An Escape To Montagu

It’s been three years since my last post and twelve years since my first on this blog. It’s hard to believe that so many years have passed. Still, the truth is Covid lockdowns, and a world of chaos didn’t bode well for recreational productivity. I’ve spent much of the last several years grappling with the aftereffects of lockdown, trying to figure out how to real life again. Not that I haven’t been out twitching in the last few years, but I have managed a few new additions to my Western Cape list.

My lack of writing is owed primarily to changes in my profession, where I am now crunching thousands of words each week – leaving little room to enjoy the process. I even have half-finished drafts of posts I began several years ago, which I hope to get to.

I say this all to say that I had a much-needed getaway setup with Milli to celebrate our sixth year together, and I think it’s time that I jumped back in here with some photos and stories of my adventures again. I know the text is so 20th century, and today’s culture is all about video, but bear with me.

So join me as I discuss what we came across in the field over a few days in the Montagu area.

The Location: Badensfontein, Montagu

We stayed on Badensfontein farm in a glamping tent just a few kilometers from Montagu. The location was beautiful, and having booked during the middle of the week, we were both happy to know that the second nearby tent was not occupied during our stay, which improved privacy and provided true tranquility.

We arrived fairly late on a Wednesday afternoon; after that, we spent most of our time unpacked and gauging the type of birdlife we would be surrounded by. The tent was beautiful, with glass doors at the entrance, a hot tub, and an outdoor shower. Our only challenge was orchestrating a mosquito genocide after finding dozens inside the tent who were far more ruthless than we were.

Within minutes of arriving, we were greeted by the first local bird, a Karoo Scrub-Robin that lived around the tent. It frequently came up to us confidently, hoping for an easy meal. This bird and a few others would soon become familiar friends during our time on the patio.

On this trip, I was targeting the Pale-Winged Starling, one of the few resident birds I still need and quite challenging. I also still needed the Lark-Like Bunting, a fairly common bird that I had simply never connected with. Milli had many potential lifers on the table, and we were particularly targeting the Southern Black Korhaan, Karoo Lark, Grey-Backed Sparrowlark, and Acacia Pied Barbet.

We managed to get Milli her first Acacia Pied Barbet in the tree just outside our accommodation. I was trying to familiarize myself with the call (it has been a while), and in the process, I had several birds respond from the nearby tree. It was fairly late into the evening and not good for photos, but we got decent views.

Day Two – Heading North

We woke up early. In fact, we had woken up early consistently throughout the night as both Milli and myself do best in the comforts of home, and it can take us a little while to get used to the change in environment. Still, we departed from the farm at around 05:30, with the plan to head north on the R318, doing casual birding along the way with the ultimate goal of reaching Touws River, where we wanted to grab breakfast.

It was a cool morning, and the skies were deep grey as a passing cold front brought some volatile conditions. We managed to escape any rain, but lighting conditions for bird photography were far from ideal, particularly during the early morning hours when we had hoped for the sun’s blessing.

As we traversed the R318, we were pleasantly surprised by how quiet the road was. Despite several DOR Cape Hares, the road was ultimately very quiet, and during our hour-long drive on the road, we only encountered around five other vehicles. The corpses of the Hares served as food for the many Pied Crows seen alongside the road. More occasionally, we’d encounter Cape Crows and Ravens, too.

As the temperatures rose with the light’s break, we saw some LBJs pop onto the wires along the farm perimeters. One of the first of which was my only lifer for the trip, a Lark-Like Bunting, and then a second lifer for Milli shortly afterward, with visuals on several Southern Black Korhaans moving across an exposed local farm.

Several kilometers later, we managed to snag two more lifers for Milli: some South African Shelduck and a single Grey-Backed Sparrowlark. While easy birds to get for the province, this signaled her 250th species for the Western Cape, while the Lark-Like Bunting took me to #389.

We arrived at Touws River and grabbed some breakfast (Roosterkoek, as is mandatory in the Klein Karoo) before continuing up along the N1 for another 50 kilometers or so. There are people that pay good money to be treated the way the Klein Karoo’s gravel roads treat tyres, and so we wanted to remain primarily on traditional roads. Still, I find the area challenging to bird in due to the lack of walking trails and public land. Most of the land is private farms, so most of our birding was done along the roadsides.

We had some good views of a beautiful dark morph Booted Eagle along the roadside, with a number of Jackal Buzzards and Rock Kestrels along the way. Yellow-billed Kites were also out in impressive numbers throughout our trip and were the most common sighting, along with the many Pale Chanting Goshawks. I find it interesting how we get such rare birds showing up around Cape Town, but you rarely see any lost PCGs down here.

On route back to Montagu, we were stopped by a routine traffic block where they searched through our car. Thankfully, no illicit herbs were onboard at the time, as they were thorough with their inspection. The stop was conducted with both SAPS and Cape Nature’s presence, and speaking to the guy performing the stop, we learned that there are those who smuggle plants out of the area.

By early afternoon, the skies had mostly cleared, and we stopped along a few lookout points to grab landscape photos of the area. The juxtaposition between arid fynbos and vibrant farmlands is always a beautiful sight.

Back at the tent, another friend visited us; this time, a Leopard Tortoise came through and was joined a little later on by several mice around the area.

When evening arrived, we were exhausted from the travels of the last two days, and the bed arrived sooner than expected. Not before we spent a little time outside photographing the moon and stars. The moon was too bright to do anything special with star photography, but it added a unique light gradient to my sky shots from that evening.

Our Departure

We headed out early the following day to begin our trek home, but we made a short stop exiting Montagu, where I had hoped to get a few landscape photos. As we were walking back to the car, we got visuals of two majestic Verreaux’s Eagles moving between the cliffs.

Overall, the location was amazing, and being away from the city was a great feeling. As I mentioned, since Covid started, I’ve spent more time indoors, and to be transparent, the isolation certainly affected my mentality and my ability to get out and live life. We’ve started to incorporate some sense of normalcy back into our lives. But I also hope to be able to document and share more of these adventures again. If nothing else, to serve as proof that I didn’t do absolutely nothing with my life.

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