02 December 2012 – not as easy as clubbing seals…
News had filtered through yesterday while we were up in Darling of a female Southern Elephant Seal with a pup on the beach south of Olifantsbos near Cape Point and, as this was a species we still needed for our challenge list and is actually rather rare in South Africa, we decided that we would go for it today. Late yesterday, further news came through of Temminck’s Courser at Olifantsbos as well, a cracking Western Cape bird (but one we already had), so there was now added incentive to go through.
We were at the gates at Cape Point before they even opened (which is at 6am), so we waited around for a while until the staff arrived to open them up. Then we headed straight down to Olifantsbos being the first ones to arrive in the parking area. Surprisingly, there was a very strong wind blowing and it was actually quite cold (not what the weather predictions had been at all…!). There was also a huge mist bank just offshore which seemed to be moving closer to land all the time. Fortunately, we had packed in fleece tops just in case, as it could’ve been really unpleasant without these.
We decided that, since the seal was the real target for the challenge, we would try for that one first and try and get there before the mist bank hit us. What we didn’t realize is just how far the walk was. it was more than 2km along a soft sandy beach (which we only really “felt” properly a couple of days later!!). The first part of the walk was pretty uneventful and, along the way, we picked up things like African Black Oystercatchers, Sanderlings, Ruddy Turnstones and White-fronted Plovers.
We reached the wreck of the Thomas T. Tucker and then carried on a bit further to the wreck of the Nolloth. What we had been told was that the animals were on the beach about 100m past this wreck, but after having walked a further several hundred metres, there was no sign of any seals! We pushed on a little further thinking we may have misunderstood the instructions, but after another 1km or so, we decided that the seals must’ve moved on. We consoled ourselves with a rather friendly Bar-tailed Godwit which kept approaching too close for our cameras and, in the strong winds with sand flying everywhere, it made photographing it quite tough even although it was so friendly. Subsequently, we found out that this is probably only the 3rd record ever for the park!!
Now it was time to start the long walk back straight into the gale force winds. After we had walked some distance, we picked up something flapping in the wind in amongst some rocks. From the distance, we couldn’t tell what it was thinking it might just be some seaweed flapping in the wind, but as we got closer, we soon realized that it was a seal flipper. And there they were, both mom and her 5 day old pup, curled up in between some rocks. We had walked right past them initially!! We spent the next while taking photos of them, but Southern Elephant Seals are not the most energetic or photogenic species on the planet being more like large lumps of fat lying around, so it took a while to get anything vaguely decent. But at least this species was now solidly on our challenge list…!
The long walk back to the car was now far more pleasant due to the fact that we had found our target. Back at the car, we had a cup of coffee and met up with a number of birders who had been searching the area for the Temminck’s Courser to no avail. So, after enjoying the coffee and a group chat with everyone, we eventually called it a day and headed off home after what turned out to be a successful morning. It was great to finally catch up with the seal as we had already dipped on 2 previous individuals during the challenge period and it was also the first time we had ever seen a pup in South Africa, having only seen this previously on the subantarctic islands.