21-24 September 2012 – the challenge list gets a boost…
With it now starting to become a little tougher to add new species to our challenge list, there is obviously a need to start planning a little more carefully to go after our targets. A long weekend was beckoning and so we decided that Grootvadersbosch would be a good option to target a few possible species. Grootvadersbosch holds one of the most westerly patches of remaining forest and is run as a nature reserve by Cape Nature. It obviously holds an entire suite of species that reach the western edge of their distribution there and get commoner as one moves further east. But at only about 2,5 hours drive from home, it is close enough for a relaxed weekend away and exposure to things not normally seen around our home turf. We booked ourselves into a cottage at Honeywood Farm just outside the reserve. Originally, we had booked into Jack’s Cottage, a rustic 3 bedroomed cottage, but on arrival, were upgraded to Laila’s Cottage, a much bigger house with all the creature comforts of home.
After a braai on Friday evening, we decided to go and look for a few things on the property. Most of the ponds were surprisingly quiet, but eventually, we were lucky to find one of our challenge targets for the weekend, Rattling Frog, crossing the road. This was also a lifer for Margaret and a good start to the weekend…
Saturday morning was a rather lazy affair and we slept in a little which is rather unusual for us. We were waiting for John and Greta Graham to arrive to join us for the day, so we spent some time ambling around the property recording all the birds we saw for our atlas list and also turning over a few things that we could find. There was not too much to be found barring a nicely marked Raucous Toad and a few Opithacanthus capensis scorpions.
John and Greta arrived just before lunch time and we sat around for a while catching up on all the latest gossip. After a bite to eat, we decided to head into the forest for the afternoon to see what we could find. The wind had already started blowing, so birdlife was a little quiet, but we did find a number of commoner species like Amethyst and Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, African Dusky Flycatcher and Forest Canary. A handful of Forest Buzzards were encountered over the forest whilst we also enjoyed brief views without any photographic opportunities of a male Narina Trogon.
Down at the Duiwenhoks River, we spent a bit of time turning over rocks and lucked our finding an absolutely cracking Eastern Ghost Frog, a lifer for us, as well as several River Frogs, the identification of which remains undetermined. They were either Cape or Van Dijk’s River Frogs, but even the experts seem to disagree on what exactly they were!! Nevertheless, we then spent quite a bit of time photographing and enjoying these frogs before starting the long uphill walk back to the car. Man, we are seriously unfit and really felt the pain on the uphill walk…!
After dinner, we headed out to another pond for some more frogging. Lots of large Cape River Frogs there as well as Common Platannas, Flat Cacos and a number of calling Rattling Frogs and Striped Stream Frogs which proved extremely difficult to find!
Up early the next morning, we decided to head up on to a grassy hill to look for Red-winged Francolin for our challenge. The wind was blowing and by the time we got up on to the crest of the hill, it was gale force and one battled to stand up straight in it. We gave it up as a bad idea and headed back down into the valley to see what we could find. We had quite a few Swee Waxbills and Sombre Greenbuls showing vaguely well in the lee of the valley and even had an Olive Bush Shrike showing out in the open for a short while which resulted in dramatically improved photos of this species over what we previously had even although they are still not great. The most frustrating thing was when a Brown-backed Honeybird showed up and perched atop a dead tree for a few seconds before disappearing again. This was a new species for our challenge list, but disappeared before we could even get a record shot of it! Damn!
Back at the house, Margaret and Greta prepared us a gourmet brunch that we all enjoyed at our leisure. John and Greta would be leaving us today but, in turn, other friends Cliff and Suretha Dorse and Barrie and Roselle Rose, would be arriving to join us for the rest of the weekend. They arrived soon after we had finished up with brunch and, after a bit of chatting around the house, we set off to another farm close by. The idea was to go and look for Crowned Eagle here which would be a new challenge species for us and a Western Cape bird for some of the group. It didn’t actually take too long to locate the birds after we arrived and we spent quite a bit of time enjoying them, although the photographic opportunities were not fantastic. The area was also alive with birds generally and we spent a frustrating time trying to get photos of a very vocal Knysna Warbler (which we still needed to photograph for the challenge) and eventually came away with nothing whilst we were fortunate to get a few reasonable shots of a Knysna Woodpecker, another tough species to pin down for photos normally.
It was eventually time to say good-bye to John and Greta and, after bidding them farewell, we all headed back to the house for some lunch. It was then time to head back into the forest. The wind was still howling like there was no tomorrow, but we were after some frogs, so that was not going to stop us. As we made our way down the hill into the forest to the same area we were at yesterday (and the painful thoughts of having to walk back up the hill!), we started turning over some logs to see what we could find. Initially things were quiet, but eventually Barrie struck gold and found the species we were looking for, a Strawberry Rain Frog. Another challenge species ticked, we spent some time trying to get it to pose for some semi-decent photos.
Back down at the river, we were fortunate again to find several Eastern Ghost Frogs and a number of those controversial River Frogs. We even found a few tadpoles and those were definitively identified as Van Dijk’s River Frogs, but it seems that the adult frogs are a little less cut and dried.
After dinner, we headed out to the same pond that we had been frogging at the previous evening, finding most of the same species again, although this time, with more eyes and hands (and Cliff’s magic frog finding abilities), we had a lot more success with the numbers that were found.
Monday morning saw us up early again and we headed back to the Red-winged Francolin spot. The wind had dropped a little, but the weather was still not ideal. After a lot of searching, we eventually heard a couple of francolins calling in the distance. Unfortunately, they were not interested in responding to playback and, try as we might, we just could not get a visual on them at all. We’ll just have to come back again at some stage.! It was then back into the valley to see what we could find. With lots of Plain Rain Frogs calling around us, we thought we were in with a good chance of finding one, another animal that we still needed for the challenge, but after a couple of hours of trying, we were frustrated and still empty-handed. The only form of life found during a lot of rock and log turning was a single small Common Slug-eater.
Before long, it was time to head back to the house and pack up. An end to another great weekend which turned out to be quite successful in terms of the challenge adding 5 species to our slowly progressing list…:)