Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve

23 – 25 September 2016

Priscilla Beeton

This year we ‘camped’ at Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve. We stayed in 3 of the very pleasant cottages 8-bedded cottages and that could hardly be called camping! Two of the cottages even had Jacuzzis – although the downside of that was the noisy pump! The children, though, did not see that as a problem.

23 people attended the camp, of whom 12 were children. The rest were moms and dads, and even a granny, plus some other adults involved somehow in camp activities. Everyone arrived by 18:30 and the camp started off with a bang with a birthday celebration. Adam Buckham was celebrating his 10th birthday and his mom Jean had baked the most magnificent cake decorated especially for this bird-crazy son with a scene inspired by the water and birds of Strandfontein. After supper and celebrations Mike Buckham gave an excellent presentation of endemic birds in the area. “I loved my Dad’s talk about the birds we would see on the weekend. We were all given 2 pieces of paper with a bird name on each of them and we had to shout out when our birds were shown and we got a fizzer or a chocolate. My birds were a Bokmakerie and a Cape Sugar Bird.” Jack Buckham

At Vrolijkheid the cottages are on one side of the road and the reserve proper on the other. We left in little groups the next morning very early. Mike left with most of the older children before the others were ready but we all kept on bumping into one another. The pretty reserve abounded with spring flowers, and the birds were out in full force. One group was joined for a short time by a member of the Robertson bird club who was waiting for the rest of her bird club to arrive for their outing – and she was able to share information about some of the plants and also early history. The trails were fairly well marked with signs with interesting facts about the plants and their uses by the early indigenous people of the area. The first hide my group visited was rather unproductive but the second and third ones kept us well ‘entertained’ for a long time. It was interesting also to note that the third hide we visited was wheel-chair accessible and could be reached by a motor car. The hides provided many teaching opportunities for less experienced birders. Jean Buckham reported that Jack, her youngest son, got very excited about the water birds under Andrew Codd’s tutelage. Andrew also taught the younger boys about snakes and scorpions and such-like. On the way back to the cottages I particularly enjoyed walking with Bev Patterson and Thomas Janisch, her grandson, observing the Fairy Flycatchers flitting in and out of the bushes.

Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve Camp
Junior members at the Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve Camp

Adam Buckham had this to say about his morning: “On Saturday morning, we woke up early and went for a really nice walk in the Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve. Our first bird of the day was a Swee Waxbill and my best bird of the day was a Greater Honeyguide which we saw in the camp itself. We also saw a Lesser Honeyguide in the camp which was very exciting. We walked to the bird hides and added a number of water birds. We saw a few Pale Chanting Goshawks which are real Karoo birds. I loved birding in Karoo type habitats. We saw Agulhas Long Billed Lark and saw a Cape Clapper Lark displaying and calling. “

We were all back at the cottages by midday where some of the group continued some excellent birding around the cottages – giant kingfisher, Lesser and Greater Honeyguides being highlights. Some of the not quite so keen young birders spent time in the jacuzzis. Most had an afternoon siesta which was then followed by a treasure hunt which most of the children seem to have enjoyed. Some children were climbing in a large tree and all of a sudden out flew a Spotted Eagle Owl that no-one had noticed sitting quietly watching us! Some of the keener birders went out for a late afternoon drive to do some roadside birding on farm roads outside the reserve. What views! Here my bird highlight was a Dwarf Bittern on some reeds along a river next to the road. Then we returned to the cottages, picked up everyone and went to the car-accessible hide for sundowners and some more relaxing late afternoon birding both in the hide and along the raised walkway.

On Saturday evening we all braaied together and dinner was followed by an excellent talk by Heather Howell on owls. Even the best birders amongst the children learnt so much because she went way beyond just identification – looking at physiology and habits as well.

On Sunday morning activities were rather splintered with Mike taking some of the children off birding earlier than the rest got going. Thomas Buckham shared what his group did: “On Sunday we had a lovely drive along a farm road near Vrolijkheid and saw Blue Cranes, Namaqua Warbler, Diederik Cuckoo, Klaas’ Cuckoo and many other amazing birds. When we started the morning drive, we were on 79 birds for the pentad so our goal for the morning was to get to 100. It was very close but our 100th bird was a Burchells Coucal – we ended the morning on 103 birds which was amazing for a 2-day weekend. We then had a tennis match and had fun outside before it was time to go home. I had a really nice weekend.

Others went to explore very briefly the little municipal reserve in Robertson, Dassieshoek. I was with this group and was blown away by the scenery – the reserve nestled at the foot of tall mountains. As Andrew Codd commented “it is a little gem that needs revisiting”. For me the highlight was an excellent sighting of a cardinal woodpecker. While we were out Loraine Codd went for a run in Vrolijkheid Reserve and she came back reporting that on Saturday we in fact had not seen half the reserve; that we had not done it justice! After packing up (we had to be out by 11:00) some families left for home while others went to visit the donkey sanctuary near McGregor.

All in all it was an excellent camp and some of the participants actually said they would like to go to the same venue next year – and – if possible to make the camp one night longer!

Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve Camp
At the bird hide - Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve
At the bird hide - Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve

This is what some of the children had to say:

Marc Codd: My favourite part of the trip was waking up early in the morning to go to Vrolijkheid. I was able to see lots of special birds and it was fun using Birdlasser for the first time. My highlight of the trip was seeing the Black Harrier which is very rare in that area. For Marc another highlight was listening to the talks on both of the nights,

On Sunday morning occupants of a couple of cars observed a caracal jumping onto the wall of the Reserve gate. For both Jonty Wright and Marc Codd this was a huge highlight.

Jack Bucham said: At Vrolijkheid when I was sleeping, I could hear all the night birds making noises. I heard an owl, a nightjar and in the morning, I was woken up by a Hadeda.

Samantha Codd summed up the weekend from her perspective: I enjoyed the Jacuzzi and the game that Priscilla made with the eggs. I loved the walk in Vrolijkheid even though there were some ticks. I know I’m not a birder but I liked going birding with everyone and also I loved the talks. I now know a lot more about the birds. Michaela Wright also loved the Jacuzzi and hated the ticks.

It was my birthday on Friday so I invited 2 friends for the weekend – one had never birded before but he really loved the weekend so much and learnt about so many birds. It was fun birding with my friends and introducing them to birding. ADAM BUCKHAM

And this is what it is all about ……fun and spreading the joy of birding ..…