We presented the Flight for Birders bird identification and conservation course at the Winterberg Mountain Lodge over the weekend of 15 and 16 September. This establishment is under new management and we were very impressed with the new conference facilities and the wonderful lunches that are available. The Winterberg Mountain Lodge is at the base of the Mitchell's Pass between Wolseley and Ceres and birding here is exceptional.
The pass features several safe picnic spots and here the majority of fynbos associated species can be studied. Protea Seedeater, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird and Victorin's Warbler are relatively easy to find and some reports of sightings of Ground Woodpecker have been received. The Tolhuis restaurant is also found in the pass and the lavish gardens here can produce species such as Cape Batis, Southern Boubou, African Goshawk, African Olive-Pigeon and Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler.
View from deck 1
View from deck 2
The practical outing on Saturday afternoon took us to Paul and Peppi Stanford's farm White Bridge that features Breede River frontage. The two groups went in different directions and good species were sighted. There were large numbers of canaries that included Black-throated, Brimstone, Cape and White-throated Canaries, Streaky-headed Seedeater and most excitingly Cape Siskin. We had good sightings of Cape Batis and African Dusky Flycatcher and the (hopeful) arrival of summer was heralded by Banded Martin, Black Sawwing, Greater Striped Swallow and several different sightings of African Paradise-Flycatchers. Elaine and Pietman's group further found Verreaux's Eagle and a probable sighting of Booted Eagle. African Black and Yellow-billed Ducks were seen at the river and most interestingly one of the participants described how she saw an otter killing an Egyptian Goose on her property last week. In total more than 50 species were seen at White Bridge farm – really good birding!
We believe that the Wolseley-Ceres area could be used very effectively for birding excursions. It is in close proximity to the birding delights of the Baineskloof, Mitchell's, Gydo and Theronsberg Passes and good waterfowl viewing is available at several places, but particularly along the Kluitjieskraal road near Wolseley, the river itself and at Tweeling dam to the east of Ceres. Great confirmed recent sightings from the area included Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and Red-billed Oxpecker.
African Black Ducks
Two exciting loop roads from here are recommended: Why not try a day outing by taking the R46 east from Ceres past Tweeling dam, Theronsberg Pass to Karoopoort? From here many of the specials associated with the Succulent Karoo can be found along the R355 and the best of Tanqua Karoo birds are available along the P2250. Return to Ceres via the Swartruggens road (visit the picnic site for Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Ground Woodpecker and Cape Eagle-Owl) and the spectacular Katbakkies Pass. From Op-die-Berg ensure that the Rocklands dam is visited and that slow birding is ensured through the Gydo Pass. As an alternative take the R303 north out of Ceres, turn right onto the Droëhoek road after about twenty km. This will eventually take the visitor to the Theronsberg Pass and later the Tweeling dam. Both of these suggested loop roads offer specials associated with Fynbos and Succulent Karoo habitats and many waterfowl are to be found.
And to crown a great birding weekend: I was sitting on the stoep once we had returned to Onrus and watch an African Goshawk flying past slowly giving its characteristic call, when suddenly a Peregrine Falcon rushed at it at breakneck speed. The poor Goshawk gave several anxious screams and somehow managed to escape into the safety of a clump of trees.
The Witzenberg region should be explored as it has great birding potential and it offers accommodation establishments to suite all tastes and price ranges.