Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Crouching Doubts - Hidden Thoughts!

Victoria and Alfred Waterfront
After the crushing disappointment of another cancelled pelagic (seabird) trip I'll admit the first misgivings of our campaign. We won't get another chance to get out to sea this year & if success is a number, Bingo's a distant shout, particularly given the fact that a fistful of numbers will remain in the bag.

Artificial light illuminates the skies over the Waterfront
Stranded in Cape Town on a miserable Friday afternoon the idea of an early flight home had appeal. Fortunately a late-lunch meeting at the iconic Mount Nelson; a business visit to the quintessential Bo-Kaap & a whistle-stop site inspection of two of our company-owned Waterfront restaurants turned out to be a welcome distraction. Perhaps our eye was taken off the challenge-ball for long enough to put the disappointment in perspective?

Eclectic Cape Town - sights & sounds
Deflation is, perhaps, a simple state of mind & giving in to circumstance in this, the final push, is simply not how we roll. Notwithstanding, we were later shepherded to the abyss once more, early Saturday morning, with the following irreverent revelation from the Robben Island information desk and I quote 'the ferry [to Robben Island] is fully-booked until Tuesday...'  

Confined to this nondescript island both the Chukar Partridge & Common Peacock would remain a 5 mile spit too far; an annoyance to say the least.

In our eight (8) birding-specific visits to Cape Town this year we'd selectively pursued the more easily recorded specials especially those confined to the immediate vicinity or close-enough away from Cape Town to make a fist of it in a day's travel.

Bo-Kaap - Ancient heritage / wonderful food
Three locals had avoided our attentions thus far; Hottentot Buttonquail, Victorin's Warbler & Protea Seedeater (Canary). All had proved elusive & would be the targeted birds in conditions we considered less than perfect. By weekend's end we had had average views of two of three, a hit-rate we might have been happy with before but given the current circumstances might prove fatal when we give our final account.

Yserfontein - our new home away from home
We failed to nail the buttonquail & this in spots we'd seen them many times before. In our defense, record rains & seasonally-lush vegetation might have had something to do with our unsuccessful fynbos scramble. Even so, there's something to be said for two plastic-clad, otherwise average adults, woo-wooing & tut-tutting in a synchronised ballet-like quail-drive, in icy-rain, high up in the Hottentots-Holland.

The Victorin's Warbler was a bag of joy too & an auditory delight [yay...] as it frolicked, gaily, in the deepest scrub. Visually, this winged mouse had us lower than a Cape Cobra's navel as we crawled through the impenetrable restio forests to satisfy our 'we must both bloody see it' rule. We did, mercifully, much much later. Candidly we're still rubbing the mud & grime from our eyes, a delightful addendum to the weekend's campaign.

For the Protea Seedeater we'd go further afield; a distant week's travel by Cape Town's measured pace. For immigrant drivers it's little more than an hour's drive north, up to & a stone's throw beyond the West Coast NP. Picketberg, or more accurately the town of Aurora, a rustle rather than a bustle, 50 kilometers inland from the equally impressive Velddrif, was our selected point of departure for the seedeater.

King Protea - simply sublime & truly the Fynbos King

No sooner had we deflected the unsolicited roadside advice '..to return to Velddrif' from two married cousins who, in all likelihood, play the banjo ...well, two P. Seedeaters obstructed our views of the protea alongside.

There are few things more frustrating than an interrupted view of a protea in full flourish...!

If a visit to the Cape has a seasonal bias then September's the ticket to the show & tell. This floral kingdom boasts a palette-like soup of coy & shade. Birds in black-tie sup on sweet nectar & bird-song resonates across hill & dale in saturated stereo.
Bokmakierie - Postberg special

One of the more primary & currently popular hues, in seasonal-Cape, is yellow. People wear it, captains live by it & out in the field birds boast the brightest sunshine.

As yellow as the Cape gets - Cape Weaver
En route back to Cape Town, after our successful foray into the outer hebrides for Protea Seedeater, we thought we'd drop by the West Coast NP for a late visit to Postberg, West Coast's unheralded crown-jewel. Closed for most of the year this fenced-off piece of paradise, on the leeward side of Langebaan lagoon, lends credence to the notion that out in the field at least, all is well with the world. It's truly spectacular & although infrastructurally deficient does provide some access to the more intriguing bits & pieces. Wild seas crash onshore in a relentless assault on the geography. Cormorants, oystercatchers & gulls find solace on and among the rocks. In the valleys eland graze peacefully. Larks laugh, cisticolas call & bokmakieries 'bok-bok...makierie'...  

Cape Eland bull - Postberg [West Coast NP]
A single Black Harrier, in what seemed a trance-like glide, slid silently across the plain. Here's a reason, in isolation, why most people return to the West Coast time & time again.

Common Fiscal - Watchful. Patient. Confident.
Out on the lagoon waders steal in under cover of night, unannounced & from the north. Although numbers remain thin on the beach, this year portends a vagrant. Record rains have delayed breeding on the ground for most but food resources declare a stocked larder. This is a bay of plenty & it won't be long before an unintended visitor lands on these shores for a twirl around the food-plate.

As the golden orb set on another perfect day we made the obligatory pilgrimage to the Rooi Granaat, a West Coast secret...not. This bi-polar haven of good food & wine, nestled in the nondescript hamlet of Yserfontein (where we've acquired some property) & a stones throw south of the West Coast NP, leaves a lifelong impression. The fare compares favourably with most high-end restaurants in mainstream Cape Town. Pay them a visit if you're human & celebrate your humanity. You won't be sorry.
King Protea - it's the 'heart' that makes the bloom

If the King Protea (Protea cynaroides) is the Lord of the Manor then like all mortal monarchs appearance is subjectively fleeting. Look more closely & nestled conspicuously within this honeypot's bloom beats the kingdom's 'heart'. It's tomorrow's hope for more. Without heart there is no tomorrow. We'll keep at it too.

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