DE HOOP NATURE RESERVE OUTING & BIRP COUNTPosted on the 2nd June 2015
Winter has been struggling to establish a foothold which worked in favour for our Birdlife Overberg members outing to De Hoop Reserve and we enjoyed three days of good weather and excellent birding. Our mission was to submit a species count to the Birds in Reserves Project, (or for short, BIRP), which collects bird occurrence information from inside protected areas in South Africa to support scientific and bird demographic research submitted by volunteers, (see http://birp.adu.org.za/).
We were accommodated in comfortable and very well appointed self-catering cottages in the De Hoop village. Both evenings we had “lekker kuier” round the braai fire; and after birding, it appears that many of our members have a second hobby which involves sharing knowledge and the pleasures of the Overberg wines.
Group braai, (image by Richard Masson)
It seems De Hoop is a birding gem no matter what season you visit. On the Friday afternoon as we arrived at the park gates an Orange-breasted Sunbird almost flew into Chris’s car and then settled a mere 2 metres away in an Erica bush. This set the tone for the weekend!
After booking in, we set out travelling first to the site called De Mond, where we viewed an unusual Hamerkop nest perched on the corner walls of one of the derelict old farm buildings. The light was against us, so photography was challenging, but notable was the presence of about 40 Greater-crested Grebes, which is more than I have ever seen together in one spot before. Fish-eagles were calling in the background and we ticked the expected flamingos, pelicans, coots, Little Grebes, Cape Teal, Black-winged Stilt and Rock and Brown-throated Martins. In a walk around the old farm-house we also found greenbul and bulbul, Bar-throated Apalis, sunbirds, prinia and Karoo Scrub Robin.
Next we headed to Kopje Alleen, which gives you access to the coast. There was some excitement as we spotted (no pun intended) an eagle-owl on the side of the road. He flew across the road and perched in a dune tree where he sat close by, unconcerned, and looked at us in that disdainful way only owls can achieve.
Spotted Eagle-Owl, (image by Richard Masson)
We had fleeting glimpses of Southern Tchagra and, on seeing a Jackal Buzzard in a tree, Charles commented it was good to see a Buzzard in a tree rather than the perennial telephone pole. On the walk down to the beach we had Southern Boubou (very confiding), Fork-tailed Drongo, Red-winged Starling and Bokmakerie, bulbul and prinia everywhere. Unfortunately it was high tide and I do not believe we had the best views of this beautiful stretch of beach. There were African Black Oystercatchers and the expected gulls present.
(l) Southern Tchagra & (r) Karoo Prinia, (both images by Richard Masson)
Sunset was spent overlooking the Vlei. A more beautiful setting one can hardly imagine and we were treated to a sunset so stunning it was difficult to draw ourselves away. My perception of a vlei has always been of a marshy, lily pad and reed-lined wetland with only occasional stretches of open water. The Vlei at De Hoop is more like an inland lake with huge expanses of open water and steep cliff faces plunging down into the water. The sound of Fish Eagles calling in the background and Caspian Tern, Grey-headed Gull, Little Egret, Pelican, herons and cormorants flying past at or below eye-level makes for wonderful birding and photography. There is a bounty of birds with grebes, coots and cormorants in abundance on the water. A Giant Kingfisher flew past and a Hamerkop settled on the far cliffs.
(l) Grey-headed Gull & (r) Caspian Tern, (both images by Richard Masson)
It was hardly surprising that most of us were up well before sunset on Saturday morning, listening to Fiery-necked Nightjar and Spotted Thick-knee. We were also treated to the grunt/growls of some resident elands which at first I thought was Stan making fun of us with his imitation of a lion’s roar. On the spur of the moment we decided to set off to try and find the nightjars. We were unsuccessful, but ended up on the cliff paths and boat-house at the vlei with the sun behind us and better suited to bird photography. The highlights of the morning included good views of Southern Tchagra and watching cormorants and Little Grebes feasting on fish almost bigger than their heads but notwithstanding dispatched in short order.
Little Grebe, (image by Richard Masson)
Our main objective for the morning was the Cape Vulture colony at Potberg. On their arrival the previous afternoon Jenny, Auriel and Stan had experienced the extraordinary sight of about 50 Cape Vultures flying low overhead and we were keenly anticipating our visit. Unfortunately, the farmer who has the vulture restaurant was away so we were unable to get close views of the vultures, but we decided to walk the Klipspringer Trail to get as close as possible to the colony. Most of our older bones got more than our expected share of aerobic exercise but we were rewarded with distant views of thermalling vultures. During one of the breaks to restore the oxygen equilibrium in our lungs, we noticed a raptor across the valley in a dead gum tree. Our conclusion was a Black-breasted Snake-eagle but Chris will get this confirmed. This raptor does not appear on the Robert’s listing for De Hoop. On the way to Potberg we had found a lone Secretary Bird hunting through the renosterveld which was also memorable.
The afternoon was a bit disappointing as the wind came up with a vengeance and it is amazing how the birds just disappear. Tina and I took a drive through the fynbos habitat and though we located Sugarbirds and Orange-breasted Sunbirds, most appeared to be sheltering deep in the proteas. Auriel’s group however a better luck with good sightings of Water Thick-knees and Charles saw South African Shelduck and African Spoonbill.
(l & r) Orange-breasted Sunbirds, (both images by Richard Masson)
Sunday dawned calm and bright. After another unsuccessful nightjar search, (frustrating, as we could hear them), we decided to re-visit De Mond to try and get photographs of the Greater-crested Grebes with the sun behind us. As the sun crested the horizon we noticed that every bush and shrub was festooned with dewy, glowing spider webs. It speaks volumes for the biodiversity of the area that such a population of spiders is supported. We saw an otter on the road and then in the water. Brown-throated Martins were gathering on selected dead trees on the water’s edge and Charles and I climbed down to sit with them in perfect light for half an hour. Coots, teals, shovellers and Little Grebes came in close, but our other target, the Greater-crested Grebe appeared instinctively to maintain their distance out in deeper water.
After booking out we paid a last visit to the cliff paths on the Vlei. We had found Cardinal Woodpecker next to the cottage and Acacia Pied Barbet (I do not believe there is an acacia within a 100 kilometres of De hoop), and Charles spotted African Hoopoe. We spent a final few minutes photographing the Caspian Tern, Grey-headed Gulls and Little Egrets flying past almost within touching distance. It was a physical effort to wrench one-self away and head home for Stanford.
(l) Cardinal Woodpecker & (r) Brown-throated Martins, (both images by Richard Masson)
Our final tally submitted for the BIRP count was 101, a satisfying total for this time of year – remember no swallows or swifts, no larks or pipits, no waders or other migrants. This was my first visit to De Hoop and we took the opportunity to check out the other accommodation options including rondavels and camp sites as I would certainly like to spend a week there in early spring.
The drive to and from De Hoop is a birding outing in itself as one travels through prime Overberg habitat. Our quest here was for Aghulhas Long-billed Lark, but the larks are notoriously cryptic at this time of year. We spent time at the Napier Sewage Works, encountered about 15 Denham’s Bustard and 2 pairs of Karoo Korhaans and plenty of Blue Cranes.
Karoo Korhaan (Image by Richard Masson)
Article and all images by Richard Masson.