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 Post subject: Witness to a kill - a Golden Gate daytrip - September 2007
Unread postPosted: Fri Sep 28, 2007 10:59 am 
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Legendary Virtual Ranger
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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.

Image
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! Talkabout 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.

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 Post subject:
Unread postPosted: Fri Sep 28, 2007 2:18 pm 
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elpaco wrote:
thanks for the report, enjoyed it very much and courage for your fitness lessons :lol:


Hi, elpaco! The memory of the battle up that hill is fading fast! Maybe I'll outgrow the compulsion of having to get fit! :lol:

At the main road we continued on towards Phuthaditjaba, stopping ever so often to scan for animals. At Protea Corner we saw a pair of zebra, a small herd of eland and a mountain reedbuck. Looking down from a height like that, the animals seem unreal – like the bushman paintings on the rock face in a cave. Maybe the bushmen had the same height and distance perspective…

Image

It is comprehensible that the main road through a national park would bring its own problems, but the amount of rubbish (bottles, cans and plastic bags) dumped next to the road astounded me. Continuing along the main road, an information board proclaims the boundary of Golden Gate – from here on scenes include human habitation and domestic animals. We stopped to observe a pair of secretary birds strutting along a recently burnt veld. Personally I can never get enough of this stately bird of prey – whether it is sight of a running take-off or their striking attack on a snake or just watching them march. They got quite close to our position, letting me get some good pix before disappearing from view.

Image

We turned back to GG and did the Blesbok Loop next, stopping at Langtoon Dam where we observed little grebe, coots, Egyptian geese and common moorhen.

Further along the loop we saw two black wildebeest at a distance. Stone chat, Cape longclaw and Leveillant’s cisticola were common.

At the Glen Reenen Caravan camp we stopped for lunch and I reconnoitred the Little Caledon River that runs alongside the camping grounds, discovering a treasure trove, from a birding PoV. Grey-headed sparrow, familiar chat, speckled pigeon, red-eyed dove, Cape turtle dove, pied starling, red-winged starling, Cape robin-chat, crested barbet, a black crow and Cape white-eyes all put in an appearance.

Image
Red-winged starling

I got an arty composition featuring this cinnamon-breasted bunting.

Image

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 Post subject:
Unread postPosted: Fri Sep 28, 2007 9:42 pm 
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Thank you for another informative and humurous report, JvR.

Can I ask you to add some info and photos to this thread: Golden Gate: INFO


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Unread postPosted: Fri Sep 28, 2007 9:53 pm 
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Thanks Johan, I am relatively fit but the day we visited the VR, there was a strong wind blowing and I am sure the people at Brandwag heard me. I was really dissapointed not to see the vultures, but nature has no guarantees...except for that my legs were stiff the next day!

Very nice birding you did though!


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Unread postPosted: Sat Sep 29, 2007 5:38 am 
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Thank you Johan, I enjoyed that :D

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 Post subject:
Unread postPosted: Sat Sep 29, 2007 11:18 am 
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Location: Gauties .
Cool report JVR !
I like the comp on your graveyard pics .

I must admit that I sometimes get the feeling that golden gate is a child SANparks is not really interested in :shock:


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Unread postPosted: Sat Sep 29, 2007 4:42 pm 
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I get the idea you all think that is the end of this trip report. I wonder why... After all, the trip report title: "Witness to a Kill" has not yet realised, or has it? :lol:

@ gwendolen - I'll PM you for direction
@ pardus :lol: - I don't feel so alone anymore...
@ Meandering Mouse - always a pleasure to get a comment from you.
@ bucky - you are so right about GG... it is a difficult orphan in foster care...

The Kill: Potamonautes vs Monicola repestris

Cape rockthrush pairs were seen at a few places along the short portion of the watercourse – this specie being a very recent addition to my lifelist (without pix), I grabbed the opportunity to photograph the CRT at every showing. A female CRT provided this series of pix – a Golden Gate kill! :lol:

It turned out a bit of a mismatch after the crab initially struck a threatening pose in defence. The CRT body-slammed the crab into the bedrock a few times and the “match” was over!

Image Image Image

Image Image

Pardon the poor pix - the two combatants would not pick better light in which to have their showdown!

For me the sighting of the day was a pair of olive thrushes (lifer number 2!). These birds keep to the shadows and the resultant pix also are not very sharp, but contain enough detail to elaborate a bit on the ID features of the OT. Both fieldguides (Newmans and Sasol) have got it wrong in saying that the OT has a white vent. Both male and female show spotted vents as correctly illustrated in Roberts VII! The OT differs from the Karoo thrush in that the latter has a grey vent, orange eyering and plain throat. In comparison the OT has a white vent speckled grey, brown eyering and grey and white speckled throat.

Image Image

On our way out of GGNP we stopped at the view point overlooking the GG Dam. We added a purple heron to the list of birds spotted for the day (ending on 32 species for this trip).

GG is a small park, but a great deal of quality time can be spent here birding/hiking. Three full days are normally just enough to get to know the park well.

So, that is that... and the GG memories have been shared! :lol:

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 Post subject:
Unread postPosted: Sun Oct 07, 2007 11:05 pm 
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Legendary Virtual Ranger
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It IS a great place with different things to enjoy. It has a great reputation for some uncommon endemic birds. Hiking is KING here. As far as accommodation is concerned, read this thread.

You can find some more info on GGNP here

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