Saturday, June 15, 2024

Eye on Life

Broad interest online magazine

Birding

A sunset sortie

One of the things I missed most during lockdown was going out in the evening to the other end of the Peninsula – Cape Town, most notably the Waterfront – and the drive along Chapman’s Peak and Victoria Road all the way through to Green Point. I think that is the strip of South African coastline that I am most drawn to – the towering peaks on the right and the endless ocean on the left, and the late afternoon and evening is when the light brings out the intense beauty of the Cape. I have a friend who regularly runs up and down various trails on the Twelve Apostles and posts photographs that allow us mere mortals to revel in the splendour of a sunset, or gasp at the magnificence of a giant protea in full bloom from the comfort of our armchairs. This vicarious living doesn’t compare to the real thing, but we have to accept that some things are just never going to happen. And so a chance to head off to Mouille Point yesterday to try and identify the large flock of Sabine’s gulls that come closer to the shore in that particular area during galeforce southeasters was taken up with alacrity.

One of the many peculiarities of Cape Town’s weather is the variation in the wind speed almost within a few metres of distance. At home, the true southeaster seldom blows through my garden, but a slight shift in the angle can turn the house inside out. 100m up the road, the trees are almost horizontal. So it was in Mouille Point, with the wind howling through town, but positively balmy as we stood at the railings of the promenade gazing across the roadstead with Robben Island in the distance. The swells were hitting the wall below us but the tide was low and the spray didn’t quite reach us, although we leaned forward to tempt it. The sunset cruisers were out in force, enjoying a smooth glide before turning into the wind off Sea Point.

Behind us, the promenade was busy with locals taking a sunset stroll, or having a little exercise before heading across the road to one of the many superb eateries that the area offers. Giant container ships rode at anchor where the wind still whipped up white horses; in the background, the sun glinted off the windows of the apartment blocks that line the beaches of the West Coast. At the dividing line between the choppy and smooth waters, a huge flock of perhaps 2000 Sabine’s gulls – too far away for good viewing – bobbed and took flight, landing again to bob some more. They are pelagic gulls, living at sea and roosting on the water, and it is usually necessary keen birders to take a boat on a pelagic trip to get a sighting of these beautiful gulls with their striking markings. We struck it lucky when a lone individual came close to shore to see if it could cadge a morsel from a seal. While it was still too far for my eyes to make out any details, I just randomly pressed the camera shutter repeatedly where the seal was, and amazingly enough captured it with a fish halfway down its gullet and the Sabine’s gull hovering overhead! Although hardly a National Geographic prizewinner, I was delighted with my achievement through plain good fortune.

We lingered until sunset at the foot of Signal Hill, basking in the golden light as the far hills faded to indigo. Cape Town at its best.

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