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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