Capricious Kirstenbosch: End-of-year CBC walk on Friday 16 December 2022.

Leader Penny Dichmont.

Rain in December, or even on Christmas day, is not that unusual in Cape Town, but thunder and lightning is. A few days before our planned walk, there was a warning of rain and lightning which was expected from late Thursday afternoon, through to Friday and so I put an announcement in the e-Snippets on Wednesday evening. I mentioned that the walk would still happen if there was just drizzle or intermittent rain, but people could phone me to check from 6.30 a.m. onwards.

I did a recce the day before and “fortuitously” bumped into Myburgh Brink. (But, as another CBC commented, it would have been more unlikely not to bump into him, as he seems to visit Kirstenbosch daily.) Myburgh showed me the latest of three roosts used by the “Flowerpot Owls” and the brand-new nest of a Paradise Flycatcher, which he had seen a male starting to build that morning. I was looking forward to impressing the other walkers with these latest spots.

One of the members of the group, Zoe, was also at Kirstenbosch, on a hike with other schoolchildren, and had seen no less than five Lemon Doves. I had asked her to help me find these elusive doves (my favourite Kirstenbosch birds) on Friday’s walk. I was personally hoping to see Spotted Eagle-Owl, Paradise Flycatcher and Lemon Dove on our walk – all special birds in their own way.

I awoke on Friday morning to find Table Mountain bathed in a golden light, with not a breath of wind and no clouds visible. Not knowing if the weather would change, I planned a brisk hour-long walk, so that we would have time for the picnic at the end.

There was a reasonable turn-out of sixteen people, including four adults who were not CBC members and many of the old regulars. John and Phil Rogers came with their son and two grandchildren. One complication was that one of the new people seemed stuck at Gate 1 and was waiting for the ticket office to open, despite my sending three text messages to her, reminding her that we were meeting at Gate 2.

The only solution was to send Zoe, who was fleet of foot, down to Gate 1, to scoop these two visitors up and meet us at the mahogany at the entrance to the Dell, which was close to the new owl spot. One of the regulars predicted that Zoe would return with twenty sightings!

Our first surprise of the morning was seeing two White-necked Ravens perched on the roof of the Richard Crowie Hall, next to the top tearoom. As we approached the Dell, we saw Zoe on the main path to the Otter Pond, pointing excitedly at something. She amazed us with a sighting of a Grey Heron, near the stream on the big lawn – even Otto had never seen one at Kirstenbosch before!

She also told us that there were great views of Boubous in what she called “Boubou Bush”. We saw these, along with a Cape Bulbul and Bronze Mannikin.

Other useful news was that Zoe had seen the Spotted Eagle-Owl when she had sped down to Gate 1. It was back at the conservatory (where they had regularly been seen a month or two back.) I changed my route and we went straight to the Fossil Garden, where we had good views of two owls.

From there we walked up to the Enchanted Forest. Despite the best efforts of Zoe, who zigzagged to the places where she had seen Lemon Doves recently, and our searching close to the Boomslang, we eventually gave up and walked on to the steps next to Owl Rock.

It was very hot and muggy, and so some of the group chose to catch their breath and have something to drink, while the rest went with Otto to look for Cape Sugarbirds in the Protea Garden. One visitor, here from Switzerland for three weeks, was hoping to see some mimetes. They managed to see just two sugarbirds and a Common Buzzard – our only raptor of the day.

Rejuvenated after our stop, we headed down to the Dell to see the new Paradise Flycatcher nest. On our way there, the Rogers’ young grandson spotted our first Lemon Dove of the day, in deep shade near the stream – a great sighting!

The Paradise Flycatcher nest, however, was the definite highlight of the morning. It had been built low down, on a very flimsy branch, close to the path. We watched the male fly in and settle on the half-complete nest, providing great views for the photographers who enjoyed getting some excellent shots of this brilliantly coloured bird.

While still in the Dell and after a pleasant two-hour walk, we felt a few drops of drizzle. Within minutes, it started to rain hard and we rushed back to the picnic spot near Gate 2. We found shelter under a tree, near a convenient bench and managed to remain mostly dry. The distant rumbles of thunder kept the picnic fairly short. However, there was time for brunch and the exchange of news, as well as the opportunity to present a bird calendar to the sharp-eyed young birder who had spotted the Lemon Dove.

Based on my experience, I sometimes say, “Kirstenbosch – always something new.” There are often surprises and the birds are so unpredictable here. Certainly, it was true on this walk, with the unseasonable thunder, the unusual Grey Heron on the lawn and several birds in places where we did not expect to find them. I was glad that we had seen my three target species. I was also thrilled to hear, later that day, that two of the visitors on the walk had become members of the CBC!

Thank you, also, to those who had ventured out, despite the warning of stormy weather. It was a most enjoyable walk, and a lovely way to round off our CBC events for the year.

Photographs by John Rogers, Otto Schmidt, Zoe Lunau-Johns, Penny Dichmont.

Report by Penny Dichmont.