But it was no fantasy, that partly cloudy, hot and humid day of January 26, with the route along the Pienaars River having a wonderfully tropical feel and the road still muddy and interrupted with deep puddles after recent heavy rain.
Having to negotiate the morning rush hour traffic of both Johannesburg and Pretoria meant I only started birding at 8.55am.
I began my adventure by mistakenly heading towards the railway station, but the detour did throw up Blackthroated Canary, Blackchested Prinia, Diederick Cuckoo, one of my favourite summer birds in the Woodland Kingfisher, and the first Steelblue Widowfinch I have seen in a long time. I also got Rattling Cisticola out of the way early on!
I had barely travelled two kilometres down the right road when my petrol light started showing about a hundred kilometres early, so it was back to Pienaarsrivier town for a refill and peace of mind.
On the third attempt I made it past the MCPA Dam and its hippo warnings and into the riverine bush. Highlights were House Martin, a Steppe Buzzard which insisted on returning to the telephone pole two ahead of the car before flying off again, the beautiful Melba Finch, Whitebrowed Sparrow-Weaver, good sighting of a Gabar Goshawk and Amur Falcon, Burchell’s and Wattled Starlings.
Apart from the excellent birding, the frustrated rally driver in me was having great fun taking on the mud and pools of water! But it seemed the fun would have to end when, perhaps a third of the way along the 26km route, I came to a gully where the road is closest to the Pienaars River.
A lengthy patch of mushy mud lay in front of a deep, wide pool of water and I decided I would not be able to generate enough speed through the mud to be sure of getting through the pond on the other side of it. So it was with a heavy heart that I turned back, before deciding to try and find a detour that would take me to the other side of the obstruction.
I headed back to the R101 and then turned off towards Syferkraal, from where I managed to find a road south to Walman and Tlovnane – the D1660 – that would hopefully join up again with the Zaagkuildrift-KgomoKgomo road.
As much as I was revelling in God’s beautiful creation, it was also a reminder of a great spiritual truth: Often we are so set on the path that we want to go, and we get most upset if that way is blocked, but God has something much better in store. So it proved as the road from Syferkraal back to the Pienaars River produced some exceptional birding, including a LIFER!
The detour had already paid dividends as, on my way back past the MCPA Dam, I had spotted just my second ever Bluecheeked Bee-Eater.
Just outside of Syferkraal, I had stopped on the side of the road as there was plenty of activity in the Acacia woodland – Longtailed Paradise Whydah was showing off beautifully and there was also Marico Flycatcher and Chestnutvented Tit Babbler. But I had caught a glimpse of something else Whydah-like …
My first ever Shaft-tailed Whydah! A male in all his finery, like our very own bird of paradise, perching on the telephone line and showing off his wonderful tail.
My happiness only increased when I managed to get back on to the Zaagkuildrift-KgomoKgomo road and just past Wolfhuiskraal Farm, I allowed my enthusiasm to get the better of me …
A shallow looking puddle lay across the road and I roared through it … unfortunately it was deeper than I expected and I was going a bit too fast, so as I exited the pond, the car cut out. I had managed to get water in the engine!
After 15 minutes of waiting, the car refusing to re-start, a gentleman in his bakkie arrived. I was practically out of the water and there was enough room on the right of me for him to get past, and I was hoping he could then use my tow-rope, give me a pull (not a tug) and I’d get started again.
Unfortunately he was not the adventurous sort and was afraid that he would get stuck in the mud! So he waited behind me with his lady friend …
Eventually, about half-an-hour later, two gents in a Landrover came along and, after some initial problems attaching the tow rope, I was back on the go again.
Unfortunately, it was shortlived because about two kilometres further down the road, there was another muddy stretch and deep puddle and I decided not to chance my arm because I’d already had enough excitement for one day!
So homewards I trekked, again via Syferkraal, and I managed to pick up a lovely group of Southern Pied Babbler (black & white can be so beautiful!), Kalahari Robin, Bluebilled & Redbilled Firefinch and, to end on a high note, a stunning Crimsonbreasted Shrike!
Even though my trip was disrupted, I had seen enough to know the Zaagkuildrift-KgomoKgomo road is a place of mystical wonder. Next time I think I’ll start on the Kgomo-Kgomo side ….
Cape Turtle Dove
Cinnamonbreasted Rock Bunting
Southern Greyheaded Sparrow
Longtailed Paradise Whydah
Chestnutvented Tit Babbler
Southern Yellowbilled Hornbill
Southern Pied Babbler