For my birthday this year I spoilt myself and spent 2 days at Villa Felicita (Italian for Absolute Bliss), a private farm with guest house, not quite 10kms outside Stanford towards Salmonsdam Nature Reserve.
This 100 hectare farm, complete with milkwood forest, perennial stream and krantz, has over the past six years been restored to pristine alien free fynbos by owner Wayne Gordon. I stayed there on 24 and 25 September 2014, just after having learnt of the tragic passing of Brummer Olivier, who died in a helicopter accident in the Underberg while carrying out alien vegetation surveys. There was some comfort in the thought that this endemic bird rich environment with alien free vegetation pays tribute to what this greatly respected and admired man stood for.
As always I was there for the birds! The weather was not particularly kind with some late winter rain about, but that did not dampen the spring spirit of the birds. Over the 2 days I identified 103 species with a remarkable count of 21 endemics and 7 near endemics. One of the highlights was a Black Harrier that almost flew into the front veranda. It was early morning and I had been taking landscape photos of the Kleinrivier Mountain views when I noticed the harrier quartering towards me. I was able to grab the camera with the longer lens and record the raptor eyeing me disdainfully as it flew past.
If you want fynbos specials, this is a place to visit – and it is all right on your doorstep – and when in the guest house, literally as it is surrounded by fynbos, including proteas and pincushions which were flowering. The one morning I was sitting amongst the pincushions by the side of the house photographing Cape Sugarbirds, Orange-breasted Sunbirds and Malachite Sunbirds when 2 yards away, a Grey Duiker appeared. I do not know which of us got the bigger fright as the buck darted away.
The fynbos is deceptively high and when you are sitting down in it, you are well below the skyline. The strategy of waiting patiently in the fynbos was invariably rewarded with close approach by the birds and brilliant opportunity to photograph or just enjoy their beauty.
My walks from the guest-house were all successful and two specials were Malachite Sunbirds feeding their young and a Cape Grassbird with captured caterpillar.
The only time you need to get in your car is if you want to visit the milkwood forest, dam and krantz which are situated as you drive into the property about 2 kms from the guest house. The dam and forest are set beautifully below the krantz, which is a ridge rising about 150 metres. It is very similar to the Wit Krantz site at Flower Valley as the neighbouring farm has a stand of poplar trees. You will find all the normal forest species and I located Cape Batis, Bar-throated Apalis, Southern Boubou, Southern Tchagra, Sombre Greenbul, African Paradise and Dusky Flycatchers and Cardinal Woodpecker.
Up on the krantz there was Cape Siskin and Cape Bunting with Black Sparrowhawk flying overhead. Fish Eagles also called and circled above whilst a pair of Denham’s Bustard were seen in flight. There is a raptor’s nest in the forest that had fresh branches and leaves recently added, but nothing showed in the 90 minutes I spent exploring the site. If you had time to linger there I am sure you would find Knysna and Olive Woodpeckers and Victorin’s Warbler as some of the habitat is ideal for them. No kingfishers were seen but it does look a likely spot for Giant and Pied Kingfishers too.
The accommodation is very comfortable with an appealing front veranda with superb views over the farm towards the Kleinrivier Mountains. The property is completely self-sustainable and off –grid, with solar power for electricity (all batteries could be charged and laptop run – even a TV with DSTV), gas for heating and cooking and water drawn from the local stream. When I was not walking, I was on the veranda enjoying the serenity and beauty of the place.
What is remarkable and noticeable as one walks through the fynbos is how successful the alien bush clearing has been. I did not find any Port Jackson regrowth – even when specifically looking for it. It was only when I reached the boundary fences did I see the tell-tale yellow flowering trees we have become so accustomed to in the Overberg in the neighbouring properties. Apparently Cape Nature follow-up clearing teams were on the farm whilst I was there however I did not come across them, but my compliments to them and the owners for the success they have achieved.
Owners Wayne and Chantelle are very hospitable and welcoming and although there if needed, will give you the space to immerse yourself in the solitude.