06 April – Easter in the Tanqua
We decided to get some peace and quiet for the weekend by visiting the Tanqua Karoo. No cellphone reception. No internet. No Facebook. Perfect!
We left at a reasonable time on Friday morning getting onto the R355 by about 08h00 with our first challenge tick at the first picnic spot just beyond Karoopoort in the form of a Mountain Wheatear.
The next stop at Eierkop was just as successful with Karoo Eremomela, Karoo Chat and Karoo Lark all bagged for the challenge list.
We stopped at a dam on the side of the road to see if any repties were out and about. A Western Rock Skink had made himself comfortable on the dam wall and Trevor found a rather large Opistophthalmus pallipes scorpion while turning over a few rocks. Trevor also discovered an interesting looking Mantid which we later learned was one of the Cone-headed Mantids of the family Empusidae. We were completely engrossed by the Mantid when a familiar face came walking toward us, Dominic Rollinson. He had apparently been helping a friend looking for casualty bustards along the power lines. If you know what this area looks like, you can understand why we were surprised to see a familiar face here! The R355 is the longest uninterrupted dirt road between two towns, Ceres and Calvinia, in South Africa at a staggering distance of around 250km. Not the kind of place you want to break down in…
We headed further north towards the Tanqua Karoo National Park and found another dam on the side of the road that gave us the opportunity to take really bad pictures of Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark. Pity about the poor quality of pictures, but another tick for our challenge! We stopped at the one and only shop along the R355. It’s relatively new and clearly popular – both times we went past it you could hardly find parking! We finally got into the habitat for my bogey bird in the Western Cape, Burchell’s Courser. I had previously seen this bird in Etosha National Park for my Southern African list, but it has eluded my Western Cape list several times. Trevor and I must have visited the Tanqua at least 10 times looking for this bird without any luck. We slowly drove the rock filled plains at a pace that anyone could walk faster than. But nothing! Slightly depressed, we headed to the reception and the accommodation.
We stayed at the Tanqua Guest House, which used to be a privately owned B&B, but since being taken over by SANParks, has become self-catering accommodation. The place had always intrigued me. From the outside, it looks like a fort. The place has 5 bedrooms, a huge lounge and dining room area and a kitchen that could cater for an army. Trevor had previously stayed there when it still operated as a B&B and was slightly disappointed now as it needed a bit of TLC. We shared the house with two other couples. They were great and we dined with them both nights they were there.
The days were spent driving as much as we could, even although the weather didn’t quite play along. It’s not every day you find yourself in a storm in the middle of the Karoo!!
The drives were reasonably quiet, but we had some luck for our challenge. We found several common species like Red-capped and Large-billed Larks, Namaqua Sandgrouse and Pale Chanting Goshawk, although non of these were new for our challenge list.
We also managed to find Spike-heeled Lark, Black-eared Sparrow-Lark, Tractrac Chat, Greater Kestrel, Black-backed Jackal and Brant’s Whistling Rat all of which were new for our challenge list, whilst lots of scratching around and turning over rocks only yielded Bibron’s Gecko (also new for the challenge list) and a few Uroplectes carinatus scorpions.
Trevor also found me a lifer reptile in the form of a Cape Thick-toed Gecko under the smallest piece of corrugated roof sheeting you could possibly find. At least turning over all those hundreds of rocks paid off! He also found a Natal Long-fingered Bat in our accommodation roosting in an open room – a lifer bat for us and what a pleasure to be able to share our house with it!
After hours of driving over the four days, it was time to eventually head back home. We again drove slowly looking for my nemesis bird, but with no luck. At our last “water” stop, Trevor was behind the car and all I could hear was “What is this! What is this!” Really?! After 39 years, you still don’t know what it is?? His frantic shouting did make look out the window and there were 5 Burchell’s Coursers flying past the car!!! Finally!!! They really left it to the last minute to show themselves!!! The photos were terrible, but it was officially ticked…:) With a smile on my dial, I was ready to go home. Despite the weather, we had an awesome long weekend.