The venue for the October outing needed to be changed to the Darling area because Koeberg Nature Reserve was still closed to visitors. It turned out to be a very successful trip, however, with a good turn-out of 38 people. We had driven through an hour of persistent drizzle, so the cool, near perfect weather, with very little wind, was very welcome.
The leader, Mel Tripp, explained that we would begin by birding along the seventeen kilometres of Darling Hills Road and mentioned some LBJs which we should look out for. The first stretch of one to two kilometres proved to be the most productive of the day. A Cape Clapper Lark displaying caused some excitement, although it was hard to see the bird, against the background of the veld, until it would rise briefly above the sky-line and sink again. We watched an impressive aerial display by a Southern Black Korhaan, a definitive sighting of the bird for me thus far. A pair of European Bee-eaters posed in a bare tree, with the sun directly on them, giving everyone an excellent opportunity to see them in Mel’s ’scope.
Our car at the back of the convoy of fifteen cars got delayed on our way to the next stop, a kilometre further on, when we stopped to see a Red-capped Lark very close to the road. We were then treated to a graceful Black Harrier, flying very low and crossing the road behind our car. As we drove on, we watched a Cloud Cisticola displaying exactly as Mel had described it.
When we caught up with the others, we were disappointed to find we had missed a Banded Martin perched on a fence. It had been there long enough for all the others to look at it through the ’scope. We waited a couple of minutes and then, as Mel predicted, it returned to the same perch. This, a lifer for many in the group, was one of the highlights of the day, as was the harrier.
The next stop was near Modderrivier farm, where we watched our next raptor, a Black-winged Kite, carrying nest material – a long piece of grass. A stream with reeds produced weavers, Red and Yellow bishops and warblers. One birder had a query about a squabble between weavers in her garden, and was able to ask Dieter Oschadleus, an expert on weavers, who was standing nearby
Further on, near a stand of oak trees, we used playback (one of only two occasions that day) to try and attract Greater and Lesser honeyguides, but had no success. It was now eleven a.m. and Mel’s suggestion of ‘elevenses’ at our next destination, the wine farm Groote Post, was most welcome.
Fully refreshed after a break at a shady picnic spot, we walked to what must be one of the most charming (and smallest) hides in the Western Cape. It was too small for a group our size, but we enjoyed birding from the path going along the dam. Some were lucky to get a fleeting glimpse of a male Little Bittern flying from one patch of reeds to another. The Red Bishops further on were a memorable blaze of red in the sunlight.
There were further sightings as we were preparing to leave the wine farm, and as we travelled to Tienie Versfeld Reserve. A Cardinal Woodpecker was seen minutes before we set off. Another surprise was a Spotted Eagle-Owl, seen along the road, just after midday.
Also unexpected was a Blue Crane pair with a chick, probably just weeks old. Only the last two cars in the convoy saw this delightful chick, with the sun behind it, giving it a fluffy orangey-gold head. Although we missed the owl, this was a definite compensation to being at the back, and it was one of the highlights of the day for most of those who saw it!
Tienie Versfeld Wild Flower Reserve, a small area on the outskirts of Darling, was donated by Marthinus Versfeld to the National Botanic Gardens of South Africa in 1958 for the purpose of preserving the flora of the renosterveld. While Mel was speaking about the history of the reserve, he identified a Common Quail’s call, sounding exactly like the mnemonic ‘wet your lips, wet your lips’. However, the visit was more memorable from the point of view of the flowers, rather than the birds.
We walked across to a small pan with water. It was starting to become blustery and, with the low numbers of birds visible, half of the group decided to turn back while Mel and the others forged on. We walked back slowly, enjoying the variety of beautiful and unusual flowers which left an indelible mark on our impression of the day. We were surprised when the others joined us back at the starting point. Apparently, the high numbers of ticks in the grass had made them to decide to turn back as well. Hopefully, the ticks had not left an indelible mark, too!
Thank you, Mel, for a thoroughly enjoyable outing, with an interesting variety of habitats and birds. I hope that an outing to the Darling area will be repeated next year. We saw 71 species, including four which were only heard.
Report by Penny Dichmont.