10 September 2011 – Jewel of the Overberg (Day 1)
With the timing seemingly right for reptiles and De Hoop Nature Reserve being THE place to find Southern Adder, we decided that a weekend there was in order. The fact that Tony Phelps, the world authority on this species, would also be there at the same time added to the attraction of the visit, so we joined Barrie and Roselle Rose for a weekend away at this reserve, one of the jewels of the Overberg region. Not only would this animal be new for our challenge list, but it was a complete lifer for us after having attempted to find it and failed many times in the past – we were not going to give up an opportunity to try for it when Tony was there to look for it as well.
The reserve had recently outsourced its accommodation to a private company and, although the prices have increased, the standard of the accommodation has certainly improved on what was previously available. Of course, the question needs to be asked as to whether it is really necessary to have this standard of accommodation in a nature reserve – although we are not ones to turn up our noses at the creature comforts, one always worries that they may have priced themselves out of the market of the super keen wildlife enthusiast who loves to get out into the bush, but who may not necessarily be able to afford the likes of down duvets and would be happy with a simple bed and a roof over their heads at a much more affordable price.
We had driven through to the reserve late yesterday and, early this morning, we were up and about starting to flip over just about anything that we could find in the hope that there might be something hiding under it. A lot of rocks were flipped with not too much reward – a Cape Skink, a Cape Legless Skink and one scorpion (Parabuthus planicauda) were all that we were able to find. After returning to the chalet for a bite to eat and being accosted by the local Cape Spurfowl population, we decided to head down to the edge of the vlei to see if we could perhaps bump into the family of Cape Clawless Otters that had been showing there recently.
Apart from the ubiquitous Cape Rock Hyraxes and the common bird species like Cape Robin-chat, Bar-throated Apalis, Karoo Prinia, Bokmakierie, etc., there was not too much else to report. Conditions were cool with totally overcast skies for most of the time which did not make for great photographic opportunities. The vlei held many of the regular species with pelicans, both species of flamingos, huge numbers of Red-knobbed Coots and good numbers of other waterfowl including a single Hottentot Teal which was a little unusual for the area. We also managed to get a few terrible shots of a Hamerkop which was the first time we had managed to photograph this species during the challenge. There were tell-tale signs that the Otters had been through the area fairly recently – in fact, some of the sandy areas were still wet where they had walked through – we couldn’t have missed them by much more than 30 minutes! We would just have to try again.
After having spent a few hours scanning the vlei, we headed back to the chalet again picking up a Knysna Woodpecker which posed in the most horrible of light for us – not really a photo that we would want to show to anyone. A quick lunch stop and we were off again. A quick stop along the road had us photographing Yellow Mongoose for the first time during the challenge, but again not very good photos! Our first real stop was at a site where we hoped to find Little Karoo Dwarf Chameleon (aka Robertson Dwarf Chameleon). Luck was not to be on our side and a lengthy search did not reveal any chameleons although we did find Southern Rock Agama and Red-sided Skink. We then made our way across to Potberg where we managed to pick up two new species for the challenge en route, Agulhas Long-billed Lark and Cape Vulture. At least, something was going our way.
At Potberg, we spent a bit of time working the area, but again were only rewarded with the really common species – Cape Bulbul, Speckled Mousebird, Yellow Bishop, etc. A juvenile Martial Eagle overhead was a welcome distraction, but the rest of the species were really just the commoners. Heading back to the main part of the reserve, we enjoyed a few Bontebok along the road, a wing-tagged sub-adult African Fish Eagle and a stunning male Denham’s Bustard.
The late afternoon was spent cruising slowly and walking along the road down to Koppie Alleen in the hope of lucking on to an Adder, but apart from a large herd of Common Eland with many youngsters and small groups of Cape Mountain Zebra and Bontebok, luck was not going to be on our side and, as it started getting dark, we eventually called it a day and headed back to the chalet for dinner. The braai was not quite as much of a celebratory event as we would have hoped for, but the constant serenading of Fiery-necked Nightjars and Spotted Eagle Owls around us helped to ease the pain.