Friday, April 8, 2016

Giants Castle update by Jeremy Williamson

Lana and I, with our birding buddy, Gordon out on holiday from Scotland, as well as Dirk Glado from Germany, old friends, had  included Giant’s Castle in our birding itinerary.

En route from Durban and close to Giant's Castle we encountered numerous Amur Falcons (aka Eastern Red-footed Kestrel)

Female Amur Falcon

Male Amur Falcon

Bye !

The road within the Park, dramatically better than the Provincial road in, badly pot-holed, take care !

The variety of species normally encountered in the camp and generally in that montane biome, plus my having secured a booking at the old Vulture Hide, bode to our having some good photographic opportunities whilst visiting Giant’s Castle Game Reserve.

Well it wasn’t to be; The extended drought severely impacted on the bird populations with many entering last years breeding period with inadequate food resources.  The numbers and variety of birds during the entire 6 week birding excursion were definitely far less than expected.   

Early morning arrival at the hide - packed breakfast from the Restaurant in lieu of their full Brekka

Surprisingly we had no vultures land and feed at the old vulture hide where we were expectantly waiting, cameras a ready! 

Gordon and Dirk

Lana becoming the avid birder

This despite my bringing smaller meaty bones especially cut for me from my local butcher, I thought it to be a Vulture treat, alas not, but the Crows and Ravens were most appreciative.

White-necked Raven

White-necked Ravens

We did have a few other birds arrive

Dark-capped Bulbuls

Familiar Chat

Speckled Pigeon

Red-winged Starling

Jackal Buzzard

We had a Cape Grey Mongoose arrive in order top purloin some of the tucker.

Then the guys who would not come and sample our offerings !

Cape Vulture looking at our offerings sideways

Yellow-billed Kite

The light was against us, what with a storm brewing, we decided to leave early afternoon

A short distance from the hide, a flush toilet has been constructed. A welcome addition.

Giant’s Castle Game Reserve’s Camp follows closely behind Thendele Restcamp in the Royal Natal National Park in by opinion as an ultimate Drakensberg vacation destination. The rooms are well appointed and in better repair than any of the other Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s rest-camp's accommodation. The mountain view chalets all have views of the recumbent 'Giant". Here is a reflection of what guests gaze upon when staying at the Giant's Castle Lodge.

The grounds and gardens are well maintained and these are home to a plethora of birds and Dassies too (Rock Hyrax)

Reservations at Giant’s Castle are on a bed and breakfast basis, despite all the units being self-catering. I guess this helps the restaurant substantially to be viable. At breakfast, which was delightful, I had a look at the menu for lunch and dinner, that which was offered seemed to be an excellent variety and well priced too.

With check-in from 14h00 and the last guided experience at the San Rock Art shelter and diorama at 15h00, we hastened to put all our perishables in the fridge, grabbed our binoculars and cameras and off on the relatively easy hike to see this legacy of old.

Loads of Proteaceae on the slopes

En route, Malachite Sunbird, Ground Woodpecker were specials and then in and through the dank canopy forest situated just below “Main Caves”. A community and accredited San Rock Art guide was there to meet us and led us through the enclosure to the site.

The enclosure is to keep vandals out of the precinct, a fair bit of damage to the paintings and graffiti  in various forms is evident.

Viewing structures to better view the art paintings

The diorama set where these folk would have lived, is an excellent idea.

Diorama of a San family

Some of the extensive, but rather faded art work

Shamans, hunters and eland

From the shelter one is able to look down onto the Bushman's river and across to Giant's Castle Camp.

The rolling foot hills of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park and the Bushman's River

The Giant's Castle Camp on a level section of the hillside

We chose to follow the river side path back to camp.

The hill housing the "Main Caves" shelter

Some delightful plants on the way.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wakkerstroom Birding– Jeremy Williamson

South Africa’s birding hotspot, Wakkerstroom is a destination where the birding is really excellent. This is primarily a high veld grassland biome, along with some wetlands, mountains and wooded valleys, offering habitat for a wide diversity of our avian species.

Wakkerstroom town close to one of the wetland hides.

Ideally located mid-way between Durban and the Kruger Park / Johannesburg, which suited our birding itinerary perfectly. Our good friend out from Scotland, Gordon, with Lana and I, had planned an extended birding trip starting in Durban, through Zululand and on to the Kruger National Park.

There is a variety of Bed and Breakfast accommodation available in and around Wakkerstroom, we opted for the self-catering chalets at Bird Life, just a few kilometers out of town.

We had mixed weather whilst there, dramatic cloud effect before the rain.View from our chalets.
Hiking to one of the hides

Wakkerstroom is a small farming community town with limited shops. The grocery stores were quite adequate for basic supplies. The town has some intriguing craft / antique and cheese shops. All a bit Olde Worldly.

Typical of the architecture

But then Wakkerstroom is all about birding and it's specials such as this Botha's Lark

Botha's Lark

Nine of South Africa’s 11 endemic bird species are to be found here ! It is knowing where these birds secret themselves in this area, being the key to a successful visit. In order to ‘tick’ a broad spectrum of the local specials, a guide is essential in my opinion, especially if you have limited time there. 

We were to arrive late afternoon with only one a full day in the area on the following day, departing early on the next, rather limited for birding the area properly. Gordon, Lana and I were fortunate to have an excellent local guide, Lucky, recommended by Bird Life SA, who very capably led us to virtually all the species we were keen to see.

Out with the scope for some sightings, this was Denham's Bustard at quite some distance

The wetlands have an array of hides, and for those days without a guide, these afford excellent possibilities of finding the water birds and waders.  

A 'float' of Red-knobbed Coot

How many species can you ID here ?
There have been around 370 different bird species ticked for the area. We identified 91 and heard another four in the limited time of our visit, mind you, some were mega-ticks in my book and a few new ones too!

Some of the more special birds we were fortunate to see;
Southern Bald Ibis quite a few too, Maccoa Duck, Montague and African Marsh Harriers, African Snipe, Eastern long-billed Lark, Rudds Lark,

Rudd's Lark

Long-billed Pipit

Botha’s Lark, Red-throated Wryneck,

South African Cliff Swallow, Pale-crowned Cisticola, Wing-snapping Cisticola, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Denham’s Bustard and White-bellied Korhaan.

A pair of White-ballied Korhaan which had chicks too

Grey Crowned Cranes and Spur-winged Geese
Greater Striped Swallow, we managed some close sightings

Common Waxbill

The majority of the birds we found  were mainly at a long distance for the equipment we have, allow oneself more time if capturing these rarities on camera is a priority. This venue come highly recommended.

All photographs by Gordon MacKinnon, Jeremy and Lana Williamson