Hightlights of 2013 – Birding and Photography

I can’t even remember when last I made a blog post, and quite frankly it’s inexcusable, as I have had many pretty good days out since my last update. However, I figured that I should make at least one post to end of the year. This year has been far from great, on almost all fronts and I look forward to saying goodbye to it and to hopefully welcoming a year that brings better fruits.

This blog post shall be focused on the best experiences I have had in the year 2013, from birding to landscape photography. I managed to add about 60 lifers in this year, which isn’t bad at all actually… Even though it felt like those numbers slowed down a lot in the latter half of the year.

But without anymore delay, let’s get into the most memorable adventures of mine this year.


An Unbeatable Sunset at Strand – 16 January 2013

strand-beach-sunset

sunset-strand-beach-rays

It was two weeks into the year and I can remember the day well, I had just dropped my girlfriend Cathryn off at home and I was on my way back home. I had my camera with me and I started to see the signs of an epic sunset, with rays of light already starting to occur. I made a quick detour to Strand Beach, stepping out of my car into a warm and humid environment. The beach was quite busy, with everyone enjoying the weather. I didn’t have to wait long before the sun created a scene that remains one of my all time favourites. I crawled as low as I could onto the moist sand and snapped some shots of the rays lighting the sky.

Rhodes Memorial – 26 January 2013

rhodes-memorial-view

My girlfriend and I were sitting around thinking of what to do when we came up with the idea of visiting Rhodes Memorial, which is just a few minutes drive from where we were. It had been over a decade since my last visit and I was looking forward to seeing the view. We got there and the wind was howling, but we stuck it out and watched the sun setting from above Cape Town. We then ran into one of the managers there and they told us that they would provide us with roof access, so we passed up the darkest and eeriest stairwell I have been in, up to the top of the roof, where we took photos until the sun slipped beyond the horizon behind us.

The Fire – 28 January 2013

fire-smoke-sunset

tern-silhouette

Just a couple days after the trip to Rhodes Memorial, I was back at work and throughout the day I had been witnessing the sky turning darker and darker with the expansion of smoke from a fire, not too far away. By the time I left work, the fire had left much of the sky red and with sunset around the corner I rushed down to Strand beach to make the most of the colours the smoke brought with it. It was an eerie, but yet very appealing atmosphere.

Rockhopper Twitch – 2 February 2013

rockhopper-penguin

It was the first twitch of the year, a Northern Rockhopper Penguin had been found at Soetwater and we (Cathryn and I) were keen to get this tick. Besides for it being a great rarity, Rockhopper Penguins are also usually good looking birds too. This individual however was going through moult and was anything but pretty, I guess in its own special way. We managed to connect with the bird, even though it was further away that it had been in previous days. A successful twitch is pretty rare in itself for me, so the occasion was definitely one that I enjoyed immensely. It was also Cathryn’s first twitch and ultimately what got her further interested in birding.

Backroad Birding – 23 February 2013

yellow-billed-kite

steppe-buzzard

cape-farms

This was a great day out, we woke up at 5am and were on the road at 6 for some birding around the Cape Farms area and Klipheuwel. With it being summer, our target were the migratory raptors, Steppes and Yellow Billed Kites. And we definitely got them. There were Steppe Buzzards on almost every second fence post along the road. Although the species were nothing spectacular, it was a very memorable day out.

Pelagic Trip – 21 April 2013

dusky-dolphins

storm-petrel

GREAT-SHEARWATER

We had the opportunity to go on a pelagic trip, and it was unbelievable. I cannot wait until the next one. This was definitely one of the highlights of my year and what an experience, a must for every birder. Completely worth waking up at the crack of dawn for!

Grootvadersbosch – 1 May 2013

cat

fog-trees

landscape-grootvadersbosch

pied-starling

puff-adders

This was definitely the highlight of the year. There was a public holiday on the 1st of May, which fell on a Wednesday. I had a bit of money saved up, so I decided that my girlfriend and I should go away somewhere. I put in leave for the 2nd and 3rd of May and booked a few nights at the Honeywood Farm in Grootvadersbosch. On the way we’d drive through De Hoop Nature Reserve to see the Cape Vultures, and then on to the farm. The farm was amazing! I highly recommend it there, the accommodation is well priced and the rustic atmosphere is lovely and quiet. We managed to add a whole bunch of new birds to our life list and what’s more, we managed to have a great few days.

Marabou Stork Twitch – 5 May 2013

marabou

What I didn’t mention at the end of the above paragraph, is that on our way back home we were going to twitch a Marabou Stork which was seen near Bredasdorp, basically on the route home. However, while driving back we suffered a spare tire and we had to do the remaining 200km on a marie-biscuit tire, at 70km/h. We were thus unable to make the stop. Unbelievably though, we got a call from our friends Trevor and Margaret Hardaker who were going to twitch the bird the next day and kindly offered us a ride with them. The day was excellent! We picked up the bird shortly after arriving, and then targeted a few other less rare birds, followed by a great Wimpy lunch.

FASHKOSH Airshow – 11 May 2013

navy

zu-kim

This was my second year taking photos at the Fashkosh airshow in Stellenbosch. It was an early morning, through to the air field and then many hours in the sun taking photos of these large metal birds.

Visit to Franschhoek – 17 June 2013

franschoek

railway-tracks

Franschhoek is located just about 30 or so minutes from where I stay in Somerset West, and yet it had been years since my last visit. So we decided to make a day of it and wake up early and make the drive through to this quaint little farming town, well now days it’s more of a tourist town than anything. But it’s located in an area of beautiful vineyards and within the foot of winter snow-capped mountains. We stopped off at a few interesting spots along the way, which included a now neglected old railway line.

Metal4Africa, Winterfest ’13 – 27 July 2013

guitar

guitar-hands

Twice a year Metal4Africa hosts the bi-annual winter/summerfest. And while the bands are sometimes very hit and miss, I do love the opportunity to shoot some live event photography and had a great time photographing the bands again this year, this time as an official event photographer.

Snowpocolypse – 30 August 2013

snow-helderberg

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. And boy did it snow. A wild cold front came through the area in late August bringing extremely low freezing levels and in turn, low snow. While the event was unusual, in that the snow was quite isolated, due to the timing of moisture. Somerset West was very lucky to receive good precip at the same time the freezing levels fell to their lowest. I woke up that morning to go to work and when I looked outside it was unbelievable. The Hottentots Holland Mountains had snow 3/4 of the way down and even the Helderberg Mountain had a fair deal of snow on it. Our quiet little town had been transformed overnight into something akin to a small European town in the valley of the alps.

Portrait Time – 6 October 2013

cathryn

cathryn-golby

Cathryn and I had decided that we would go visit Kirstenbosch Gardens, a lovely place that holds some great memories for us. The idea was that we would go and try to take some portrait shots, well she would be the model and I would take the photos. And maybe we would get lucky and see some birds too… It was an enjoyable morning out and definitely makes it as one of the year’s highlights.

West Coast National Park – 10 November 2013

ruddy-turnstone

west-coast-marshes

yellow-billed_kite

This day was excellent! A long planned trip with Cathryn and her father Mike Golby, where we would be heading through to the West Coast National Park for a day of landscape and bird photography. We headed through before sunrise and arrived there before the gates opened, we were the first into the park and the day was bright and sunny (for a change). Cathryn and I managed to add some new ticks to our life lists, while Mike was able to get a glimpse into our hardcore birding nature, with many “STOP!”s being shouted. One of the highlights of the year for sure.

Calm Before The Storm – 14 November 2013

calm-before-storm

couple

sunrays

Just days before we would be ravaged by floods, the cold fronts arrival was ushered in by an amazing sunset. It was one of those sunsets where you don’t know whether to jump behind the viewfinder or to just take it in with your eyes. Naturally I opted for the former and spent an hour on the beach capturing some of my favourite sunset shots.

Somerset West Flooding – 16 November 2013

flooding-somerset-west

somerset-flooding

What a day this was, for a storm chaser like myself. The warnings had been out for days and we were monitoring the system on my storm chasing forums, but we didn’t imagine it would be this bad. Somerset West once again found itself in the center of a severe weather event as it rained non-stop for hours, creating flash flooding through the town. The Lourens River burst its banks and millions of rands of damage occurred. The local Mediclinic hospital was forced to evacuate and close for a while. People were left stranded on their roofs and we ourselves fell victim to the effects of the flood, with part of our ceiling collapsing. The day after the rainfall I drove around town taking a look at the aftermath.

Paardevlei Visit – 17 November 2013

great-crested-grebe

tern-whiskered

whiskered-tern

One lifer in your town is generally a good day, but having two in a single day is just great. After the heavy rains, a number of Whiskered Terns arrived at Paardevlei, and having not seen one before – I made sure to go pay the quiet birding spot a visit. Shortly after arriving and getting my Whiskered Tern tick, a couple of beautiful Great Crested Grebes bobbed on the water in front of me, adding another tick.

Silkies – 30 November 2013

dropknee-cutback

roll

This was a memorable day more because of what it brought me back to. I used to bodyboard religiously in the mid 90s to early 2000s and had been out of the water for 10 years. But watching the other bodyboarders out in the water reminded me of how much I loved it and I was soon back in the water too.

Finding a New Spot – 2 December 2013

cliff

Just this month, I decided that I would take a trip along the coast and attempt to find some new angles near by to shoot. I have been taking photos around the Helderberg for years now, and finding new locations is becoming difficult. But with a bit of rock scrambling and staring down cliff faces, I managed to come across this area – which holds a lot more opportunity.

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Bryn De Kocks

Bryn is a passionate and opinionated antinatalist and naturalist with a love for nature, the ocean, photography, severe weather and music. He spends most of his time looking for new birds within the Western Cape, taking landscape photographs or behind his computer being a nerd.

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