Monday, 6 August 2012

Scenes from the winter survey so far

The last two weeks (concurrent with the heavy rains and bad weather) I have been on the road retracing the route I undertook by bicycle from February to May earlier this year. Due to a lack of sponsorship I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone by doing it all by bicycle a second time – so I’ve been cruising along in the Suzuki Jimney donated to the project by Chris Lee. This means road surveys have been completed quickly, and transit times are a matter of hours instead of days. In between toe-numbing temperatures during counts I’ve on occasion been able to get back into a nice warm cab. However, many sections of the survey can only be completed by bike and on foot.

I had a fun journey up and down Blesberg (northern Swartberg) by bicycle, from El Yolo, kindly supported by Willem Cilliers. Willem also suggested using whistles on wind-turbines to scare away birds – he uses dog-whistles on his car to scare off kudu.  Recently I hiked through snow on the Oom Stan se Liggies trail up the southern slopes of the Swartberg just north of Ladismith, and hiked half-way up Seweweekspoortberg and Sleeping Beauty in the last couple of days.

Matt Stritch joined me for some of the survey, taking care of some of the driving and packing up camp to move from one spot to the next. He has also been a star with the data entry, and thanks to Matt we are completely up to date with all sightings – I can’t spot birds fast enough for him to enter into the computer! He’s also braved some extreme weather – camping in the rain in Die Hel of all places, as well as camping in freezing temperatures at Seweweekspoortberg (he casually asked me if I’d also had icicles inside my tent on the one morning).

But, we’ve had shelter from cold and rain a couple of times – thanks to Di Turner in George, Tom Barry for letting us use the research facilities at Gamkaberg, and to the Landmark Foundation at the moment for letting us use facilities at Wildcliff Nature Reserve.

Overall, bird activity has not been too bad. Fynbos birds don’t seem to mind the cold, and this means I can survey all day long. They don’t like the wind though. Herewith a selection of my preferred shots.

Typical winter survey attire - here on the Prince Alfred's Pass

Gymnogene with Alpine Swifts

Alpine Swift

Black Harrier - Robinson's Pass, Kouma Trail

Cape White-eyes, Seweweekspoort

Grey-winged Francolin, Rooiberg

Icicles, Liggie's hiking trail

Klipspringer, Die Hel. Wondering about the rain. 

Leopard tracks next to my bicycle tracks on the Botha's Hoek Hiking trail, Swartberg Pass

Female Cape Rock Thrush on Aloe ferox in the Seweweekspoort

Male Cape Rock Thrush

Female Orange-breasted Sunbird, sipping nectar from Paranomus centaurioedes, northern side of the Swartberg

Red dawn from the Rooiberg

Matt and survey vehicles on the Swartberg Pass


  1. This winter weather has been quite something! Still cold!

  2. Alan that sunrise photo is amazing. Are those considered linticular clouds?

    1. Hi Marti - I have no idea what the technical term is for those clouds, they were just spectacular, and it was also a special moment because I was driving up the 'red mountain' pass under a red sky.


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