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Gubu Dam -an Eastern Cape Treasure
Gubu Dam in Spring
Gubu Dam –an Eastern Cape Treasure.
It is spring in South Africa and the grass here next to Gubu Dam is turning green. Wildflowers are starting to bloom and while the nights are still cool the days are warming up. Gubu Dam, a 125 ha of clear mountain water nestled in the Amatola Mountains of the Eastern Cape about 100 km from East London, is really a special place. Sometimes sparkling like a diamond and on other occasions brooding in the mist, it gladly shares its moods with its human visitors, wild life and birds. Stocked mainly with Rainbow trout, it is one of the country’s premier fishing venues. The trout are wild as they have grown up fending for themselves in the cool waters of the dam. They are caught only with skill and luck and always present a great fight as their lean bodies either plunge deep into the water, or jump into the air breaking the surface with a splash.
Yesterday evening and again this morning I tested my skill against the fish but they won the battle. Perhaps it was the falling barometer or lack of skill, who knows? But it is not really for the fishing that I come here. Yes, I hate leaving without a trout or two in my cooler box to braai later over the coals at home – I am un-ashamedly not a catch and release fisherman- I fish for the pot. So if I catch my couple of fish I pack my fishing rod away and enjoy the peace and tranquility.
Sitting outside the clubhouse after my fruitless effort at securing lunch/supper, I will have to resort to mutton chops and boerewors from Pick and Pay Supermarket in Stutterheim this evening,- my normal backup.
Now in the early morning the dam is at its best and so I will simply enjoy it. A Jackal Buzzard does a fly past with its beautiful colors glinting in the early sun and it’s Jackal-like call fills the air. A group of seven Egyptian Geese play follow-the-leader across the water, occasionally picking something from the surface. They are not bottom feeders like the pair of Little Grebe (Dabchick) that dive deep into the water to find their food in the weed beds. These little fellows can stay under the water for an amazing length of time, as they bob up and down in search of a tasty morsel. I watch a Red-winged Starling feeding it’s chick under the eve of the club house, with ticks it picks off the nearby cattle.
In the distance I hear at least eight different birds calling and perhaps I will be able to see them all during the day. The haunting cry of the African Fish Eagle reaches my ears. This is to me the sound that exemplifies Africa. There is a pair that breeds in this area and on my last visit I watched the young Fish Eagle making its first effort at catching a meal, but with no success. I wonder where he has gone to find his own area. The call of the brilliant yellow Black-headed Oriole is answered by a Hadeda Ibis that flies over on its way to its feeding place for the day. Across the dam I hear the Red-necked Francolin calling its mate and the Red-chested Cuckoo starts its refrain, ‘Piet-my–vrou’, that gives it its Afrikaans name. The Afrikaans names are often more descriptive than their English counterparts and are often onomatopoeic. So the ‘Mahen’ or Grey-crested Crane is named after its call in Afrikaans. At least this English name is very descriptive, so perhaps I am being a bit unfair. These beautiful Cranes are often seen feeding along the banks of the dam in the summer months, and a sighting is always one of the highlights of a visit to Gubu for a birder. One of my favorite calls is that of the Cape Turtle Dove that I hear in the distance, while its cousin, a Red-eyed Dove announces that it is also around.
On a telephone wire next to the dam a Goliath Kingfisher views the water with interest. It is possible to see several different types of Kingfishers in a day at Gubu. In addition to the Giant, the black and white Pied Kingfisher is very common and the colorful Malachite is often seen flying low over the water, or sitting perched on a reed looking for prey. Perhaps later today I will drive around the dam and add some more birds to my growing list that is already standing at 23.
Suddenly the peaceful scene changes to bedlam. A group of Egyptian Geese arrive from different places, honking, splashing and hissing as they seem to attack each other. What they are doing is mating - it is spring after all. I rush to get my camera as I would like to record this chaos. The pretty colors of beating wings, splashing water and frenzied movement will make a great video, even from this distance.
Last night as I sat outside watching the fire in preparation for the braai-ing of my pork chops, a frog chorus kept me entertained. There are 31 different species of frog in the Eastern Cape and at least one or two of them make up an important part of the diet of the trout. The Amathole Toad is critically endangered as is Hewitt’s Ghost Frog. The Giant Bullfrog is more likely to eat a trout than to be eaten by one because of his size. Some frogs also compete for the same food, as on occasions I have seen them feeding on the surface among the trout, on hatches of dragon fly. Some of the names are quite hilarious like the Snoring Puddle Frog, the Dwarf Dainty Frog and the Bush Squeaker.
As far as wild life is concerned, the fresh droppings of a small buck outside the door of the clubhouse this morning is evidence that possibly a Blue Duiker entered the area during the night to feed on some of the soft grass that grows here. On the rocks next to the slipway is evidence of a Water-monitor and one often sees the local Otter Family swimming past in search of food. I have also on occasions watched the large Bush Buck coming down from the surrounding forest to drink at the dam.
All in all this gem in the mountains is a place to rest and enjoy the tranquility that comes from leaving the hustle and bustle of the city and simply contemplating on the unspoilt quiet of God’s creation. It is a place to be that is good for my soul!