This place is situated along the southern slopes of the Soutpansberg Mountains, a few dozen kilometres to the west of Louis Trichardt/Makhado. I was there as a school kid in the mid-eighties on what we call a ‘field school’ and it looks like they still get lots of kids (there are many obstacle courses and things like that we saw there). The idea is to get the kids out in nature. But back when I was there as a kid, the grownups chased us around so much that there wasn’t much time to appreciate the nature! This time it was different. I went with the bird-watchers of Polokwane and we had the leisure to do our own thing.
The drive there was rather stressful for me … we started very early in the morning and most of the drive was in the dark, and a lot of it was in fog as well! Also despite the early hour there were many other vehicles on the road. I was worried a few times about ‘losing’ the others but I managed to stay close enough and made it all the way. Now that I know where it is and how to get there, it will be less stressful to go again. We arrived at about six thirty the morning, not long after dawn.
The very first bird we saw on arrival were the ‘specialty’ we came for – Crested Guineafowl! These delightful birds are much rarer than the Helmeted Guineafowl. While the latter are all over South Africa, typically in open grassland or savannah, the Crested Guineafowl inhabits dense bush and forest, only in the far northern and eastern corners of the country. Furthermore, crested guineafowl tend to skulk in the gloom of dense growth, and will run away at any disturbance. At least, all the crested guineafowl I’ve encountered, except for the ones at Schoemansdal! Here they were incredibly tame! People who live there feed them bread crumbs and they’re literally eating out of people’s hands. I got a powerful peck when holding my hand out to one – perhaps it was angry that I didn’t have anything for it! Here I saw just how active and energetic these guineafowl are. It was very difficult to get a good photo because despite how close we could get, they wouldn’t stay still for half a second! I did get a few photos to give you an idea of these birds, but the three videos I took will show them to you ‘in action’. They were amazing! We did later get a glimpse of them in the bush as well.
But there were many other birds. The region has a grade of habitats ranging from open dry woodland to forest along the streams flowing through the ravines. There were rocky slopes and cliffs and grassland on the peaks, but this time we didn’t climb up to the top. I took photos for you, first of the peaks in the misty early morning, and later when there was some sun on them. I walked along a path going up a ravine where there were beautiful waterfalls and streams lined with delicate ferns. The mix of habitats presented us with a great variety of birds. Noteworthy (for me) were: fan-tailed flycatchers, dusky flycatchers, black sunbirds, greater doublecollared sunbirds, perhaps a lesser doublecollared sunbird as well, collared sunbirds, yellowbellied bulbuls, longtailed wagtails, a black cuckooshrike, yellowfronted tinker barbets, collared barbets, cardinal woodpeckers, lesser stripes swallows, purplecrested turacos, yellow-eyed canaries, streakyheaded canaries, spectacled weavers, puffbacks, chinspot batises AND cape batises (rarely seen in the same place since one inhabits savannah and the other forest), bluemantled flycatchers, southern black tits. Others of us, but not me, saw a grey cuckooshrike (again it is unusual to find the black and the grey in the same place) and a gorgeous bush shrike (if I had seen it, would have been a ‘lifer’ for me).
Trees and other plants prominent in the environment include: Buffalo Thorn (Ziziphus mucronata), Ginger Bush (Tetradenia riparia), Common Forest Grape (Rhoicissus tomentosa), White-spotted Arum Lily (Zantedeschia albomaculata), Red Milkwood (Mimusops zeyheri), Common Cabbage Tree (Cussonia spicata), Water Berry (Syzygium cordatum), Snake Climber (Adenia gummifera), Milky Rope (Sarcostemma viminale), Lavender Tree (Heteropyxis natalensis), Broom Cluster Fig (Ficus sur), and Thorny Rope (Dalbergia armata).
I also spotted a beautiful male Rainbow Skink on the wall of a little succulent garden on the grounds. The succulent garden itself contained many interesting species, especially of aloes and euphorbias. I took photos of two of those.
It was just a short day trip, but very pleasant! I would love to go again, perhaps for a longer period to allow me to get right up on top of the mountains.
The mountains in the misty early morning:
The mountains once the sun hit them:
Crested guineafowl! Waiting for food!
More crested guineafowl!
My only successful close-up of a guineafowl ... they moved so fast!
A neat little Euphorbia in the resort's small walled succulent garden:
A somewhat larger but also pretty Euphorbia in the succulent garden:
A Rainbow Skink, Trachylepis quinquetaeniata, on the wall of the succulent garden:
The footpath up the ravine beside the stream:
A gnarly tree along the route up the ravine:
This is called a Snake Climber, Adenia gummifera, a semi-succulent vigorous climbing plant growing beside a stream:
Here my hand gives a sense of the size of that Adenia. They can climb into the canopy up to a height of 30 m:
A white-spotted Arum Lily, Zantedeschia albomaculata:
A small, charming waterfall in the gorge:
Trees and rocks beside the stream in the gorge:
Another small, charming waterfall: