With our family now spread far and wide we always go away at this time of the year – unless they are planning a visit – and it’s usually to Wakkerstroom. Apart from the birding, we also enjoy the beauty and tranquility – and the much cooler climate – a welcome change from the Barberton heat and humidity. It’s hard to recall just how many times we’ve visited this area during the past 30 years but it’s plenty and we never tire of it. We absolutely love Wakkerstroom and with a network of nearly 1000 kms of gravel roads in all directions there is always so much to see and the scenery is breathtaking.
Regular visitors to Wakkerstroom will know that four seasons in one day are not uncommon – and the weather can be miserable – but this is no problem for us as foul weather days provide an opportunity to catch up on a good book, enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the COUNTRY INN, or a delicious lunch or dinner at THE BISTRO – an intimate and beautifully decorated restaurant with a great atmosphere and the best food in town. The BISTRO also has a lovely sheltered garden where we enjoyed the most delicious Christmas Day lunch on one of the hottest Wakkerstroom days we can recall. There are also many interesting and quaint little shops in Wakkerstroom that we seldom have the chance to explore as we are usually out and about most of the time.
A trip around Wakkerstroom in the company of a Birdlife guide will almost guarantee the three endemic species that are restricted to the high altitude grasslands, viz. Rudd’s Lark, Botha’s Lark and Yellow-breasted Pipit – and other specials including Blue Korhaan and Southern Bald Ibis – but it’s much more than specials for us having ticked these birds some thirty years ago. It’s more about enjoying and appreciating everything that this wonderful area has to offer and whatever comes our way. As such, we find it quite sad that so many people only visit Wakkerstroom to tick the specials – and never return – having never really explored the area. They don’t know what they are missing!
The lack of rain in Wakkerstroom prior to this particular trip resulted in some excellent views of the wetland – with lots of exposed muddy patches – and African Rails and African Snipes could be seen all over the place! Only once before – about seventeen years ago during the first visit by Barberton Bird Club – had we experienced similar conditions and felt there was a good chance that we may be fortunate enough to spot something unusual. As such, on most days we would set out from the Birdlife Centre (where we always camp in our old Volksie Kombi) reasonably early, park a few metres along the turn off to the Oude Stasie Road, and spend an hour or so checking out the wetland before exploring further afield. But, nine days later, on a very chilly New Year’s Day we were seriously considering giving it a miss as nothing particularly unusual had made an appearance. Fortunately, we didn’t, because within half an hour of parking in our usual spot something unusual did pop out of the reeds – just below where we were parked – and we were able to photograph and identify our first sighting ever of a SPOTTED CRAKE! What a great start to 2019 and how thrilled we were!.
Two days later we were also fortunate enough to be entertained for about fifteen minutes by 3 otters frolicking in the river below the Amersfoort bridge – our first decent sighting in thirty years. In the past the best we had managed, as we walked along the river to the hides, was a splash and few ripples in the water to announce their presence.
The crake remained in exactly the same spot until we left on 4 January and we were most disappointed that news of this wonderful sighting was not passed on to the local birding fraternity despite us having reported it. As such, apart from a couple from Ermelo who we came across on New Year’s Day, we were the only ones who saw it.
Barberton Bird Club
13 February 2019
Barberton Bird Club is planning a birding weekend in Wakkerstroom later in the year, probably towards the end of October, and anyone interested in joining us should contact Marjorie Nuns – contact details available from Karen Bullen.