Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Montagu – more than dried fruit

Nestled on the dry north slopes of the Langeberge, Montagu is a very picturesque old town popular with tourists on the historical route as well as rock climbers headed for the hard quartzite cliffs among the gorges of the mountains.

My reason for a visit – birds of course. The municipality has a substantial reserve with several hiking trails, one of which offers a perfect altitudinal gradient for my survey – starting at the Joubertpark on the edge of town, just over 200 meters above sea level, and finishing on 'Bloupunk' at over 1200m. The trail is a circular 15 kilometer hike through a variety of fynbos habitat types, with splendid views from the top. Although the hike can be done in five hours, I took around nine, stopping every kilometer to record birds. The trail is well maintained, and worth a visit, even if you only explore the accessible section along the lower ravine, with its mountain stream and waterfalls.

Although my visit coincided with the beginning of winter, midday temperatures were a pleasant 22 degrees celsius, with blue skies in all directions. As Montagu lies beyond the Riviersonderend mountains, weather can be better here than in Cape Town at this time of the year. The start of winter is also when many Fynbos species start to bloom – and there were many floral distractions along the way. Gladiolus stephaniae is endemic to the reserve, and although I didn't see it, there were several other colorful Gladiolus species peeping out from among the restios along the damper, upper stretches of the trail.

Cape Sugarbirds enjoyed the beautiful Protea neriifolia, and Orange-breasted Sunbirds chased each other around slopes of flowering Erica. A pair of Verreax's Eagles kept a watchful eye on me while surfing the mountain breeze, and the occasional squeaky bark indicated they in turn were under constant surveillance from Dassie sentinels hidden among their rocky fortresses.

While I camped at the 'Die Bos' campsite, there is also an overnight hut – for more information visit www.montagu-ashton.info. And if you didn't understand the title of this post, Montagu is a famous brand of dried fruit in South Africa.

Malachite Kingfisher at the bird-hide in Montagu

Cape Sugarbird male, blowing in the wind on a Protea neriifolia

Red-faced Mousebird

Spotted Eagle-Owl, on a rooftop in Hermanus the morning I left for Montagu

The Old Mill at the start of the Bloupunt trail

An eagle-eye view of agricultural land around the Langeberge

R62 from Montagu towards Barrydale

Windmill against the misty slopes of the Riviersonderend mountains

A male Cape Weaver showing off his nest to a prospective mate

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