birdsurveysbyvincentparker

A bird survey of the southern Kalahari

Mid-winter at Keimoes – 2018

An alternative lifestyle and a bird survey of the southern Kalahari and parts of the Karoo. Data are shared with the southern African Bird Atlas project (http:\\sabap2.adu.org.za)

Tuesday 12 June 2018 S 29° 16.62’ E 21° 06.77’

It was cool and windy. I reached the junction with the Kenhardt/Keimoes tar road, turned towards Kenhardt and then turned off westward on the dirt road to Kakamas. I stopped wherever there were ribbons of woodland along dry watercourses, and found birds there, but I was less successful on the open plain, with the wind blowing. When the wind picked up, I sat still and sheltered behind my vehicle for a while. It died away again in the late afternoon, when I made camp in the midst of a patch of light woodland. The night was alive with the sound of crickets chirping, until the wind picked up again (the previous two nights had been silent).

Wednesday 13 June  S 28° 44.72’ E 21° 01.89’

It was cool and windy. I returned to the main Kenhardt/Keimoes road and turned towards Keimoes. I stopped and walked and cycled about from time to time, but mostly just sheltered from the wind behind my vehicle. I eventually scraped together a barely adequate grid-cell bird-species list. A sighting of a pair of Black Eagles (Verreaux’s Eagle, I hate these new names) soaring made the effort seem worthwhile.

Driving on through rocky hills, I noticed some substantially wooded valleys, which would be productive on a calmer day. The road verge was wide, as if a double-carriageway had been planned, and I was tempted to stop and camp there, but decided that this road was too busy for that. I pressed on, hoping to turn off on a side road, but there were none until I reached Neiler’s Drift, which is across the river from Keimoes. There I turned off on the road to Louisvale, and drove a short way along a steep winding road through spectacularly rugged rocky hills, before stopping to camp in a quiet place, sheltered from the wind. I fell asleep to the sound of the river roaring over rapids nearby.

Thursday 14 June  S 28° 42.96’ E 20° 57.36’

It was mild and windy. At daybreak I cycled to the river, or at least the bank of its outermost channel, along a road that I had not explored before because I had thought it was private.

Later, I drove a little way back along the Kenhardt road, to cover some of the ground that I had skipped yesterday. There was some light woodland among rocky outcrops, but again the wind made it difficult to compile an adequate bird species list.

I turned around again and headed for Keimoes, crossing several channels of the river. I stopped at the ‘Ou Skool’ guesthouse, which has a used-book stall, and replenished my supply of reading material. I went on into town to buy supplies and then set up camp at the Kalahari Water campground, to stay for 10 days.

The campground is surrounded by vineyards and trees (mostly Pigeonwood I think), so that one has to climb the steep hill alongside to admire the view. The bank of a main channel of the river is a short cycle ride away. There are several cats about, and they are a nuisance, begging and stealing. They are here to keep rats and mice out of the vineyards. They look well-fed, and I guess they have become a nuisance because soft-hearted campers have pampered them in the past. There were now no other campers.

Friday 15 June

It was mild overnight. The day started with a very light drizzle, lasting only a few minutes and after that it was cloudy and cold. The grid-cell which includes Keimoes has already been fairly well bird-atlassed, but noting that previous visits here had concentrated on the river and its immediate surroundings and that birds of the open plain were poorly represented on the grid-cell list, I set out by bicycle through town and out on the main Upington road, heading a little way away from the river, and then meandered about on some side roads. Coming back through town, I stopped to buy a loaf of health bread (cats had destroyed the loaf which I bought yesterday).

On my way to town and back, I noticed houses for sale, and in town some businesses had closed. At ten in the morning, a homeless person was still asleep on a sidewalk.

In the afternoon, feeling the cold, I lacked the energy for another excursion, and stayed in camp to get on with data capture.

Saturday 16 June

It was mild overnight but cold in the morning. Impatient to get going, I set out by bicycle earlier than I needed to, and my hands froze inside their gloves.

I cycled to the Tierpoort Nature Reserve, which consists of the high hill on the outskirts of the town. I cycled most of the way up the steep road to the top, and dismounted and walked the last bit. The view from the top was just a little hazy in the distance.

Coming back through town, I got take-away fish-and-chips from the corner cafe for my lunch. Later, I climbed the smaller hill by the campground. The air was drier by then, and the view was crisp all the way to the horizon.

Sunday 17 June

It was a mild day, but cold at first. I saw a Peregrine as I set out by bicycle, but could only make a note of it a little later when my hands had thawed.

I crossed one of the main channels of the river, and then meandered about among vineyards, canals and ribbons of riverine woodland on Rooikop Island (the island is more than 10 km long), and was occasionally harassed  by dogs when passing labourers’ cottages.

While working on data capture in the afternoon, I had to put down my laptop and get out of my chair from time to time in order to chase cats away from my campsite. Later, I cycled down to the riverbank. That was a pleasant ramble, but it only added one bird to the species list. Perhaps that was because I was already tired, and not fully alert.

Monday 18 June

It was a mild day. I had chores to do. I washed clothes and then packed up my rooftent in order to drive my vehicle to town, to have work done on it. A grommet had broken in the door-lock so that the door could not be locked or unlocked from the outside. I had a spare grommet, and had that fitted, and had wheel alignment done.

Before returning to camp, I drove northward out of town to do some observation on the open plains. My legs still hurt from Saturday’s hill climbing, and in the afternoon, I rested.

Tuesday 19 June

It was a cool day. Once the sun had risen and the air had begun to warm up, I climbed the steep hill by the campsite, and then took a leisurely cycle ride to the river bank, and saw a Goliath Heron.

In the afternoon, I cycled through the town and out on the main Upington road, passing some light woodland, and then mostly scrubby grassland.

Wednesday 20 June

It was cold overnight, with a touch of frost. Once the sun had risen, I first took a walk through vineyards to a narrow stream near the campground (a minor channel of the river), so that by the time I mounted my bicycle my hands did not freeze. I cycled along the main road and over the first main channel of the river, and then cycled about on Rooikop Island.

In the afternoon, I was tired, and I rested.

Thursday 21 June

It was a mild day. The first half of winter is now over. The second half is generally colder, and I will seek relief from that by moving farther down-river for a bit.

I walked about among rocky outcrops near the campground before mounting my bicycle and heading east. From town, I continued past the big hill at Tierkop and meandered about between minor channels of the river.

I spent the afternoon in camp. For dinner, I prepared rice and lentils in the hotbox and fried a chopped onion with turmeric, to which I added a layer of spinach. I combined all with pilchards and covered it with a tomato and chilli pasta sauce. I generally do not pay any attention to the appearance of a dish, but this one was eye-catching, with layers of bright red, green and yellow.

IMG_1045 (1280x944)IMG_1046 (1280x959)IMG_1049 (1280x960)IMG_1050 (1280x960)IMG_1052 (1280x960)IMG_1053 (1280x960)

Advertisements

Into Bushmanland – June 2018

An alternative lifestyle and a bird survey of the southern Kalahari and parts of the Karoo. Data are shared with the southern African Bird Atlas project (http:\\sabap2.adu.org.za)

Saturday 2 June 2018 S 28° 22.88’ E 21° 09.35’

It was cold overnight, but not as cold as the previous, and then it was a mild sunny day. I drove on into Upington, bought provisions at the mall and then went to set up camp at Spitskop for the next six days. I took up my usual site and started catching up with data capture.

There were many other campers present overnight, including a Spanish-speaking group in eight rented camper-vans.

Sunday 3 June

It was a bright sunny day, but with a nasty cold breeze from the south. In the early morning, a male Ostrich performed its wing-flapping, dancing territorial display at the fence, amusing some of the campers.

I washed clothes and captured data. The literature program on FM radio which I used to listen to on a Sunday whenever I had radio reception has been discontinued in the interest of attracting a wider audience. I listened to music on the Afrikaans service.

Monday 4 June

It was a mild day, and calm, but because the campground is well shaded, it takes quite a while to warm up in the morning.

The campground emptied out, and by evening I was alone. I did my usual bicycle ride along the main road, watched squirrels gambolling in the adjacent paddock, worked on electronic communications, and reflected on what I have been doing and on my immediate plans.

A Glossy Starling and a Karoo Thrush were slightly unusual visitors to the campground. They belong to the more continuously wooded environment closer to the river.

Tuesday 5 June

It was a warm, clear day. I admired the view before going on my daily bicycle ride. The view from the campground is of a wide open plain, with a well-wooded farmyard perched on the horizon, and the top third of the tower of Upington’s solar power plant protrudes above it, glowing eerily.

I attended to electronic communications. I am in the habit of addressing all correspondence in the form ‘Dear Whoever…’, as we were taught long ago (whether or not the addressee is personally known to you).

I am aware however that the general practice nowadays is to say ‘Hi Whoever…’. I will not say ‘Hi’ because ‘Hi’ is not a word.

I am aware however, that as it becomes more and more out of date, the form ‘Dear Whoever…’ may be misunderstood as assuming an inappropriate level of intimacy. I think in future that I will say ‘Good day, Whoever…’.

Wednesday 6 June

It was a mild, sunny day. I spent another restful day in the campground. Browsing through the online bird atlas data (http\\:sabap2.adu.org.za), I was once more struck by the extent of distribution changes since the first bird atlas survey (1986-91).

The Scimitarbill has expanded its range extensively in the E Cape, and so too the African Scops Owl, which has declined in other regions. Many of the changes can be attributed to bush encroachment, or to other habitat modification resulting from human activity, but the case of the Pearl-spotted Owl is puzzling. It shows one of the largest declines in reporting rates (though not in range). It seems to be equally at home in thick bush and in open savannas, so that it is not easy to explain that decline in terms of habitat changes.

Thursday 7 June

It was a mild, sunny day. I went to town to stock up for tomorrow’s journey. I will be taking the dirt road south to Kenhardt, and the main tar road from there north to Keimoes by the river, to stay there for a few days. The forecast is for mild weather, turning colder on Friday 15th. By then, I should have reached Keimoes and the relative comfort of a formal campground.

The campground got busy in the evening, with the arrival of several caravans.

Friday 8 June  S 28° 40.77’ E 21° 17.57’

It was a mild day. I set out while the night sky was turning orange. There was heavy traffic going through Upington just after 7 AM, with the sun not yet up. I crossed the main river bridge and drove west, stopping for a while just beyond Louisvale, near the river, overlooking irrigated lands. It was noticeably colder there.

I travelled southward on the Louisvale/Kenhardt dirt road, through mostly flat, stony country, which was sparsely covered with a low fleshy-leaved shrub, with taller bushes (Swarthaak and Mesquite) lining the occasional drainage lines. Birds were scarce. There were a few hills, or rather piles of rock, standing out like pimples on the flat land. The road was busy. There are new power-lines marching across the landscape, and the traffic has to do with the ongoing construction thereof. There is a turnoff near my camping place, where most of that traffic seems to be diverting. I recall from a previous trip that this road gets very quiet farther along.

Saturday 9 June  S 28° 51.20’ E 21° 20.19’

It was a mild day. As I travelled on, the land remained flat and became grassy. I stopped by a dry stream bed where there were a few trees and cycled back and forth from there. I stopped again by a deserted farmyard. There was a construction workers’ camp alongside, in the process of being vacated. The last truck was loading up lengths of unused cable and then it left. I observed some woodland birds among the trees surrounding the farmyard, including a Fiscal Flycatcher. I drove on a little farther to make camp on the open plain.

Sunday 10 June  S 29° 01.39’ E 21° 18.09’

It was cold overnight (at just over 1000 m altitude) and a mild day. I stopped alongside a settlement consisting of three farmyards, by a dry watercourse lined with a few tall Camelthorn trees. A farm-worker came over to see what I was up to, and one of his two emaciated dogs leapt into the back of my pickup, but was shooed out before it got into my larder.

The road was very quiet. Wherever the grass cover had been depleted, the land was now carpeted with a delicate mauve-coloured flower. I stopped to camp at the junction of a minor road, and cycled a short way along that road, passing a derelict farmyard.

Monday 11 June  S 29° 10.64’ E 21° 13.09’

It was mild. I travelled across flat, barren-looking land and did not encounter another vehicle or another person all day.

During the spells when I had parked the vehicle and was cycling about, I hardly encountered a bird at all, but nevertheless enjoyed a special sense of freedom while drifting slowly across the wide open plain. I did see a family of four Bat-eared Foxes out foraging (and the carcasses of another two, who had become road-kill victims). I noticed rocks bearing what may have been fossilised remains.

IMG_0975 (1280x958)IMG_0981 (1280x960)IMG_1014 (1280x961)IMG_1018 (1280x960)IMG_1021 (1280x960)IMG_1032 (1280x959)IMG_1036 (1280x960)IMG_1037 (1280x960)IMG_1041 (1280x960)

Koegas – May 2018

An alternative lifestyle and a bird survey of the southern Kalahari and parts of the Karoo. Data are shared with the southern African Bird Atlas project (http:\\sabap2.adu.org.za)

Wednesday 23 May 2018 S 28° 22.88’ E 21° 09.35’

It was a warm day. White-browed Sparrow-weavers scavenged around my camp, squirrels scampered by and tortoises circulated. A small fluffy dog belonging to a couple in a van inspected the campground perimeter. Campers came and went and photographed themselves standing by their tents and vehicles. The groundstaff covered the pool. The reception office’s cat prowled and the Jack Russell pursued his ball energetically and relentlessly, coercing  groundstaff and campers to throw it for him.

I went to town to buy food, took a walk outside and busied myself with documentation.

Thursday 24 May

It was a warm day, and apart from a short walk outside, I spent it in the campground. I had it to myself for most of the day, with a few campers arriving in the evening.

Friday 25 May

It was a warm day. I went to town to buy provisions before going on the road again tomorrow and to collect my bicycle wheel. I shall be going upriver, following the north bank, beyond Boegoeberg Dam to Koegas, where I have not been before.

Being by the river will be a pleasant change from being in the semi-desert. Although the riverside is mostly cultivated, and the riverine woodland along the banks is infested with Mesquite, there is a high diversity of bird species, and unusual species from other regions sometimes wander up and down the river.

According to the weather forecast, there may be some frost, and it may get very windy by Friday 1 June. Perhaps I will return to Upington then, where it is not expected to be as windy, nor as cold.

Saturday 26 May  S 28° 51.11’ E 21° 50.03’

It was warm. I drove eastward along the tar road to Groblershoop that follows the south bank of the Orange River. I had to pull off the road and stop and wait a while on an incline, when the rising sun shone directly into my eyes.

My first stop was beside a graveyard, and from there I wandered through maize fields and vineyards down to the river. I set out by bicycle, but carried it much of the way because the path was thorny.

After a few more stops, I had a home-made pie at the Kalbas Padstal. The owner of the Padstal showed me a photograph taken in Namibia of a very pale Tractrac Chat, alone in a vast expanse of desert.

I stopped again by a dam that is fed directly from the river where there are always some waterbirds about, this time including a pair of Fish-eagles. There was a dead White-breasted Cormorant, hanging from a branch by a length of fishing line around its neck.

I turned off on the dirt road heading away from the river towards Kenhardt in order to find a quiet place to camp. The landowner stopped to check up on me and a horsedrawn cart loaded with firewood went by.

I had work to do on my bicycle. The new wheel was fitted with a very thin rim tape, and the rim had already torn into the tube. I retaped the rim, but the puncture would not mend. My spare tubes are the wrong type for that tyre. I had a spare tyre to fit, and eventually got it all in working order. It then took me a while to regain a positive state of mind. The soft colours of the sky at dusk and a fresh salad of avo, tomato, cucumber and smoked chicken helped.

Sunday 27 May  S 29° 05.21’ E 22° 19.60’

It was a warm day, though cold at first. I watched the sun rise before driving on, and then stopped near the river by a settlement where there were gardens with tall trees bordering irrigated fields and canals, with a lot of bird activity.

I crossed over the Orange River at Groblershoop, and then took the Koegas turnoff southward and back towards the river. I stopped in bushveld-like thorn-woodland, with Crimson-breasted Shrikes and Pearl-spotted Owls, and stopped again to camp in more open and scrubby terrain, with a view of the Boegoeberg Hills all around.

Monday 28 May  S 29° 15.37’ E 22° 23.70’

It was mild with a wintery-looking grey sky, but a warm breeze. I travelled on through increasingly hilly and stony terrain, and crossed several dry stream beds. I made camp at the T-junction with the Griquastad road, still a few kilometres away from the river, but with a grand view of rugged hills and flowering Quiver Trees.

The wind changed direction in the late afternoon and became cooler, so that I had to reset my camp, with the vehicle facing the other way to give shelter.

Tuesday 29 May  S 29° 20.51’ E 22° 17.52’

It was cool and cloudy, with the sun breaking through occasionally. I soon reached the bridge over the Orange River and spent some time there. I drove across and stopped to make camp just a little way away from the river, at a high point with a view. This is a rugged place, and wild. Due to the rough terrain, there is no cultivation, and I saw no people except the occupants of a few vehicles that passed (the land is the communal property of the ‘first indigenous people’ (San)). The road is in good condition (it has been all the way from the main tar road) and that must be because no trucks come this way. There are some derelict sheds and warehouses near the bridge, the remains of an abandoned asbestos mining enterprise. I think that I shall come back here, often.

There was an infamous massacre here in 1878 of 46 unarmed Koranna and San men, women and children, by a militia acting on behalf of the colonial government.

A flight of more than 100 White-breasted Cormorants went by along the river.

Wednesday 30 May  S 29° 17.43’ E 22° 26.99’

It was cold overnight and it took a while after sunrise before I was warm enough to be fully functional, to pack up and move on. The day was sunny and mild.

I retraced yesterday’s journey, spent more time at the riverside and at the bridge. A young Martial Eagle soared overhead and I disturbed a colony of White-fronted Bee-eaters, which were roosting in burrows in a steep bank by the roadside, and they erupted in a noisy blur of colour. I eventually turned eastward on the dirt road to Prieska. The road was smooth and I stopped to camp in an open thorn-shrub savanna. I saw two Red-billed Oxpeckers clinging to the backs of cows, a long way from the known range of the species.

Thursday 31 May  S 28° 56.41’ E 22° 19.38’

It was cold overnight but it quickly warmed up under a clear sky. I made my way slowly back towards the main road to Upington, with several stops. After the Seekoebaard turnoff, I took a right fork on a slight detour to the main road. I stopped for a while outside a farm gate where there was much bird activity. I would have made camp there, but a farm worker told me that his employer was a difficult person who might not be pleased with my presence there. Being outside the property boundary, I had the right to remain where I was, but moved on to avoid any possible unpleasantness. I made camp instead on a pleasant spot surrounded by open bushveld-like mixed woodland, beside a steep hill. I recalled having camped on this very spot once before, two or three years ago.

A security patrol, a young man in a new-looking SUV, in black uniform, with a firearm and a dog, approached to check up on me. That also happened the last time that I was here. The property opposite (a private game farm I guess) has a high electrified fence. The level of security would suggest that they may keep rhinos.

Friday 1 June  S 28° 27.29’ E 21° 30.32’

I got up at midnight when I realised that the condensation inside my tent had already frozen, in order to cover the car battery with a rag. The night was very cold with severe frost. I waited until the risen sun had begun to melt the ice on the roof of my tent before I packed up and moved on, and in the meantime heard the calls of Orange River Francolins. It was a bright sunny day with a cool breeze.

On the way back to Upington, I turned off on the road to the Karos solar power installation (still under construction). I had not previously been there, being unsure as to whether access was restricted. The access is in principle restricted, but because there is a farm road that branches off that road, I was not prevented from going there. I stopped where the farm road branched, and walked about from there, and eventually made camp where I was. It was not a quiet campsite. There was a steady stream of traffic rumbling by, which intensified towards evening, and did not abate until after 7 pm (and started up again before sunrise).

IMG_0938 (1280x961)IMG_0939 (1280x960)IMG_0948 (1280x960)IMG_0952 (1280x960)IMG_0955 (1280x960)IMG_0958 (1280x960)IMG_0963 (1280x960)IMG_0966 (1280x960)IMG_0972 (1280x960)

 

 

Lonely to Fullifeesands – May 2018

An alternative lifestyle and a bird survey of the southern Kalahari and parts of the Karoo. Data are shared with the southern African Bird Atlas project (http:\\sabap2.adu.org.za)

Sunday 13 May 2018 S 28° 22.88’ E 21° 09.35’

It was a mild day (though cold at first). I drove to town to buy provisions for tomorrow’s expedition. I will be going west on the main Olifantshoek road (N14), turning off on the road to Vanzylsrus via Pearson’s Hunt and Mosplaas, turning west on the horrid Vanzylsrus/Askham road and returning via Fullifeesands and Vastrap. The grid-cells that need further attention to reach minimum coverage levels are now widely scattered, and a long trip is necessary to reach just a few of them.

There is a group of four young people, Spanish speaking, who arrived in the campground in a very small car, with two small tents, on their way to tour Namibia. They seemed to disappear from time to time, and I discovered that they sit together in the scullery room, where they have rigged up a radio, to listen to broadcasts from ‘The Watchtower’ (headquarters of the Jehovah’s Witness faith).

Monday 14 May  S 27° 29.92’ E 22° 04.60’

It was cold at first but warmed up rapidly and become a bright sunny day. I drove east on the N14 highway as far as the Pearson’s Hunt turnoff.

Along the way, I stopped for a vehicle broken down at the roadside. It was a very old vehicle, and the occupants (a farm worker and his wife and baby) had been there all night. I helped them to jump start the vehicle, but although we started the vehicle repeatedly, it would not run for more than a minute at a time. They were in cellphone contact, but I guessed that they did not have the means to call for professional assistance. I could do no more, and abandoned them. As I pulled away, a truck pulled over to see what assistance it could offer.

I stopped for a while at the beginning of the Pearson’s Hunt road, which at this point runs close to a branch of the Korannaberg  Hills. The hills are impressive enough to give the refreshing feeling of being in mountainous country.

Just beyond Pearson’s Hunt, I came across another breakdown, of a new-looking double-cab. The driver needed to call for assistance (apparently some wiring had burnt), but neither his cellphone nor my two (one for each network) obtained a signal there. He set off to walk to the farmhouse at Pearson’s Hunt (not far), hoping to access a landline there.

I deviated from my planned itinerary for once. I was at the outer edge of ‘my’ chosen survey area, and realised that a short detour would take me into new territory. I went there, and stopped overnight on a firm part of the road verge by a farm gate. An African Wildcat came sauntering along the road towards me, until it saw me and then darted for cover.

Tuesday 15 May  S 27° 11.62’ E 21° 43.78’

It was cold overnight. At an altitude of just over 1000m, it is appreciably colder here than in Upington. It was another bright sunny day, and by midday it was almost as warm as a summer’s day. There was a Porcupine shuffling about beside my camp in the early morning.

I drove northward and turned west on the Weltevrede road. I reached the end of that road after 15 km, and made camp. I do not know whether this region has had as much recent rain as Noeniput in the west, but clearly there has been some late rain because butterflies were still active and I came across two species that were new to me.

Condensation began to drip onto my face from the roof of my tent in the early hours of the next morning, and I had to rig up a towel above my head to stop that.

Wednesday 16 May  S 27° 05.21’ E 21° 34.03’

It was cold overnight, but not as cold as the previous night and by midday it was almost hot. I completed observation along the Welverdien road, and then made a short detour on another side road going eastward, stopping by a farmyard set among tall Camelthorn trees (a habitat typical of the surrounds of the dry Kuruman River, which is not far north of here).

In the afternoon, I drove on to reach the Askham/Vanzylsrus main road, and turned west. This road was terribly bumpy, as it usually is, and I jolted along very slowly, covering no more than 30 km in more than an hour, and passing the farms ‘Lonely’, ‘New Lonely’, ‘Totsplaas’ and ‘Nerap’ (of Willie and Chummy de Bruin), before turning south at ‘Fullifeesands’, on the road to ‘Massakloutjie’.

I stopped to make camp at the first gate along that road, where I have camped before, being aware that suitable camping places are scarce along that road, because of the soft verge. I was then in a slightly undulating, park-like, open, tall Camelthorn savanna.

At about 2 AM, a vehicle approached and stopped alongside, for the driver to scrutinise my vehicle. It was a farmer from farther down this road, and he recognised me once I emerged from the tent. We had had a similar middle-of-the-night encounter on this same road a few months ago.

Thursday 17 May  S 27° 19.01’ E 21° 29.10’

It was cold at first, and otherwise a warm day. I continued farther down this road than I had before, and so doing achieved coverage of a new grid-cell. I passed through red dunes with Grey-Camelthorn shrub savanna and taller Camelthorn thickets in the low places. I stopped to camp where the road meets the Koupan/Telleriepan road. There was a large farmyard nearby, and I made myself known to the workers there so that they did not think I was trying to hide away. They recognised me from the previous times I had passed by. The road was bumpy and by afternoon I was tired from all the jolting.

Friday 18 May  S 27° 36.41’ E 21° 43.48’

It was cool, with a steady breeze. I had a longish drive southward on the Koupan road to reach my next scheduled stop. I passed some red dunes that were bare of grass even after the rain. The pastures are generally well grassed now, but the quality of grass cover is variable. In some places, only a very coarse grass-type is prevalent, and in others, finer and more nutrient rich grasses are present.

I turned off on the Kuiepan road, and saw two Kori Bustards at the intersection and two Secretarybirds at different places farther along. I took another turnoff along a back road and made several stops to make observations. I turned around in the afternoon and headed back towards the Koupan road and stopped to camp at one of my regular camping spots, by a water reservoir surrounded by Camelthorn trees.

Saturday 19 May  S 27° 49.86’ E 21° 39.44’

It was cool and windy and an ominous bank of cirrus cloud approached from the south. I drove on as far as the junction with the Vastrap road, turned west towards Vastrap and continued for about 10 km to the crossroad with a minor road. I turned north, stopped at the entrance to Opskud farm, and cycled about from there. When I returned to the crossroad, the wind had strengthened to the extent that observation was suspended for a while. The sky darkened, the wind dropped, and a few (a very few) drops of rain fell. After that, bird listing continued as usual. I cycled southward down the minor road, and on my return set up camp at the crossroad.

Sunday 20 May  S 28° 22.88’ E 21° 09.35’

During the night, it rained softly for a long time. The day was overcast and cool. I had a longish drive to get back to Upington (90km) and punctuated it with a stop at Stennkampspan. The road is being worked on, and was smooth going most of the way, but with some rough patches. The borrow pits at Steenkampspan were full of water, had a fringe of aquatic grasses, and there were a number of waterbirds about.

I passed through Upington, and stopped at the mall intending to do some shopping, but the mall was so busy that I baulked at that. I got a take-away for my lunch and fled, to set up camp at Spitskop (for six days). I will have to go back to town tomorrow to complete my shopping.

Monday 21 May

It was a mild, sunny day. I drove in to town to do my shopping, and delivered a bicycle wheel to the cycle shop for a repair (it was wobbly, due to a worn bearing, I thought). By the end of the day, I had not yet got it back. Once more, what I thought to be a quick and easy repair turned out not to be so.

Back in camp, the rest of the day was consumed by data capture and documentation. I paused at dusk to watch the wide pink sky fade into darkness.

Tuesday 22 May

It was a mild sunny day. I completed my chores, including clothes washing, and data capture and documentation, and went for a walk outside the campground (my bicycle needs a new wheel and it is expected on Friday).

I am now ready to turn away from the southern Kalahari, at least for a while. I have achieved most of my objectives for this region. The un-surveyed grid-cells (white on the coverage map at sabap2.adu.org.za) are ones that have no access by public road and they would mostly require four-wheel drive as well as prior consent from land-owners. I will not be going there. The remaining ‘brown’ grid-cells (not yet having attained minimum levels of coverage) are now widely scattered, so that the cost per grid-cell of going there is now greater than my budget allows. I have left a gap around the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, so that other bird-atlassers visiting the park can also do their bit, and likewise for Tswalu and Augrabies.

I shall now spend some time by the Orange River, and start dipping into the vast un-bird-atlassed space of Bushmanland (south of the river).

 

IMG_0877 (1280x960)IMG_0880 (1280x960)IMG_0908 (1280x960)IMG_0925 (1280x960)

Abiekwasput to Upington – May 2018

An alternative lifestyle and a bird survey of the southern Kalahari and parts of the Karoo. Data are shared with the southern African Bird Atlas project (http:\\sabap2.adu.org.za)

Thursday 3 May 2018 S 27° 05.42’ E 20° 05.29’

There was a cold breeze at first, and thereafter it was a warm, sunny day. I began by cycling about near the dam where I had camped. I saw a Common Moorhen, which one expects to find on permanent waters and not on a dam such as this which is often dry.

I drove on following the route which I travelled about 10 days ago, and cycled about for a while wherever I stopped. I came across a pair of Secretarybirds and a Kori Bustard. I camped at a place where the road leaves a wide plain to ascend once more into dunes. There was a lovely soft light at dusk, but I did not pay it much attention because I was mending bicycle punctures.

Friday 4 May  S 27° 16.73’ E 20° 03.55’

It was cold at first and warm later. I travelled southward, slowly because this section of road is bumpy, with hard corrugations. Following recent rains, wild flowers are beginning to appear at the roadside here and there, and Grey-backed Sparrow-larks are everywhere in numbers. I camped near a small dam (the same place where I had camped 10 days ago).

Saturday 5 May  S 27° 20.10’ E 20° 10.59’

It was cold in the morning before dawn, and then it was a warm sunny day. I turned eastward on the Koopan-suid road, following the bed of the dry Abiekwasput River.

Although there are tall Camelthorn trees lining the way, this is a desert-like stretch. It looks as if this is a spot that was mostly missed by the recent heavy rains, or that the grazing has been exploited beyond its capacity to recover. Although Sociable Weavers were very active, there were long intervals during which no other birds could be detected.

I turned back, meaning to rejoin the Noeniput road, and stopped to camp before reaching it.

Sunday 6 May  S 27° 37.25’ E 20° 06.85’

It was cold at first, otherwise a warm day. I got going before dawn, and having stopped a little way farther down the road to watch the sun rise, I heard the deep grunting calls of a Giant Eagle-Owl.

I drove on to reach Noeniput by mid-morning. The town was very quiet, and even the church was closed up and deserted. The big farmers’ church building, that is. I could hear singing from among the non-descript buildings nearby, and guessed that a service of the working peoples’ church was underway.

I jolted slowly along a badly corrugated minor road heading south out of Noeniput, and stopped to make camp on a wide, flat, stony plain. It was amazingly quiet there. I cycled across the plain and back, and spent hours gazing into the distance, and observed hardly a bird (two Sociable Weavers and a Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark in fact).

Monday 7 May   S 27° 28.00’ E 20° 31.37’

It was warm, with a breeze. On my way from my overnight camp back to Noeniput, I stopped where the vegetation was a little denser, with some tree-like shrubs and a dam, and quickly added several species to the grid-cell-species list, so that it was eventually a respectable length.

I drove eastward on the Grootwitpan road, as far as the last dry pan before Grootwitpan. There were 10 gates to open and close on that stretch, but otherwise the going was smooth. I turned north on the minor road which I believe connects to Merriepan and Koopan-suid. The last time that I took this road, I turned back after reaching the barren edge of yet another dry pan. This time, I went on around that pan, and eventually stopped to camp at a place where there were a few trees and some bird activity.

I was camped close to a farmyard, and this being a remote place and I not having been there before, was a little nervous about how the farmer would react to my presence. He waved when driving by and otherwise ignored me. It would seem that I am now known throughout this region and no longer need to explain myself.

Tuesday 8 May  S 28° 22.88’ E 21° 09.35’

It was warm. I listed a few more birds on my way back to the main road, and then drove on to Upington.

I look forward to stopping in town after a longish trip, as I have generally run out of fresh produce by then and am glad to be able to stock up, but once in town I get flustered and lose my resolve to be unhurried and calm.

I went on to make camp at Spitskop campground, to stay for six days. After unpacking and repacking my purchases, I found that I had forgotten to get milk and a couple of other things. I had looked forward to having fresh milk in my coffee, now that it is cool enough for it to keep. I had made a list, but had not put it on the list. I bumped my head on the sharp edge of the hatch of my vehicle canopy. I took a dip in the pool, and that was so cold that it hurt. I rushed to get on with data capture (though I have a few days for that and no need to rush it). I shall have to re-set up my camp tomorrow, because it is oriented wrongly for shade, now that the trajectory of the sun is lower.

Wednesday 9 May

It was a cool day. I stayed in the campground. After laundry and other chores I spent much of it transferring the handwritten notes for this journal into electronic form. I caught up with current affairs, listening to the radio.

I have difficulty typing on a laptop. Resting my wrists on the machine below the keyboard (I have been advised that this prevents eventual injury to the wrists), I inadvertently brush the mouse pad from time to time, causing the cursor to jump and insert text to inappropriate places, and for other things to happen on the screen that I had not intended. Attaching an external keyboard to the machine would be a solution, but I usually do not have enough desktop space for that (on the tail-gate of my pick-up).

Thursday 10 May

It was a mild day and I spent it in the campground. I was tired and a little feverish, and I needed that. I caught up with all my ‘paperwork’, and submitted some photographs from my recent trip to the Virtual Museum – some late dragonflies and butterflies (Painted Lady and Desert Jewel), a lizard that I do not recognise and some mushrooms (Desert Shaggy Mane (inedible), perhaps the only species likely to be found here?).

There was a Giant Kingfisher in the campground for a while – an unlikely event since the river and any fish and crab bearing ponds are more than 15 km away. It flew off northward into the desert. Perhaps it will reach the dam at the Kalahari Guest House, about 40 km away.

Friday 11 May

It was mild, overcast and windy. I was feeling stronger today, and went to town to take care of some admin. In the afternoon, after the wind had subsided a little, I took a short bicycle ride along the main road. There was a brief shower of light rain in the evening.

Saturday 12 May

It was clear, and an icy wind blew all morning. I sat in the cab of my vehicle with a novel for much of it. In the afternoon, I did go for a cycle up the main road, when it had eventually warmed up.

The population dynamics of the Grey-backed Sparrow-lark are not easy to understand. On my recent trip northward, I had noticed that they were widespread and numerous after the rain. Yet here at Spitskop and vicinity, there are none at all after the same rains. In some previous years at this place, I have noticed them in great flocks at the roadside.

IMG_0871 (1280x959)IMG_0873 (1280x961)IMG_0875 (1280x960)

Mayday – April/May 2018

An alternative lifestyle and a bird survey of the southern Kalahari and parts of the Karoo. Data are shared with the southern African Bird Atlas project (http:\\sabap2.adu.org.za)

Monday 23 April 2018  S 27° 05.42’ E 20° 05.29’

It was warm, hot around midday and windy in the afternoon. Starting out from the dam, I cycled through some low woodland, and there was more woodland farther on where the road crosses the stream that feeds the dam (no longer flowing), so that the first grid-cell-species list for the day was a long one (at least for a semi-desert region). I drove on through spectacular landscapes. From the stony, flat  ‘hardveld’, I passed over high, steep, bright red dunes with inundated pans visible in the distance most of the time, and then crossed a wide sandy plain. I stopped to camp at the edge of that plain, before the road ascended into dunes again.

One of the random thoughts that crossed my mind while resting at midday was that any two consecutive whole numbers are relatively prime (they have no common factors other than 1), and was quickly able to formulate a proof. A trivial result, but I had not done any algebra for years.  And any three consecutive whole numbers starting with an odd number are relatively prime.

Tuesday 24 April  S 27° 16.23’ E 20° 03.56’

It was warm. I passed a grand farmhouse standing near the road, and at the dam alongside it, a pair of Fish Eagles were perched on a windmill. I travelled on through another range of high red dunes and across more sandy plains before stopping for the night near a small dam on a plain.

Wednesday 25 April  S 27° 19.75’ E 20° 15.07’

It was warm, and in the afternoon it got very windy. I passed a farmhouse that appeared to be well kept but presently unoccupied. I took a left turn on the road that passes Koopan-suid and loops back to Askham. The road initially follows the bed of the dry Abiekwaputs river. This was a barren stretch, though dotted with Camelthorn trees, and some of them large. It was sandy, with pale sand, and although the grass tufts were turning green at the base, they were sparse. There were few birds to be listed there, although there were several large Sociable Weaver nests, and a Martial Eagle and some White-backed Vultures flew by.

Having parked near a farmyard, with a house set a little way back from the road, I was walking on past the yard, when I heard a greeting from a couple who were in the yard. I waved, and there were more words that were indistinct and I was not sure if I was being addressed or they were directed at workers who were also in the yard, so I walked on. That troubled me later, as it may have been a friendly invitation to come in for a chat, and I had ignored them.

The wind brought an end to bird-listing for a while, and I sat in the lee of my vehicle and did some reading.

Thursday 26 April  S 26° 56.00’ E 20° 39.83’

It was warm, but cool in the evening. I drove on to Askham. There was still a lot of water lying in the road on that stretch, but there were diversions around the larger pools.

In Askham, I filled up with petrol and water and had lunch. I went on to Molopo Lodge to camp for the night, and caught up with some data capture. I am now well known at the lodge, and my dinner was on the house.

Friday 27 April  S 26° 41.09’ E 20° 13.43’

It was partly overcast with light cloud and warm. I left at daybreak and drove west along the main Rietfontein road. This section of road is difficult because the narrow verge offers few places to stop and park. The terrain is a little dull, mostly flat and sandy with some low dunes, with sparse grass and low bushes (although it is looking very green now). I did half to three-quarters of a full session in each grid cell (a full session is at least two hours), intending to complete those sessions when I return this way in about four days. I took a turnoff to the north at Klein Mier, and continued farther than I have done previously on that road before stopping to camp. I think that this road loops back to Loubos and the main road near Rietfontien. I shall see tomorrow.

I had some technical challenges. The front wheel of my bicycle had multiple punctures. I had picked up some thorns a couple of days ago and some had evaded the tyre lining. I had not detected the second and third punctures when I mended the first because they were very fine. I do not use sealant in that tube because it already has large patches which will detach if exposed to sealant.

The handle of my heavy frying pan was loose, creating the possibility of twisting and tipping its contents onto the ground when lifted off the gas stove. The thread in the socket where the handle screws in is worn. I put superglue on the screw of the handle, and will see if that holds.

I have a ‘powermonkey’, which stores energy from a little solar panel to charge a cellphone. The pin connecting  the powermonkey does not fit tightly in the socket of the cellphone, and I have to jiggle the two endlessly to achieve a position where the pin rests securely in the socket.

Saturday 28 April  S 26° 43.97’ E 20° 04.84’

It was overcast with light cloud. A cold breeze blew during the morning, and the afternoon was warm. I drove on into new territory (for me). It was mostly fairly barren, though green for now. While parked near a farm gate, the farmer came and unlocked a gate, for me to enter, to reach a small pan partially inundated, where Namaqua Sandgrouse were gathering to drink. White-backed Vultures gathered overhead, and more than 20 were visible at one time.

I reached an intersection, where I thought about turning north into more unexplored territory, but that was not on my planned itinerary, and once I have made a plan, I seldom deviate from it. I turned south toward Rietfontein, and made a note to myself to plan another trip to this area to take in that route.

I reached the dam at Loubos which is fed by a stream coming from deep within Namibia. The stream is dry now and the dam is shrinking, but still holds a lot of water. After spending time there, I drove on to make camp near the main Rietfontein road.

Sunday 29 April  S 26° 43.15’ E 20° 15.05’

It was warm. I went on to Rietfontein and continued a little way down the road to Philandersbron. There is a lot of work being done in upgrading that road, but not on Sunday, so that all was quiet except for some bird calls.

I  turned around and started the journey back to Askham. There was a lot of water on Hakskeenpan. Although the stream carrying water from Namibia is no longer running, the water already on the pan has been augmented by local rainfall. I could not see birds on the pan except for a few Sacred Ibis (the pans of the Kalahari, when they do hold water, are mostly too salty for any kind of animal life).

I made a stop just beyond Klein Mier, at a dreary place, that particular grid-cell being accessible only on that stretch of road, a treeless and featureless stretch. By midday I was tired, and headed for my planned camping spot, a short way along the road going north out of Klein Mier.

Monday 30 April  S 26° 51.99’ E 20° 45.73’

It was cold in the morning, and there were dark clouds about, and some thunder and lightning, but no rain fell. By midday, the sky had cleared and the afternoon was windy and warm. The wind dropped to a breeze by evening.

I did my duty by completing coverage of some of the tedious grid-cells on my way back along the main road (tedious because of the narrow verge and generally barren appearance). By midday I reached the intersection with the road to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and turned north on that road. After about 30 km I turned off westward, opening and closing the gate, on a road signposted ‘De Stoele camp -32 km’, which I took to be a public road and one which I had not previously explored. The road soon became a sandy track, and I feared getting stuck, but had to keep going, for the verge was too soft to attempt to turn around. After covering about 10 km in half an hour, I was able to make a turn where the track branched. I stopped there for a while to complete a bird species list. My intention had been to make camp along that road, but I was no longer sure that it was a public one, and was uncertain how I would be received if I was discovered there, so I returned to the main road.

As a rule, I select my camping place before 4 pm each day, to avoid the possibility of having to look for a place in the dark. This time, having changed my plan, I still had time to find an alternative.

I drove back towards Askham and turned east on the road that runs along the border with Botswana. I had to go on for about 12 km to find a quiet place to camp, because although it was ranch-land on this side of the border, there were settlements and much development all along the Botswana side (separated only by a low fence). That fence runs along the bed of the dry Molopo River which is sandy with scant grass and lined with tall Camelthorn trees. I almost got stuck as I pulled off the road, for the verge there was softer than it looked. I fretted about whether I might get stuck when pulling out again in the morning.

It had been a long day.

Tuesday 1 May  S 26° 54.62’ E 20° 41.06’

It was overcast and cool in the morning, and clear, warm and windy in the afternoon. I spent the morning cycling back and forth from my overnight position, and came across a number of vultures gathered on the crest of a ridge by the roadside, and a Tawny Eagle.

In order to exit from my campsite without getting stuck in the sand, I first allowed the engine to warm up, to avoid stalling if the wheels should lose traction, and then approached the curb obliquely, avoiding a sharp turn.

Stopping along the way back t the main road, I could hear a Mayday speech being relayed over tinny loudspeakers at the border post in Botswana. I stopped to camp on a firm clearing near the junction with the main road to Askham.

Wednesday 2 May  S 26° 56.62’ E 20° 05.20’

It was partly overcast and warm. I drove into Askham, where I replenished petrol and water supplies and bought some fresh vegetables, then had breakfast at the coffee shop while charging a laptop and catching up with electronic communication.

I set out on the road that passes Koppieskraal, heading for Noeniput. Near Inkbospan, I passed a large gathering of vultures at the roadside (White-backed and Lappet-faced) where there must have been an animal carcass.  The large pan at Koppieskraal was dry now (it had been covered by water just 10 days ago), but there was still a lot of water in dams beside the pan. I passed a herd of Koppieskraal’s camels before reaching Klipkolk at the intersection with the Rietfontein/Noeniput road.

I stopped at the guest house at Klipkolk, and walked through the grounds to look at the large dam beyond. The dam was still very full and not many birds could be seen there. While sitting by a thicket, I was charmed by a very colourful little Melba Finch (Green-winged Pytilia – I hate these new names). Mostly, the birds of the Kalahari are not colourful.

Going on southward, I stopped to camp where there was another dam near the roadside. This one was also full, but with a fair amount of birdlife around it. I was much bothered by flying insects while sitting out to read in the evening. They desisted once the moon had risen.

IMG_0795 (1280x960)IMG_0796 (1280x960)IMG_0800 (1280x960)IMG_0819 (1280x960)IMG_0820 (1280x960)IMG_0830 (1280x960)IMG_0832 (1280x960)IMG_0842 (1280x960)IMG_0844IMG_0851 (1280x960)IMG_0859 (1280x961)

 

After the rain – April 2018

An alternative lifestyle and a bird survey of the southern Kalahari and parts of the Karoo. Data are shared with the southern African Bird Atlas project (http:\\sabap2.adu.org.za)

Friday 13 April 2018  S 27° 36.98’ E 20° 15.22’

It was warm and overcast at first, clearing in the afternoon. I drove on to the settlement of Swartkopdam, and after walking about on its outskirts, I drove farther following the back road to Noenieput.

There were pools of water in the road, but I was able to drive through, trusting the hard road surface. I stopped to walk about on the stony terrain where the sparse grass tufts were turning green at the base. I met two vehicles coming the other way, and the drivers informed me that I would not be able to get through to Noeniput that way with a two-wheel drive vehicle.  I cycled onward to inspect the road ahead, and came to a stretch of black mud, a typical ‘bottom-land’, which gets very sticky when wet. I could see that the donkey cart that had preceded me had got through by squeezing by partly on the verge. My vehicle is wider and heavier and I would not attempt that.

I returned to the main Noenieput road, and headed once more in that direction. I had intended to drive on and take the Grootwitpan road out of Noenieput, and cover some distance along that road, in order to reach the next grid-cell targeted for this trip before stopping for the night, but it was past midday and I was tired, so that when I noticed a clearing by a farm gate that would make a convenient campsite, I went no farther.

The farmyard was visible from the gate, and there was a sizable dam, now full, beside it. There was a phone number displayed at the gate, and it was close enough to Noenieput to receive a cellular signal, so I tried the number, hoping to get permission to enter the farm, but the number was no longer in use. Later, the farmer himself arrived at the gate, on his way home, but by then I had scanned the dam using the ultra-zoom of my camera, and had already set up camp for the night, so I did not ask to enter.

I sat and watched the evening sky turn to night with a feeling of satisfaction and contentment, a feeling that I am usually too tired or pre-occupied to enjoy. Frogs and crickets called softly throughout the night.

Saturday 14 April  S 27° 40.39’ E 20° 34.45’

It was warm and clear. As I approached Noenieput, I saw that the usually desert-like plains around the town were now substantially covered with water. The main road is raised, but nevertheless carried many large pools of water. I turned off onto the Grootwitpan road, which mostly runs on higher ground into the red dunes, but first I had some very long and scary looking pools of water to negotiate. The pools in the road were mostly smaller but still frequent once I was among the red dunes. After a while, I was plunging on through the pools without thinking, trusting that the bottoms would be firm. They were.

I reached a large pan, the one before Grootwitpan, and turned north into the dunes beyond it. I had intended to cover two grid-cells on that side of the pan, and after spending time in the first, I drove on towards the second, a grid-cell that I had never visited before, but found that I could only access it at the very barren edge of a dry pan. I skipped that and spent more time in the other grid-cell. Late in the afternoon, I drove on to stop for the night farther along the Grootwitpan road.

Sunday 15 April  S 28° 22.88’ E 21° 09.35’

It was warm and clear, becoming overcast and windy in the evening. I drove on to meet the main tar road to Upington, with a couple of stops along the way. This is the mainly treeless centre of the southern Kalahari (with low Grey-camelthorn shrubs that do not grow to tree size), but with some well established Mesquite trees at the roadside, some woodland birds were present (Acacia Pied Barbet, White-browed Sparrow-weaver and Dusky Sunbird).

In Upington, the mall was very busy and the vast parking area was almost full. After shopping there, I checked in at the Spitskop campground to stay for six days. There was some camp furniture on my usual site, left by a couple in a camper van to mark their place while they were in town, so I set up on another site, with more shade but an inferior view.

Monday 16 April

It was cool and overcast, with rain threatening for much of the day, but not falling. I rested, caught up with data capture and contemplated the future.

Within two years from now, I think that I will have achieved my set objectives for this region, and be ready to move on. Bushmanland, across the Orange River from here, is a vast un-bird-atlassed space that beckons, but by then I may be ready for a change of lifestyle, and will not tackle it as intensively as I have this region. By about then, I will need to trade in my twenty-year old vehicle, and by downsizing to a smaller one I may be committing to a more settled existence.

Tuesday 17 April

It was the kind of lovely morning that occurs only after a rainy spell, clear, mild and fresh. The rest of the day was partly cloudy and warm. I spoiled it for myself, working on my laptop, by attempting to get the installed version of Google Earth to run. I did not need to do that, for one can run Google Earth through a browser, but I was stubbornly determined to solve the problem, and eventually failed. Then I was angry with myself for having wasted the best part of a beautiful morning.

I set out on my usual daily cycle ride, but it was difficult to get going because my legs felt heavy. Nevertheless, the ride helped to clear my head and lighten my mood.

Wednesday 18 April

It was a warm day. I spent it in and around the campground. I include days like these in my schedule in order to rest and also to prepare myself for a time when I am no longer bird-atlassing, at least not full time, so that I will know what to do with myself then.  I think that I will always be doing some sort of bird survey, as long as I am mobile and have my faculties, but in future I might be engaged in a more intensive type of survey, requiring little or no travelling.

During the night, there was loud music and revelry emanating from one of the chalets, and I went to sleep with the aid of earplugs.

Thursday 19 April

It was cold at first, and a cool breeze persisted for most of the day.  I spent another day in and around the campground.

I reflected on what has changed in this remote region since the inception of majority rule for the country.  A few farms, especially those close to Namibia in the west, are now black-owned. (The people officially designated ‘black’ in this region are mostly people of mixed race, descended mostly from the San and Khoi people, and whose mother tongue is Afrikaans. There are very few surviving who claim to be of pure San or Khoi descent, and those languages are no longer spoken. There are no people of Bantu origin here, other than in the towns.)

The majority of farms are still white-owned, and have mostly been handed down from generation to generation for 50 years or more. Several of these farms were awarded to soldiers returning from active service during the Second World War. It was around that time that boreholes were sunk, prior to which there were no permanent settlements in much of the region. Labourers on farms are all black.

Relations between farmers and labour appear to have changed only superficially. Farmers have to careful about by which terms they refer to their labour, and minimum wages are enforced. The standard of accommodation for labourers is variable. On some farms the workers’ cottages are old, pitifully small and sadly lacking a coat of paint. On others, the cottages are more modern and fitted with solar powered hot water geysers and satellite dishes.

There has been a general decline in the rural population, of both farmers and labourers. This is a global trend, and not entirely related to the political changes since 1994. The smaller farms were unprofitable and their owners sold up, for them to be incorporated into larger farms. At least in some cases, pastures became unproductive as a result of past overexploitation. Increasing levels of stock theft have contributed to the non-profitability, and some farmers may have been influenced to leave as a result of uncertainty regarding land redistribution policies, and out of anticipation of more restrictive labour legislation. The consolidated farms require less labour than the separate farms had, and many labourers left the land together with the farmers. There are no rural settlements in this region other than the labourers quarters on farms, and those who were no longer employed drift to the towns.

The remaining labourers are increasingly isolated, living far from friends and relatives and without transport to go visiting. Children of school-going age must be sent away to school. Often the mothers will move to town with them, leaving husbands alone on the farms.

Whereas brutal attacks on farmers frequently make news elsewhere in the country, those are almost unknown here, where farmers seldom lock their doors at night and do not sleep with firearms at their sides.

Friday 20 April

It was cold in the early morning and warm later. I drove to town to do some admin and buy provisions for my next expedition. I will be travelling to Askham, Rietfontein on the Namibian border, Abiekwasput and vicinities, returning after about two weeks via Noeniput. I will pass through Askham a couple of times, allowing me to replenish water and fuel supplies. According to the weather forecast, the heavy rains are now over, and drier conditions will prevail.

Saturday 21 April  S 27° 00.03’ E 20° 27.34’

It was cold at first, but then it was a warm day. I got going at first light, driving north on the main tar road to Askham and Rietfontein (R360), first crossing a stony, treeless plain, and then entering the red dune region, which is also treeless at first, but with Camelthorn trees appearing with increasing frequency as Askham is approached. I stopped before that though, at the entrance to Goera Pan, to walk and cycle about for a while. The pan itself was dark in colour, showing that the surface was damp, but without standing water. The surrounding dunes are green now, but with bare red earth at their crests bearing evidence of over-exploitation.

After lunch in Askham, I drove south on the Koopan-suid dirt road, and then west on the Koppieskraal road. Both roads were smooth going, and quiet. I stopped to camp on a clearing away from the road, well shaded by a Shepherd’s tree, and disturbed a Barn Owl as I drew up. I saw White-backed Vultures circling overhead from time to time. When I had a wash, the chill of the water against my skin reminded me that summer was over.

Sunday 22 April  S 26° 56.62’ E 20° 05.21’

It was warm, and for a while around midday it was hot, almost like a summer’s day. I travelled on, making a couple of stops in light woodland with much bird activity, to reach Koppieskraal Pan, which was inundated, making quite a spectacle. I had passed the pan after heavy rain on previous occasions, and then the water had not covered the surface. The road crosses a corner of the pan and is raised, so that it was mostly dry, but at one point it dips through a water-filled gully, which I negotiated a little nervously. There were no birds to be seen on the pan, and I went on.

I reached the guest house at Klipkolk, which looked to be all closed up. I parked out in front and walked through the grounds to look at the dam beyond. It is an enormous dam, and was full to the brim, with just a few birds around the shore. On my previous visits there, it had been either as full, or bone dry. The best chance of finding concentrations of waterbirds would be when it is at an intermediate level.

I drove south on the Noeniput road, passing another inundated pan. I could just make out a small group of Greater Flamingos in the distance. Beyond that was another large dam, also full. I parked near the dam to spend the rest of the afternoon and the night. There is little motorised traffic on this road, but several donkey carts passed during the afternoon. I did not set up my tent at first, so that I could escape to higher ground should the onslaught of mosquitoes prove to be too fierce. It was not.

IMG_0767 (1280x960)IMG_0773 (1280x960)IMG_0775 (1280x960)IMG_0779 (1280x957)IMG_0783 (1280x959)IMG_0793 (1280x959)IMG_0794 (1280x960)