Birding on the old ox-wagon route near Sedgefield

Birding on the old ox-wagon route near Sedgefield

The early morning mist clung to the windshield as the trusty Suzuki Jimmy challenge the Old Ox-Wagon Route. This wasn’t your typical tourist path. Permission granted, we were about to explore a hidden valley nestled between the imposing Outeniqua Mountains and a vibrant tapestry of fynbos. Ditching the highway for this 4×4 adventure was a no-brainer – the promise of a birding paradise, teeming with unique fynbos specialists, outweighed any bumpy roads.

As the first rays of dawn pierced through the fynbos, the symphony began. A Cape Grassbird, a ground-dwelling insectivore by nature, hopped into view, perfectly camouflaged against the golden light with its brown and buff plumage. My trusty 600mm lens captured this beauty in all its detail – a prized record for any birder. Next came a stunning male African Stonechat, a splash of color against the emerald canvas. A primarily insectivorous bird, it perched on a prominent rock, its melodious trill filling the air, a serenade to his mate.

The thrill of the chase kicked in when a Fynbos Buttonquail, a rare and highly sought-after bird, flushed from the roadside. Its swift, erratic flight sent a surge of excitement through me. This elusive bird, perfectly adapted to life on the ground, feeds on a variety of seeds, fruits, and insects found amongst the low-lying fynbos vegetation. High above, a Black-winged Kite hovered high above us, its sharp eyes scanning for a tasty striped mouse breakfast. This magnificent bird of prey, with a broad diet that includes small mammals, reptiles, and even insects, soared effortlessly against the endless blue canvas of the sky – a breathtaking display of nature’s raw power.

The fynbos teemed with life. Proteas, nature’s majestic sculptures, stood proudly, their dried blooms a feast for sunbirds. An Orange-breasted Sunbird, a flash of tangerine, darted between the flowers, its long, curved bill perfectly adapted for reaching deep within the nectar-rich blooms. These tiny bursts of energy flitted from bloom to bloom in an endless quest for sustenance, their vibrant plumage transforming the fynbos into a living tapestry. The emerald plumage of a Malachite Sunbird shimmered like a jewel in the morning light, adding another splash of colour to the vibrant scene. These territorial sunbirds fiercely defended their feeding grounds from rivals, adding a touch of drama to the fynbos ballet.

A sombre note struck as I noticed the alien shapes of pine and eucalyptus trees, survivors of past fires, threatening the delicate ecosystem. Dense stands of Black Wattle choked streams, their thirsty roots sapping the lifeblood of the land. These stark reminders of the need for conservation added a somber note to my exploration.

Reaching the peak was a reward in itself. The breathtaking panorama of the valley unfolded before me, a mosaic of fynbos and distant mountains.

The downward journey, less bumpy that going up, revealed a Gymnogene (African Harrier Hawk) perched atop a Blue-Gum tree, waiting for the perfect moment to raid the pigeon nests for its daily brunch.

The 32km journey was a world away from the ordinary. It was a chance to witness nature’s wonders firsthand, a privilege I won’t soon forget. The symphony of birdsong, the vibrant dance of the sunbirds, and the awe-inspiring sight of raptors soaring overhead – this was birding at its finest.

Guided birdwatching in the Garden Route

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