by Bryan Butler

It was not quite light when we gathered at our usual meeting point on Saturday 18th May but we set off for Arabella, picking up another car in Gordons Bay en route.

Due at the Estate by 07h45, we misjudged it and only arrived at 08h00. Carin Malan, who led the group, explained that we would be too late to cover some of the dams because the golfers had already set off.

In the car park, where a wild fig was in fruit, the birds were abundant – Cape Bulbul, White Eyes, Southern Double-collared Sunbirds et al. Carin found a safe route for us to follow without the danger of golf balls raining down on us and so the walk began. Along a road, over a crest, across a fairway, round a dam, up a path, over a hill and down a slope we went with regular calls like – Common Starling, Blacksmith Lapwing, Sugarbird, Egyptian Goose.

Annamarie Krynauw was recording – “23 so far”. Her list grew and grew and grew. Stunning scenery, beautiful settings, lovely flowers and bushes. There were close to 30 of us – not all from our own club, but all chatting; sometimes softly, sometimes loudly – as only birders can – while walking eagle-eyed, searching for movement or shadows or silhouettes – in a bush – or on the horizon – 60 pairs of eyes and a good sprinkling of binoculars, searching.

As we descended a picturesque grassy slope we approached the Bot River Lagoon and the birding changed. Could that be a Fish Eagle on the opposite bank? Too far to be sure, but White-breasted Cormorants definitely, and yes – Caspian Terns skimming over the lagoon surface. It was not always easy to follow the leader with such a big group but we manfully tried to keep up as Carin’s knowledge of the terrain and its bird inhabitants was legion.

A peaceful family of Cape Teal on a little pond, watching us intently, and an unusually solitary Cape Cormorant on a pole who couldn’t care less. Incredibly two and a half hours had passed and we had wandered some 4 or 5 km through the Estate and now we were at the water’s edge and in the shadow of the impressive semi-circular arc of the Arabella Hotel itself.

It was a stiff climb back to the car park on weary legs but the thought of a steaming cup of coffee from the thermos in the car boot was incentive enough. Time to say our goodbyes and to thank Carin for a wonderful and privileged morning.

Some of us set off for Stoney Point, some to Rooisand and some to Harold Porter.
At Stoney Point we were disturbed to hear that the number of penguins had dwindled considerable since our last visit. We had a quick look, and then went on to Rooiels.

By this stage, we had dwindled to just half a dozen of us and our legs were tired (well mine were, anyway). It was nearing noon and the wind was blowing so our hopes of seeing the elusive Cape Rockjumper were not high. What we did see, however, was a number of beautiful Orange-breasted Sunbirds, a Karoo Prinia or two and a stunning visit by a Grassbird, which came over to us – within 3m – to serenade us with his (or her) jumbled warbling song. Magical. We could still hear it in our memories as we drove home.