TBC Camp 29-31 July 2016 Tanqua Karoo

Twenty two members attended a TBC camp to Ceres and the Tanqua Karoo area.
Our base was just outside Prince Alfred Hamlet (45km from Karoo Poort) and our accommodation was excellent. The cottages were fully rigged out, so much so that we did not even have to take towels!!! 

Many of us arrived just after lunch so we had a few daylight hours to do some farmyard birding. There were orchards, a dam and also a stream near the mountain, so the habitat was varied. Some of the first birds seen were, Streaky-headed Seedeater, Swee Waxbill, a pair of Spotted Eagle-owls roosting in the gum trees, and a pair of Yellow-billed Duck gave good “reflective” views on the still dam. All too soon it was time to have a welcome braai at the main house where the following days activities were discussed.

An early morning rise by Ionè and I to see the meteor shower over the eastern sky was successful. With the naked eye it looked like a mist cloud but with binos and then the scope the shattered meteor could be seen. Some of the members saw it on Sunday morning….interesting happenings in the sky above us!!!!!! 

At 7.30am we all met at the security gate, after doubling up in the larger vehicles and proceeded to Karoo Poort for our first birding stop. Weather was mild and not cold at all…..well some of us thought so! The last TBC camp I remember had had snow! The ever present Cape Bunting, Grey-backed Cisticola, Rock Martin, Karoo Scrub-robin, Yellow Canary and a distant calling Bokmakierie welcomed us. Layard’s Tit-babbler called from the slopes of the mountain but not seen. Namaqua Warblers called from the fragmites reeds and most members had good views. We moved on to the Karoo Poort toll house(national monument) and had a quick breakfast under the leafless poplar trees. Here we encountered some regulars such as Cape Wagtail, Cape Sparrow, Cape Weaver, but they were disturbed by a soaring Verreaux’s Eagle over the mountain. A walk along the road had us pick up Olive Thrush, Cape Robin-chat, Red-winged Starling, White-throated Canary, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler. At the “picnic” spot just past Karoo Poort we tried for Cinnamon-breasted Warbler to no avail, but a Mountain Wheatear and Fairy Flycatcher was appreciated by all. 

We meandered along the road towards our next stop at Perdekoppies aka Eierkop, hearing Karoo Lark and Rufous-eared Warbler along the way. Inverdoorn Dam had NO water and this was sad to see at the end of winter. Wonder how they are going to manage this coming summer! 
Around Perdekoppies we did not expect many birds but saw Large-billed and Karoo Lark, Karoo Chat, Yellow and White-throated Canary, Southern Double -collared Sunbird, Karoo Prinia, and Grey Tit. Pale Chanting Goshawk and Dusky Sunbird also made their appearance. I haven’t seen a Dusky in the southern Tanqua for some time and maybe the hill had enough or maybe the only food for it in the area. A short stop at the Tanqua Padstal produced an unexpected Black-winged Stilt and Three-banded Plover in the Doring River puddle but we were also glad to see Karoo Eremomela, Karoo, Familiar and Trac-trac Chats and Spike-healed and Karoo Larks. On our way home another Pale-chanting Goshawk was seen perching on a telegraph pole.

Once at the farm a braai fire was lit and the discussion of the birds took place with comments “Where did you see that!” and “I did not see that”, Great bird” , “Have not seen that one before….lifer” !! Soon the coals were ready and we were braaing. A quick résumé of Sunday’s proposed activity.

Sunday we met at the gate at 8am. First stop was to clean out my “Protea Canary” bird bath site up the Gydo Pass. No Protea came in to drink but many others did. We then moved on to the valley behind the Skurweberge where we made numerous stops at the pans of water and scrubby areas. Here we came across 3 Blue Crane in a smallish field, unusual for the area? One wonders if the Crane count the previous day had covered this area, hopefully the info would be picked up from the atlas card that was being done. A pair of Cape Longclaw, Red-capped lark, Common Waxbill, Cape Canary and a flock of Red Bishops with many males already in breeding plumage were also seen here. A small pan had a few Black-necked Grebe which was a surprise but the flooded area kept us busy for some time as birds kept popping out from behind the flooded shrubs and grass, namely Southern Pochard, Red-billed Teals, Maccoa Duck and even 2 White-faced Whistling Duck. On our return trip we stopped in the pass that takes you out of the valley back to Gydo Pass. Here we encountered Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted, S Double-collared and Malachite Sunbirds, Red-winged Starling (tried to make it into Pale-winged !!!!), Mountain Wheatear and an unexpected call drew our attention……Cape Rockjumper foraging fairly close to the road.  Always a great bird to see!
All too soon we had to return to the farm and pack up and reminisce about the great birding weekend we had had with the TBC. In excess of 88 species were seen but many were area specific.
Brian Vanderwalt

TBC Camp to Honeywood Farm 16-18 September 2016

The meeting place for our group of 16 birders, was the Country Pumpkin coffee shop in Barrydale. Our first of many stops, was in the beautiful Tradouw Pass. The fynbos spectacle that awaited us was magnificent. This 16 km pass with its many lay-byes and spectacular views is always lovely, no matter the weather or season.
As we turned left up the valley towards our destination, two White Stork were seen in the pastures. We wondered if they were of the small group of resident storks, which have settled in our country permanently. We saw some nice birds up this valley.

Honeywood farm borders the wonderful Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve, so we were upset to hear it is currently closed to the public due to road works. Luckily John Moodie had got permission for our group to get limited access into the forest on the Saturday. Birding on the farm was good, in between the rain showers. We celebrated Rodney Gray's birthday in style, with tea and cake and great views from 'Oakvale House'. Forest & Cape Canary, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Knysna Woodpecker & Southern Boubou were seen in the farm yard. It rained heavily late afternoon, so we all relaxed in front of fireplaces in our various cottages.

On Saturday morning Kevin led the group through the Grootvadersbosch indigenous forest, on the Melkhoutpad route. The redwood trees were very tall, and the ferns, plants and colourful fungi kept us in awe. Due to the cool weather, birding was tough and only fleeting glimpses were had of Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler. UP and DOWN the many forest trails, tested our fitness. We reached the canopy bird-hide, and felt very proud of this hide that was sponsored by the Tygerberg Bird Club in the 1990's. Swee Waxbill, Sombre Greenbul and Olive Woodpecker were seen well.

Some of the group were lucky to see Forest Buzzard. The bird of the afternoon was the Denham's Bustard – males were puffed up like large plastic bags, strutting their stuff. The displaying males inflate their throats, to form a very conspicuous white 'balloon'. This behaviour was enjoyed by all. That evening we enjoyed a communal braai, with lots of laughing and story-telling.

On Sunday we went on the 4X4 route to see the farm's rustic camping sites down the valley. It was scenic and lovely. A large group of Black Saw-wing flew around our group, which was beautiful.  After packing up, we set off for Bontebok Park outside Swellendam. Here a flower spectacle was enjoyed by those who went on the lengthy circular drive. Mountain zebra and a puff adder were also seen. A good weekend ended, with 108 birds seen. This count would have been higher, if the weather had been better. We enjoyed wondering all over Honeywood farm, and the hospitality of the Moodie family was excellent. Always a nice birding destination!
Brigid Crewe