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Western Cape Trip Report: Tanqua Karoo birding tour, 22 & 23 September 2012

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Itinerary: We visited key sites in the Western Cape including Mitchell's Pass, Karoopoort, Eierkop, Skitterykloof, Swartruggens mountains and the Tanqua Karoo.

Total number of species seen: 111 species

Highlight species: Cape Rock-Thrush, Namaqua Warbler, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Layard's Titbabbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Karoo Lark, Dusky Sunbird, Karoo Chat, Tractrac Chat, Sickle-winged Chat, Rufous-eared Warbler, Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Black-eared Sparrowlark, Black-headed Canary, White-throated Canary, Yellow Canary, Ludwig's Bustard, Karoo Korhaan, Spike-heeled Lark, Black Harrier and Secretarybird.

Detailed Trip Report

Day 1: Saturday 22 September 2012

I collected Birding Africa clients Ross and Sandy at their Guest House in Pinelands at 07h00 on a cool morning. It was a lovely day with open blue skies by the time we reached our first stop at Mitchell's Pass close to Ceres. This stop was prompted by a very obliging female Cape Rock-Thrush next to the road, but we were soon entertained by several Swee Waxbills feeding on grass seeds near the car, as well as Rock Martins and Greater Striped Swallows foraging overhead. There was excitement when no less than three Booted Eagles, two pale form and one dark form bird, soared past.

We pushed on to the farmhouse near Karoopoort where an Olive Thrush was the first bird seen. This was soon followed by Cape Sparrow, Cape Weaver and Pied Starling. The star bird here was a pair of very vocal Namaqua Warblers that for once provided clear and prolonged views. A cheeky Familiar Chat followed us around and Malachite Sunbirds were feeding on aloes along the road. Skulking Karoo Scrub-Robins were frustratingly difficult to see but fortunately many were found during the remainder of the trip.

The next stop a short distance further on was the picnic site on the edge of the semi-desert plains of the Tanqua Karoo. Here we were treated to several endemic and near-endemic birds such as Mountain Wheatear, Layard's Tit-Babbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, White-throated Canary, White-backed Mousebird, Grey-backed Cisticola and a pair of South African Shelduck flying past. A surprise find was a very confiding but busybody Cinnamon-breasted Warbler that provided excellent views as it clambered and crept amongst the rocks.

On the way to Eierkop a Grey Rhebok dashed across the road and we also stopped to appreciate a pair of Sickle-winged Chats flitting from bush to bush. The distinctive Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk prominently perched on telephone poles along the road. Eierkop is a distinctive tillite hill and the many flowering succulents on its slope attracted Dusky, Malachite and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds. Karoo Chats, Grey Tits, Rufous-eared Warblers, Large-billed Lark and a calling Karoo Lark were found on the adjacent plains.

Late in the afternoon we headed for Skitterykloof on the way to our overnight stop in the Swartruggens mountains. We found a foraging group of Grey-backed Sparrowlarks next to the road and a small puddle had both male and female Black-headed Canary quenching their thirst. At Skitterykloof, Cape Bunting was particularly common and we also found White-necked Raven and Rock Kestrel. The small wetland produced Common Waxbill, Southern Red Bishop and Levaillant's Cisticola, and Cape Spurfowl was common in the mountain scrub.

Day 2: Sunday 23 September 2012

As we set off on our way back to Skitterykloof and the Tanqua National Park, we heard and saw a few Cape Clapper Larks in the fynbos plains on the Swartruggens plateau. Early morning birding at Skitterykloof was very productive and we managed to find a Spotted Eagle-Owl being mobbed by Black-headed Canaries, a lone adult Black Harrier quartering the valley and a very vocal African Reed- Warbler in the reedbeds. The colourful Bokmakierie called from its perch on a Clanwilliam aloe (Aloe comosa).

Then it was on to the legendary Tanqua road but not before stopping at an acacia-lined river to find an obliging Pririt Batis. After a short distance we found a pair of nest-building Black-eared Sparrowlarks with the male that often hovered right above our heads! Yellow Canary, Tractrac Chat, Lark-like Bunting and numerous Red-capped Larks were found in the vicinity. A stop at the Oudebaaskraal Dam produced waterbirds such as African Fish-Eagle, Greater Flamingo, large numbers of Black-necked Grebes, Kittlitz's Plover, Three-banded Plover, Little Stint and Common Greenshank. The open areas next to the dam had a few Capped Wheatears and numerous European Bee-eaters hawked insects overhead. On the way to the Park Office we found a large Puff Adder crossing the road and kept our distance as it disappeared into the roadside scrub. The Paulshoek area, which I fondly call "korhaan corner", did not disappoint and we found a group of five Ludwig's Bustards and two Karoo Korhaans. Shortly thereafter a pair of Spike-heeled Larks made an appearance. On the way back after a very satisfying trip we found a Secretarybird right next to the road.

A Birding Africa Trip Report by Tour Leader Tertius Gous.

For a full list of species from this trip, please contact us.

Many of the birding sites on this trip are described in detail in the Southern African Birdfinder which is widely available in South African bookshops and on the internet. (e.g., or However you're always welcome to contact us if you're interested in a guided trip in this area.

Practical tour information: Cape Day Trips and Western Cape Tours

Please click this link for more detailed information about our upcoming Cape Tours.
Focus Our Cape tours and day trips are aimed at keen birders and nature enthusiasts. They have been designed to see as many endemic birds as possible. While on the walks, we spend a lot of time looking for other aspects of wildlife such as mammals, chameleons, geckos, butterflies and interesting plants. We can also customise any itinerary to suit to the keen birder, the wildlife enthusiast or both.
Photography Many participants on our tours and day trips are amateur wildlife photographers. And when we get excellent views of a bird or mammal, some time is usually spent watching and photographing it. However, this is not a photographic tour and once the majority of the people have felt that they have absorbed the animal or bird to their satisfaction, then we move on in search of the next encounter. Thus, while the photographic opportunities are very good, the group will only occasionally wait for somebody who wants to spend even longer getting better photos.
Fitness Only a low level of fitness is required.
Timing Throughout the year.
Climate Moderate; can be warm in summer and chilly in winter.
Comfort A good standard of accommodation in guest houses, lodges and small hotels.
Transport We travel by minibus or four wheel drive vehicle.
Group Size This depends on the specific tour. Please enquire.
Top birds Fynbos endemics, Karoo endemics and raptors in a spectacular setting
Top mammals whales, dolphins, Cape Grysbok, Chacma Baboon, Caracal, Grey Mongoose
Booking Please contact us if you wish to book. You will receive the booking form and conditions and a tour information pack.

About Birding Africa

Birding Africa is a specialist birding tour company customising tours for both world listers and more relaxed holiday birders.  We combine interests in mammals, butterflies, dragonflies, botany and other natural history aspects and will guide you to Africa's and Madagascar's most diverse birding destinations. Our guides' knowledge of African birds and birding areas is our greatest strength and together we have rediscovered species, shared exciting observations with the birding community and had a fun time exploring our home continent.  We've even written two acclaimed guide books on where to find Southern Africa's and Madagascar's best birds. Birding is more than our passion, it's our lifestyle, and we are dedicated to making professional, best value trips filled with endemic species and unique wildlife experiences. Since 1997, we've run bird watching tours in South Africa and further into Africa for individual birders, small birding groups and top international tour companies. We've run Conservation Tours in association with the African Bird Club and work with and consult for a number of other top international tour companies and the BBC Natural History Unit.

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Black Harrier photograph courtesy of Keith Offord.
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