Nestled in the foothills of the Klein Swartberg, I found a little piece of birding paradise. You would not think that the Karoo, being semi arid and all, would offer much in terms of birding but let me tell you for a winter weekend, I was totally in awe of all the birds at The Country Garden.
On my drive to The Country Garden from Oudtshoorn I decided to stop on the Huisrivier Pass to see which of our feathered friends were out and about on the lovely Sunday afternoon. I was treated to a beautiful song by the Cape Rock Thrush who also stood quite tall and proud for his photo shoot. This of course brought the female to check out the talent.
As always when I drive along these Klein Karoo roads I am spoilt with raptors on the telephone wires. A Pale Chanting Goshawk, Rock Kestrel and Lanner Falcon stood grand along the route showing me the way.
Meandering along the farm roads, following the website instructions very carefully (note: there is no cellphone signal so make sure you know where you are going before you leave civilisation) I noted cliffs, trees and rivers where the birding is sure to be great. I was a little pressed for time so I didn’t get the opportunity to investigate them all. Don’t miss the spectacular view of Towerkop in the distance. I was lucky to catch it with some snow. One of the great things about the Klein Karoo in winter.
On arriving at the guest farm I was greeted by the Tuffin family. A great friendly family that welcomed me like family. They have been living and working on the farm for 10 years. After being shown to my chalet I set out with Dominic, the resident bird guide on a mountain walk. We went in search of the resident Spotted Eagle Owls that Dominic has seen in the cliffs a few times. We clambered up the cliff side, one of us like a mountain goat, the other like a sick mule (hint: I was not the mountain goat), found a little spot to sit and then we waited hoping our efforts would pay off.
And did they? Not only were we treated to a stunning view, the next thing we knew, a beautiful Spotted Eagle Owl flew out from the bushes and went and sat on the opposite side of the gorge from us and then started his performance. We were treated to some feet stamping, wing flapping and my favourite beak clapping with a few Whoo-hoos in between. Although we were nowhere near it or the place it had flown from, we believe it was trying to distract us from its nest. After taking many, many photos.we had to head home as it was starting to get a bit cold.
That evening as I watched the full, orange moon rise over the Karoo skies I heard my favourite bush sound, the Fiery Necked Nightjar. I don’t know how to explain it but that sound does something to my being. My heart is home.
The next morning we were out again. The Country Garden has a lovely birding route around the farm, passing by a couple of dams, streams, open karoo veld and koppies. The route does pass over other farmers’ land so you have to have your trusty guide with you. What I like about birding with a guide is that they know where the birds are likely to be found and any interesting plants or insects can be discussed as well. It brings a whole new dimension to birding.
Along with seeing a Giant Kingfisher, Purple Heron, Little Rush Warbler, Black Crake, Cape Spurfowl and a lifer for me, the Black-Headed Canary we were witness to a chase scene. One of the family dogs had flushed a hare and was chasing it all around. Luckily the hare was too smart and outwitted the dog. I’m not sure what I would have done had the dog caught the hare.
Our winter birding morning ended with a Booted Eagle flying overhead, its’ “landing lights” on display to help make identifying him a lot easier.
Birding in August in the Klein Karoo is truly special. Yes you don’t get as many birds but what it lacks in birdlife it makes up for with the lush Karoo bush, flowering all sorts of colours with the snow on the Swartberg Mountain as a backdrop.
Blessed with Mountain, Fynbos, Karoo and Succulent Karoo vegetation scattered with farmland and dams, The Country Garden really is a wonderful place to explore for birds and other creatures.
I ended my stay with 50 birds on my list, in winter! I cannot wait to visit again in summer and see what visitors we can find.
Check out the other birding and nature experiences I offer on www.a2zebraadventures.com and www.thebirdinglife.com/lynette-boshoff in the Garden Route and Klein Karoo.