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Birding conundrum at Bitou River Lodge

January 29th, 2016

‘How can you tell for sure what kind of a bird is what?’ my nine-year-old self asked my taciturn Scottish uncle, a well-known ornithologist & author. ‘You kill it’, he said with a fierce look at me.

Which was pretty much the end of my interest in birding – and in ornithologists.

I thought of my Uncle Leslie when I received the photo from Plettenberg Bay birder Bruce Ward-Smith, proof finally that we’d identified the birds correctly. I wished that I hadn’t wanted a photo so badly when we first saw them.

It was while I was walking the dogs at Bitou River Lodge eighteen months ago that I first saw them. It was almost dark & they came out of the sky over my head, clearly alarmed, shreeee-ing at us to go away. Three owls. Barn Owls, I thought. Our first Barn Owls!

Off I went to share the exciting news with our guests.  But no.

We had the Radue family staying with us at the time and 13-year-old Joel told me at breakfast – to my consternation – that he’d seen the owls & that they weren’t Barn Owls. My jaw dropped. No? No. Better than that. They were African Grass Owls. Much rarer. But only slightly different.

So how could Joel be so sure? He couldn’t see that the upper parts were darker brown than a Barn Owl’s would be, because it was too dark. The difference in size between the two owls is a mere two centimetres. Their call was similar to a Barn Owl’s. So how? He could tell because the African Grass Owl flies with its legs dangling below its body, unlike the Barn Owl.

Impressive, Joel. And he was right, of course.

African Grass Owl by William Radue

African Grass Owl by William Radue

Ray Goodwin came out to have a look & confirmed the sighting. Mike Graham tried to get a photo, but the light was never going to be good enough. William Radue took the only photo we had of the owls. Until Bruce Ward-Smith phoned to say that he’d found an African Grass Owl on the road outside our farm. It was dead, hit by a car. He’d taken photos. Did I know anything about African Grass Owls in the area?  It was a horrible moment.

That was our African Grass Owl, almost a member of the family. We’d protected their nesting area. We’d stood silently in the dusk, waiting (mostly unsuccessfully) for a glimpse of them. We’d learned to identify them by their chirping call when they weren’t alarmed, by their  ‘skreeee!’ when they were. We’d hoped they would stay, hatch out more owlets, enjoy living next to the Bitou River as much as we do.

But they’ve gone.

Bruce’s photo finally allows us to admire in detail the beautiful feathers, the vibrant colours, the life that once was of this magnificent and rare bird. How fortunate we were to have had them here for a few months and – who knows? –  perhaps they’ll return.  Maybe in 2016 we’ll see African Grass Owls at Bitou River Lodge once again. Here’s hoping.

African Grass Owl by Bruce Ward Smith

African Grass Owl by Bruce Ward Smith

More on Birding in Plettenberg Bay

Biking the Plett Winelands

October 21st, 2015

Last weekend Plettenberg Bay was alive with the sounds of clinking glasses at the Plett Wine & Bubbly Festival, a new celebration of the emerging Plett Winelands and their fantastic wine and bubbly. In addition to the festival, the popular Tour de Plett MTB race was held- you know the one, that challenge mountain-bike race in the Bitou Valley with spectacular views, stunning forest single-track, three floating bridges and a finish on Central Beach?

Tour-de-Plett

Oh dear, you missed it?

So then you probably missed the Plett Wine & Bubbly Festival too? Great music, great food, free tastings of the local wines & bubblies? Also at Central Beach? Sorry for you – but all is not lost!

Plett-Winelands

Luka-Wines

There’s a consolation prize.  Here’s the thing : those wines & bubblies are still in Plett! Yup. As they’re made here, there’s an endless supply. And there are lots of mountain bike trails to choose from, with spectacular views & stunning forest single-track (sadly, no floating bridges). The best part is that it’s possible to combine biking with the Plett Winelands, pedalling with tasting, friends with family….

How, you ask?

Option 1 would be to join Cycles In The Forest  , who organise an MTB ride for you at The Crags, taking you off-road & through forests & farmland, stopping off for wine-tastings on the way.

Option 2 is more Do-it-yourself, also in The Crags, where many of the Plett wine estates are located. Firstly, you’d leave your car at Bramon Wines where you’d immediately book your table for lunch. You’d then hop on your bikes, cross the N2 & cycle up the Redford Road to Newstead Wines for your first wine-tasting. Fortified, you’d head for the hills up Redford Road, passing farms, polo fields & dams until the last road on the left (5 km) where you’d follow the signs to RE Vineyards, which has a beautiful tasting room set in vineyards, with polo ponies leaning over fences & charming Lloyd to tell you about their award-winning ‘Sav’ & their ‘Champu’ MCC.

RE-Wines

As you cycle away from rare earth, Redford Lane Wines  is on your left, a small very specialised vineyard. Leanne Lane as owner, chef & manager, is passionate about the wines she makes : one hectare of their Sauvignon & two new hectares for Nebbilio & Barbera grapes. With the interesting wines, the dam, the horses, the biltong paté & the tame Hadeda Ibis, this is a wonderful family stop.

Redford-Lane

From here it’s mainly downhill all the way back to Bramon Wine Estate  to taste their award-winning wines & the famous Blanc de Blanc, followed by a delicious homemade-bread-&-tapas lunch in the vineyards. Aaahh, life is good!

But wait, there’s more!

Until 16th December 2015, Bitou River Lodge will be offering a 3:4:2 Special on our four-star accommodation next to the Bitou River and give you a bottle of Redford Lane Sauvignon Blanc to celebrate your arrival!

Aaahh, life is not just good – it’s wonderful!

Biking-Plett-Winelands

Sue

To Book your Wine & Wheels Special Offer: email Sue on info@bitou.co.za  quote Wine & Wheels 342 when booking.  Let us help you to cycle the Plett Winelands in beautiful Plettenberg Bay!

Dr Evil Classic Muddy 2015

September 24th, 2015

The End!  #muddy #tired #worth it  And just like that the Dr Evil Classic is over for another year.

Dr Evil 2015

Dr Evil 2015 – Muddy

The ‘Dr Evil Muddy’, is how most people will remember it. Bikes slipping & sliding downhill and slipping & sliding uphill. Chains jamming. Gears seizing up. Brakes failing.  What didn’t fail, however, was the sense of humour of the cyclists, who (mostly) grinned through it all.

The hosts, too, were unfailingly cheerful about the invasion of their school. On the first day, the start chute was lined with Wittedrift High school-kids cheering the cyclists on. When ‘Greg’ had to go home to fetch his shoes, everyone waited for him & gave him a hero’s clap to send him on his way. Prefects handed out medals. The netball courts were used as a cleaning zone. Bikes were stored in the school hall for safety. Everyone was welcoming.

There were a few hiccups of course. Two cyclists couldn’t find Cairnbrogie (“But they said it was in Harkerville!”) & missed out on that day’s ride. The mud made Day Two, shorter & more scenic this year, but still difficult, a day of falls & injuries. And ironically, with the rivers flowing full & the fields sodden, Wittedrift High ran out of that very commoditiy – water – on the last day, & had to send all the bikes home covered with mud. Minor details these – the race was, once again, a total success.

And, in the end, the mud became a badge of pride. It told a story: three days of challenges, accepted & survived. Three days of concentrating only on the partnership of body & bike. Three days of forgetting about work worries. Three days of exploring some of the secret trails around Plett. A muddy bike meant you’d done it.

Hopefully they’ll come back & do it all again next year for the Dr Evil Classic 2016.

Just without the mud.

Dr Evil Classic Countdown

September 15th, 2015

Dr Evil Classic‘The Dr Evil?’ said our cyclist guests from Cape Town in April, ‘Nah. It’s too far to come for a three-day race.’

‘The Dr Evil?’ said our cyclist guests from Upington in April, ‘Bring it on!’

And there you have it. The Dr Evil Classic is about attitude, pure & simple.

Face it, Upington isn’t an ideal place to train for the Dr Evil. Hills are hard to find. Mud is scarce. The Dr Evil is all about hills, every year – & this year, mud will be that extra ingredient to add to the challenge.

We’ve had so much rain that our valley, where the race is held, is totally waterlogged. The Bitou River is wide & brown. The water lilies are drowned. Our neighbour’s field has become a pond for Yellow-billed Ducks, Spoonbills, African Black Ducks & even Cape Teals. Flocks of Sacred Ibises keep our ponies company. The sun pops out happily after each bout of rain, but doesn’t do much to dry up the wet. And with so few days to go until the start of the Dr Evil, we’re running out of sunny days. The wet is here to stay.

But the guys who cycle the Dr Evil will take it in their stride, mud & all.
On Wednesday they’ll arrive, assemble their super-bikes, register, eat ; & go to bed nice & early. We’ll wave them off the next morning, clean; & get them back a few hours later, filthy, tired, cursing Dr Evil (he’s used to it), but ready to do it all again the next day. And do it well.

They’re here for the challenge, for the adventure, for the satisfaction of working successfully as a team. They’re here for the cameraderie. They’re here to do better than they did last year.
They’re here because it’s fun.

It’s all about attitude. The Dr Evil Classic… Life…