This entry comes a bit late, though I have been wanting to share some words and images about my adventures over Christmas for a while now.
My family tends to take an annual retreat to Bonnievale, near Robertson around Christmas time. While I used to join them (over a decade ago), I hadn’t been with in a long time and decided to take up the offer extended by the family members and make the trip through for Christmas through to my birthday on the 27th December. Monique would be joining me, and while the rest of the family would be staying in the house, Monique and I would be setting up tent and camping outside for the two nights.
We left Somerset West in the late morning, with travel time estimated at nearly 2 hours. The weather was pleasant and the roads weren’t too busy, with it being Christmas day. The drive was mostly spent spotting the fences and poles for raptors, of which there were many Buzzards (as can be expected at this time of the year). We passed through Caledon and then headed towards Stormsvlei, where we would turn left towards Bonnievale itself.
We made a couple stops along the way, the first was at a small rest area on the open Overberg road, with only fields of farmland in sight. Well, that and the Pied Starlings and Sparrows which moves between the benches and fences.
Our second stop was further along and alongside a small area of mountain where we managed to get some fly-by sightings of a Peregrine Falcon who’s chicks were extremely vocal, calling out from the pine covered rocks above us.
We arrived in Bonnievale at around 1pm and made our way to the farm. The farm itself consists of three houses of accommodation all of which have excellent ratings and come highly recommended. We usually stay at “Die Houthuis”, which is located directly on the river and is an open-plan housing. This time we were at Snoozers, which had separate rooms. Snoozers is located about 100 meters from the river, and is a quick walk between the vineyards.
After unpacking, we made our way down to the river where majority of my family was sitting, relaxing on the shoreline – or fishing. Personally, I am not really one for fishing and can’t get past the idea of sticking a hook through an animal’s mouth and then releasing it so the next person can do the same. Though that is neither here nor there.
We spent some time walking around and enjoying being out in nature. The weather was excellent with temperatures in the 30s and during the early hours of the day, almost no wind.
The same however could not be said for the late afternoons, when the wind would pick up and cause our tent to reconsider it’s life choices. It collapsed a couple of times and ended up needing to be tied to a trailer to keep us from being consumed by a mass of material in our sleep.
The first signs of interesting bird life came when my mother pointed out to me that they had seen a Hoopoe out in the courtyard that seemed to be nesting there. It didn’t take long to find the bird, flying between the roofing and the tree next to the house, catching bugs and bringing them back to the nest.
Later in the day, everyone got together for our traditional Christmas dinner. Christmas is always my favourite dietary time, and as with most years – this one was another excellent one. Perfectly cooked food, and lots of it.
As night fell, the wind was still quite hectic, though at around 22:00 it died down enough for some night time photography. I explained to Monique, who recently started photography the importance and relation of ISO and shutter speed with regards to night time photography.
Day 2 – Birds!
I woke up at around 06:30 the next day, and with Monique still fast asleep I decided to go and see what I could find to photography. The birds were calling from all corners of the farm and the weather was perfect once again too. As the sun moved up on the horizon I started watching some Greater Striped Swallows busy gathering nesting material from a small flow of water near the farmer’s workshop. There were seemingly 3 or 4 pairs. They would fly over the area and scout it out, before making another pass and settling down, gathering the mud in their beaks and then flying off again.
Walking down to the river minutes later, I caught sight of something leaving the tree above my head and flying across the river. I didn’t really think much of it, but made sure to at least get an ID. To my surprise, it was a Tambourine Dove that had just flown over me, a bird I hadn’t yet seen before – having only heard it calling once in Somerset West, but without the visuals to tick it.
Seconds later my attention turned to the sound of a Woodpecker in the gum trees next to me – a Cardinal Woodpecker. The light was still not great with the sun still barely up, but it was more than enough to get good enough views to confirm ID.
Various other more common birds were seen throughout the day, and we got some raptor views in the afternoon when Monique and I took a drive off of the main farm.
At The River
With temperatures picking up quickly over the course of the day, by afternoon everyone was down at the river enjoying themselves. The fishermen were fishing and the rest were either swimming or SUPing. I’ve always been anti-SUP, since as a bodyboarder I have encountered the arrogance of them in the sea, dropping in on waves they have no place being on. But seeing as this was a river, I decided to give it a go and managed to at least balance enough to not fall on my face.
There are several ropes tied to the trees along the river which allow one to, should they wish – toss themselves into the water from above.
Once back at the house, I was surprised to see a Brown Hooded Kingfisher… Sitting on my car! The bird quickly flew up into a nearby tree after I grabbed my camera – but great to encounter with a species I have only seen once before.
Later in the evening, we had an awesome view of dozens and dozens of White Storks flying overhead. Definitely something new for me, having only seen 2 individual White Storks overall before.
The best birding I had was the following day, on the morning of the 27th – which I’ll post about in the not-too distant future. As well as conclude the story of my Christmas vacation.