birdsurveysbyvincentparker

A bird survey of the southern Kalahari

The end of a journey – June 2019

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

Tuesday 28 May 2019 S29° 40.38’ E 17° 53.97’

It was cold at first and clear, and warm later. I spent a little while observing birds in the vicinity of the campground before moving out.

I went into town (Springbok) and got the plug leads that I had ordered (the mechanic who had tuned up my vehicle in Kakamas had prescribed these).

Instead of returning to the nature reserve, I went to set up camp at the Springbok caravan park, where there was power and internet connectivity, so that I could charge laptops and catch up with communications.

I successfully fitted the new plug leads, not a difficult job, but after removing each lead you have to fit the new one before removing the next one, in order to keep track of where to connect the lead on the distributor.

Wednesday 29 May  S29° 41.06’ E 17° 56.84’

It was warm. I drove out of Springbok, heading for the sea-side. After stopping at the roadside, I took a turnoff to visit the Namaqua Plant Bank, run by Isolde, who was the founder of CROW (Centre for the Rehabilitation Of Wildlfe) which is still a well known institution operating in Durban. She propagates the uncommon desert plants of Namaqualand for distribution to nurseries and other institutions. Even the hardy desert plants require irrigation during this fifth year of drought.

Thursday 30 May  S29° 40.79’ E 17° 03.91’

It was warm. I stopped and looked around at a few places on the mountain pass on the way to the sea.

Once off the mountain, I took the detour to Kommagas because I had been warned while in Springbok not to use the main Kleinsee road, which is in terrible condition. The road via Kommagas had some rough patches but was mostly smooth. Kommagas is an impoverished village in the desert. Beyond Kommagas, I passed an area of light open Acacia woodland with moderate sized trees (I would have called it a savanna if there was any grass).

I reached Kleinsee and checked in at the campground for two nights. I walked about 200 m to the shore and got my feet wet in the cold Atlantic Ocean, while observing some of the regular coastal birds. At night in my tent I could hear the booming of the waves breaking on the beach.

Friday 31 May

It was cold overnight , and misty all morning. I enjoyed a lazy morning at my campsite until the mist cleared, and then took a walk along the beach. I crossed a dry estuary and found a reed-lined pool behind the dunes, with some birds on the water, and a bird-hide from where to view them.

The mist suddenly came down again, and then I had a little difficulty in finding my way back to where I had parked my bicycle.

Saturday 1 June  S29° 41.06’ E 17° 56.84’

I have now reached the end of a five-and-a-half year journey of exploration through the far-northern Cape. From here, I will travel to Gauteng to negotiate the purchase of an erf (actually half of an erf) in an eco-village (Honeyville, EC) and from there on to the Eastern Cape settle on that erf.

Here ends this blog, and a new blog featuring my further adventures will commence at http://www.thehoneyvilleoccasional.home.blog.IMG_2101 (1280x959)IMG_2105 (1280x959)IMG_2110 (1280x958)

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In Namaqualand – May 2019

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

Saturday 18 May  2019 S28° 42.89’ E 20° 28.15’

It was warm. I drove on towards Pofadder. My vehicle was not running smoothly. nevertheless, I put in a full session of bird-mapping, parking by the roadside and cycling back and forth.  A farmer invited me to enter the farm there, and I cycled a little way into the farm, but as far as I could see it consisted of the same desert-like wasteland that I could see from the road. The farmer informed me that one section of the farm had not had any rain for five years.

This region is as dry as Bushmanland and drier than the Kalahari at the moment , but this a winter rainfall region so that there is at least the prospect of relief soon.

I turned back for Kakamas, in order to get my vehicle seen to on Monday. I turned off on the road to Augrabies, to go and camp at Lake Grappa. I checked in to camp until Monday, and was shocked to find that the fees have doubled since I was last here. I shall not be stopping here again.

That one of my regular stop-overs has become unaffordable confirms me in my thinking that I am about done with the Kalahari and am ready to spend time in Namaqualand, despite its long-standing drought.

I spent the afternoon at the bar, nursing a beer (just the one) and watching sport on television, taking a break from my routine and putting aside the disappointments and anxieties of the day.

Sunday 19 May

It was warm, and calm at first, but windy later. I cycled out of the resort and down to the river. I crossed two bridges over minor channels of the river but then was stopped by a locked gate from completing my usual tour of the islands in the river.  Instead, I cycled along the canal as far as the outskirts of the village of Marquard.  Dogs barked at me, including three large Rottweilers, and I was anxious lest they vault their low fence, or otherwise escape from their yard. One smaller dog did escape his yard to give chase, but turned back when I confronted it.

Later, it was too windy to do much except some reading. The wind slacked off towards sunset, and then I cycled briefly into the open, undeveloped part of the resort, to round off the bird-list for the grid-cell.

Monday 20 May  S28° 48.51’ E 20° 22.87’

It was warm, and overcast at first, clearing later and becoming windy. I drove to Kakamas (the vehicle shuddering and belching in the lower gears), found an auto-electrical business that I had been directed to, and had to wait outside until they opened at eight. They were too busy o assist me, but directed me to a workshop nearby. It was an old-fashioned cavernous workshop, without a reception-area or much in the way of modern refinements. The mechanic worked on the distributor, set the points and timing and got the vehicle running smoothly, with the advice to change the plug-leads when convenient.

I drove out of town to the place where I had camped on Friday night, and made camp just a little farther along that road at a place with a wider view, meaning to make a fresh start towards Pofadder in the morning..

Tuesday 21 May  S28° 52.36’ E 19° 54.95’

The wind blew fiercely during the night. By morning, it had dropped to a breeze, but an icy cold one, that persisted for the rest of the day. I was slow to get going, sheltering in the cab of the vehicle for a while before breaking camp and going on.

I stopped and spent a while by a dry stream bed lined with large Camelthorn trees, near a deserted farmyard. I stopped again in the next grid-cell, perhaps the most barren one that I have encountered so far, with hardly any vegetation at all. I was pleased when that species list got past ten, the minimum without which I would not move on.

I reached Bladgrond, which consists of two farmyards, a telecommunications tower and a graveyard, and where there is some woodland along a dry stream. I turned off on the road to Nous, to find a quiet camping spot a little way along.

Wednesday 22 May  S29° 04.15’ E 19° 24.79’

It was cold at first, becoming warm by late afternoon. I travelled towards Pofadder.

I may be repeating myself by saying that this region is barren. At my first stop, it took 30 minutes before recording the first bird (a Pied Crow). At the next stop it took 44 minutes (again a Pied Crow), and once more it was a desperate struggle to get together a submittable list.

To find a camping place away from the main road, I had to go all the way to Pofadder (there were no turnoffs along the way) and then proceed a few kilometres along the Onseepkans road.

Thursday 23 May  S29° 06.70’ E 19° 02.53 ’

It was cold at first, but warm by midday. I returned to the main road and continued through Pofadder towards Springbok. This is the main N14 Highway to Cape Town, but it is narrow, and built up on a slight bank above the verge, so that there are few places where one can pull off the road and park.

In the second grid-cell that I tackled, I could find no more than seven species, but that I regarded as a submittable list because this is now a real desert.

I took the turnoff to Pella, and shortly afterwards another to Klein Pella, seeking a place to camp. After a short distance, after passing some deserted mine workings, I saw a sign to ‘Oasis in the Wilderness, guesthouse and camping’, and went there.

I entered a sprawling establishment with many chalets and outbuildings (some of the outbuildings were partially demolished, others apparently in good repair) and a large, empty swimming pool. All was still. There was no-one about, and no dogs and no vehicles, but there were flowering plants including Bougainvilleas, a Jacaranda with just a few remaining leaves and dry pods and palm trees around the main house, and footprints in the sand. There was an old fuel pump, and a single street light that was on. A low scalloped wall in the Spanish style around part of the garden completed the impression of a deserted town in a Western movie.

I eventually discovered a caretaker in a workers hut at the periphery of the establishment, and negotiated with him to camp in the yard for the night. This was originally the housing compound for the deserted mine. It was rented out more recently to construction contractors, who wrecked the interiors and stripped the fittings, and left without paying, pleading bankruptcy.

Friday 24 May  S29° 12.05’ E 18° 50.44’

It was warm and partly cloudy, and windy for a while around midday. I drove on towards Aggenys.

It was a hard day’s bird-mapping. At first, the land looked less barren than that which I saw yesterday, with grass in places, but by midday I was in a particularly bleak and barren place. Land-use here was dominated by a mining operation which was in the process of transforming an entire mountain into a pile of dust.  I reached the end of that grid-cell having accumulated a total of four bird species. By then I was fatigued from listening for birds that were not there, above the noise of passing traffic and the wind, but I doubled back to the other end of the grid-cell, where there was a single tree and a few tree-like bushes, to eke out a few more species for the list.

I took the turnoff to Aggenys, with the intention of stopping to camp at a quiet place along that road, but it was a very busy road, so I went on into the town. It is a bustling mining town, with a shopping centre. I stopped at the supermarket for some fresh vegetables, and went on out of town, following signposts to the Lemoenplaas guesthouse and campground.

I found the campground nestled at the mouth of a gulley through the mountains. It is a grand campsite, spacious, the bathrooms roomy and tastefully furnished, with a sheltered braai area with tables and benches provided, and carports for shade, and power-points at each site. The power was on, the plumbing worked, and there was nobody about. There was refuse in the bins, showing that it had been recently occupied. I recovered a teddy-bear from a rubbish bin, undamaged, a little baby one with a bow around its neck. A family of four Klipspringers bounded along the top of the stone wall that surrounds the grounds.

I settled in for the night, with some anxiety that at some stage somebody representing management would appear and demand a camping fee that might be beyond the provisions of my budget.

Saturday 25 May  S29° 41.06’ E 17° 56.84’

It was warm. I walked about in the vicinity of the grounds before setting out. Soon after sunrise, a number of vehicles approached. It turned out that a Park-run is to be held here. By the time I drove off (not having found anyone authorised to receive my camping fee), there were about a dozen runners and an ambulance lined up at the start line. They had come from as far afield as Keimoes (300 km) and Kleinsee (about 200 km away). I stopped in the town, and walked about in the dense green artificial woodland of the residential area.

I drove to Springbok, without making any bird-mapping stops. The utterly barren, drought stricken plains were just too daunting, and I had things to do in Springbok. Objectively, the bird atlas project needs bird-lists from this area at the worst of times as well as at the best, but this is outside of my chosen core area, the Kalahari, and I do not feel the same commitment to comprehensive coverage here.

In Springbok, which was very busy (it was the month-end weekend), I called at the motor spares shop to buy plug leads. I stood for ages in a long queue, only to be told that the leads were not in stock, and they do not file orders on a Saturday. I may call on Monday to place an order.

I went to check in at the campground of the Goegab Nature Reserve, nestled among steep rocky hills a short way out of town.  Camping there is very affordable, but there is no electrical power and no signal for internet connectivity, so I shall not yet be able to catch up with communications and data capturing, but will take a couple of days break from travelling. There are no other guests in the reserve, which is to be expected at this time of year. It will only get busy during flower season. Cape Buntings, Mountain Wheatears and a Grey Mongoose frequent the campsite, foraging for scraps.

Sunday 26 May

It was warm, overcast, and windy. I washed some clothes and then set off on a hiking trail from the campground through the surrounding hills. That involved more climbing than I was used to, and I was sore and stiff after. For part of the trail, the otherwise splendid views were marred by a huge mine dump.

Springbok’s single runway airport lies alongside the entrance to the nature reserve. At midday, the single scheduled arrival, a twin engine aircraft, landed. It took-off after a couple of hours, but then landed again almost immediately. I heard the sounds of a high-revving engine being worked on throughout the afternoon.

Monday 27 May

It was warm and windy. I enjoyed a quiet and restful day in camp. I did go cycling for a while, along the main road through the reserve, following a narrow valley, with a sand desert on one side (a seasonal desert which may be covered with flowers after rain) and sparse low shrubs on the other. I found some birds in a little patch of woodland near the campground, and very few elsewhere.

 

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Heading for Namaqualand – May 2019

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

Wednesday 8 May 2019 S28° 34.74’ E 21° 24.51’

It was cool and overcast at first, clearing later, but with a cold breeze persisting. I progressed only a short distance, to complete the grid-cells that I had targeted  for this trip, and then stopped for the rest of the day near a water reservoir, where there was a clearing convenient for making camp, not wanting to go on into Upington until tomorrow.

A farmer stopping by to check on the reservoir and deposit bales of lucern to sustain sheep in the continuing absence of grass growth, pointed out a green strip visible in the distance, contrasting with the surrounding exposed reddish brown earth, that marked the path of a hailstorm that had come through four weeks ago (I had experienced that storm while at Spitskop).

Thursday 9 May  S28° 22.88’ E 21° 09.35’

It was cold overnight and warmer during the day, but with a cold breeze persisting. I went on into Upington, and then on to Spitskop, checking in for a week, in order to catch up with communications and documentation, to rest, and to plan my next expedition.

Friday 10 May

It was warm. I had to spend most of the day in town. I went in to get new tyres for my vehicle, and it turned out that I had to get new tie-rod ends as well. I went on from there to shop for bicycle spares.

By the time I returned to camp, I was tired and had a headache. The campground was busy. By nightfall, eleven or twelve sites were occupied. The two sites nearest to me were occupied by pairs of elderly men.

Saturday 11 May

It was warm, and a pleasant day was had in the campground. I washed some clothes (It had been a while), did other chores, cycled on the plain, and caught up with data capture. Lambs gambolled in the neighbouring paddock. Two bird species that are a little unusual for this location, Cape Wagtail and Long-billed Crombec, were present.

Sunday 12 May

It was warm. As usual, I cycled for a while along the main road across the open plain. When cycling, I normally dawdle along in the lowest gear, but I selected a higher gear this time, to spread the load and avoid wearing down the same gears all the time, and also, noting that I have a tendency to get fat and lazy, to give myself a bit more of a workout.

At midday, I shared a beer with another camper, who is here for a month (occupying my usual well-shaded site at the far end of the grounds). He is a retired sailor (previously employed by the Department of Sea Fisheries), painter and sculptor, with a permanent home in Scotland.

In the afternoon, I worked on documentation (or what would have been called ‘paperwork’ in the previous millennium).

Monday 13 May

It was warm. I set out early to cycle out across the plain. Back in camp, I worked at de-rusting and painting over the scratches on the bodywork of my vehicle, in preparation for taking a trip to the seaside (the west coast), and got most of my documentation up to date.

In the evening, I briefly heard the call of a Double-banded Courser, a rather cryptic ground-dwelling bird of the stony plains. The campground was busy again, with five or six caravans stopping overnight. This is not holiday season, and all of the caravanners were elderly folk.

Tuesday 14 May

It was warm. I had to stow my roof-tent and re-organize my camp in order to drive to town to shop for supplies for my next expedition. Shopping tires me, and I had little energy for anything else when I returned. I watched the Springbok and sheep in the adjoining paddock. The sheep are lambing now. One of the lambs is an orphan, and is bottle fed twice a day. It is a touching site to see it bounding eagerly across the paddock when the man with the bottle appears.

The campground is still busy, but it is spacious and the sites comfortably separated. In the evening, a group of construction workers took up the site next to mine.

Wednesday 15 May

It was warm. After my early morning bicycle outing, I spent a peaceful day in camp and prepared for going on the road again tomorrow.

Having mostly achieved my objectives for the Kalahari region, I have started branching out into neighbouring regions. I will now head out westwards into Namaqualand, intending to go all the way to the seaside at Kleinsee.

I contacted some of the campgrounds in Namaqualand, and was pleased to learn that camping fees in that region are generally lower than in the Kalahari. Tourist facilities get busy there during flower season, which follows the winter rains (provided there have been some), but it is likely to be very quiet there for the duration of my trip.

Thursday 16 May  S28° 47.88’ E 20° 43.57’

It was warm, almost hot. I got going before sunrise, driving through Upington and on along the main road to Keimoes. There I crossed the river and continued along the dirt road south of the river, the scenic road that winds through rocky hills towards Kakamas.

I made a couple of bird-listing stops, but by early afternoon I was tired and had a headache, and stopped where I was, not covering all the ground that I had planned to cover today. I will do that tomorrow, and spend another day in this vicinity, beside the river, before going on beyond Kakamas into Namaqualand.

The cauliflower florets that I had intended to have as a salad with courgettes, had started to liquefy, so instead I cooked that up and made soup, and it was fine. There is a weir across the river not far away, and I was lulled to sleep by the sound of water rushing over the weir.

Friday 17 May  S28° 49.19’ E 20° 22.61’

It was overcast at first, and cool and windy. It cleared later, as the wind strengthened.

At dawn, I backtracked a little way to enjoy the view from the top of a pass that overlooks the confluence of the channels of the Orange River. I went on into the farm Neus, cycled along the canal where a Painted Snipe was seen (but not this time), and then parked by the river bank. The path by which I usually cycle alongside the river was blocked by a fallen tree, so I cycled the other way, westward along the river, and wondered why I had not done that before. I encountered several White-fronted Bee-eaters, which I seldom see on this particular stretch of the river. They are one of several species that have expanded their ranges westward along the Orange River during the last quarter-century, in their case responding to the increasing presence of bee-attracting mature Blue Gum trees close to sand banks that are suitable for nesting in.

I went on into Kakamas on a very bumpy stretch of road and had a pecan tart and ice-cream at the Pienk Padstal. I drove a short way beyond Kakamas, as far as the Droegrond turnoff. I turned the other way there and drove just far enough to make camp in a quiet place away from the main road.

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Niekerkshoop to Klein Begin – May 2019

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

Sunday 28 April 2019  S 29° 13.49’ E 22° 43.94’

It was warm. I stopped for a while at the crossroad where I turned for Niekerkshoop. Going on, I left behind the open savanna, as the road climbed and dipped through hills with deep wooded ravines and slopes which were stony and treeless, but nevertheless well grassed. I stopped to make camp on a lonely hilltop.

Monday 29 April  S 29° 39.70’ E 22° 44.88’

It was warm. I drove on to Prieska, where I had some admin to attend to. I got a bit shaken up on a bumpy stretch of road, but that did not last long, and most of the way was smooth going and scenically spectacular.

I shopped for provisions, lunched at the coffee shop, went to set up camp at the campground (the backyard of a guest house) and caught up with communications. There were other campers, in two caravans.

Tuesday 30 April  S 29° 29.40’ E 22° 55.84’

It was warm. I headed north out of Prieska, following a road to the irrigated farms upriver, hoping that there would be a through-route along the river that would loop back to Niekerkshoop, as it is on the road map (I have already found that the current maps for this area are inaccurate).

The road descended steeply off the plateau, giving views of the river valley spread out below. Reaching the floor of the valley, I stopped near a gated turnoff leading to a diamond mine, where a guard was on duty. The guard confirmed that the road straight ahead was a public road that it did loop back to Niekerkshoop.

Apart from the irrigated lands at the river bank, the stony valley was mostly a continuous thicket of Swarthaak bushes, with not many birds. I did hear the harsh crowing of a Swainson’s Spurfowl in the irrigated lands, probably at the western edge of its distribution here.

Wednesday 1 May  S 29° 27.93’ E 23° 00.33’

It was warm. I was cycling about near the river when I received a phone call from Jaco, who had met me at the roadside yesterday. He has a farm a little farther along the road, and invited me to join him for a drive around his farm.

The farm has cultivated lands at the river, and ranch-land stretching away from the river into the hills. As for most of this area, the ranch-land is heavily encroached by the Swarthaak bushes. Clearing of the Swarthaak is being attempted on this farm, by spraying herbicide from the air. The herbicide is selective, at least to the extent that some other trees, particularly the Shepherd’s Tree (Boscia albitrunca) is not affected by it, and it stimulates grass growth.

Driving around, we experienced one of those dead patches, where there is not a bird to be seen or heard for a while. I am used to those in this region, but felt a little embarrassed for my host, who had specifically set out to show me the birds on his land. It was not all bad, we did find some interesting birds, especially when we returned via the cultivated part of the farm.

I was offered a guest bungalow next to the farm office for the night. I slept in my tent as usual, where I feel at home, and enjoyed a hot bath in the bungalow.

Thursday 2 May  S 29° 20.96’ E 22° 51.56’

It was warm and windy. I stopped and walked about in the spectacular gorge on the way to Niekerkshoop.

A Black Eagle appeared briefly, while a farmer was interrogating me about my activities. Since I was involved in bird studies, he wanted to know whether I could do something about removing Pied Crows from the area. The crows are rapidly expanding their range into the Kalahari region and are greatly detested by sheep farmers. They are known to follow sheep that are about to give birth, and peck out the eyes of the newborn lambs.

The afternoon was too windy for further bird observation. I sat in the shelter behind my vehicle and did some reading.

Friday 3 May  S 29° 09.09’ E 22° 37.61’

It was cold overnight and warm during the day. I drove on, passing Niekerkshoop (probably once a thriving town where farmers had their townhouses and merchants and tradesmen bustled about, but now run down and inhabited mostly by the unemployed) and on through hill country before stopping at a crossroads in a small area of park-like thorn-savanna. It is in this habitat that one finds some of the larger and more colourful birds, and there were Yellow-billed Hornbills, Glossy Starlings and Crimson-breasted Shrikes around.

Saturday 4 May  S 28° 57.62’ E 22° 30.95’

It was warm. At my first stop I had to deal with a bicycle puncture that would not mend. In addition, that tyre was very worn, so that I had to unpack some gear in order to get at a new tube and tyre, which I fitted. I do resent having to spend the cool, fresh part of the day on menial tasks.

The road heading northward to the main Kimberley/Groblershoop road was smooth at first but very bumpy farther along. The savanna woodland thinned out and became scrubby, with the bare red earth showing through, but there was one section that was covered by a dense carpet of golden-coloured grass. I persevered through some patches where there was not a bird to be seen or heard.

Sunday 5 May  S 28° 55.11’ E 21° 45.21’

It was warm, and windy in the afternoon.  I progressed as far as the N10 Highway and turned for Groblershoop. Along that road, I passed some pristine-looking park-like savanna, with widely spaced tall trees on a carpet of grass, in a private nature reserve.

In Groblershoop, I picked up some supplies and continued on a very bumpy dirt road towards Klein Begin, stopping to camp where the road and the Sishen-Saldanha railway line pass through a small gorge.  During the afternoon, terrific gusts of wind kept me sheltering behind my vehicle.

There has been an effort to clear the alien Mesquite around here, and the ground is strewn with the dead branches of the Mesquite bushes.

Monday 6 May  S 28° 46.02’ E 21° 34.80’

It was warm, and windy in the afternoon. I travelled on towards Upington.  I was now in rather dreary looking terrain, grey, treeless and scrubby, with scant grass. In the afternoon, the wind made bird finding difficult. There was some low cloud on the horizon, making for a lovely red, black, salmon and violet sunset.

Tuesday 7 May  S 28° 39.74’ E 21° 28.74’

It was warm and windy. I progressed through some monotonous scrubland, and paused by the denser thickets of shrubs. The wind made bird finding difficult once more, but I did find several Stark’s Larks.

In the afternoon I mostly sat still and did some reading. Clouds gathered suddenly in the evening, and there was a thunderstorm with rain. Some might think that a tautology, but in the Kalahari thunderstorms without rain are not uncommon.

 

 

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Koegas road – April 2019

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

Thursday 18 April 2019  S29° 39.70’ E 22° 44.88’

It was warm. I did some data capture and shopped in town (Prieska) for fresh produce. Verity arrived from Pretoria at midday. She will be a fellow-traveller for a few days, using her own vehicle and her own tent. We lunched at the coffee shop and spent the evening in the campground, catching up on our different lives.

Friday 19 April  S29° 27.49’ E 22° 36.56’

It was warm, and windy in the afternoon. We drove in convoy, northward on the Niekerkshoop road, stopping at the bottom of the deep gorge for coffee and tea, and a look around.

We turned west on the road to Koegas, a firm dirt road that is mostly smooth, and turned off after about 20 km onto the rough track that leads to the riverside and a camp belonging  to Oom Daan, which I had failed to reach when I reconnoitred here a week ago. The steep and winding track was not as scary to me as before, as I was now already acquainted with most of it. A Kudu darted across the road, almost colliding with Verity’s vehicle. We passed the point where I had turned back before and descended a steep slope to find Oom Daan at his home. He directed us to a campsite a little way on, under the cover of a dense stand of trees on the riverbank.

Oom Daan manages the farm for an owner who resides in Gauteng and who bought the farm for its wildness and aesthetic appeal, rather than its economic potential. Cattle and sheep were raised here in the past, but the infestation of the Swarthaak shrub on the slopes has made it unsuitable for livestock and it is now exclusively a hunting reserve.  It supports a variety of game and Kudu in particular thrive here.

We camped in the open, but with some shade, rather than in the designated place under dense cover, so that we had a view of the hills. There was a grassy beach at the riverside, from which we could swim in the cold river.

Saturday 20 April

It was warm. I walked upriver from our campsite, close to the river but separated from it by a dense riverine thicket. When I turned back, I found a way through the thicket and walked along wide sandy beaches beside the river.

During the afternoon, the young members of the extended family of the neighbouring farm held festivities at the camp, within the deep cover of the thicket, and we were glad to be a bit secluded from that.

I cycled back along the track by which we had come, and enjoyed grand views of a rockier section of the river, with rapids.

Sunday 21 April

There was a brief rain shower in the early morning. After that, it was warm, becoming cool and cloudy in the afternoon, and another brief shower fell.

Verity, who sleeps in a tent several metres away, tells me that I snore loudly all night. I wonder how long that has been going on. That explains why I am sometimes already tired in the morning. My body is not at rest when I am asleep. I used to be a silent sleeper, or so I was told long ago, when I last shared sleeping quarters.

Verity does not approve of the standards of hygiene in my back-of-the-bakkie kitchen. I am now cleaning up like a girl.

I cycled eastward along a track that runs parallel to the river, as far as the point where it passes through a gorge.

Monday 22 April

It was cold and cloudy with intermittent showers. Between showers, I cycled downstream along the track by which we had come in, and then walked upstream on wide sandy beaches, and found beds of variously coloured striped and banded pebbles in places.

Oom Daan visited us, and brought gifts of venison sausage and doughnuts (products of the farm). We made a fire and grilled the sausages. They were good.

Although dark clouds threatened, the evening remained dry, and we sat around the fire for a while.

Tuesday 23 April  S29° 23.45’ E 22° 38.07’

It was cold and overcast with intermittent showers in the morning, clearing in the afternoon and becoming warm.

As we drove out of the campsite, we stopped for coffee with Oom Daan at the farmhouse. His daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, who had been visiting had now left, and his wife was visiting elsewhere for a while, so that he was alone in the big house, an old farmhouse that had been restored, and tastefully furnished. We sat on the wide veranda which runs all around the house, by a blazing fire.

I was anxious about the drive out, along the steep, rough track. We attempted it between showers, and managed it without undue difficulty. My vehicle made worrying sounds from the undercarriage, but it has done that before, usually in wet conditions, and no fault was found then. I suspect the noise is caused by mud on the prop-shaft.

When we reached the main Koegas road, the rain came down for a good while. We stopped right there, beside a well-wooded dry stream bed, and when the rain cleared we made camp and dried out our gear.

After a while, the formerly dry stream bed came down in flood. The flow was not very deep (a few centimetres) but rapid, with heaps of cappuccino-coloured foam at its edges.

Wednesday 24 April  S29° 17.05’ E 22° 25.70’

There was heavy condensation in the tents at night. I hardly snored at all, I was told. Perhaps that has something to do with the action of humidity on dried up sinuses. The day was mostly clear and warm.

We drove on along a firm and mostly smooth road through spectacular hill country. Having stopped and walked about a bit, we were accosted by a large young man with red hair and a redder face. He wanted to know who had given us permission to watch birds by his property. I pointed out that we did not need permission to do so on a public road (we had remained on the road verge and had not entered his property). He stormed off, declaring that there would be dire consequences if he found us still there by sunset.

We were about done there anyway, and moved on, passing three or four farm boundaries before we stopped again, on the ridge of a hill, with a panoramic view. We made camp there.

I had a bicycle puncture to mend, just a little one, but so little that I could not locate it by ear. With a limited supply of water, I was not going to use a whole bowl of water to detect a little puncture, so I resorted to sealant, to find which I had to unpack a lot of stuff. Then my clumsy fingers struggled a while to squeeze the connecting tube over the nozzle of the sealant bottle and the bicycle valve stem.

I got done eventually, and cycled. I saw hardly a bird on that excursion, but was soothed by the splendid views of the hills along the way.

Thursday 25 April  S29° 20.49’ E 22° 17.25’

It was warm. We drove on to cross the bridge over the Orange River, and parked in the shade of tall gum trees on the other side, where there were many Vervet Monkeys, and observed the river from the bridge. After passing the deserted settlement and abandoned asbestos mine that is Koegas, we stopped again for a while where the road is squeezed between steep rocky slopes and the riverbank, and then made a final stop to make camp after leaving the river behind, by a causeway over a well wooded dry stream bed.

Friday 26 April  S29° 15.37’ E 22° 23.70’

It was cold overnight, and then a warm day. Verity departed, driving on to Marydale and then on to the Eastern Cape.

I drove on a little way towards Marydale, to work the next grid-cell (in open scrubby savanna), and then turned about. After repeating the stops made yesterday by the river and the bridge, I drove on a little way southward to camp in the hills, once more at a place with a magnificent panoramic view.

Saturday 27 April S29° 09.90’ E 22° 34.09’

It was warm. I drove eastward on a very quiet road (the Niekerkshoop road, which runs parallel to the Koegas road by which I came westward), passing through some Bushveld like open savanna with tall Camelthorn trees. I made camp on a slight rise, with a view.

I have been troubled by a bird call that I have been hearing lately in various places, that seemed familiar, yet for a while I did not recognise – a rapid far-carrying ‘peepeepeepeep….’.  I got it eventually. It is a Scimitarbill, not its usual call, but one which an adult makes specifically when it is feeding young. Another tricky call that seems to be specific to this time of year is a single sharp ‘tseeooo’, made by the usually more garrulous Kalahari Scrub-robin.

After sunset, a group of four cyclists went by. They were on a round trip of 90 km. They still had about 20 km to go and will return home well after dark.

The night sky was absolutely clear and the stars were especially vivid. I wondered how many more times I would be privileged to behold such a sky, far from the contamination of artificial light.

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Groblershoop to Prieska, April 2019

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

Monday 8 April 2019 S28° 22.78’ E 21° 09.37’

It was warm. On my morning outride on the plain, I saw a Ludwig’s Bustard. In flight, its relatively rapid wing-beats distinguish it from the heavier Kori Bustard with its slow, laboured flight, and the strong white flashes at the tips of its upper-wings were clearly visible to the naked eye.

After that, I settled to typing up this journal from my hand-written notes. I cooked rice and lentils, a standby for when I am running low on fresh vegetables, which I do not often resort to because it takes long to cook (I more often resort  to noodles and salsa, or soup from a tin).

Tuesday 9 April

It was warm. I closed up and stowed my rooftent and partially packed up my camp in order to drive to town to shop for supplies for the next couple of weeks.

Back in camp I made further preparations for my next expedition. I will be heading upriver, through Groblershoop, passing Koegas and on to Prieska, eventually returning by a roundabout route.

The evening sky was clear but for a few strips of cloud which reflected the orange afterglow of the setting sun.

I lay awake for much of the night. I heard the persistent cough of a fellow camper in a campervan. I noticed a guest from the chalets driving out towards town and returning in the small hours. There were no nocturnal bird calls, but I did hear a strange, probably mammalian, call that I could not identify.

Wednesday 10 April  S28° 58.07’ E 22° 10.72’

It was warm, with windy spells. Waking after managing a brief sleep, I drove out through Upington, and continued upstream along the tar road on the south side of the river.

I stopped and worked one of the less covered grid-cells that has river frontage. There was a flurry of activity around a thicket along a dry stream at the roadside. Parking my vehicle by a graveyard, I cycled through vineyards, cornfields and cotton-fields to reach the riverbank.

Driving on, I crossed over the river at Groblershoop on the Kimberley road and then took the turnoff on a dirt road to Koegas. I made camp where the river passes through a bit of a gorge, a spot where I have camped a few times in the past.  The Short-toed Rock-thrush that I saw the last time, was still around.

Thursday 11 April  S29° 08.19’ E 22° 22.22’

A fierce wind blew during the night. My camp was partly sheltered, but I could hear that wind howling through the gorge. The day was hot. I explored the vicinity of the gorge before driving on. My next stop was in a fairly barren place, with some tall shrubs but no trees.

While cycling about, I noticed a farm worker in the distance who seemed to be trying to attract my attention, so I cycled over there. He and his companion were doing some fence maintenance, and earlier some stray horses had gone through a gap in the fence and wandered into the lands. Seeing me drive by and then cycle back and forth, they had thought that I must be looking for the horses, hence they had called me over.

Farther along, I came to a side road that heads towards the river and seems to be a public road, one that I had not previously explored, but had been meaning to. After about 200m along that road, I came to a gate that was not locked, but there were padlocks there, new ones, that were not currently engaged, telling me that the gate must get locked at times. While it is likely that it gets locked at night, I did not want to take the risk that if I went on in there, it might be locked when I wished to return. Instead, I continued along the Koegas road. Whereas I am committed to covering this region as comprehensively as possible, I have had to concede that there are some grid-cells that are simply not accessible.

II stopped to camp by a well-wooded gully between low hills.

Friday 12 April  S29° 19.70’ E 22° 31.93’

It was warm. I cycled a little around the vicinity of my camp before moving on. I drove through rugged, stony terrain. This region is generally more wooded than the Kalahari proper, or Bushmanland, but mostly by low shrubby trees, predominantly Swarthaak.

As I approached Koegas, I turned left on the very quiet dirt road to Prieska, and made camp on a stony hilltop. I watched the sun go down over a magnificent untamed landscape. All was still but for the occasional chatter of some White-browed Sparrow-weavers.

Saturday 13 April  S29° 23.46’ E 22° 37.98’

It was warm. I drove on through spectacular hill country.

I reached a turnoff that heads towards the river. The last time that I came this way, I met a farmer at the roadside who said that he had a camp at the riverside where I might camp the next time that I came this way.

I drove down a steep, windy and rough track until I reached a house close to the river. There was nobody at home, but I spent a couple of hours looking about there.  The road went on beyond there, towards the river bank. I thought about going on, but being uncertain about whether I was in the right place (there had been several forks in the road) and whether I would be welcome where I ended up, and being furthermore daunted by the steepness of the road ahead, I turned around and returned to the main road.

There is a large farmhouse at that road junction, and I approached the house to let the farmer know that I would be camping close by.  He informed me that I had been on the right track to the residence of Oom Daan, the farmer that I had met previously and who is a birdwatcher, but that I needed to have continued farther down the track to find him. I did not want to tackle that track again right away, but I will be coming back this way in about a week, and perhaps then I will go down all the way to Oom Daan’s camp by the river.

Sunday 14 April  S29° 28.71’ E 22° 45.82’

It was warm, and windy in the afternoon. I went on through uninhabited hill country, and all the slopes were bright green. The green is deceptive, being the foliage of a monoculture of the invasive shrub (or small tree) Swarthaak (Acacia mellifera) which encroaches where the grazing has been over-exploited, replacing the original grasses. There were few birds there.

I stopped to camp near the intersection with the Niekerkshoop/Prieska road.

Monday 15 April  S29° 40.16’ E 22° 49.65’

It was cold overnight, with perhaps even a hint of frost, the first of the winter, meaning that from now on I can keep milk in my cold-box and take my coffee white.

I drove through a deep gorge on the way to Prieska, and spent some time walking about at the bottom. Approaching the Orange River, I took a turnoff along a road which I had hoped would follow the river bank, but instead it came to an end in the grounds of a large irrigated farm.

I drove to the farm office to request permission to look around, but the manager was not there. Farm workers pointed me in various directions where I might go to look for him. I spent time at the river bank, and called at the office a couple more times without finding the manager.

I am usually on edge while seeking out a farm owner or manager for permission, not knowing whether they will be friendly or hostile, but I gradually relaxed as time passed and eventually achieved my objectives there without seeing a manager, and then exited and made camp outside the gates, at the end of the public road.

Tuesday 16 April  S29° 46.75’ E 22° 41.30’

It was cold at first and mild later. I sat still, huddled against the cold, until the sun was well up, and then cycled along the pubic road leading back to the main road, passing farmyards and irrigated fields, and also found a way down to the river bank.

I drove into Prieska, and after lunching at the coffee shop went on beyond Prieska along the tar road to Copperton, took a turnoff along the dirt road to Carnarvon and found a quiet place to camp along that road. The surroundings were dry, but not desert-like.

Two days ago, my folding chair broke (a leg bent and gave way). Yesterday, I sat on my spare chair (a very old one) and the fabric of the seat gave way. I still had another seat, a lounger, that had been attached to the roof-rack of my vehicle for years, exposed to all the elements. This evening while I sat on it, its support straps snapped and it collapsed. I mended it with rope.

Wednesday 17 April  S29° 39.70’ E 22° 44.88’

It was cold at first, and warm later. I stopped at the intersection with the Copperton/Prieska road, and cycled about from there, passing some farmyards with tall trees, where I found some bird species that were additional to those of the more open habitats.

I drove into Prieska, shopped, and went to set up camp at the Gariep Guesthouse (for two days).

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Keimoes to Upington – March 2019

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

Friday 29 March 2019 S28° 42.95’ E 20° 57.35’

It was hot. I drove to the intersection with the Kenhardt/Keimoes road and turned for Keimoes. I made a couple of stops along the tar road, at places where there were a few trees in a landscape of baked red earth. Along this stretch, even the grey, dry shrubs are scarce (this is a temporary desert. It is usually grassy).

Reaching Keimoes, I hesitated about going in to town for supplies. It was the last Friday of the month as well as month-end, and payday for all, and many would be drunk before the end of the day. Over a burger at the coffee shop, I pondered the option of delaying a trip into town, and dining on pro-vita and peanut-butter and beans and spaghetti for a couple of days, and instead braced myself for the busy throng and visited the supermarket for some salad greens. That was not as hectic as I had expected, and I was in and out quickly, and went on to set up camp at the Kalahari Water campground, for three days.

Saturday 30 March

It was warm. I spent the day in the campground, did some data capture, rested, and read a novel.

The new bird atlas project website (sabap2.adu.org.za) does not yet have all of the features of the old website, and I am particularly disappointed to find that the range-change maps (reflecting the differences in bird distributions between the first atlas project (1986-92) and the developing distributions of the current project) which I constantly referred to, trying to interpret the differences as they became apparent, are no longer available. I have been reassured that these and some of the other features of the old website will re-appear in due course.

My temporary disappointment prompts me to consider a future beyond my present project. Perhaps I will continue to be involved in bird monitoring, but in a way that does not involve constant travelling.

Sunday 31 March

It was warm and partly cloudy.

The campground is situated among vineyards, about 2 km from the river. In the morning, I cycled through low rocky hills and cultivated lands to spend a little time at the riverbank. At that spot, the banks are quite overgrown, and I could only get a limited view of one section of a channel of the river.

By the time I returned to camp, my limbs were feeling heavy, and I rested for the rest of the day, and gave some thought to planning my future.

A church group gathered in the campground in the evening to share a potjiekos dinner. They were quiet and left early.

Monday 1 April  S28° 38.24’ E 21° 06.99’

It was warm. I left the campground and drove out a short distance along the dirt road to Kakamas (after crossing the various channels of the river), to spend a little time in the dry, rocky terrain away from the river.

I drove back into Keimoes, pausing for a good look at the river from the bridge over the main channel, and after a second breakfast at the coffee shop, drove upriver as far as the Oranjerus resort, but before reaching Oranjerus stopped and spent some time in an intervening grid-cell with as yet only scanty bird atlas coverage.

At Oranjerus, I checked in for two nights and set up camp under a large shade tree on the river bank. In the afternoon, I sat still and read a novel, feeling a need for some time-out from the project that has pre-occupied me for more than five years now.

Tuesday 2 April

It was warm. I cycled westward out of the campsite, to complete the coverage of the neighbouring grid cell which I had commenced yesterday. The road ran along the interface between the irrigated lands with some riverine thickets and the dry rocky terrain away from the river, so that I could work both habitats. On the way back, I made a short detour to the bridge onto the island Kanoneiland.

In the afternoon, I worked on electronic communications and did some river watching.

Wednesday 3 April  S28° 22.78’ E 21° 09.37’

It was warm and windy. I took a last look at the river before moving out. I drove on into Upington, shopped for supplies and went on to set up camp out of town at Spitskop.

My usual site within the campground was occupied, and I had to settle for one with less protection from the wind and a more limited view of the surrounding plain. I will remain here for a week, taking a break from the rigours of constant travelling, and preparing for my next expedition.

Although I have begun to think in terms of moving on from the Kalahari and taking up a more sedentary existence, that will not happen immediately, and I need to focus my mind to carry out the upcoming expeditions with enthusiasm and thoroughness.

Thursday 4 April

It was warm, and overcast in the morning, clearing later. I washed some clothes and attended to electronic communications.

I reminded myself, that one of my objectives when I set out on this project some years ago, was to never be in a hurry. Accordingly, I pushed out of my mind the urge to move on and achieve more coverage milestones, listened to what my body needed, and rested.

Friday 5 April

It was warm, and I spent the day in the campground. It was quiet. There were other campers, but they were far from my site. The grounds are shaded by large indigenous trees (indigenous to the country and not specifically to this region, which generally has few trees) and forms an oasis on the treeless plain, so that it sometimes attracts some interesting birds, but it was only the usual resident species that I detected this time.

I think that I am putting on a bit of weight, and will have to watch that. When I am on the road, I do some cycling and walking about every day, in between driving on and periods of sitting still, but I am aware that over the years since I started the project, the distances that I walk and cycle have been getting shorter.

Saturday 6 April

It was warm, and I had a somewhat busier day. I undertook some domestic chores, to accomplish which I had to unpack much of my gear to find the detergent. I attended to some online bird atlas data verification, swam in the pool, and in the afternoon I cycled out on the plain.

The campground was busy by evening, with ten vehicles all towing caravans having arrived in dribs and drabs during the afternoon.

There was rain over much of the country, and some snow, but none of it came this way.

Sunday 7 April

It was warm. I cycled on the plain, did some reading, and swam. In the afternoon, I lay down to rest, and slept soundly. I needed that.

In the late afternoon, a hailstorm arrived suddenly, with golf-ball sized hailstones. In the field adjoining the campground were some sheep and a herd of Springbok. In response to the hail, the sheep huddled together in a tight bunch. The Springbok ran around in panic for a while, and then, one by one, lay down on the ground to wait for the storm to pass. There was a single goat in the field, and it sought out for itself the most sheltered spot, in a crate that was lying on its side. Rain fell only briefly once the hail had passed.

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