I find these birds to be highly entertaining and actually very photogenic. In my opinion they must be one of the most beautifully ugly birds around.

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One of the birds that I haven’t seen for ages was the pair of Spotted Eagle Owls that nest in the gardens. I got really excited when I managed to spot these raptors. The male was napping in the tree and the female was hidden in the bushes at the nest sight.

I managed to capture a shot of the owl just peeking at me during its snooze.

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Every time I visit the Afromontane forest section, aka The Braille Trail, I see something truly amazing. I was really hoping that the visit this day wouldn’t disappoint. It was around lunchtime and it was starting to get pretty hot in the sun. I knew that it would be a good idea to get some shade and just relax there in the forest. After sitting quietly for a while, a noticed a flash of orange fly through the forest.

I didn’t get a clear view of what it was, but I knew it would be worth investigating. I had wishful idea of what it might be, but wasn’t too hopeful in my search. It was very shady in the forest so I had to search diligently. Eventually I saw that iconic orange body that I was so hopeful for. It was a female African Paradise Flycatcher. I had never seen one and was ecstatic when I found it.

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It was a very productive day in the garden and with the wonderful spring weather that we’ve been having, I can’t wait for summer to arrive.

Not just another Egyptian Goose

There are many species that we have become so accustomed to, that we often take their beauty for granted. One such species for me is the Egyptian Goose.

On a recent visit to Intaka Island, I saw yet another pair of Egyptian Geese moving around the wetland area. I generally don’t pay them much attention, but I noticed some odd behaviour from this specific pair. I saw the male swimming purposefully towards the female. I was pretty sure he was looking to mate with her. One thing that I noticed is that they were in the middle of the water.

Within a couple of seconds the male approached the female in the middle of the water. He simply climbed on top of her, pushed her under the water and proceeded to mate with her.

Once all of this commotion was over, they performed a quick post mating dance and then continued with their daily activities.

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Picturesque Postberg

There’s a reason why people make such a fuss about the flower season on the west coast. It is one of the highlights to see around Cape Town in the spring time.

I spent a day in the Postberg Flower Reserve within the West Coast National Park. This section is usually closed to the public, but the landowner opens it up every year from August through to September. One can either drive through the reserve at your own leisure or book a hiking tour through the reserve.

I opted for a self-drive and I was mesmerized by the vast array of flower patches around the reserve. Most of the flowers are daisies that come up just after the last winter rains. While I was there the predominant colours were white, yellow and orange. At some sections the white flowers are so plentiful that it looks like a blanket of snow covering the ground.

In between the large patches you will some pink and blue coloured flowers.

Some of the landscapes in the park provide great opportunities for panoramic shots. The only issue when getting out of the car is contending with the bees. There were a few times when I abandoned some photo opportunities due to the bees harassing me.

I came across a healthy variety of game in this little reserve. I managed to see some Eland, Kudu, Springbok, Zebra, Wildebeest, Gemsbok, Steenbok and Ostrich. I was also pleased to see that the Yellow Billed Kites have returned from their migration.

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The park does get quite full during the day so I would recommend getting there rather early. The gates to Postberg open around 9am, but the greater park opens its gates earlier. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and hope to make my way there once again.

Malachite Mating Dance

It has been a long while since the Malachite Kingfishers have made a consistent appearance at Intaka Island. This may be due to the fact that the larger Pied Kingfishers are nesting where the Malachite’s nested the previous season.

I made a turn at Intaka recently and was presently surprised to see not one, but two of these spectacular little wetland inhabitants. The pair perched on a nearby branch and just seemed to sit there for a while.

Then one of them, assumingly the male, started flying around the other bird, assumingly the female. This persisted for quite a couple of minutes. Each time the male would land closer to the female. It seemed to me as if they were performing a mating dance or ritual. It was quite comical to see this. The male looked quite hesitant to move in too close.

I knew that the Pied Kingfishers had been gone for a while. I was pretty sure that they would make an entrance very soon. Before I could take any more shots, they came swooping in, making a large racket! The male proceeded to chase the smaller Malachites out of the area and that was the last I saw of them for that day.

The Escort

Cape Point offers a lot more fantastic wildlife opportunities than the odd ostrich that crosses the road en route to the lighthouse and restaurants.

I spent a day in the nature reserve only focusing on spotting wildlife and I was presently surprised by the diversity that this park holds. There is one specific sighting that really fascinated me. I have recently fallen in love with the Jackal Buzzard. These raptors exude major attitude and definitely dominate the skies. Or so I thought.

While following one of the roads in the park, I saw a Jackal Buzzard glide across a hill top. I stopped and viewed this majestic bird of prey for a moment. Then the craziest event happened.

Jackal Buzzard flying over the cliff

The Jackal Buzzard started moving in closer to the hill. All of a sudden a large flock of Red Winged Starlings took flight. I really wasn’t sure what was going on, but then I realised that they must have been nesting and that Jackal Buzzard just came in too close for comfort.

These little starlings are far smaller than the raptor, but together they banded together and seemed to escort the intruder away from their nests.

Jackal Buzzard Being escorted 1

There was easily 100 birds that took to the sky. It was incredible to listen to the noise that they were making and the urgency at which they removed this imposter from their territory.

Jackal Buzzard Being escorted 2

Once the Jackal Buzzard was far enough from the starlings, the commotion subsided and the hill returned to its peaceful state as if nothing had happened.

Water abound

Winter is still in full swing and as such the bird life is not as active as in summer.

I was quite surprised by the amount of water that Cape Town has received recently. The last time that I visited Rietvlei Nature Reserve in Cape Town, all the salt pans were still bone dry. I paid a quick visit there the weekend that passed and it looks like the whole place had flooded. All the pans are soaked and the wetland looks completely transformed.

Rietvlei with water

As a result of all the water bodies, I was able to shoot from another hide called Old Friends Hide. During the dry season it is almost impossible getting any shots from this hide, but when surrounded by water there is a plethora of birds around. The various species would either gather in the nearby reeds, in the water, on the banks or even fly by right in front of the hide.

There has recently been a lot of Cape Clawless Otter sightings around the viewing hides. I was fortunate enough to finally see one too. Unfortunately I was unable to get a pic of one as it caught me by surprise.

West Coast adventure

I had been looking forward to another trip to West Coast National Park for quite some time now. It was decided that the sunny Saturday after the recent rains would be a great day to visit the park.

A friend and I headed out early the morning in order to catch the sunrise from within the park. This was probably one of the best decisions for the day. I was certain that the stormy weather would clear and produce an epic sunrise.

West Coast Sunrise 1

I still had not covered the entire park and that was the mission for the day. We drove up to Seeberg which boasts the best panorama’s of the park. It overlooks the entire Langebaan Lagoon, which is a RAMSAR site.

Seeberg PanoramaSeeberg 1On the way leading up to Seeberg, we had a quick glimpse of a Steenbok running off into the bushes. As it took off I heard a bird making a terrible noise. It turned out to be a Southern Black Korhaan. I was thrilled as I had not seen one before. I couldn’t believe how noisy they were. It eventually took off and then I spotted another one which took off too.

Southern Black Korhaan

As sunny weather was forecasted, I was sure that most of the animals and birds would be catching some sun after the rains disappeared. I spotted a little Rock Kestrel perched on one of the stop streets signs. It was all puffed up, trying to warm up in the early morning sun.

Rock Kestrel

There were many little birds perched on top of the bushes. I spotted a Bokmakierie with its distinctive call. I watched it for a little while and saw that it was making some weird movements. The next moment it coughed up something most disgusting.

I'm sick of this

We made our way back down to Geelbek bird hides overlooking the lagoon. I had timed the tides incorrectly and we ended up viewing the lagoon at low tide. I was hoping to get to see some great wading species, but the water was too far back. We ended up seeing some Greater and Lesser Flamingo, Pied Avocet and Kittlitz’s Plovers.

The salt marshes surrounding the hides were full of water and we watched some Red Billed Teals continuously fighting each other. The pans were very colourful and watching the birds interact around the water sources was great fun.

Wetland observerCape Weaver with grassKaroo Prinia with nesting materialCape BuntingWhite Backed MousebirdsAfter lunch we decided to drive up to the Postberg section. As we left our picnic at Geelbek, we noticed a lot of activity in one of the trees. There was a spectacular male Malachite Sunbird feeding on the flowers. It was spectacular to see the full metallic plumage of this little bird.Malachite Sunbird

Along the way to the Postberg section we saw a lot of game activity. We managed to see some Angulate Tortoises, Eland, Bontebok, Kudu and many Steenbok pairs. The Steenbok seemed rather calm and were feeding in the open quite close to our car. One of the males had a deformed horn. It did not look comfortable at all!

KuduSteenbok MaleSteenbok Female

Unfortunately the flower season had not started yet so we could not enter the Postberg section. I really would like to make a turn there in spring.

On our way back down and out of the park we stopped over at Abrahamskraal. It had become super cold so we didn’t stay long. We managed to see a Marsh Harrier fly over the wetland. On our way out we saw the sun starting to set. A female ostrich graced us with her presence and walked directly between us and the sunset. We caught a great glimpse of the ostrich bathed in warm golden sunlight.

Ostrich in golden light

All in all it was a real adventure spending the whole day in the park. We counted 32 bird and 5 mammal/reptile sightings.

Reflections

A windless day in Cape Town provides the most amazing sights around water sources. I experienced such a day at Rietvlei Nature Reserve in Cape Town.

I headed out early morning as usual and found myself sitting in the Sunset Hide. There was not a breathe of wind on the water. It was as if the water had become a large mirror.

Soon after sunrise I saw a pair of Black Winged Stilts fly in and feed in the shallow waters in front of the hide. I could not help but take reflection shots of these birds feeding.

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One of the birds must have been very vain as it kept looking at itself in water. Either admiring itself or wondering who this intruder was wading in its feeding area.

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These tiny Black Winged Stilts managed to scoop up quite a bit of food before they took off again. There was a hive of activity from the various bird species due to the still waters. I guess it must have been very easy for them to spot food in those pristine conditions.

Piercing Eyes

Spending time in nature must be one of the most relaxing experiences, but at 2 Degrees Celsius that experience is not all that relaxing.

I was up and about early on Sunday morning and decided to head out to Rietvlei Nature Reserve in Cape Town before sunrise. I didn’t realise how cold it would be and had I known, I might have just stayed in bed.

When I arrived at the reserve the sun was just starting to make its presence known. I made the long walk towards the viewing hides. On route I watched as the sun was going to rise over the distant mountains. What a magical sight it was.

20160703_075837It was extremely cold outside and I could already feel my fingers starting to burn from the cold. I was walking on the wooden walkway and it felt like I was ice skating rather than walking. When I looked down I saw that the walkway was covered in frost. It was very entertaining making my way to the hide.

Unfortunately there was very little action on the water as the birds must’ve been sleeping in late too. I did manage to get a fantastic view of a sunlit Table Mountain across a very smooth Rietvlei dam.

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It was too cold inside the hide so I decided to rather venture out into the field and hopefully find some raptors. I saw the resident Black Shouldered Kite perched in the distance, but it was too far away for any decent shots. I walked around for a while and still not too much activity.

Once the sun had warmed things up a little, the birds started venturing out. All of a sudden I noticed the Black Shouldered Kite flew in and perched very nearby. I took a closer walk and tried to get as close as possible without chasing it off.

Black Shouldered Kite-1Black Shouldered Kite-2Black Shouldered Kite-3This bird of prey is not the biggest of the lot, but what I find most incredible is their piercing red eyes. It is quite an eerie feeling looking at them straight in the eyes. It’s almost as if they are looking right through you.

I spent a couple of minutes with this beautiful raptor and I knew it would take off soon. I lined up the shot and watched it depart.

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Solstice Full Moon

This year marked a very special winter solstice (southern hemisphere). It was the first solstice since 1967 that coincided with a full moon.

I planned this event in order to witness the full moon rise over the Tygerberg Hill close to home. I saw that the moon was set to rise at 18:50. I gathered my camera and tripod and ventured out to the field where I planned to shoot from. However, I forgot that the predicted time was when the moon rises from the horizon and not over the hill. I didn’t want to leave so I waited until 19:30 before I saw any sign of the moon rising.

While waiting I even had a local police patrol van come to check why I was standing along an open field at night. I responded that I was taking photos of the moon, even though there was no moon in sight.

After waiting a few more minutes I saw a little bit of light reflect off a nearby cloud over the hill. Finally the moon was on its way.

Just before the moon came, I realised that my tripod was not holding my full camera set up. I decided to abandon the tripod set up and go with my bean bag as a stabilising option. To my dismay, I left the bean bag at home. There was no time left to go home and fetch it. Not wanting to miss the shot, I made a plan.

In the middle of the open, freezing cold field, I took off my hoodie to use it as a support structure. I was left standing, shivering in a flimsy T-shirt.

Finally, I saw the edge of the hill start to illuminate. I got ready to start taking the shots. It was incredible to see the full moon reveal itself over the brim of the hill. What astounded me more was how quickly it rises over the hill.

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Within a very short time, the full moon had risen completely. I got a great shot of it while it was still within slightly polluted light.

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It eventually broke through the pollution layer and showed its usual greyish tone that we are accustomed to.

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Despite the cold, I thoroughly enjoyed witnessing this once in a lifetime lunar occurrence. It will sadly only happen again around the year 2062.