BIRDING IN THE GROOTWINTERHOEKPosted on the 25th October 2014
This report should read with the photo gallery at this link: http://www.westerncapebirding.co.za/overberg/gallery.php?id=73
Sixteen BirdLife Overberg members spent five days at Pampoenfontein Farm. Unfortunately John and Jos could not make it from the beginning due to problems with their vehicle and Ilse's dog fell seriously ill. Pampoenfontein is adjacent to the Grootwinterhoek Wilderness Area, beyond the Dasklip Pass above Porterville. We presented the Flight for Birders course at Porterville on Friday and Saturday. We were unaware that this is peak harvesting season and therefore did not have a good attendance – a local farmer did however request us to do the course in May 2015 and he will set it up.
Elaine and myself spent the two evenings in Restio Cottage at Pampoenfontein and were able to get a feel for the lay of the land. The cottage is very well appointed and practically equipped. The farm offers four cottages and a group of at least twenty people can be accommodated – an ideal venue for bird club outings. Visit www.pampoen fontein farm.co.za for more detail. The views over this rugged mountain landscape is simply spectacular and sitting at the patio with its beautiful pool something to behold.
We normally don't have enough energy after the course to do much hiking, with the result that we just birded around the cottage. Birds on the 'werf' include YELLOW BISHOP, BOKMAKIERIE, CAPE BUNTING, FAMILIAR CHAT, GREY-BACKED CISTICOLA, brown BROWN-THROATED MARTINS, NEDDICKY, RED-WINGED STARLING and GREATER STRIPED SWALLOW. The area around the dams produced AFRICAN BLACK DUCK (with its young), EGYPTIAN GOOSE, LITTLE GREBE, HADEDA, GREY HERON, BLACKSMITH LAPWING, SOUTHERN MASKED-WEAVER and CAPE WEAVER. Our highlight however was being able to study the diagnostic differences between KAROO PRINIA and NAMAQUA WARBLER at very close quarters and from the patio. A CINNAMON-BREASTED WARBLER was a huge surprise and had us frantically checking distribution maps. These two warblers were really great sightings.
Chris was the first to arrive on Sunday and had a wonderful trip in a photographic sense. He got very good images of species such as dancing BLUE CRANES, a BLACK HARRIER in full flight and a displaying CAPE CLAPPER LARK. Charles and Colleen soon joined in and by now the cameras were out and clicking away. Later in the afternoon I dropped Charles, Chris and Elsabé along the road and they then walked back to Restio with the sun behind them. They were most excited about good sightings of LONG-BILLED CROMBEC and CAPE GRASSBIRD. For the rest, everyone just settled in and Elaine prepared one of her famous potjies for the Restio residents.
On Monday morning most of us visited the BERGHOFF protea export farm that borders on Pampoenfontein. The owner Dennis Shaw took us on a guided tour of the packing store and explained how this industry works. We were essentially blown away by all of this and the beauty of some of these flowers just can not be believed. I will try my best to relate most of the story in the photo gallery and include many more images of the flowers. Most impressively, their social responsibility programmes will certainly make Tony Ehrenreich frown. The labourers take pride in their work and products as they own a BEE company and share in the profits. Their homes are beautifully kept and their children attend a beautiful school on the farm. What an experience! And to boot we were able to photograph CAPE SUGARBIRDS feeding on a variety of proteas and sugarbushes.
Later in the afternoon Charles and myself drove slowly through sections of the Grootwinterhoekberge Wilderness Area. We did not see many birds, but the breathtaking rocky outcrops interspersed with valleys dominated by restios have to be seen to be believed. The soft combinations of hues of browns, yellow, purple and green make for spectacular nature experiences and we decided to take the group there early on Wednesday morning when photography should be wonderful. The highlight of the day? A pale-phased BOOTED EAGLE circling above.
Early on Tuesday morning some of us went down the Dasklip Pass to a farm called 22 Waterfalls, and it is literally true. The views and vistas from the pass overlooking the valley stretching from Porterville to Piketberg and Piket-Bo-Berg beyond are stunning. The access road to the farm offered many EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS, three JACKAL BUZZARDS chasing each other across the skies, BLUE CRANES, AFRICAN PIPITS, PEARL-BREASTED SWALLOWS and CAPPED WHEATEARS. Owner Mac Jordaan welcomed us at Waterval and accompanied us to the base of the first waterfall. This gorge is essentially a forest where at least 52 species of indigenous trees have been identified. He also showed us the workings of their own hydro-electrical power plant developed for them by a post-graduate student.
We did some birding along the river and managed to find species such as BAR-THROATED APALIS, AFRICAN DUSKY FLYCATCHER, CAPE BATIS, AFRICAN PARADISE-FLYCATCHER and KAROO THRUSH. Mac further claims that OLIVE WOODPECKER had been identified here recently and Wim de Klerk saw a CAPE ROCK-JUMPER from the main house. A variety of accommodation options are available and this certainly is another venue that bird clubs should investigate. Visit www.22waterfalls.co.za We will certainly be back as Mac is organising a F4B course on one of his properties for May, 2015. Highlights of the day? A CAPE ROCK-THRUSH having a bath in the pool at the patio and a pair of VERREAUX'S EAGLES slowly circling up the valley to the annoyance of a zillion PIED CROWS. Chris, Frank, Peter and Jane took a round trip to Piketberg, Velddrif, Rocher Pan Nature Reserve, Verlorenvlei and Aurora and managed to rack up an impressive 114 species on the day. Their feedback was so exciting that several members decided that they would do a similar trip on Thursday.
On Wednesday eight of us went on an early morning hike in the Grootwinterhoek Wilderness Area and went as far as Disa Pool. The diversity of restio species in this harsh mountain landscape was a bit overwhelming – what a priviledge to be able to walk in this area. Several participants planned to do a longer hike in this general area on Thursday. We were delighted to again get a pale-phased BOOTED EAGLE flying above, landing lights and all. CAPE CLAPPER LARKS were out in force displaying and calling as only they can do. The brightness of their plumage shows off magnificently in the soft early morning light. ORANGE-BREASTED SUNBIRDS were also actively breeding in most of the area.
We always invite a local expert to address us on our midweek breakaways and today it was Samantha Schröder, the BirdLife South Africa Manager of the Verlorenvlei and Mouton's Hoek Protected Areas Project. We were amazed at the lack of resources and basic information on species abundance and diversity in the area and some members immediately started chatting about ways in which we could possibly assist. Chris suggested that we come here more regularly to do bird counts through the ADU projects and that we also take this matter to the Western Cape Birding Forum – maybe some of the other clubs could also assist with such counts. We will also develop and submit a project proposal for the development of a birdfinder web page for the Bergrivier local municipal region. This region clearly has the potential for the development of a meaningful birding tourism infrastructure and we could possibly assist in this regard.
On Thursday we woke to deep mist, with zero visability, and this lasted for most of the day. Some members decided to return home due to the conditions, others drove down the pass and explore the routes covered by Chris and others earlier (no mist down in the valley) and a few of us just loafed around the cottage, reading and chatting. The only real highlight was a BLACK HARRIER quartering like a ghost out of the mist and passing over the pool at the patio. In the evening we braaied at Protea Cottage, where there are large stands of proteas. Here we were delighted to find species such as SOUTHERN BOUBOU, CAPE SUGARBIRD, ORANGE-BREASTED SUNBIRD and CHESTNUT-VENTED TIT-BABBLER. The highlight (and laugh) of the evening was certainly Frank and Annie managing to get their vehicle stuck on their way to the braai. Mr Spratt is not going live this one down easily.
Pampoenfontein Farm is strongly recommended as a destination for birding (and other) outings. The mountain landscapes are stupendous, the stars amazing and the cottages well equipped. It further serves as a great base to explore other top birding destinations that are in relatively close proximity. October seems to be a good month for a visit here, as we had at least YELLOW BISHOP, BOKMAKIERIE, CAPE BUNTING, CAPE GRASSBIRD, KAROO PRINIA, BROWN-THROATED MARTIN, KAROO SCRUB-ROBIN and GREATER STRIPED SWALLOW breeding in the immediate area around Restio Cottage. Our trip total stands on 165 species identified on all the various outings and we had submitted a Birds In Reserves Project card with 99 species for the area on top of the mountain. The area's potential is futher aptly illustrated if one considers that we missed out on several great species on the farm's bird list. These include CAPE ROCK-JUMPER, PROTEA SEEDEATER, VICTORIN'S WARBLER and GROUND WOODPECKER. We will certainly be back.