27 August 2011 – west coast herping and a rarity to boot!
With Margaret spending the day on a photography course, Trevor took the opportunity to join friends, James Harvey and Dominic Rollinson, who were visiting from Kwazulu Natal, as well as Scott Watson, a Canadian who has just recently moved to South Africa, for a day in the West Coast National Park. Rather than a day of birding, this was going to be a day spent looking for reptiles. Now, looking for reptiles can be incredibly hard work. It generally involves actively searching for them by turning over various rocks, logs and whatever else looks vaguely suitable and is great for reminding one just how old you are getting! Many times, we have come away from these stints in the field with muscles paining in places where we didn’t even know we had muscles. It also depends on the weather on the particular day and working an area early in the morning is generally a lot easier than turning over heavy things in the heat of the day. One always starts off a lot more energetic on these days and become a little lethargic as the day progresses.
Anyway, the day started off well when the first thing that we turned over at the very first site we stopped at produced a Karoo Sand Snake and a Striped Dwarf Leaf-toed Gecko under it! This particular patch in the park has a great reptile diversity and we spent a couple of hours in the area also finding Cape Sand Snake, Spotted Skaapsteker, Puffadder, Cape and Variegated Skinks and Large-scaled Girdled Lizards. We then moved to another site where the target was Karoo Girdled Lizard which was located with relative ease and this site also produced a couple of Common Egg-eaters. With Angulate Tortoises also making an appearance, our reptile list had already grown to 11 species for the day.
By this stage, it had already gotten fairly warm and was approaching lunch time, so a quick stop off at the restaurant and shop at Geelbek to refuel before moving off to our next site. Here, we wanted to try and find Bush Karoo Rat (no, it’s not a reptile I know, but they also wanted to see it!).
Unfortunately, due to the time of day and the relative heat, we could not find any active rats despite an hour or more of searching in this area. But all was not lost – a bit of luck came our way when we happened to find a Cuvier’s Blind Legless Skink here, an animal very seldom seen due to its life spent mostly underground. A very special animal with a distribution restricted to a narrow strip along the west coast of South Africa and also a new species for the ever-growing challenge list.
By mid afternoon, we moved off to another site where we once again started scratching around. Yields were extremely low with only a single scorpion (Opistophthalmus capensis) before we eventually found our main target here, Gronovi’s Dwarf Burrowing Skink. Another species that spends almost its entire life underground, the heat of the day certainly warms these animals up and one has to be very quick to get a hold on them, because given half a chance, they will just dive into the sand and disappear never to be seen again!
We continued searching turning up absolutely nothing else and were also starting to get a little despondent when Trevor received text messages from Niall Perrins and Per Holmen to say they had just located a Eurasian Oystercatcher at the Seeberg hide. Given the fact that that we consider this park to be our local patch, this vagrant, which we had seen just north and just south of the park previously, was still a gaping hole on our park list. It was also a bird we still needed for our challenge list, so the decision to cut the herping short and shoot over to Seeberg was a very simple one which took all of a few seconds to make. Not 15 minutes later, we were standing alongside the others admiring this pied oystercatcher which was associating with its larger all black African cousins. Unfortunately, this hide is not optimal for afternoon photography and the light was always in the wrong place. The bird also always remained distant so the photos are nothing more than record shots of the individual. However, a great end to a fantastic day in one of our favourite places!