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 27 February 2019 S26° 55.89’ E 20° 39.74’
It was hot, but I did not need to go anywhere or do anything physically demanding. My campsite at Molopo Lodge is shady and surrounded by well-tended gardens, which incorporate some big Camelthorn trees. I took breakfast and a light lunch at the restaurant, and caught up with electronic communication. The pool looks very green, and when hot I preferred to cool off under the shower (each site has its own bathroom). In the evening, a complimentary loaf of freshly baked bread was delivered to my camp.
Because the grounds are well watered and the surroundings are dry, mosquitoes are a pest. Before retiring to my tent in the evening I sealed up the crevices, I thought, but they found a way in somewhere. I had to get up a couple of times to apply insecticide to the interior of the tent, and apply camphor cream to the itching places on my body.
Thursday 28 February S26° 48.60’ E 20° 51.67’
It was cool overnight and a hot day. I drove a short way out of the Lodge grounds to Bokspits, where I turned east on the dirt road that runs along the border with Botswana. The road is wide and smooth here, and I wonder for how far that continues. I passed through open woodland with tall Camelthorn trees.
I came across the carcass of a goat in the road, and of a Moorhen close by (there was a water treatment plant across the fence, where the Moorhen would have come from). The goat itself was remarkable because although goats regularly browse at the roadside, they are streetwise and rarely become road casualties, but what circumstances led to a goat and a Moorhen being killed at the same time and place, I cannot imagine.
Towards midday, I could not find a place where I could park off the road because the verge was soft. I parked partly in the roadway to prepare my lunch and have a walkabout. I did not impede any passing traffic because the road was wide and there was no traffic.
Driving on, I came across a gateway that had been sealed closed, and I was able to make camp on the firm apron in front of the gate. Here the woodland had thinned out and become scrubby.
Friday 1 March S26° 52.21’ E 21° 07.53’
It got cold at night, but by midday it was hot again. I drove through open shrubland with occasional thickets of Camelthorn trees. There is a tar road running parallel to this one, across a low fence which is the border with Botswana. Beyond that road, the dunes of red sand are mostly bare of vegetation.
As before, there was a shortage of places where I could stop, other than on the roadway. I stopped occasionally where large Camelthorn trees at the roadside cast their shade over the road. At midday I stopped on a rare firm place on the road verge and prepared my lunch (a salad of cucumber, tomato and egg).
Driving on, I began to despair of finding a place to camp, but then I came across a little used gateway (the main farm gate was farther along) with an apron wide enough that I could make camp there without blocking the gate. The farm was named Avonds Schijn. The farmer came by and gave me a pack of sosaties (kebabs), produce of the farm.
There was a noisy month-end party in the workers’ quarters nearby, which went on for most of the night, and dogs barked for the rest of it.
Saturday 2 March S26° 49.40’ E 21° 23.74’
It was cold overnight and hot during the day. After a couple of stops, the road became very soft and sandy, with deep wheel ruts, effectively a four-wheel drive road, but by the time I realised that, it was impossible to turn around. I had no option then but to go on. I wondered what would happen if I were to meet an oncoming vehicle. The other vehicle would have to climb the steep, soft verge to get by, resulting perhaps in both vehicles getting bogged down.
I went on for about 12 km before coming across a turnoff to a gateway. I tried to turn around there, and got bogged down in the sand. I tried for a while to dig the vehicle free, and failed. I decided that to continue digging under the hot sun, with anxiety mounting each time I tried to move the vehicle could be deleterious to my health, so I desisted, and decided to wait for assistance, or for the cool of the morning tomorrow. The wait could have been a long one, for the gate I was at was not a main gate, but a secondary one to an outlying part of a farm, and the road beyond was clearly very seldom used. There was no cellular signal there. I prepared a meal, not because I was hungry, but to take my mind off my predicament.
There was traffic passing on the tar road across the fence in Botswana. I flagged down a vehicle and asked the driver to report that there was a vehicle in trouble to police at Bokspits or Middelpos. I doubt whether police would normally respond to a vehicle stuck in the sand, but on the other hand, it was on a border road, which they ought to patrol from time to time.
Towards evening, a vehicle emerged from the gate, carrying contractors (five men) who had done some work on the farm infrastructure. Their vehicle was a light four-wheel drive, and could not pull mine free on its own, because it had to stay on the road and pull at an oblique angle, but with the other four men manhandling my vehicle as well, it came free.
I did not go back immediately, but stopped in the road, at the turnoff to the gateway, where there was space for another vehicle to get by in the unlikely event of there being one, and spent the night, so that by the time I left there, I would have at least a minimal bird list for a place that I was unlikely to return to.
Sunday 3 March S27° 04.49’ E 21° 18.10’
It was cool at first and hot later. I drove back to the point where the road became wider and firmer, without meeting any oncoming traffic.
After proceeding a little farther back, I came to a turnoff of a wide, firm road heading south, presumably towards the main Vanzylsrus/Askham road, through the farm Graig Ellachie. I was pleased to be able to go that way instead of all the way back to Bokspits, despite having to open and close many gates along the way. I eventually made camp at the intersection with the Vanzylsrus/Askham road. By then, I was tired.
Monday 4 March S27° 15.16’ E 21° 32.63’
It was hot, and it got windy later. Having been forced to abandon my planned route, I devised another to take me back to Upington and to achieve coverage of some priority grid-cells along the way. Noting that the Vanzylsrus/Askham road had recently been graded, and though still bumpy in places, was not as awful as it usually is, I decided to proceed eastward as far as the farm Fullifeesands and turn south on a minor road there, instead of west to the junction of the Tellerypan road.
I reached Fullifeesands comfortably enough, after stopping in one previously poorly covered grid-cell, but on turning south found that that road was in poor condition, and there were many gates to open and close, so that I was tired, shaken and sore by the time I stopped in the next targeted grid-cell (grid-cells are selected for further coverage in such a way as to make coverage of the region as a whole as even as possible). The road verge being continuously soft, I then had to go on for a while to find a place where I could park off the road. I did so in the shade of a large tree, in which were perched two Fork-tailed Drongos, an Ashy Tit and some noisy White-browed Sparrow-weavers.
In the afternoon I drove on a short while to make camp on a patch of firm ground beside the road. There was a farmyard nearby, and a dense stand of Camelthorn trees.
Tuesday 5 March S27° 19.01’ E 21° 28.98’
It was hot. I went on to reach the junction with the Vastrap road. On checking my coverage data, I found that a grid-cell which I had skipped yesterday was one that I ought to have done (it needed one more visit to reach a satisfactory level of coverage), and I might not ever be coming this way again. I was angry with myself for a while, and then drove back along that bumpy road, opening and closing all the gates, and did that grid-cell. It produced a pair of Melba Finches and a Shaft-tailed Whydah.
I returned to the intersection with the Vastrap road. There is a large farmyard at the intersection, and the last time that I had passed there, I had met the owner, who insisted that I should call in there when I next came that way. The gate was locked. I parked outside, and prepared to make camp.
After a while, the gate was opened, and Eddie, who was caretaking the farm, invited me to camp within. As I drove in and looked for a shady spot to park, the vehicle engine cut out and would not restart. Eddie assisted me to clear the fuel pipes and the filter, and yet it would not start. It did start after being towed around the yard for a while behind Eddie’s vehicle, and restarted easily when I stopped.
Eddie, I learned, has a wife and three children who reside in Val-de-Grace, Pretoria, in the house which my father had designed and had had built, and in which I had spent my childhood. In the evening, he shared with me his dinner of barbecued lamb and potatoes.
Wednesday 6 March S28° 22.83’ E 21° 09.33’
It was hot, and windy later. My vehicle started easily and ran smoothly as I set out southward. I stopped in a grid-cell which I had not specifically targeted, but where there happened to be a lot of bird activity as I passed – my attention was first caught by a Black-shouldered Kite (they call it something else now, those bothersome name-changing people), a rare bird in this region. The rainfall of the region is typically very patchy, and this was one patch that had caught a few good downpours recently, so that the grass was dense and green.
By the time that I was done there, the wind had picked up and was blowing stiffly, and that helped me to decide to go on directly to Upington, also bearing in mind the possibility of another breakdown, instead of taking some detours that I had planned.
Beyond Vaskop, the road to Upington had just been graded, so that although there were still some rough patches, it was mostly a smooth ride. As I reached the outskirts of Upington, my vehicle engine cut out again and would not restart. I called the AA for assistance, and a towtruck duly arrived. Instead of loading my vehicle, the operator towed me to the top of the hill, and my vehicle did start after running most of the way down the slope. I drove to the Kalahari Service Centre. Although they were busy, they fitted me in and replaced the fuel pump.
I went on to camp at Spitskop, checking in for a week. The night was warm, and it took a late night dip in the pool before I had cooled down enough to lie down and sleep.
Thursday 7 March
It was cloudy at first, clearing quickly, and then it was hot. I drove to town, filled up with petrol, and filled water bottles with Upington’s sweet municipal water (drawn from the Orange River), made an appointment with a doctor (to have a prescription renewed), and shopped for bicycle spares and other supplies. In camp, I sorted supplies according to sensitivity to hot conditions and to how soon they would be needed, and repacked.
The evening was unpleasant, due to a strong wind.
Friday 8 March
It was warm. I did my usual outride on the plains. The Booted Eagle that I had seen on my last visit here was still in the vicinity.
For the rest of the day, I worked on electronic communication, reviewed some bird atlas data, took a dip in the pool, and rested my legs. There were other campers overnight, but during the day I had the grounds and the pool to myself.
I went through the day thinking it was Saturday, until in the evening I tried to tune into ‘U eie keuse’ on Radio Sonder Grense, only to find that it was not on because it was not Saturday. On reflection, the only thing that I would have done differently had I not got the day wrong would have been to listen to a current affairs program on radio.