08 May 2012

Ever Northward

The Tankwa Karoo before sunrise.

The second day of our Namibia trek started out quite well. I woke up right at about dawn, awoken by a bird that I unfortunately was never able to track down, and then headed out into the karoo to see what I could find. I was not disappointed, as my before dawn walking rewarded me with such good birds as Tractrac Chat, Rufous-eared Warbler, the ever-present Karoo Scrub-Robin and even Namaqua Prinia (my short but complete list here). I turned around at one point, however, and was surprised to see a lone figure on the hillside. I slowly walked up the hill, and found myself side by side with Maria (well, first I found myself running to get my camera, but I came back). I stood there her, talking about the desert enveloping us, and watched the desert come to life. As we stood there together, I saw the first ray of sun break through the distant hills, and watched in awe as the world began to glow around me. It was a great day already, and it wasn't even 8 o'clock in the morning.

Sunrise over the Tankwa Tented Camp.

We soon got up and got started with our day,as we ate breakfast with our Malawian friends and packed up for the day. We took some awesome showers, I left my permanent mark in the office of the camp, and we headed back out into the Karoo.

Our morning maintained the same theme for hours. The karoo was huge, and it never seemed to end. I saw Groot Winterhoek, the mountains were I had camped two months before, and enjoyed the beautiful desert scenery. I also got my first life bird of the day: Pterocles namaqua, the Namaqua Sandgrouse.

Namaqua Sandgrouse walking on the side of the road (above) and flushing into the desert (below).

After the brief ornithological break, we climbed Bloukrans Pass and were greeted at the summit by a pair of Verreaux's Eagles. We continued onward and onward until finally coming to our spot for lunch that day: Calvinia. This small frontier town in the karoo was a fascinating place to be, but we quickly finished our lunches and loaded back into the car. The northern expanses were calling to us, and we could not ignore them anymore. We drove onward and onward, and I even ignored some pretty good birds in the interest of time and spending time with my friends (before you have a heart attack, I still got Black-eared Sparrowlark!).

As we came closer and closer to the orange river valley, the terrain transformed around us. Then suddenly, almost without warning, the veld changed completely. Grasses grew everywhere, the gigantic Sociable Weaver nests seemed to impossibly balance in the trees and on the power poles along the road, and the road stretched on into infinity.

Our road through the Northern Cape, South Africa

We soon decided to stop and stretch, and found the quaint little town of Kenhardt in which to do so. Needless to say, I soon became quite please with our decision to do so. Cape Glossy-Starlings sat on the fences, Dusky Sunbirds climbed through the bushes, and Black-fronted Bulbuls seemed to be everywhere. Three lifers in three minutes is always a nice thing to encounter, wherever you are. The girls soon dragged me away from the iridescent starlings, however, and we headed off once more into the wild blue yonder, finally reaching our destination, the Augrabies Backpackers.

I, however, had not had enough of wandering about for the day, and apparently the others hadn't either. We ventured off through the vineyards and Phragmites grasses in search of more cool things for the day. Stephanie and Yvonne soon headed back to the backpackers, but Maria and I ventured further, seeking out more. A Black-headed Heron flew overhead, Bulbuls were everywhere (I estimated 40 on my checklist) and we even found a pair of calling Spotted Eagle-Owls in the brush. Thoroughly satisfied, we followed the southern cross back to the backpackers and arrived just as Stephanie exclaimed in wonder at the stranger she was sitting next to "NO WAY! I know who you are!"

The world, it seems, is a very small place. I found myself face to face with a spitting image of my roommate in Stellenbosch. From the French-Canadian accent to the very mannerisms she used, it was like being back at the dorms. Yvonne's and my flatmate, Genevieve, had told us her parents were coming to South Africa, but we never assumed that we would meet them at some point, let alone at some point in the middle of nowhere in the Northern Cape! We enjoyed our evening talking about life and traveling around the country, and before I knew it, tomorrow had already come. I forced myself off to bed, knowing that if I didn't rest now, I wouldn't rest at all.

I slowly slipped off into unconsciousness, and waited for the sun to wake me. In my head, I went through the checklist of things I would need in the morning, and smiled as I realized I'd be crossing into yet another African country at some point the next day.

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