birding-aus (Fwd) African Impressions

Subject: birding-aus (Fwd) African Impressions
Date: Mon, 22 Nov 1999 09:11:00 -0200
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From:          Self <MUSEUM/WVADER>
Subject:       African Impressions
Date:          Mon, 22 Nov 1999 08:35:24 -0200



        During our holidays along the Garden Route coast and through the 
Karoo we missed the first and last planned walks: the first day's 
target, the Sir Lowry's Pass area some 60 km East of Cape Town had to 
be skipped because of a series of mishaps with my old car, and the 
last, the Vrolijkheid Reserve near Macgregor, because of untoward 
        This weekend I had the chance to go see these areas anyway, although 
sadly now once more on my own. After initial hesitations, I once more 
pointed the car along the N2 out of Cape Town, and of course this 
time withou any mishaps of any sort. So I arrived at the summit of 
Sir Lowry's Pass at the same time as the first paragliders: these 
enormous colourful birds would be a constant backdrop for my birding 
the rest of the morning. Otherwise I met nobody at all (and the same 
was true for Vrolijkheid the next day); for somebody grown up in 
overpopulated Holland this is an incredible luxury, more than you can 

        The mountain fijnbos on the stony mountain slopes in this area is 
very well developed, and easy to walk through (how come that so few 
plants in this vegetation have thorns? Were there never any 
significant browsers?) There were still a lot of flowers around; as 
always in the Cape many of these were "bulbs" (irises, lilies and 
Gladiolus, to my layman's eyes, but in an enormous diversity), 
several colours and forms of everlastings, sky-blue Lobelia's, 
confusing Papilionaceae with simple leaves, and lots of plants I 
could not identify at all. The richness of your flora is tremendous, 
but the decision of the flower book to group the plants by "month of 
flowering' and not in any conceivable way otherwise does finding the 
right one well-nigh impossible (Esp. as sub September one not only 
finds "May-January", but even" October-February"!). One very plant I 
think I have got right as a tall white Bruniaceae had only a few 
plants still in flower, and these were full of large brown beetles, 
quite similar to the "May-beetles" that I caught and played with as a 
child in Zeeland.

        Also on the chalky paths these were many beetles, mostly quick black 
large carabids running on tiptoe as if the ground were burning hot. 
Small lizards were also frequent, and once I came across a small, 
thin black strangely lethargic snake.

        Birds were not at all common, as so often in the fijnbos. The larger 
still flowering bushes of large yellow Proteaceae (Leucodendron?) 
iften had attendant Cape Sugarbirds on top, who appeared to defend 
them against all conspecifics--these sugarbirds always look like 
"sunbirds on steroids" to me: bigger and bulkier, but with the same 
constant aggression and bickering. the prominent sunbird here was the 
dainty Orange-breasted, although I also found a few Malachite 

        Rock Kestrels, and later also Steppe Buzzards, shared the 
updraughts with the paragliders, seemingly in full mutual tolerance, 
Sharp "raptorial" calls, that I did not know, turned out to belong to 
a different bird altogether, finally my first Ground Woodpeckers! It 
is very strange to see these large unmistakable woodpeckers in a 
jumble of bare rocks, with nary a tree in sight: one can't help 
hoping that they have completely given up on their drumming and 
drilling habits!

        Otherwise the usual suspects were present: Spotted Prinia, 
Grey-backed Cisticola, and Neddicky, as well as more Grassbirds than 
I ever can remember seeing. That is quite a beautiful bird up close! 
The birdbook was also spot-on in predicting Victorin's Warblers in a 
vertain area---they were easy enough to hear sing, but it cost me 
much patience and time before I actually saw their yellow eyes!

        I walked into the pass, where the tracks of wagon-wheels are deeply 
etched into the uneven rocks, bringing home the realization of what a 
rough and dangerous adventure transport must have been in earlier 
times. The book placed rockjumpers "on the hillside above the 
signal cannons", so I traipsed around all over these rocky hills, 
but in vain. The area is full of thin rocky pinnacles looking quite 
like birds, but the only animal I found here was a very large fat 
lizard, clinging to the tip of one of these pinnacles as if he 
suffered from acute vertigo. I have no idea what make of lizard this 
was, but it looked very droll!

        Walking back, I had almost come to the road again, when I heard a 
different whistle: this time I was lucky and saw the bird as it 
landed, not as usually, just as it flew away. That upright stance 
looked quite special, and the enormous white malar stripes clinched 
it: I finally had found a Cape Rockjumper, one of the birds I had 
especially hoped to see while in South Africa. Nor did it disappoint 
me; these rockjumpers really have a character all their own!

                                Wim Vader, c.o. South African Museum
                                Cape Town,SA, 
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