Always look up

One of the most iconic sounds of Africa must be the call of the African Fish Eagle. Whether it is early morning, during the afternoon or approaching sunset, the call of this majestic bird will make you feel part of the bush.

One of the things I forgot to focus on during my first trip to Kruger was looking for birds. I was focussed so much on the ground that I often forgot to look up in the trees.

My friend and I stopped around the Lubyelubye Bridge and scanned the ground for any signs of animals. A car stopped next to us and we engaged in a friendly conversation. We asked if they had seen anything exciting in the area. The man looked at me and said, “Look Up”.

I did just that. I looked up and opposite us was a large nest with an African Fish Eagle inside it.

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This sighting felt like it trumped any sighting on the ground. We watched the graceful eagle simply sit in the nest and scan the surrounding area. Luck would have it that the eagle also called its unmistakeable call.

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The next moment we saw some movement in the nest. There was a chick inside it too. The chick got up and started moving around the nest. The mature Fish Eagle proceeded to feed the little one.

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I still can’t believe that we saw this sighting and I count myself lucky that I did. I also hate to think about how many other amazing tree top sightings I missed out on. We had a couple of other moments where we heard the Fish Eagle call across the Sabie River at Skukuza rest camp and Crocodile Bridge rest camp.

It’s a sound I’ll never forget.

An African Spoonbill posing

When seeing an animal for the first time, I always make a point of hanging around. It is fun to observe the behaviours of the animal and see how they interact in their surroundings.

I made my way to Rondevlei Nature Reserve in Cape Town for the first time. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t even know that the reserve existed, even though I had often passed this reserve to go surf at Muizenberg.

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There are 6 bird hides scattered along a straight walkway in this wetland reserve. I had arrived early and it was still relatively quiet and peaceful inside. One of the highlights for me that day was seeing an African Spoonbill. It was a surprise to me that we even had some in Cape Town.

I have seen many birds perch on branches and poles placed in front of various bird hides. The first hide at Rondevlei has a large log that juts out over the open water. I saw a Pied Kingfisher, Reed Cormorant and a Swallow perch on this log earlier that day.

I took a few minutes break and enjoyed some snacks. While I was busy a Spoonbill flew in and perched on top of this log. It looked really odd to me having such a large bird perch so close to a viewing hide.

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I watched the various antics that this bird performed. It walked up and down the log until it finally settled on a spot. It was wonderful to see the odd shaped bill of this bird. It spent some time plucking its feathers and grooming itself. At one point it even looked as if it was going to take a nap as it put its head back and balanced on one leg!

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A big boy

The size of elephants is often underestimated. Spending a few moments with a big boy in Kruger National Park made me realise just how enormous they really are.

My friend and I were travelling down the H3 past the Afsaal area. We approached a dry riverbed and decided to take a quick break and scan the area. In the far distance we could see a herd of elephants crossing the riverbed. The riverbank was extremely steep and we were surprised that the elephants would trample up that hill. As we were about to leave, one of the elephants gave a thundering trumpet and the sound echoed through the dry riverbed. It was a great experience hearing how loud the sounds are, even from a fair distance away.

We carried on with our drive and came across a rather open field. A car or two had already stopped there so we did the same. Then seemingly out of thin air, an enormous elephant came wandering out of the bush. This was the biggest elephant we had seen in the park. It seemed to be moving along on its own pace, not too bothered with the cars in the vicinity. A younger elephant followed close behind.

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I remember how cautious we were of elephants at a sighting. We really kept our distance from them. To my surprise a game vehicle approached the elephant and gave its guests a super close up experience. I’m not sure if we were quite ready for that level of bravery just yet.

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The two elephants simply walked across the open space, safely crossed the road and disappeared into the bush.

A couple of firsts

Ticking off new sightings on my list always gets me excited. Spending some time at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden provided the opportunity to get these sightings.

I quickly made my way up the relatively steep slope to ensure that I’d be away from any noise and disturbance for a while. While taking a quick rest on a bench I noticed some movement at a flower bed in front of me. I could not believe my luck. I saw a Grey Mongoose quickly run past me. It even stopped for a moment to see if I was a threat.

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There was a great deal of activity around the various fynbos plants in the garden. I heard a bird calling very excitedly, almost screaming. Upon closer inspection it turned out to be a Southern Boubou tucked away inside a bush. I had not seen one of these before. I also won’t forget it with its alarming call. I struggled to capture an image of it.

Even though the garden may be peaceful early in the morning, not all the birds share that sentiment. While walking casually up the fynbos path, I heard a loud shriek. I searched for the source of the noise and saw two Cape Spurfowl’s showing each other who’s boss.

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The Guinea Fowl in the garden are relatively tame due to the high volume of people passing through it daily. As a result you are really able to get up close and get some great shots of them on the various lawns. One pair even had some chicks with them.

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Butterflies are constantly fluttering by. As beautiful as they are, it is very tricky getting a picture of them while they are flying. I only managed to capture one while resting on a flower.

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There is a natural African Forest section part of the garden. They have created an interesting educational section called the Braille Trail. It also provides some stimulation for the blind people who frequent the garden. I took a walk inside, not knowing what I might find. I was inside the forest, along the trail  for only a short while when something caught my eye.

Perched on a branch amongst some trees was an African Goshawk. It sat dead quiet resting in the afternoon heat. It kept a keen eye on me. This was another first for me. I certainly didn’t expect it there.

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There are some really beautiful Golden Orb Spiders to be seen in the tree canopies around The Boomslang Canopy Walkway. The spiders were about the size of my hand and rather intimidating.

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It had been a long day for me and once my memory card had filled up, it was time to go home. I had seen many other birds like Karoo Prinias , Cape Robin-Chats and Cape Bulbuls, among others.

Just before I left the gate I packed my camera away. While doing so I thought to myself, should I clear one or two photos and just wait around at the entrance for another five minutes. I didn’t listen to myself and sure enough, as soon as my camera was away another first made an appearance.

It was a Cape Batis. I didn’t bother unpacking again and decided to just enjoy the sighting for what it was worth.

 

A splash of colour

There are few things that draw your attention more than vibrant colours. I spent the last Saturday of February 2016 at the world renowned Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town. I went with one goal in mind and the goal was achieved.

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This prestigious garden is not only beautiful to look at. The tranquillity of the morning, before the masses arrive, provides a charm of its own. I arrived as the gates opened and for a brief moment it felt as if I had the garden all to myself. My aim for the day was to spend the majority of my time in the Protea and Erica sections. The multi-coloured sunbirds were what I was after.

To my dismay, the proteas were not blooming in abundance. I forgot that most of them flower in spring. This did not set me back and I still kept a positive attitude. There were still a few flowering here and there.

I was grateful for the many benches placed throughout the garden. One forgets how hot the summer sun can be. Even at 8:00 in the morning. I took some cover in the shade. While resting I heard an all too familiar, high pitched tweeting. I knew for sure that this was a sunbird.

I was right. Across from where I was sitting, I saw some Double-collared Sunbirds flying by. They perched on top of the braches of a bush, proudly showing off their plumage.

To my delight, the tiny bird displayed something which I had never seen before. The plumage of the Double-collared Sunbird was in full display. What I had never seen before was the added yellow tufts of feathers on its shoulders. Apparently it is a display of dominance and/or breeding plumage. This got me really excited for what else I could possibly see.

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It was interesting to see the development of the various sunbirds. Some were still very grey, where others were in magnificent display. Even the plain ones were a sight to see. Especially when feeding on the vibrant Erica flowers and Red Hot Pokers.

The highlight of the day still had not arrived. I was in search of the Orange Breasted Sunbird. I had not seen this extravagant bird in quite some time. I was certain that if I were to find it, it would be in the Erica section.

I positioned myself in front of the Ericas, comfortably leaning against a solid tree. This would be my shady spot for the next hour. Some sunbirds came by, but not the one I wanted.

Kirstenbosch-3I could feel the strain of sitting still for over an hour. I was considering moving along, but knew that I would miss what I had set out to see. Finally, I saw some movement in the bush. It was indeed an Orange Breasted Sunbird. It was exactly what I was hoping to find. Best of all I managed to capture the bird in all its glory.

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I am really glad that I found what I was looking for. Even though these birds are strikingly beautiful with their metallic colours, there is so much more to be on the lookout for at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.

Tygerberg Nature Reserve

After spending a lot of time around wetland areas, I decided to head out for a different photo-shoot. Tyberberg Nature Reserve is just around the corner from my house and I’ve delayed visiting this reserve for quite some time.

There are many hiking trails around Tygerberg Hill and the hike up to the top is worth the effort. The trails offer something from a casual walk to more strenuous trails. The main hike around the hill is around 10km. The reserve supports one of the last areas of the highly endangered Swartland Shale Renosterveld vegetation.

Tygerberg Nature has released a couple of Bontebok into the park a few years back. I remember seeing them from quite a distance away, but never from up close. This time I managed to see the beautiful antelope grazing right next to the road. They seem to have settled in and weren’t too concerned with me coming up rather close.

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There is a thriving animal life inside the reserve. On most days you will be able to see some raptors flying overhead. I got a good glimpse of a Jackal Buzzard that soared past me on top of the hill.

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While walking through the fynbos you’ll hear many different birds calling. I managed to get some photos of Cape Bulbuls, Fiscal Flycatchers, Sunbirds, Cape White-eyes and Cape Grassbirds. It was a very quiet birding morning for some reason.

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Although the main flower season has passed, I did see some flowers that were still in bloom. I also saw some large Lichen patches on various rocks while taking a quick snack break.

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The Nature Reserve had a controlled fire the week before I went there. Unfortunately some of the tortoises suffered due to the fire. The reserve managed to rescue a lot of them and kept them under a watchful eye in a secluded garden. I took a little rest in the garden hoping to see some more bird life. It was extremely quiet inside. I looked down at the path for about two minutes. Then all of a sudden I noticed that I had been staring at a tortoise the whole time and didn’t even see it. It was the first time that I had seen a Parrot Beaked Tortoise.

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Stony Point Penguin Colony

On a recent trip to Betty’s Bay I made a quick stop at Stony Point Penguin Colony.

This reserve used to be a whaling station until it ended its operations around 1930. The African (Jackass) Penguins settled here and decided to start nesting. Now the reserve hosts a very healthy population of African Penguins, amongst other birds like the cormorants, darters and sea gulls.

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There is still evidence of the whaling station at the reserve like the old slipway and the shipwreck. The penguins seem very relaxed around people, but don’t get too close to them. They might just bite!

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Some of the penguins love posing and are not camera shy at all.

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Most of the penguins just gather around each other, minding their own business.

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Keeping your eyes open will usually reveal something interesting. My dad noticed an egg that had been scavenged. It might have been snatched by a mongoose, snake or possibly one of the other birds looking for a quick meal.

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There were many lizards sitting at the edge of the rocks, basking in the sun. It almost got tiring taking photos of them.

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To my surprise there were some Dassies (Rock Hyrax) at the reserve too. They seemed rather lazy and didn’t move around too much.

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An old soul

There are those days in Kruger when you can just end up driving for kilometres on end without seeing any animals.

My friend, Anthony, and I had one of those drives on a rainy morning in Kruger National Park. To make it worse, it was a gravel road that felt like it was never going to end.

We set out the morning hoping to hit some open grassland and view some Lions and Cheetah. Unfortunately the morning did not deliver any of it.

What we did come across, eventually, were some very old African Buffalo. They are one of the Big 5 animals.

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This old buffalo made its way up from the Sabie River. It is very interesting to see the older animals in the park. One tends to wonder what encounters these old souls have had to deal with over time. The older buffalo can be rather irritable and temperamental so we kept a safe distance while viewing them.

Along the road we came across many nooks and crannies that could be the ideal place to spot some game or even the more elusive animals. Yet, there was not much to be seen besides a few birds.

We circled a muddy waterhole and decided to park there for a while, hoping that something would come our way. We scanned a large field opposite the waterhole. Nothing.

Then from out yonder, we saw some movement. We grabbed the binoculars and managed to spot some more buffalo. These weren’t as old as the first sighting, but they were moving at a crawling pace. They did not seem phased about anything and just carried on with their mission.

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We watched the buffalo stop for a very brief moment at the waterhole and then they proceeded to move into the bush.

A little treasure

Even though Betty’s Bay is a very small ,holiday town in the Overberg area of the Western Cape, it offers a very scenic drive between mountain and sea. The first Saturday in February saw me take a trip through to Betty’s Bay with my parents.

Tucked away on the mountain side of the town you will find a national treasure, the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens. It was the first time that I went to visit this site. It certainly won’t be the last!

The garden offers spectacularly landscaped Fynbos, Protea and Erica sections. The colours bursting through these little pockets are mind-blowing. It also includes a small wetland system and a mini forest. There are some hiking trails that lead to a magnificent waterfall.  You can also take another route which leads to a panoramic view point higher in the mountain. One of the bridges was undergoing maintenance so I couldn’t venture that far into the mountain, but I’d love to go back and do the full trail.

Besides the abundance of indigenous flora in the garden, you’ll be able to see a wealth of fauna too. From the entrance I could hear many frogs croaking in the pond and nearby streams. Many birds were chirping about as the sun was starting to rise. You may be lucky to see tiny Steenbok or Klipspringer in the gardens if you are there early enough and have a well trained eye. Up in the mountain you might even be lucky enough to spot a Cape Leopard.

I followed this Blue Agama for a few meters until it settled on a rock to bask in the warming sun.

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The striking Erica section was beaming with lively, colourful Double-Collared Sunbirds and Malachite Sunbirds and others passing through.

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The impressive Protea section was dominated by Cape Sugarbirds. One male in particular looked as if he ruled that section. He posed on a Protea and was not camera shy at all. I managed to get pretty close to it and snap some pics.

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Cape_Sugarbird_-_HPBG-1[1]Sugard_Tongue_HPBG-_HPBG-1[1]There are many tiny insects, butterflies and dragonflies buzzing around the various sections.

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I saw some Jackal Buzzards soaring high in the sky scouting for something to prey on. Unfortunately they did not venture any closer and decided to perch on some rocks higher up in the mountain.

The entire garden can be covered with a comfortable walk. Keep an eye open for any activity and you may just find something very special there.

A scoop of pelicans

Rietvlei Nature Reserve in Cape Town has two bird hides and these always provide some form of entertainment.  It is a rather lengthy walk to get the hides, compared to other reserves I’ve been to. However, this also provides an opportunity to scout the surrounding area for interesting sights.

I made a quick visit to Rietvlei early on the morning of Christmas Eve 2015. The tide was very low and the salt pans were rather dried up. This resulted in bird activity being quite far away from the viewing hides. Without getting despondent, I continued with my quest.

Along the way I managed to see some Stilts, three African Spoon Bills as well as a Yellow Billed Kite flying overhead. These were all a first for me.

I made my way to the Old Friends Hide. I watched some Flamingos wade in the wetland and eventually take off. These lanky birds look rather comical when flying. In the background I could see a large scoop of Pelicans circling in the air. I was hoping that they would come nearer, but that prospect didn’t seem promising.

I decided to move along to the Sunset hide, further down the wooden pathway. By this time I could see some rain clouds forming. This didn’t deter me. I noticed a good couple of White Throated Swallows flying around, hunting for insects and dragonflies. I saw at least five successful dragonfly and cricket hunts.

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With all this activity I knew some rain was bound to fall. The wind started to pick up over the water and it got rather chilly inside the hide. I decided to sit tight and waited for some action.

Then unexpectedly, the Pelicans I was hoping for came and landed in front of the hide. I watched one scoop up a fish with its large beak. I managed to capture a take-off of one of the other pelicans as they were all about to leave.

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Sure enough after watching the pelicans a couple of large drops of rain started falling. I packed up my belongings and decided to leave as it would have been a long run back to the car in pouring rain!