An alternative lifestyle and a bird survey of the southern Kalahari and other parts of the Northern Cape. Data are shared with the southern African Bird Atlas project (http:\\sabap2.adu.org.za)
Tuesday 30 October 2018 S 28° 42.90’ E 20° 28.16’
It was mild and windy. I began preparations for moving on tomorrow, including a trip to town to stock up with provisions. I am watching weather forecasts, and have a difficult decision to make as to whether to go ahead or wait for more favourable weather. The forecast indicates winds that will be somewhere between just uncomfortable and impossible to operate in. My destination is Southern Farms, which is on the river between Bynabo and Raap-en-skraap, and being on the river there would be at least partial shelter from the wind, but on the way there I will spend some days on exposed and barren plains, where finding birds is difficult in the best of conditions. If I wait for windless conditions though, I may have to wait a full five days.
I have been involved in a discussion with the bird atlas project (sabap2) management about a proposal to tweak the project protocol to possibly attract wider participation (the management are paranoid about a possible decline in participation, which according to the available data is not even happening). I have indicated that I would reconsider my participation if that were to go through. Perhaps that is a drastic move, since the effect of the proposed change could be minor and could be accounted for by computational adjustments, but my motivation for supporting the project is to make a contribution to science and I am in principle opposed to any compromise with the science involved. I also think that it is not good to allow the project to be my whole life, and good to be able to at least consider doing something else.
Wednesday 31 October S 28° 35.65’ E 20° 08.37’
It was cold at first and windy. The wind died away eventually, and then it was warm. I drove westward through the village of Augrabies and on along the road that skirts the Augrabies National Park.
When I stopped, it was too windy to observe any birds. I sat cocooned in the cab of my vehicle with a good novel, and the trouble with that is that inertia sets in and when conditions improve, it is difficult to rouse oneself and get on with the job. I did rouse myself and did some bird listing and then stopped to camp farther along that road.
Thursday 1 November S 28° 35.18’ E 19° 56.15’
It was cold at first and warm later. While continuing along the southern boundary of the National Park, I passed scattered patches of light woodland, where bird listing was moderately brisk, but when the road swung southward later in the day, it passed through more barren land, and there were some bird-less intervals when I stopped.
Friday 2 November S 28° 33.54’ E 19° 46.07’
It was cold at first and warm later (almost hot). I reached the turnoff to Southern Farms, and spent time around the farmyard and the patch of woodland there. That stop was productive, but for the rest of the day, birds were very hard to find. I drove through a desert-like landscape with splendid views of rugged mountains ahead on the Southern Farms road, and stopped to camp still some distance short of the river.
The CEO of the Southern Farms company (driving a truck) stopped and informed me that I was already on private land, but that that was OK, the company supported wildlife initiatives, including bird surveys (I had tried to phone Southern Farms before setting out on this trip, but the numbers on the road signs were no longer valid). He advised me that I would reach an electronic gate ahead, and that I should then phone him for admittance.
Saturday 3 November S 28° 29.80’ E 19° 43.37’
It was warm. I soon reached the electronic gate controlling access to the Southern Farms vineyards. If I had not met the CEO by chance on the road yesterday, I would have turned back at this point. I phoned him for access, but the gate did not open. After a while, the driver of an exiting vehicle allowed me to enter, explaining that the phone system to the gate was down.
I drove on a long way through vineyards to report at the main office, a very grand and beautifully furnished building, surrounded by manicured gardens and a duck pond. The duty manager led me in his vehicle a long way through land recently cleared and being prepared for new vineyards, to reach a private campsite by the river, with big indigenous shade trees and a hot spring with a pool.
I walked around a little, but my legs had become leaden, and I spent the afternoon mostly sitting still and watching the river. I heard occasional snatches of tinny music and amplified voices from somewhere upstream, where there was a weekend gathering of the Zionist Christian Church.
Sunday 4 November
It was warm and partly cloudy, with an intermittent breeze (it was probably very windy up above, out of the river valley). Not having to pack up and move (for today and one more day) I slept in until almost daybreak.
During the morning, I walked about on the farm. I did not try cycling because the going is soft and thorny. After that, I watched the river.
I cannot get into the river bed at the campsite, for that bank is steep and densely vegetated, but by walking a little way downstream I could get onto the river bed and sit on a sand-spit with the water lapping around me. After sitting a while, I became aware of a Black Crake and a Little Bittern in the reeds. There is some alien vegetation lining the banks, Port Jackson Willow I think, as well as Mesquite. There were a couple of fishermen at the rapids upstream, with hand-lines, makeshift rods and a net.
Monday 5 November
It was cool at first, warm later and windy in the afternoon. I walked upstream along the river bank, between the riverine thicket on one side and steep rocky slopes on the other, with some deep gullies to cross. There was some taller woodland there, and I added some woodland birds to the grid-cell species list (Golden-tailed Woodpecker and Karoo Thrush among others). There is a substantial wine estate across the river in Namibia. Its workers’ accommodation is in rectangular mud houses scattered haphazardly up the slope, resembling a typical African village.
Tuesday 6 November S 28° 51.97’ E 19° 54.86’
It was warm. I packed up and drove out of the campsite. I had some anxiety about a sandy stretch of road through a dry river bed that I had to negotiate, but managed without losing traction (the slope had been in my favour when I came the other way).
I stopped near the main office for a look at another stretch of the river. A group of female field-workers were singing a pleasant melody while they stood around awaiting their assignment for the day.
I left the river behind and headed once more into the dry-lands. I turned south and my final stop for the day and roadside campsite was near the junction with the N14 Pofadder/Kakamas tar road, where a line of low trees along a dry watercourse breaks the monotony of the plain.
Wednesday 7 November S 28° 49.25’ E 20° 22.60’
It was cold and windy at first, and warm by the end of the day. My first stop along the main road was almost a repeat of my last visit here some weeks ago, with me sitting inside my vehicle waiting for the wind to subside. The wind was a little kinder this time and I did get an adequate list together on occasional forays out into the cold wind, and then I moved on.
My next stop was at a particularly barren piece of countryside. There had been a house near the road, marking the place where I had stopped on my last visit here, I thought, a modest farmhouse, unoccupied but well kept. There was no house. I was fearing a serious deterioration of my mental faculties until I identified the place where it had stood, where there is now only a small heap of rubble.
At first I sat in my car waiting for the wind to slacken again, and when it dropped to a breeze I spent several hours scouring the barren plain with intense concentration, to detect the slightest bird-related movement or sound. As a rule, I will not leave one of these very barren grid-cells without listing at least 10 species, but this time I had to move on with only 9. I did not stay on there overnight, because the road through was busy, and the distance was too great to consider coming back there in the morning.
I drove on, turned off on the quiet back road to Augrabies and made camp at the end of a hard day.
Thursday 8 November S 28° 45.77’ E 20° 38.79’
It was cool at first and warm later, and a pleasant day, without wind.
Driving towards Kakamas, I stopped where there a few trees, not quite a woodland, along a dry stream, where I was able to augment the bird-list for another otherwise barren grid-cell.
I shopped for supplies in town. There are two supermarkets with rather similar stock, but I needed a few items from each that were not available in the other, making it a double strenuous operation. I went on to set up camp at Die Mas, the campground by the river, under large indigenous shade trees on the riverbank, to stay for five days. I then had to repack my supplies, another strenuous task. I moved old stock items that were at the bottom of trunks to where they would be used sooner (most ‘non-perishable’ food items come with the instruction to ‘store in a cool, dry place’. Dry, I can do.)
Watching the river, I detected a Purple Heron and a Green-backed Heron, previously rare for the region but becoming more common (or at least more often seen), also a Goliath Heron and a Little Bittern.