Posted on the 22nd September 2013

We have done these courses at Lambert's Bay and Clanwilliam in the past and now received requests to present the course in the Matzikama local municipal region. This area is highly underrated as a birding destination and includes 'hotspots' such as the Olifants River mouth and estuary (an Important Bird Area and RAMSAR site), the Knersvlakte, Gifberg and many more. The decision to present a course at Vredendal was therefore fairly logical, particularly given the fact that the Municipal Manager offered the venue for free.

The weather did not allow us to do much birding and the road works between Citrusdal and Clanwilliam made the trip there very stressful. The green landscapes were however magnificent and we were fortunate to still find good patches of flowers along the way.

On the Tuesday afternoon we watched two Common Fiscal 'teenagers' messing around in the garden of the chalet where we stayed: this caused the birding highlight of our trip. On Wednesday morning while I was drinking my coffee outside the male Jackie Hangman attacked and actually killed a female House Sparrow and tthis caused major upheaval. It seemed as if the entire valley's sparrows were out in force to try and intervene and mousebirds, robins, starlings and weavers joined the chaos. The fiscal eventually dragged the unfortunate sparrow onto a rocky platform where it proceeded to literally tear it apart. This allowed the two youngsters to come in and feed on the carcass. So wonderful that ordinary garden birds can cause such an amazing birding experience.

We arrived at the venue and quickly realised that this would be a course with a difference. There were traditional 'boere handshakes' during registration and most of the people addressed me with that title. This was to be the first course in ten years that I actually presented in Afrikaans. And this is where the trouble started: I couldn't figure out what caused my tension. Is Afrikaans just more long-winded than English, did I just get carried away or was it that I often battled to remember the Afrikaans names of species? By lunchtime I was just on an hour behind schedule. I was fortunately able to make up time during the brood parasites and Kruger National Park case-studies.

The composition of the group was also very interesting. There were ten employees from CapeNature representing the Knersvlakte, Lambert's Bay and Cederberg areas. We were very encouraged by their level of commitment and participation as employees that get sent on these courses are often very demotivated and bored. A further eleven participants were from local tourism offices, guest farms and even included two tourism guides that run their own businesses. The ordinary birders that attended were a good mix of young and older people and all of this created a great atmosphere, with lively debate, healthy banter and high quality of questioning. What a committed and dedicated bunch of people – very encouraging.

The practical outing on Thursday was unfortunately a bit of a disaster. It was cloudy and bitterly cold and the river had jumped its banks flooding most of the adjacent vineyards. The Matzikama Eco-Park is sadly no more. The whole area seems vandalised with the bird hide having been physically carried away. It seems as if the provision of such facilities outside protected areas will remain a pipe dream in this country of ours. A single African Marsh-Harrier quartering over the reed beds was the only ray of light during a somewhat depressing birding outing.

The second day did however bring about a lot of interesting discussions. Many questions were asked about issues such as the training of PDI's, the marketing of the region as a birding destination and getting people traveling through the area to stop over and so on. It seems as if both the Matzikama and Cederberg local municipal regions would benefit tremendously from 'birdfinder route descriptions' such as those that had been developed for the Overstrand area. The region certainly has huge potential, the people who attended the course are truly dedicated and there is little doubt that we will be back sooner than we would ever have anticipated.











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