My Student days and birding

I'm just running across my stories of birding days gone by while typing up my life list.  It's such fun, bringing back a flood of memories.

One of the biggest things that I notice is just how much I got around.  Some of that was on my own, but there were also a number of trips taken by a bunch of us.  Some watched birds, all had fun.

Some of us had been to Dehoop Nature Reserve on weekend, where I had seen a few really nice birds and I was eager to go somewhere again.  A bunch of my friends were getting into fly fishing.  In 1996 our house was in the forest, north of Saasveld where we studied.  The houses we were in were now student accommodation, but had been a forestry station in the past.  Our house was on the northern end of the row, and we had the forest right by us...and made good use of that.  1996 was a magic year.  Near us we had a house of dope-heads.  They had an even more magic year, but I don't want to talk to much about them, or even those houses that we stayed at. 

There was a little dam just north of the houses and it was there for the forestry guys to get water if they were fighting fire.  But some of my friends also thought it was good for fly-fishing.

It was fun to practice there, but sometimes one just wants to get away and fish out in small streams, high in the mountains.  I wasn't into fishing, but if they were going somewhere, I was sure I would get some birds there.  And, more importantly, I would have fun.

We set off in two cars.  I don't remember when we got split up, but there were more serious fishermen in the one car (my room-mate's yellow Mazda 323, right?...what was it's name...or is that not blog appropriate?)  I was in the second, (Mark's red Beetle...mostly with the Forest Gump sound track playing.)

We hit Stellenbosch.  We studied at a place where there were foresters, conservationists, and agriculture students...there were girls, but there were very few.  Stellenbosch is the most attractive University town in South Africa.  It's in the heart of the wine country, with beautiful of Cape Dutch style buildings, shops, easy drive or train ride to Cape Town.  There were lots of girls.

We hit Stellenbosch around sunset on a Friday.  We were going to visit a while.  Later that night Mark went back to his car, and watched a rubbery right in front of him.  He wasn't feeling so good, and spent some time chatting to the police about what he had witnessed.  By the time the whole thing was done it was really late and we were not in much of a state to find a place to stay.

We found some sports fields, parked the car and slept up on the covered bleachers.  It seemed fine.  We woke up in the morning to a strange sound.  It was a street guy throwing up from drinking to much street brew the night before.  He didn't take much notice of us...I think he had shared his bleacher with students before.

We carried on.

The other vehicle had gone on to the tunnel at Du Toitskloof.  When they tried to pull over in one of the stopping bays in the tunnel, alarms went off and some police came and chased them out.  It was late.  They just drove past the tunnel and found a patch of grass and slept there.  When they woke in the morning a helicopter was trying to land.  They had slept on the helicopter pad of a fancy hotel right by the tunnel. (If my details are not exact, please let me know, those who where there.)

This was a few years before we had cellphones, and so we just drove blindly until we met up just outside the tunnel.  Did some birding/fishing in that area before driving on.  I added Cape Sisken to my life list...reading that just now was what made me want to write this post.

We were on our way to Rawsonville.  It is a really nice wine area as well, with grapes of the slightly drier area producing different wine than you get in Stellenbosch.  We had nowhere to stay (as you can see, that wasn't to much of a worry for us in those days.)  We had permits to go fishing in a forestry area.  It wasn't to clear, heading out of town on a gravel road, exactly where the farm ended and were the forestry area started.  We didn't have permission to stay on the forestry area, but at least we wouldn't have much trouble with farmers.

The vineyards had ended, and we pulled over in the bushes and set up a little camp.  The evening was fine, and we were having a good time.

To be honest, it didn't worry us to much who's land we were on, we thought nobody would worry about a bunch of students sleeping on in their bushes.  We were all nature conservation oriented, so we were careful about fires and litter.  We thought we were alright as well because we were students, and that was the way that your mind works when you are a student. 

No, no shooting.  Just an angry, really angry farmer and a bunch of cops.  It was sort of cool.  A couple cop cars and this farmer made it look like a scene from a TV series, but they were there to boot us off his land, and make sure we knew that what we had done was wrong, very wrong!

The farmer insisted that he wanted to press charges against us.  He was seriously angry.  A few of us went with the police while the others (insistently mostly the serious fishing guys) stayed behind to pack up camp.  When they finished packing, they still went up fishing in the mountains.

We were a little worried.  With the farmer around the Police had seemed really angry as well.  He insisted that he wanted us locked up.  The police sort of said they would lock us up.  When they got us in the police station they sat us down, gave us a talking to, fined us a few bucks and after making sure we understood that what we had done was bad, and that if we were ever on that guys farm again we would be risking jail, if not some buckshot.  Then they had a chuckle at our expense, and let us go.  We headed back to Saasveld, unaware that the other guys had gone on fishing again.  That night we went out to Spur and had a great chat about the weekend.  I was up two birds, Cape Siskin and Klaas's Cuckoo.  Klaas's was seen at our now famous camping spot on a farm by the road's edge, somewhere outside Rawsonville on the 13th of October, 1996!

I saw Olive Woodpecker in the pine by our houses a couple days later, thanks to a friend who showed me how to call them by tapping on a tree.  By the 29th of that month I had seen 170 birds for my first year of birding.  I have since then topped 200 within four days, but now I have much better knowledge of where to find birds, I know my book and know most of the birds, and I have a top class pair of bins (Swarovski SLC 10X42 Habicht...which, ironically, I bought September 11th 2001, learning of the 9/11 incident on our way into town.)

170 new birds may not have been to much, but there is very little chance that I will ever have a year again in my life where I get 170 lifers.  Perhaps a well prepared, well funded tour of a South American country?
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Meiring Borcherds said...

Lekker sorry Vern, I should start posting some stories too, but man your stories take the cake...

Brian said...

Damn we were spoilt with our lifestyle! Ha ha. I remember...the cops coming to evict us off the farmer alongside the Elandspad river...that was fun. That was the trip when they wouldn't cut us a deal at the DuToits Kloof hotel on a rainy night, so we camped on the lawn. Remeber Richard? 'Psycho' (Dear reader, this chap was NOT the stereotypical psycho). I shared a tent with him and he revealed his gradmas old .32 revolver, saying "no one will trouble us tonight", so we ate choclate and dreamed of trout...ha ha ha ha ha wonderful!
Thanks for resurecting the memories. Yes I had a yellow Mazda 323 that stank like pineapple beer - courtesy of the 'dope heads' home-brew!
We should have an 'Africa Club' reunion...