Oct. 25 & 26

We were up before sunrise to get to the Karoo for sunrise and our last full day of birding.  Karoo is low desert scrub.




Aardvark hole

We were looking mostly for LBJs and endemics.  We found 10 new species in the 1st 3 hours.  Pao describes these birds as “special, not beautiful”.  He only likes to take pictures of the beautiful ones, but that didn’t stop him from taking his camera out and setting it up on the tripod at all our frequent stops.

We had a pitstop at a very funky store/restaurant in the middle of nowhere.  They had lots of skulls and horns and other strange decor.  A Familiar Chat had a nest in a dead tractor.



It was very dry out with no sign of Bustards or Coursers which we were also looking for.  We did get some beautiful distant views of a few Pale Chanting Goshawks.  We finally found 3 Karoo Korhaans but we came back through a pass where we looked high and low for Protea Canary and didn’t find it.





I think these are called ice plants.


Coming through the pass


View through the pass



Our wonderful guide Greg



This is looking down at the greater Ceres area.  There are many apple and pear and other fruit orchards here.  In fact the apple juice box we had at breakfast was from here.


We left Ceres this morning at 10:00 am (4:00 am at home) and headed toward the Cape Town airport but we had to make one more stop.  This time we found that Protea Canary. He’s kind of drab but that was one more bird for our list.  I think the group got something like 460 species of birds.  We didn’t see all of these but probably only missed 10 or less.  We haven’t done our totals yet.  We also saw 45 mammals and 15 reptiles.  I’d say we did very well.  It was a fabulous trip even if it was exhausting.  We arrived home the next day at about 3:00 pm safe and sound.





Oct. 24

We left the Whale View this morning and our first stop was Table Bay Nature Reserve.  There were lots of White Pelicans, Greater Flamingos, waders and ducks.  We saw our 1st African Marsh Harrier.  We are in what is called Fynbos environment which supports tough, flexible plants and many beautiful flowers including over 60 varieties of Protea.  We saw geraniums and nasturtiums growing wild.

From there we went to West Coast National Park.


Angulated Tortoise.  We saw at least 7 of these there.




We had lunch here next to Weavers building more nests


Cape Weaver




Pao and his camera


Walk to hide where we saw lots of shore birds, including Greater and Lesser Flamingos.


Some of the flowers in the Fynbos environment.

We saw quite a few Ostriches here.  Male Ostriches will mate with up to 5 females who will all lay their eggs in the same nest and look after them together.

We drove on to Ceres where we would stay for 2 nights going through wheat fields and vineyards and views of the Seeterburg Mountains.



Southern Black Korhaan




View of the mountains



Oct. 23

Woke up today feeling much better.  We are at the Whale View Inn overlooking False Bay in Simon’s Town.


our room



views from our balcony

After a lovely breakfast at the Inn we drove along beautiful beaches around False Bay to Stony Point.


False Bay


Stony Point is all the way around to the end of the mountains.


A closer view

Some of the beaches we passed had nesting Kelp Gulls on the dunes and fishermen on the beaches.


Fishermen on the beach

There were million dollar mansions along the cliffs and views of Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean.

Our first stop was at Betty’s Bay.



You might see this sign and think you might get to see a penguin or two but this is what we saw.



Betty’s Bay


Our first look at Penguins.


Taking a rest


Standing Penguin



The Penguins were all along the rocks.  A boardwalk ran right next the the rocks so we were very close to them.  There were 2,500 nesting pairs counted last year.  Probably similar number now.  Pretty awesome!

We found some other new birds at Stony Point–Victorine Warbler and Cape Sugarbird, both endemics and rare. (Since we don’t have the better camera anymore pictures of small birds are impossible but I’ll keep giving you links to google images so you know what I’m talking about.)  We did manage a picture of this caterpillar


From there we went to the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens which had many of the up to 63 different species of Protea flowers.





This entire hillside was covered in Protea.  It also was where we found quite a few Orange-breasted Sunbirds.   We also found some other endemics such as Cape Siskin, Rock Martin and Swee’s Waxbill.

We had lunch at the garden.  I had this beautiful salad.


And here is a picture of Pao drinking a milkshake.


Pao, being from Taiwan, had never had a milkshake before coming to So. Africa.  From the very beginning Greg would order one for him as he seemed to enjoy it so much.  It was like a running gag that wherever we went we’d order him one, sometimes different flavors, but he really liked chocolate the best.  One restaurant had a special double fudge hot milkshake that consisted of vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and hot chocolate milk which you poured over the ice cream when you got it.  He loved that one.

Some more pictures from the gardens:



We moved on to Rooi Els to walk along a dirt road with steep hills on the side.




All these rocks are perfect habitat for the Cape Rockjumper,  the other species we were looking for.  These birds work their way up the hillside and then back down all day long.  We were lucky to find a pair working its way down to the road where we were and got some great looks at them.

We also found a few other things


Flowers and Aloe


Southern Rock Agama


Cape Dwarf Chameleon

And this view looking down to the beach


This day was a welcome improvement on the day before.





Oct. 21 & 22

After breakfast we left KarMichael Farm for the Durban airport to fly to Capetown.


A last clearer view from our room at KarMichael.


Pond beyond the fence


Along our drive to Durban

There was an accident on the main highway we were coming in on and the highway was closed.  We didn’t know this soon enough to avoid it and got stuck on the highway about 4 kilometers from the accident without an exit before it.  We sat there for about an hour and a half.  We had left early, 6:45, to make our plane at 10:45.  It’s about a 2.5 hour drive.  It was clear this accident was going to keep us from making our plane so Greg got on the phone and finally got us rescheduled on a flight at 7:00.  It’s a 2 hour flight to Capetown and then another hour to where we were staying in Simon’s Town so it was going to be a late night.


Large Mall in Durban


In the meantime we had a day in Durban.  Our first stop was a sewage treatment plant.  If you’re not a birder you may not realize how many sewage treatment plants are frequented by birders.  Many of the plants create special boardwalks and viewing areas.  This one directed birders to an area with water where there were many ducks and waders.



These are from the sewage treatment plant.

It was very hot so we didn’t stay long before we moved to a shadier place.  This turned out to be Pigeon Valley Nature Reserve in the heart of an upscale urban area of Durban.


by the entrance

There were some new birds there.


Kurrichane Thrush


Thick-billed Weaver

There were lots of Vervet Monkeys at the entrance.  Apparently they can be a problem for the local homeowners. We had lunch nearby at a great restaurant with lots of fresh unusual salads and sandwiches.


This beautiful Jacaranda was near the restaurant.

Then we moved on to one more stop before the airport–the Hawaan Lagoon.  There was a path through forest where we found a Black-throated Wattle-eye and a


different millipede.

Then we came to a boardwalk across the Lagoon with lots of reeds.


And more Weavers building nests.


And a Speckled Mousebird was there too.

We made it to our destination for the next 2 nights–The Whale View–at about 10:30.  There had been much discussion about the next day as we were scheduled for a Pelagic boat trip for either Saturday or Sunday depending on weather.  The captain of the boat decided later in the evening that it was a go for Saturday so after a late night we had to get up early, have breakfast and be at the dock at 6:45.

The next morning we got up early and got to the dock on time.  It was raining but they insisted that wouldn’t last long and would be clear so we could still go.  BIG MISTAKE!


In the boat.


Looking out the bow.

It did sort of clear but instead of rain we got wind.  BIG wind! We went through swells that were 9 to 12 feet.  They threw us up and then dropped us down with a bang.  All the dramamine we took didn’t keep us from being seasick.  Of the 10 passengers on the boat all but two felt sick and at least 4 of us actually threw up. Denny was in the  stern to throw up over the rail and a big wave came along and threw him up in the air and down on the floor and splashed all over him and the camera.



This is the last picture taken on the camera which subsequently died.  We do have a small point and shoot camera so all pictures are not over, thank goodness.

When we turned around to go back the waves didn’t bother us but at that point we were too sick and cold to care.  We went back to our room and took a long hot shower.  It was about 2:00 and we all didn’t  get back together until dinner which I still wasn’t much interested in but managed a bowl of soup.  Denny wasn’t feeling as bad and had a little more to eat.

We did manage to see some seabirds however –2 Shearwaters, a Petrel and 3 Albatross so it wasn’t a total loss but I doubt we’ll be going on another Pelagic trip for a long time.



Oct. 20th

This was the day we went to Sani Pass in Lesotho.  Lesotho is a high-altitude, landlocked kingdom encircled entirely by South Africa.  There are about 2 million people living in the country, most of whom live in extreme squalor.  They are ruled by a king who spends his time on the French Riviera.

The pass we go up is a great place to bird, however.


I think the little notch in the mountain is the pass.

It was a cool, overcast day which got progressively colder as we gained altitude.  We had 2 4×4 vehicles with 2 local guides who were very good.  We stopped frequently to find birds in places they had seen them recently.


There were lots of nice flowers along the way.


and this bird


Gurney’s Sugarbird


Yet another flower


Up a little higher to


this dirt road.

Sani Pass road was built starting in the 1920’s on a mule track by one man using a pick ax!  It was finally completed in the 50’s and at the end the government did step in with a little help.  We really needed those 4×4’s on the narrow switchbacks and the many boulders in the road.


Paintbrush Lily


Southern Rock Agama


Chacma Baboon


A little higher

Then we came to


We had to show our passports here but it was still a ways until we got to the actual border.

We saw some more things before that.


Rock Hyrax


Drakensberg Rockjumper

I don’t know if I ever mentioned the name of our tour company but it’s called Rockjumper Tours.  There are 2 species of Rockjumpers in So. Africa and they wanted to make sure that we saw them both.  This was number one.


another cool lizard


Now we’re in Lesotho


This is the view of the road we came up.

When we got to almost the top there was a pub.


This was the sign in the parking lot and it is best to heed it.  The wind was really strong and people have lost their car doors when they parked the wrong way.


This is about 9,400 ft.


This is the balcony off the pub.


Pao on the balcony




Greg using the wifi


Our guides Aldo and Stuart


Cape Sparrow next to the pub


At the top are many shepherds who bring their sheep up here in spring and stay until fall.  It is very cold and windy and they wear what looks like a wool burka with face masks.  They live in these stone houses and heat them with dung fires and no chimney.



The above flowers are really tiny but somehow exist in the extreme weather they have up here.

Just past the pub there is a brand new paved road.


There is a bit of controversy about this road as it cost a lot of money and is hardly used as it doesn’t really go anywhere.  With all the poverty in this country that money could have been used in a more beneficial way for its citizens.

As we headed back down


we had some beautiful views.


And did some birding on the edge.

We found these birds going up but got better pictures coming back down.



These are Ground Woodpeckers

It was a long day of chasing birds at high altitude in cold and wind but it was really a beautiful drive and we did find some nice birds as well as a few extras.



Oct. 19th

We left a little later today as  Greg had to come back from his parents’ house.  We had a packed breakfast.  Driving along we passed through pine and eucalyptus forests.  There don’t seem to be a lot of natural forests  The eucalyptus is grown specifically for supports in the mines and the pine is used for building and furniture.  This monoculture isn’t good for the environment especially since it is clear-cut, leaving it open to erosion.  It also doesn’t promote bird and mammal habitat and has contributed to the loss of environments that are crucial to some species.


View from the van.


Small house on the roadside

Our first stop was at some fields that were habitat for cranes.


There are 3 species of cranes that we were looking for and we found them all!  They were at scope distance though so here are links to what they look like since we couldn’t get their pictures: Blue Crane, Grey-crowned Crane, and Wattled Crane.

We did manage to get a closer view of a


Common Buzzard.

We went from the fields to the Karkloof Crane Conservation area for our picnic breakfast and birding.  There were 2 blinds there but not much new.  We had to walk a ways to them.



This is a picture of Pao lugging his 50 pound camera and 20 pound tripod to the blind. it amazed us all that he could do this.  At every stop we made (which were frequent) he would haul it out and set it up. He often wondered off to get a good picture.  He liked to take pictures of “beautiful birds”. He often said the birds we saw weren’t beautiful  even  if they were special.  I’d have to say that I’d agree with him about some of the LBJs (little brown jobs.)


White-throated Swallow

We moved on from here to Benvie Gardens.  As you can see the flowers here were gorgeous.




We saw quite a few birds here like the Orange ground Thrush which looks a lot like our Robin.  Also Olive Thrush, Forest Canary, the Mountain Wagtail we missed back at the Abel    Erasmus Pass, Red-chested Cuckoo and Bronze Mannikin.

We went on to lunch at a restaurant overlooking Howick Falls.  There was a Black Cuckoo there.  Then we went to Marutswa Forest.  It was rainy here so Denny opted to sit in the car, unfortunately with the camera.  He did get to see the African Goshawk and Cape Parrots before he retreated.  I went on and got to see a Forest Buzzard, African Harrier Hawk, and Swee’s Waxbill.

On to Unterberg and the KarMichael Guest House.  Another winner.


The bedroom


the bath

We had a view out our door of a big lawn beyond which was a pond.


It was a bit foggy.

When we arrived we had just gotten to our rooms when we got this huge hailstorm.  It lasted about 5 minutes but it was impressive and everything looked like it was covered in snow when it was over.  That didn’t last long though.


Oct. 18th

As we leave St. Lucia we saw this on a telephone pole.


Juvenile African Harrier Hawk

The weather was coolish and drizzling but the temperature was pleasant enough.  We went to the Dlinza aerial boardwalk and got some much needed exercise after so much time in the van.



Strangler Fig


Millipede on the trail




Clivia at the entrance

A few of the nice birds we saw but couldn’t photograph were Chorister Robin Chat  and Spotted Ground Thrush.

From here we went to a dam where we saw African Pygmy Geese, African Jacana and White backed Ducks at quite a distance.  We also saw some things closer.




Another Wooly-necked Stork


a closer view of a Hamerkop

Then we stopped at a Mangrove Swamp with lots of Hermit Crabs and our first Terek’s Sandpiper


and this lovely butterfly.

After a nice lunch we went to the Durban airport to change vans as ours was giving us trouble.  We had a hard time opening the sliding door which can be really problematic when you’re trying to get out fast to see a bird.  We made a stop at Greg’s parents’ house to try to find the Sparrow-hawks that nest there.We saw one from a great distance. Durban is So. Africa’s third largest city with about 7 million people.  There is a lot of new building that is very upscale with big malls and sprawl.  Then we drove on to Hilton.

Here are pictures of some of the countryside on our drive.




Our B & B for the night was called Capulet.


We once again had a lovely room-Juliet


There was also a double shower, which we have had several times, and a very large tub, big enough for two.  img_6370

We went out to one of the best meals we’ve had so far at Jaxx.  Greg left us for the night to stay with his parents.

I should mention that the places we stay are all gated with big iron gates.  Crime is apparently a big problem in So. Africa no doubt due to the poverty and high unemployment.  This area we were in is a classic example of the haves and have-nots. The innkeeper here bemoaned the fact that one had to put a gate around their home.  She said if you didn’t and tried to sell it no one would buy it.  Sad.





Oct. 17th

After that late night we started at 5:15 am and went to a jetty.  Got a nice look at a Green Twinspot.  Another adorable bird we couldn’t take a picture of.  These skulkers!  We did get these though.


Southern Boubou


Golden-tailed Woodpecker

We came back for breakfast at our beautiful lodge.


This sign is posted at the entrance:


And here is the best picture we have of


Crested Guineafowl.   He sure is a strange bird.

Then we moved on to Eastern Shores and Igwalaigwala Reserve where we were on the night drive. It was kind of rainy but we managed to see a Black-bellied Bustard (another uncooperative bird.  You’d think they’d want their picture taken).  We also saw a


Martial Eagle.  These birds live on a diet of monkeys and Duikers (small antelope)!


We also saw this Brown-headed Kingfisher.  He only eats bugs.


Then we went to a park along the Indian Ocean where we were greeted with this sign.


We took a walk along the beach of the Indian Ocean.





These Vervets were all over the beach.

As we drove back to our lodge we saw these beautiful


Candy striped Poison Bulbs.

and one more time


It’s hard not to keep showing pictures of some of these animals.





We started our last day at Umkhumbi Lodge with a morning walk around the camp finding a few more birds.


Crested Guineafowl

Then we went to False Bay


where there was no water in the bay.  We did find a Fire-billed Finch, Olive Sunbird and Crowned Eagle. (these are links to images I found on google, not Denny’s pictures as he couldn’t get good ones.)

We went back to the lodge for breakfast out on the porch of the restaurant.  We hadn’t gotten very far when someone looked up at the ceiling, which was made up of strips of bamboo, and saw a Green Mamba there.  This little guy just happens to be quite venomous so we all stepped back while the owner called in the snake guy. Actually one of the managers of the lodge happens to be a herpetologist.  He came in with his snake hook and they got the snake into a bucket and temporarily put it in the terrarium upstairs in the bar where there was already another one.  He will probably release it later into the wild away from the guests of the lodge.  It certainly made for an exciting breakfast.

As we packed up the van to leave we were next to the manager’s house where we got to see his collection of 2 baby Spectacled Caimen, 1 baby Nile Crocodile, 2 Boas and a Monitor Lizard right outside his door.


We moved on the St. Lucia where we stopped by the river.


The little park there had a nice information building and some very interesting sculptures.




There were lots of reeds along the river next to a bridge we could walk out on where we found 2 new Weaver species.


Eastern Golden or Yellow Weaver

There were also Hippos in the water and it was wonderful to see them with so much water and food here.

From here we went to another amazing lodging–The Kingfisher Lodge.



Our room was in the main lodge which is what the above 2 pictures show.


This is our bedroom.  I think we got the honeymoon suite!

The grounds around the lodge were very lush.


with blooming Trumpet Vines climbing all over.


There were Crested Guineafowl roaming around as well as antelope such as Common Duiker and this


beautiful Bushbuck.

You had to be careful where you were walking around especially at night because:


This was no joke.  They liked to graze on the grass outside the lodge.

We went for another night drive which was much more fun than the first one.  The guide was quite entertaining and informative.  We found 3 species of Nightjar, a Spotted Eagle Owl, a Water Thick-knee and I got to hold a Flap-necked Chameleon.


As the guide said, “I bet you never dreamed you’d be a Chameleon model.”

We also saw a number of animals including this


Cape Buffalo.

And this strange


Ant Nest.

We didn’t get back until 11:20 and were held up a bit with Hippos grazing on the road outside the Lodge.  Greg wisely decided that they had the right of way.


Oct. 15th

At 5:10 am we headed out to the game reserve.  Our first stop was a hide in front of a waterhole where we saw lots of animals and birds.


Black Wildebeest


Nyala and Helmeted Turtles


closer Helmeted Turtles


Red-billed Oxpeckers bathing


Yellow-fronted Canary


Nyala male


Muddy Warthog

We birded outside the hide and found a number of birds, two of which were really beautiful but we couldn’t get pictures.  You can check out the links though–Pink throated Twinspot and Gorgeous Bushshrike.

Then we went to a river that was dried up except for a small mud hole.  Once again the drought has done its damage and what we found in the mud hole was not good.


It’s really hard to tell but what you are seeing are about 35 hippos all bunched together in the mud.  They cover themselves with mud to keep cool and protect themselves from the sun.  Normally they would be mostly underwater.  Hippos come out of the water at night to graze and there is very little grass to eat.  If they don’t get rain soon these hippos are doomed.  We can’t say for sure but we believed some were already dead.  Near to this we saw


this suffering Impala.  It was all very sad.  There is a park bathroom nearby that is currently closed as they are diverting the sewage from it to the waterhole but it isn’t enough.  BTW the sewage will not harm the animals.  They are immune to any human disease it might contain.

We traveled along the edge of mountains that form the border with Mozambique to wetlands with lots of birds.


Wooly-necked Stork


White-fronted Bee-eater


Weaver nest


Little Bee-eater


Cattle Egret


This Giraffe decided to check us out.


Cape Buffalo with Cattle Egrets


More Zebra


Time to head back.  More tomorrow.