The Vacation Post – A Look Back at December

Again I find myself with the compulsion to apologize for a lengthy absence from the site, in fact it’s been near 2 months since my previous entry. Once again my opening sentiments will remain in line with my previous post in that despite several birding attempts over the past 2 months, things have been far quieter than I had expected (at least birding was). I was lucky enough to have slowly stockpiled leave days throughout the year and when December came around I found myself with a healthy cache of 18 days to use, allowing me to put in for leave from the 7th of December until the 7th of January. It was a much needed break from the ever tedious routines of working life, though I now find myself somewhat recharged and with a sense of renewed ambition in regards to my work. Due to the nature of my holidays, and my blatantly evident desire to write something, this entry may be more of a personal entry than most of my previous posts. Though given that this is my website, I can and shall do as I wish.

The reason for my lack of activity in the field could well be due to the fact that because of excessive heat wave conditions, I found myself struggling to muster up the will-power to leave the presence of a fan; it could also be due to the fact that when temperatures did drop enough for it to be a pleasant experience outdoors, the wind would decide that summer should not be void of hindrance. As such I found myself heading out into the field birding only a hand full of times over the December holiday period.

The first day out in the field was actually just prior to my vacation. A girl I happen to know (namely Cathryn), who would subsequently play a leading role in my holiday adventures joined me on a visit to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on December the 1st. The temperatures were in the upper 30s and it was muggy outside, the rare tropical air that sometimes flows in from the north was present in the Cape Town area, and thunderstorms were possible overnight. We braced ourselves as we got into my car, without air conditioning and with seat covers feeling like hot plates, we made the short journey from Kenilworth to Kirstenbosch – or at least that was the plan. With my GPS having been stolen out of my car a couple of months ago, I was now relying on Cathryn for directions.

“You sure you know where to go?”, I asked prior to departure, not wanting to get lost. The question was met with a hesitant “Yeah, I think so… Nah we’ll be fine.”

We followed a draw out of a map we had gotten off google until we went the wrong way at a turn off and being the kids of the digital age, pulled out the smart phone and opened up google maps. A quick U-turn in an upper class suburban neighbourhood on the foot of Table Mountain saw us heading in the right direction again, but not for long. With my eyes fixed more on other cars than signs, I only registered that I had just driven past the Kirstenbosch turn off a second after it was too late, there was no turning back now as we had to take the long road past UCT and make a turn back towards the south near Woodstock.

Skink crossing the path

Many curse words and grumpy mumbles later, we found the turn off and managed to actually follow it correctly, a minor feat that felt like a grand accomplishment. We arrived at the Gardens, now drenched in sweat from the excessive car ride, but the weather was lovely and the plants were green – so we got out and began what would be a short but enjoyable walk through the gardens. The unmistakable scent of summer flowers and warm, wet grass hung in the air, the kind of atmosphere that tends to wash away any burdens one may have had prior to their presence. Skinks scurried across the brick path and butterflies danced across the tops of plants as Cathryn used the opportunity to undergo exposure therapy to a rather unusual fear of the brightly coloured winged insects.

Forest Buzzard in the distance at Kirstenbosch

Shaded waterscape at Kirstenbosch

Moving up the gardens I had my eyes and ears peeled for any bird life, though there wasn’t much apart from the frequent passing of Red-Winged Starlings. We proceeded to find a bench where we sat for a while as two rather tame Egyptian Geese came up to us, obviously hoping that we had some food. A few minutes after eaves-dropping on some teenaged girls being overly loud and dramatic across the pathway, I caught my first glimpse of a raptor in the distance, I was quick to jump up and fire off a few shots at the small object circling in the distance, my original thoughts were that it was a Steppe Buzzard, but once reviewing the images it was clearly a Forest Buzzard that had provided the few seconds of avian entertainment. We then moved through to another area of the gardens and made use of some rather serene waterscapes, and enjoyed the cool environment of shade the canopy of trees were providing. Overall, while there were not many animals seen – it was an excellent way to spend an afternoon and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

The beginning of a good sunset

Sun rays at sunset

The 9th of December saw us heading down to Strand Beach, all day the sky had been whispering hints of promise in my ear and I felt obliged to listen. We went through just prior to sunset and found a nice area of exposed rocks and worked out some compositions, should the sky receive us warmly – and receive it did. The sky began as it often does in similar cloud conditions by being fairly dull, but with white cirrus wisps contrasting against a darkened blue sky, with lower cumulus clouds reflecting the first hints of sunset. Having seen the setup several times before I knew what to expect and waited patiently for that period where the sun dips just below that line of cloud in the horizon and the small minute long window of ascending rays of sunshine extend up in the distance. It was one of those situations where the sky and the land sync, with a perfect low tide present for a colour filled sky.

A walk at the Helderberg Nature Reserve

Cape Mystery Buzzard

On the 12th of December, Cathryn and I decided to make the short ride up the road from my place in Somerset West to the Helderberg Nature Reserve, the ever so frequented spot of mine. We arrived at the gates to the sound of vocal ‘Cape Mystery Buzzards’ and I provided a short explanation on why it is named as such and a little bit about the current breeding and presence of the bird in the reserve. While we were there temperatures were in the upper 20s and conditions were ideal for birding, though the Black Sparrowhawks, of which the youngsters are now in their juvenile plumage were not in their regular spots. We moved through the forest, the trees parted to each side, and were then treated with a long lasting low flying display from the Buzzard we had heard earlier. We were a good distance from the suspected nesting area, but the bird clearly didn’t want us around, possibly hinting that there may currently be chicks in their nest. We then moved into one of the forests and as we had done 11 days prior, took shelter from the persistent sun in a shady spot, keeping our eyes and ears open for any other bird life that may show itself. Again though, despite spending an hour or two in the reserve, the bird life was much quieter than I had been expecting and we soon found our way back home, though I did manage to get Cathryn within close range of flying raptors.

A game of chess (psst, I won)

The remainder of the December holidays saw a busy period where I would either be staying in Kenilworth or in Somerset West, and on many days the primary goal was simple – escape the ravaging heat. This lead to numerous games of pool being played, and an absolutely absurd amount of both time and money being spent trying to establish my alpha male persona by showing the plush toy claw machines who the real overall victor is. Other activities included games of chess and movies, later in the holidays I managed to take Cathryn to see her first 3D film, The Hobbit – which we both quite enjoyed.

Just prior to Cathryn’s quitting smoking

Cathryn doing some light painting

Family games at night

Evenings were occasionally spent outside, sometimes with family, with darts being the night game of choice. Cathryn and I, who are both living an alcohol-free life discovered the wonder that is non-alcoholic champagne, and spent many days in the course of the vacation getting our fix of ‘bubbly’ without the unpleasant affects of alcohol. We went through several brands and around 8 bottles in a 2 week period, and it was quite frankly put, amazing.

The holidays also saw the occurrence of my 26th birthday, at least I think it was 26… I get confused some times, must be the old age.

Small boat at Gordon’s Bay harbour

Gordon’s Bay Harbour
Seal at Gordon’s Bay Harbour

Just what’s needed on a summer day

With Cathryn quitting smoking on the 1st of January we spent the first few days of January trying to get out of the house and again and do stuff, this included a journey to the Gordon’s Bay old harbour. We parked outside Bikini Beach and walked around through the small gate leading into the small harbour area. A small old boat was tied to a concrete jetty, giving us something to shoot. Some Sandwich Terns passed by as we were shooting, as well as a brief appearance by a seal. The day was then topped off with a visit to Strand Beach, where we enjoyed some soft serve ice creams while staring out over the ocean.

Showing our combined Pokemon dedication

The last few days of the holiday were spent ideally, reliving some nostalgia. I was, and am still a huge fan of Pokemon and my life in the late 90s revolved almost solely around the franchise. The best memories I have as a kid are related to either the trading cards or the television series. In 2010 I underwent a binge where I looked to reconnect with that nostalgia and bought a plethora of Pokemon cards, as well as a Nintendo DS and a few of the games, which I spent months fanatically playing at the time. Cathryn too was a big Pokemon fan in her younger years and like me still has a passion for it. We set out on the last few days of vacation to enjoy the nostalgia together by playing both the games and the buying several booster packs of the trading card game. Next on our agenda will be a complete marathon of both the movies and the series. Fact of the matter is that Pokemon played a large role in my desire to bird, I originally got interested in birding partially because of the similarities, rarities and ‘life lists’.

Like being a kid again!

Overall, my December vacation was probably the best I’ve had. It was almost a constant stream of enjoyment, discovering new things, finding lost emotions, reliving a childhood and building on something that will hopefully last.

I do promise to try see more birds though!

One thought on “The Vacation Post – A Look Back at December

  1. A truly remarkable holiday period, with some truly lovely shots thrown in.

    May there be many more like it! (In fact, there better be.)

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