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.