July 17, 2015: Wakkerstroom, South Africa — At sunrise this morning, on the open grasslands above Wakkerstroom, the thermometer read exactly zero degrees Celsius, and the wind was blasting at a steady, freezing 30 km/hour. Brrr! What happened to endless summer?
It really is winter in South Africa. All around Wakkerstroom, the restaurants and shops have “Christmas in July” signs out. Last evening I ordered dinner from a special Christmas menu and ate it under a giant hanging decorated sled, with Santa smiling on the wall behind me. I’m writing this now in front of the cozy fireplace in my room, with the electric blanket on my bed warming up and a glass of sherry nearby. It’s nice, after spending so long in hot and humid climates, to be a little cold. So, Merry Christmas!
Wakkerstroom is a small town in the highlands of northeast South Africa surrounded by open fields, grasslands, and wetlands. It’s a very popular birding destination, and for good reason—this place is rich in endemics. Today our Rockjumper group found some good stuff: A dozen Blue Bustards, a pair of Blue Cranes, a super-endemic Rudd’s Lark, some Ground Woodpeckers, a Southern Bald Ibis, and a wide variety of common species. I also saw my first meerkats—scurrying around and posting sentries just like on that reality TV show, Meerkat Manor.
The people here are used to birders. Each evening, our group goes through the daily checklist to tally our sightings (a venerated tradition on these types of tours), and we usually do it before dinner. When the waitress took our orders here, she asked, “Are you going to count now?” It took a minute before we realized that she was asking when we were planning to do the bird checklist, so she could plan our meal accordingly! That was certainly a first for me this year.
New birds today: 14
Year list: 3611