I always try to celebrate my birthday as far away from the maddening crowd as I possibly can. I commemorate the passing of another year and throw down the gauntlet to the coming of the unknown 365 days ahead. This year the planning around my birthday break-away went haywire when unexpected spanners ended up in the works. For the first time in a decade I spent my birthday at home, but with the following day being a public holiday, we decided to do a day-trip to the Golden Gate NP as consolation.
We left Standerton just before 04:00 and entered the GGNP just after 06:30. Lillian had never been to GGNP before and the massive sandstone buttresses left her breathless. We stopped at the Golden Gate Dam and while I explored the birdlife around the dam, Lillian checked out the Van Reenen family graveyard.
What a great final resting place!
I noted Cape weavers, red-knobbed coot, yellow-billed duck, buff-streaked chat, speckled pigeon, a Cape rockthrush pair, common moorhen and helmeted guineafowl. The birdhide at this dam is in a poor state of repair. I quickly abandoned any attempts to enter as the structure groaned alarmingly as I started up the stairs. The value of this birdhide is in affording birding of reed-dwelling species from a concealed position. The target species just does not stay around when the birder shows himself!
The hide is fast becoming a safety hazard. I hope it gets some maintenance attention soon.
I had in mind the vulture restaurant as the main objective for the day. Rumours had been around for a while that a birdhide was being planned/erected near the carcasses – last update I had was that this project would be completed 2nd – 3rd quarter 2007. With great anticipation I took the Oribi Loop road. On the way to the VR “gate” we saw a Jackal buzzard soaring along the lip of a krans, expertly using the steady southerly to glide from side to side, scanning for its breakfast. Good views of African pipit, Cape longclaw and black-headed heron followed up to where the VR-info board indicates the start of the walk up to the VR. Hoping for lifers in both Cape and bearded vultures, I started to scale the ridge, following the path indicated by a few stone cairns. Not knowing what awaited on the other side I hauled my 1-year older butt up the ridge, really looking forward to quietly sitting in the comfort and concealment offered by a hide to catch my breath and eventually switch my calmed attention to leisurely and prolonged bird-viewing. As it was, my bellowing heaves to get enough air into tortured lungs must have alerted the Cape vultures (from that distance from the top of the ridge that's all that was observable at the carcasses) and they all vacated the VR as soon as I crested the ridge! There were about 10 birds - I may have missed one or two taking off over the krans to the right of the VR. Nice southerly wind was blowing at the time to assist their take-off. Here's the challenge, try to get a soaring Cape vulture into the picture frame while breathing heavily! As the VR-facility stands now, I'll have to change my tactics for approach totally – try again after a weight-loss and fitness programme and then stop just short of the crest for 30 minutes to regain composure - then leopard-crawl up to the apex. Also observation equipment will have to be changed from 10x binos to 65x scope! More weight to haul, higher fitness level required. Sad news for me... and really all nature lovers - something that takes two years to not
get beyond the planning stage needs a real injection of energy! Talk
about the birdhide at the VR appeared on the forum in 2005 already!
Apart from the larger birds like the vultures and maybe some crows or ibis, the rest will always be too far to id with binocs. And if you planned to walk closer, the approach is down the other side of the ridge, totally void of any cover and without any possibility of the birds staying until you are close enough to ID them, the abseil would be wasted effort. Whoever first voiced the opinion that the VR would benefit from a birdhide had never uttered words more wise!
I walked towards the right along the crest and near the edge stopped to scan the cliffs nearby. I had a brief glimpse of a rock or lesser kestrel harassing a pair of pied starlings.
Back at the base we had coffee and savoury buns for breakfast. The Park was significantly bare of game – scanning the whole visible valley from the Oribi Loop road rewarded zero sightings.