Friday, 27 April 2012


And so it came to an end. No official date or ceremony, but more a progression. I was missing Anja and Elena a lot, especially since the week after Easter I had had no communication with home at all. Once Chris had picked me up, the speed of the survey undertaken by vehicle made sense to keep it going that way.

Over 2500km had been covered by bicycle, along with many tens of kilometres of hiking where no vehicle could go. Since the vehicle was on hand and needed to go home anyway, Chris decided to prolong his participation on the project as co-driver as we worked our way down the Western part of the Cederberg, The Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area, before wrapping it all up with a traverse across the Hottentots Holland from Stellenbosch to Nuwerust. This transect, 16km long, was the quietest of any I have done so far, a combination of young fynbos and a stiff south-easterly wind that was gusting at 60km/h as I crested the pass between the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve and Hottentots Holland.

It seems like a long time since those moments of trepidation and nervousness when I headed out on the bicycle from home for the first time, everything I needed on the trailer behind me. Now it is time to reflect on highlights and lessons learnt. The obvious lowlight was the theft of the bicycle in Cape Town and disruption of the planned family time there. Hard parts were the long periods alone, thinking of family and friends, especially when the weather was bitterly cold or wet. I also remember the sadness I felt looking across from the Swartberg to the Kammanassie and watching clouds of smoke rising from where I had been only a few days before, knowing that the beautiful mature fynbos and all its birds were no more.

But on the whole, highlights dominated these three months on the road. The kindness and support of strangers in remote parts of the country; breath-taking scenery: sunsets on the Swartberg, the colourful kloofs of the Kammanassie,  rugged gorges of the Rooiberg, sandstone statues of the Cederberg; the silence of the dusty back-roads of the Karoo and the din of a hundred Cape Sugarbirds and Orange-breasted Sunbirds feeding on the Proteas of Boosmansbos and Sleeping Beauty. I remember the excitement associated with each Cape Rockjumper and Protea Seedeater encounter. There were many moments of satisfaction after a long days ride, thrills on the downhill sections of the passes and the pleasure of a cool breeze during long uphill rides. There was a moment of great relief as I summited Seweweekspoortberg – the realisation that I can still do this, that I’m not old yet ;)   

I probably also started the survey with some preconceptions, arrived at mostly due my Fynbos experience limited to my backyard in Baviaanskloof; and to an initial analysis I did to compare the six Fynbos endemic bird species with six ecologically and morphologically similar species that occurred over a wider area using SABAP (Southern African Bird Atlas Project) data. Range maps at the quarter degree grid cell level (blocks of about 23x27km) suggested that Cape Sugarbirds, while reported less, are still widespread. I now see that their distribution is so closely tied to a subset of Proteas that their fate is intricately tied up with the fate of Proteas. And unfortunately with increasing fire frequency, the future of Proteas does not look rosy: coming across mature stands of Protea veld – burnt over 10 years ago – was not a common occurrence.

While I was initially a bit more worried about Orange-breasted Sunbirds, these colourful and cheerful fellows of the fynbos are not so tied to one type of Fynbos. While they were without a doubt common with any fynbos featuring Erica species with long, red flowers, they were also very common in certain types of Protea veld. I also recorded them in areas with large numbers of pine trees, albeit in lowernumbers.
I didn’t have many preconceptions about Cape Siskins – I simply knew too little - but these are common in almost any rocky fynbos, and persist in fynbos types that have been burnt up to four years ago and are dominated by restios. Their future seems secure for the time being, as their occasional forays into Karoo habitats suggest they are not as restricted by aridity gradients as perhaps some of the other species are.

Victorin’s Warbler is very common in the southern mountain ranges – Langeberg and Outeniquas and rare in the drier sections of the Cederberg and Swartberg. As such, they like moist and rank fynbos and will probably decline under drier climatic conditions.  

Cape Rockjumper I was initially very worried about as they showed an apparent contracted and fragmented range between SABAP surveys. I think I now understand what drives their occurrence – a combination of topographical and moisture gradients. They are found mainly on scree slopes at the base of eroding rock fronts e.g. cliffs, and probably at a rainfall level higher than 600 to 800mm, as this would explain why over most of the mountain ranges they are only found above 1000m except in the Kogelberg Mountains. On the other end of the spectrum, too much rain eg southern slopes of the Langeberg and the vegetation is too rank for their foraging habits. I suspect there is an element of their dietary habits which is not understood with may restrict their range. This may, for instance have to do with the need for the proximity of productive Protea or other mature Fynbos types that is conducive to insect life.

As for Protea Seedeaters, they are as much of a mystery to me now as when I started. With the exception of the Cederberg and Fynbos elements of the Baviaanskloof, encounters were infrequent, and no pattern of occurrence is apparent to me yet. I observed Protea Seedeater at a stream in the very hot and arid Die Hell valley, on the wet Prince Alfred’s pass in mature Protea veld, foraging on Kiggeleria seeds in Meiringspoort but also on Protea seeds in the Skurweberge, and sightings came from a range of elevation gradients.
I now have the task of entering into my laptop the scores of sheets of data I have taken in the field, and more concrete insights should emerge over the course of the next few months.

There will of course be winter survey – which like most sequels will not see much development in the plot, but should feature more action, new locations, but hopefully no special effects. As sponsorship recently has been thin on the ground, any assistance that can be offered will be most gratefully accepted. Tax deductible sponsorship can still be contributed via Birdlife South Africa – South Africa’s leading bird conservation charity organisation. Details are reproduced here from their website (
Account name: BirdLife South Africa
Physical address: 239 Barkston Drive, Blairgowrie 2194, Gauteng, South Arica
Account number: 620 675 062 81
Branch: First National Bank, Randburg
Branch code: 254 005
Swift code: FIRNZAJJ768
Reference: Your initials and surname followed by "Donation Fynbos”

Taking a bow: Thanks for your support and attention!

Monday, 23 April 2012

A Late summer in the Great Winter mountains

The Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area is a protected water catchment area under management by CapeNature. The mountains range from 1000 to 2077 meters, and it has a high winter rainfall season (1450mm) starting in April. So I was expecting to get wet and cold here, so late into the season.  I was in for a pleasant surprise.

We arrived late Thursday afternoon, a bit too late for me to get underway. Although one is allowed to camp almost anywhere in a Wilderness Area, there are no designated camp facilities. This means that while I was out surveying, Chris would be sitting around. As a compromise we backtracked 15km or so to Beaverlac, a private campsite where at least warm water and toilets could be found.

I set out early Friday morning into the Wilderness area, towards ‘Kliphuis’. It was soon quite warm, with temperatures ticking into the twenties. The reserve map states the distance to Kliphuis is 16km, so I was pleasantly surprised to arrive after completing only 11km. With the name Kliphuis, I had been expecting a mountain cottage, but the name refers to a cave, with some rock art and annoying 20th century graffiti.

I set up camp near some oak trees, having learnt from my experience at Sandrif that camping under oak trees at this time of year is not a good idea, unless you are a squirrel – in which case lunch will be falling into your lap. In the afternoon I hiked further into the mountains, recording a couple of Cape Rockjumper families, and a surprise – a Sentinel Rock Thrush.

In the evening I watched a couple of satellites glistening their way across the sky like voyaging stars. The sounds of Cape Clapper Larks gave way to a distant Cape Eagle Owl. There is nothing quite like being alone in a wilderness area.

Saturday was Protea Seedeater day, with several groups foraging on the seeds of a yet unidentified weedy looking member of the Aster family. It was yet another warm morning, as I surveyed down a valley to De Tronk, but a cold mist started to roll in over the Swartland in the afternoon, reaching me asI headed north back to the parking area where I was to rendezvous with Chris. It being Saturday, there were several hiking groups heading down to De Hel, which is advertised as South Africa’s largest rock pool. My 15km round trip hike led me through more amazing Table Mountain Sandstone rock formations and restioid dominated veld, with occasional blushes of pink Erica to liven the landscape.


This Protea Seedeater was not enticed by his perch - some old Protea seeds

The birds were generally relaxed, not flushing very far away.

 I can’t wait to get back here for my winter/spring survey – the Fynbos flowers must be amazing (if not covered in snow). This was a taste of what I saw, which included my first Red Disa.

Red Disa - usually flower around January and February, so I got lucky with this late bloomer.

Southern Double Collared Sunbird on Wild Dagga

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The case of the Suicidal Cedar

The setting: a hospital type room.  A sickly Clanwilliam cedar, with dead branches and few leaves, lies in large bed.

A human walks into the room: “What’s all this about you not wanting to live anymore? Come, come, things aren’t so bad!”
Cedar: “I’m depressed! You’ve chopped down all my friends and family!”
Human: “It’s not so bad, we’ll grow you some new ones” and starts to harvest some seeds from the Cedar and plant them around the room. On finishing, the human takes a break, lights a cigarette, carelessly discards the match and sets some branches of the Cedar on fire.
Cedar: “AAAARGH!” as the human throws a bucket of water on the Cedar.
Human: “So sorry! It was an accident!”
Awkard silence.
Human: “It’s really cold in here, shall I turn up the heating?”
Cedar: “NOOO!”
Human, fiddling with the thermostat: “Just 2 degrees warmer should about do it”
The Cedar groans as its last few leaves seesaw to the ground.

During my hikes through the Cederberg, the charred skeletal remains of the endangered Clanwilliam Cedar (Widdringtonia cedarbergensis) were a prominent feature of the landscape high in the mountains.  It’s a sad state of affairs for the tree that gave the mountains their name. They have been reduced from a “24x2 mile” swathe to scattered individual trees hiding among the rocks.

Hundreds of young trees have been planted by volunteers over the years, but it appears that devastating fires in 2002 and 2009 have almost wiped out these plantations. The trees need to live about 30 years before they get to reproductive age. Why the natural regeneration process no longer continues is a bit of a mystery – but there are practically no young trees across the landscape.

That they only grow above 1000 meters up in the mountains suggests they prefer cooler climates – and so a warming climate is probably the death knoll for this species. Perhaps like the Willowmore Cedar of Baviaanskloof, which finds itself in a similar state, these are simply relics from a bygone age. To find out more about this species visit: 

A view from the Cederberg

A female Cape Rockjumper on the twisted remains of a Clanwilliam Cedar

A happy Clanwilliam Cedar

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Surveying the Cederberg

Surviving the Easter Hellidays was fun. On getting to Ceres, exhausted from that 120km cycle and Michells Pass, I followed the signs to the campsite. On arrival I could hardly move my legs and had to rest outside the reception area, attracting the amiable attention of the Eastern Cape security lady. However, the reception was a bit colder – R166 a night with space only for that night (I wished to stay for two), but on top of that I would have to pay a R350 ‘vandalism’ deposit, which would only be returned to my account after departure. I decided I could not stay on those conditions – no way could I follow up should that deposit not arrive and since I would have to seek somewhere else to stay anyway I may as well do that straight away. Petervale Campsite had a more friendly R60 per person policy and was a further 10km out of town, so I cycled through the early evening to get there in the dark.  It would be home for 3 nights.

I rested my legs the next day and caught up on internet before surveying a few points on the Michell’s Pass in the afternoon, as well as making the most of the chance to do some shopping before everything closed for the weekend.

On Easter Friday I ventured north to the start of the Gydo Pass and the Christie Prins hiking trail, the only one the information bureau could give me information on. It seems a pity that the surrounding mountains are all CapeNature owned, but that there is no tourism infrastructure in them. Anyway. Seems like a while since the Christie Prins has been hiked – the trail is quite overgrown and I had to spend a fair amount of time looking for the rock beacons.

The trail off the mountain follows the old Gydo Pass. At one section the old wooden bridge has burnt down, leaving a very intimidating gorge to be navigated. That may have been the highlight of the walk – apart from the odd stray Cape Sugarbird, birdlife was scarce.

In the afternoon I meandered through pine infested hills behind the campsite to a lovely waterfall. Despite passing through boulder strewn landscapes that I thought must hold a Cape Rockjumper or Ground Woodpecker, only Cape Siskin made it onto the list as anything out of the ordinary.

The nice thing about being close to civilisation and having internet coverage was that I could access internet and check weather. showed a big, dark blue blob moving in across the ocean. It was clearly going to rain the following day. My options were to sit it out all day in my tent, or move north. I decided I’d had enough of the company of the happy families around me and packed camp to head north.

Gydo Pass was the least of my challenges. On reaching the Koue Bokkeveld (translated as ‘Cold buck fields’), the light rain became more and more heavy. Eventually I had to take cover in a bus shelter to wait for the worst of it to pass. Sitting there, cold and wet, I eventually had to dig out all my warm clothes in order to stop shivering.
Where there's a rainbow, there's rain

Then onwards it was to the village of Op-die-Berg (‘on the mountain’). I followed signs to a restaurant, as I’d been fantasizing about a nice big hot cup of coffee for a while. Turns out the restaurant also had rooms at an affordable rate and with more cold rain sweeping in over the hills, I needed little persuasion that I deserved a bit of luxury. So it was that Oppiberg was my sanctuary for the next two nights as the cold front worked its way through the mountains and Easter Sunday was an enforced day of rest spent watching far too many movies on television.

Easter Monday dawned cold but clear- time to get back on the bike and catch up on some point counts. The northern reaches of the Skurweberge finally revealed Ground Woodpecker and Cape Rockjumper, and even more special, a pair of Protea Seedeaters. For the first time I actually watched Seedeaters eating Protea seeds – I’ve only seen them eat Psoralea and Kiggeleria seeds before.

My afternoon was spent navigating the labyrinth of fanstastic rock formations that lead to the Heiveld Arch, one of the Cederberg’s big attractions. This is accessed from Houdenbek farm, who charge a R35 entrance fee.

Alien rock formations at Houdenbek

Heiveld Arch - much more affordable than the Wolfberg Arch

Then onwards and northwards the road continued. I had planned to head to Kleinveld campsite, but nights arrive quicker now as winter approaches, so I ended up camping amongst the proteas on the side of the road.
Just as well – on arriving at the farm at the entrance road to Kleinveld, I was greated by a Great Dane and two sheepdogs, one of which bit my ankle. Not deterred I entered the farmhouse, only to learn that this campsite is in fact managed by Mount Ceder Lodge – a fancy establishment 15km further north. The farmer kindly phoned them on my behalf, where I learnt that the asking price for the sites was now R300, although they were not actually being serviced. This was R150 more than the price I had been quoted the day before – my plan being to arrive and negotiate a ‘normal’ one person price. Too often, prices are ‘per site’ which is fine if you are 4 people, but ridiculous if travelling alone.

Sneeukop at Sunrise. There are 2 Sneeukops in the greater Cederberg, this is the southern one in the Skurweberge.

The scenery along the road to Mount Ceder is stunning, as one navigates the Blinkberg Pass back down from the Koue Bokkeveld and into Karoo vegetation at about 500m. I decided to stop in at Mount Ceder to see if I could explain what I was doing to a human, but only the receptionist I had previously spoken to was around. So I thought I’d have lunch; enquired as to what was suitable for someone very hungy; was indicated the lasagna (most expensive item on the menu); which ended up being a 10x10cm inadequate square. By the way, don't expect to see the Clanwilliam Cedar trees here, as the lodge is situated in Karoo veld and while the trees are found at altitudes over 1000m.

Unable to negotiate a reduced price, I had to press on – pushing bike and trailer up the Grootrivier Pass and then freewheeling down to Cederberg Oasis, which thankfully, did live up to its name.  Gerrit was a very amenable host, and at R45 a night it was a pleasure to share a campsite with only a small flock of sheep, some guineafowl and a Springbok.

My first excursion from Cederberg Oasis was south and back up the Grootrivier Pass. Here the ‘Rooicederberg’ lies to the east and ‘proper’ Cederberg lies to the West. The Rooicederberg, consisting of layers of shale and Table Mountain Sandstone rock formations, was covered in spiny and succulent plants typical of the Karoo, while the Cederberg slopes consisted of dry Fynbos characterised by lots of hardy Restios and Phylica. Most of the survey consisted of recording Karoo Scrub-Robins and Cape Buntings, with the odd White-backed Mousebird. Highlight of the survey was stumbling across a rock with the clearest impressions of shells – fossils from a bygone era when all this area was underwater.

Honey bee collecting sap from a Karooid plant
Heading back down to the road I came across bees chewing the stems of a plant. It drove home that there is almost nothing in flower in this winter rainfall region at the end of summer, so the bees must be very desperate.

My second excursion was north and then west, to Kromrivier and Truitjieskraal. Gerrie from Oasis gave me some good tips on the Truitjieskraal archaeological site in the neighbouring Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve. Permits, at R30, can be obtained from most of the tourist camps in the area. The day started well, with a sighting of an African Wildcat at the first point count. The survey took me mostly through dry Fynbos towards Kromrivier, which is another Stewardship Nature Reserve, with a large campsite and affordable café where I brunched on a toasted sandwich and coffee. Then it was on to Truitjieskraal.

Truitjieskraal is another of these incredible collections of unbelievable rock formations. Some of the caves contain rock art from the San or Bushmen who used to inhabit these mountains from as much as 8000 years ago up until fairly recently. But for me it is the caves, hollows, twisted shapes, arches and other bizarre rock shapes that have all been scoured out by the wind that really captured the imagination.
Not a rock, although it might be a rock lizard

Troll face rock

Rock art

View from one of the caves

Excursion number 3 on Friday the13th was north again, testing a small section of the road to Wuppertaal and then up to the very famous Stadsaal section of the Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve. There are some very famous San paintings of a herd of elephant in a circle, adjacent to a group of human figures – which could be interpreted as either an audience or hunters – except that none appear to hold any weapons. These paintings are amongst the clearest I have ever seen of any rock art – so clear that my first impression was that they must be fake or replicas. Apparently not!

Next stop:  the Stadsaal caves – translated from Afrikaans this means City Hall caves. These are wind scoured caves and the process of erosion can be seen from cavelets, to pillars, to caves, and then collapsed piles of rock. Rock art of a different kind catches the attention in the main cave – graffiti that goes back to 1881. The names record the visits by two apartheid era state presidents too.

The famous Stadsaal Elephant frieze

At least olden day graffitti is neat and legible.
I decided to lunch overlooking the southern slopes towards Truitjieskraal. There seemed to be a bit of bird activity around so I played Rockjumper and Ground Woodpecker calls – two species I would expect to find in such rocky terrain. I let the recording overplay, and the next call in the sequence was Protea Seedeater. Imagine my surprise when next thing I noticed was a solitary Protea Seedeater sitting on a rock 16 meters from me! It flew into a bush even closer, allowing me to record its jumbled mixture of notes and take a few photographs. What a nice surprise.
Fairy Flycatcher

Familiar Chat

Protea Seedeater

In the meantime, Chris had arrived at the Oasis, so it was a very rapid dismantling of the camp as for my next survey I had my eye on the Wolfberg Cracks and Arch. These are most accessible from Sandrif Campsite, managed by the Dwarsrivier Estate. I had presumed that if we stayed there, then access to the hiking trails would be included in the price, but I was mistaken. It is R50 extra to go to the Cracks, and R100 to go to the arch. While my first impression was ‘This is extortion’ I was unaware that these have become ‘must do’ hikes. The campsite was nearly full by that Friday evening, and the following day perhaps 20 learners and at least 20 adults made their way up the mountain to the cracks, and some onwards to the Arch (an 8 hour round trip). So, very lucky for the Nieuwoldt family that owns the land there, and perhaps the entrance charge is a way to reduce pressure on one of the main attractions in the Cederberg.

One benefit for me is that with all this tourist traffic up and down the mountain, a local family of Cape Rockjumpers has become very habituated to the presence of people. On my way back down the hill after the survey I stopped to chat with some rock-climbers heading up. I explained what I was doing and that I had seen a Rockjumper not far off, when suddenly noticed that a Rockjumper was only meters behind the people I was talking to!

When the rock-climbers moved off, that left me free to pursue the rock-jumper! Never before have I been so close to this iconic bird, which I was able to observe and photograph at leisure as he foraged his way across the boulder strewn hillside.
A splendid male Cape Rockjumper - uncropped image!
having a stretch

Proud master of the mountains

Rockjumper with Rockclimber
Normally the star of the show, this Orange-breasted Sunbird had to settle for second place -  here seen feeding on a Protea nitida (Waboom)

While I had hoped to survey some more of the area in the afternoon along the camp’s mountain bike trail network, a strong wind and threatening weather made bird-spotting a challenge. As such, I simply explored the area a bit more, making sure I wasn’t missing any Ground Woodpeckers, and just getting a feeling for a bit more of the Cederberg Fynbos. On the way back to the camp, I stopped off at another famous rock formation – Lot’s wife.
I can't believe it's not a statue! The Lot's wife rock formation at Sanddrif.

The reason Chris had joined me was that I had requested help to survey the 4x4 section of the road north to Wuppertaal. The plan was I cycle and Chris takes equipment and trailer, but with the weather looking iffy we loaded up the bike and headed north all together by vehicle. However, it soon cleared up leaving only a stiff, cold breeze to deal with. Surveying 10 kilometers by vehicle was a relative doddle compared to most of the survey to date!

While we had been planning to restock supplies at Wuppertaal, expecting anything to be open in a Mission town on a Sunday is asking for a miracle. Not even the local restaurant was open. As such, we had to leave this pretty little town with thatched cottages and white-washed walls and head on to the next destination for the survey –Heuningvlei. This is a hamlet on the Cederberg Heritage Trail that borders the Krakadouw Peaks and Pass, the northernmost section of the Cederbery. We checked into a great value for money self-catering unit run by a local couple – who were very helpful and accommodating. I used the rest of the day to survey south along a valley from Heuningvlei, very productively, recording a flock of 20 Cape Siskins as well as Protea Seedeater. This means that this northeastern section of the Cederberg has resulted in as many Protea Seedeater sightings as the rest of the survey combined!

And they didn’t stop on the Krakadouw Pass the next day either, which saw only the second clean sweep of all endemics in one survey for a day, with one count recording five out of six endemics – only Victorin’s Warbler escaping my equivalent of a Royal Flush. The 10km Krakadouw hike took me from moist Fynbos at 1100m with flowering Protea nitida, through a slither of Afromontane forest with gnarly Yellowwood trees, in the footsteps of a leopard to dry Fynbos at just 200m above sea level. Here I met up with Chris again, who had driven around to the western edge of the Cederberg via the Pakhuis Pass and the small town of Clanwilliam. Although the windscreen had been frosted in the morning, that evening we sat around in shorts and t-shirts slapping the occasional mosquito as we watched Venus setting into an ember sky.    

Blog updated from Algeria - the CapeNature campsite, not the country.  

Friday, 6 April 2012

La lucha continua

The plan was simple. 27 March was the FitzPatrick AGM – and our invitation from Phil Hockey ended with the statement that we were all expected to attend. And truth be told, I wanted to attend – as since my enrolment I have met only a hand-full of people at the Fitz. It would be another opportunity to meet with Anja and Elena, who would be comfortable as we could have the run of my aunt’s house. We could then spend a family day together, and Anja could then drop me off at Bredasdorp or somewhere in the Agulhas Plain, where otherwise I had been planning a big transit day from the vicinity of Montagu.

So plans were made and Anja and I met up in Swellendam, where I upgraded from the local backpackers to the historic Kadis self-catering cottage for the occasion. All seemed to be going according to plan. We took the scenic route into Cape Town via Hermanus and Rooi-Els. We arrived in Observatory and found parking right outside my aunt’s house. We locked the bike onto the roof and settled in for the evening.

The next morning I packed up some smart clothes to change into after the cycle into university for the AGM. I walked outside and felt a sinking feeling as the sight of our little Suzuki Jimney with twisted carrier rack filled my mind. The bicycle had been stolen!

Still, I had an AGM to get to, and it was very informative and interesting. However, instead of being able to relax and network as I had hoped to do, I had to get online and try and find a replacement bicycle! In the evening a member of the Cape Bird Club mentioned she had a bicycle for sale and that I could view it the following day.

That day started with two hours at the busy Woodstock Police Station. Statements are still hand-written, so the proceedings are painfully slow. All that time poor Anja and Elena had to spend locked inside the house. In the afternoon I visited the CBC member, but the offered bicycle was not up to scratch, and a local bike shop had nothing immediate to offer. Plus there was the tension knowing that Anja had to head back to Blue Hill to prepare for the arrival of guests.

So on the third day after our arrival in Cape Town we headed to Hermanus, where another family member would be able to look after my equipment while I tested out a very used second hand bike from Euodora bike shop – I could not afford one of their very expensive new bikes. Rudi, trailer man, had kindly agreed to whip up a new modified axle that he would post as soon as possible so that I could get on the road again with the trailer. But that would still take a few days to arrive.

Anja dropped me off on the road to Napier, before starting her long journey home, while my bike and I headed across the rolling hills of the Overberg, getting to know each other. Strong winds announced a change in the weather from sunny skies to banks of rain filled clouds. This made my second day trying to survey ‘Grootberg’ a little uncomfortable as I had to seek shelter under Port Jackson wattles, or dilapidated buildings. Still distinctly moist I spent my afternoon heading down the road to Bredasdorp, where yet again I was soaked attempting to survey the small Heuningberg Reserve to the south of the town. It was clearly time to make use of the comfortable bed at the BnB I’d checked into and to catch up on some local television.

The following day Cape Agulhas, Africa’s southernmost point, beckoned briefly. However Anja had expressed an interest in heading there as part of the trip I would have to make with her in a few months time to drop her off in Cape Town for her trip to Germany. So on with the job. My Slingsby Map of the Overberg had a route marked as ‘The Fynbos Road’ that covers the road from Struisbaai to Stanford. This sounded promising for survey purposes! However, there were almost no large stands of Fynbos – the Fynbos that existed were relics on the side of the road. Everywhere else was either infested with alien vegetation or converted to pasture for cattle. That is kind of depressing when the area boasts some of the highest proportion of endemic plant species of anywhere in the Fynbos. 
The rolling hills of the Overberg are now famous for their wheat fields. Here once was Renosterveld.

I did manage to survey some healthy Fynbos on the Geelbos Nature Reserve to the north of the historic mission town of Elim. Then, with time on my hands I decided to continue. Salmonsdam Nature Reserve had caught my eye. However, as there were no shops nearby, I had to continue on to Stanford, where I was disappointed to find out that my R350 for my BnB was for a Bed and Bath, not Bed and Breakfast.

For this section of the survey, being without trailer and therefore tent and camping equipment, put me at the mercy of the local tourist industry, which has resulted in this being the most expensive part of the survey so far – replacement bike excluded! The south coast is a very popular tourist destination, especially for the local urban Cape Town population, and prices are thus twice as high as anything I would expect to pay around the Baviaanskloof area.

That little rant aside, a pleasant day was spent at the Salmonsdam Nature Reserve, where the most unusual encounter of the day was of two male Orange-breasted Sunbirds imitating Cape Siskins. Then it was onto the heinous road connecting Stanford and Hermanus, and into the comfort of my tent in my aunt’s backyard. I really do find my thin camping mattress and sleeping bag so much more comfortable that the odd assortment of beds and pillows associated with the diaspora of the hospitality industry.

Fernkloof Nature Reserve, which encompasses a section of the Kleinrivierberge overshadowing Hermanus, was my next target. I’ve been ringing here before with Mike Ford, and the small area on the map belies the large area of mountain Fynbos that can be accessed with a labyrinth of very good trails. As such, it was another long, but productive day out, with Rockjumpers and Ground Woodpeckers gracing the pages of my datasheets amongst abundant Orange-breasted Sunbird encounters.

Hermanus - as viewed from Fernkloof Nature Reservre
While a return to Kogelberg had been on the cards, with Easter looming, I decided it was time to head away from the coast and northwards. A long day on the back roads bordering the Winelands brought me to Villiersdorp, where I was disappointed to find that the Municipal campsite was closed – due to vandalism. Nestled in the shadow of the town’s RDP housing program, this would not come as a surprise to many. Luckily for me Vredelust Guest house was prepared to offer me a reduced rate on her excellent accommodation in the heart of the town. Pat also enlightened me as to the history of the town, which is named in honour of the first French settlers in the area, the De Villiers.

Well rested, my fingers had been tracing the route on my map north to Worcester. Again, back routes offered a welcome respite from the many trucks racing up and down the R43. It is harvest time in the Winelands and everyone was very busy trying to harvest as much as possible before Easter. Worcester was a disappointment. One has to traverse kilometres of fetid wasteland approaching the town from the south, skirt some poor neighbourhoods, before drowning in the over crowded streets of the town itself. If a spoke had not broken as I dodged pedestrians down the main street, my stay in the town would have been that much shorter. A local bike shop proved helpful and efficient, and with a greasy take-away Chicken and Chips in my belly, I was soon on my way.
A scene from the Winelands around Villiersdorp

Scenic backroutes along the Breede River valley, nestled between the Hex River Mountains and Slanghoekberge, again provided an escape from trucks and road works. I had to make great use of the gravel side section of the road for peace-of-mind along the sections of the R43 I could not avoid, until finally reaching the foothills of the Skurweberge and the Michell’s Pass with a much needed yellow line. At this stage my legs were aching from the 100+ kilometres travelled so far. I gritted my teeth and entered the grey-ethereal world beyond pain for the 10km climb to Ceres.

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