26 November 2011 – an atypical wedding anniversary celebration…
It was our 5th wedding anniversary yesterday and it was meant to be a “lazy” weekend spent celebrating our 5 years together. Lying in bed early this morning, we were still deciding what to do when, out of the blue, we suddenly had a crazy idea and decided to chase off into the Karoo to go and have a look for the Saddle-billed Stork that had been claimed from there on Tuesday. This was a sight record only (with no photographic evidence) by a farmer and had not been reported since, but we decided to be spontaneous and go for it anyway. Because of our anniversary, we also decided to overnight somewhere, so quickly packed a bag with some stuff and, before too long, we were on the road heading north.
The drive was about 4,5 hours to the spot and was pretty uneventful apart from some irritating roadworks between Laingsburg and Prince Albert Road station. En route, we made a booking at the Swartberg Hotel in Prince Albert for the night and booked ourselves into the Honeymoon Suite – we may as well make the best of it. We didn’t even think that a small Karoo town would have such a thing at the local hotel!
Arriving at the stork site at Klaarstroom at around lunch time, we began working the area. We spent the next number of hours working the general area – fortunately, the suitable habitat was quite restricted to a small valley with lots of lucerne fields and some farm dams and streams and, outside of that, it was typical Karoo habitat i.e. semi-desert habitat which was certainly not suitable for Saddle-billed Stork. We encountered most of the common species one would expect here, but despite many hours of searching, there was no sign of anything that even remotely resembled a stork.
Eventually giving up, we headed back to Prince Albert and booked into the hotel. A quite stop at a local coffee shop for a cup of coffee and some monstrous slices of cake and we headed back out to make use of the last hour or so of daylight. We headed into a valley just to the south of town and spent some time photographing a few birds there including our first Diderick Cuckoo for the challenge and a very confiding male Cape Rock Thrush. We also had a small group of Chacma Baboons that were particularly interested in what we were doing and kept following us around at a short distance. We kept a watchful eye on them not sure what their intentions were, but in the end, it was pretty harmless and they were probably just more inquisitive than anything else.
Once the sun had dropped below the mountains and everything was in shade, we decided to call it a day. By now, the wind had also begun howling, so that put a real damper of any chance of heading out on a night drive into the Karoo as it would just end up being disappointing. We headed back to the hotel, freshened up a bit, downloaded some photos and then headed out to dinner at the Swartberg Arms, a local restaurant where we had a delicious meal and where they are certainly not scared to dish up large portions! Weariness eventually crept in and it didn’t take too long for us to crash. An unplanned and also mostly unsuccessful day, but nevertheless, still an extremely fun day!