Number of bird species and highlights: 103 species (plus 1 heard only) - several raptor species including Black Harrier, African Fish-eagle and Jackal Buzzard, Cloud, Grey-backed and Levaillant's Cisticola, more than 100 Blue Cranes, Southern Black Korhaan, African Black-Oystercatcher, Spotted Eagle-owl, Acacia Pied Barbet, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, African Hoopoe, Cardinal Woodpecker amongst others.
Mammals and reptiles: Bontebok, Eland, Cape Cobra, Boomslang, Molesnake and Angulate Tortoise.
Birding in the sunshine at the West Coast National Park
We left Mark and Laura's Camps Bay accommodation at 06h30 on Wednesday, 10 December for a birding day trip up the West Coast. Our first stop was a brief one along the Green Point beachfront, where the tide was fairly high with a few birds on the rocks. Most notable were a few Ruddy Turnstones. At Milnerton lagoon it was also fairly quiet, with a pair of Pied Kingfishers good to see.
Heading up the West Coast road, we soon picked up our first of regular sightings of Steppe Buzzard, with Yellow-billed Kite following soon afterwards. An African Fish-eagle at a roadside pan and a hunting Black Harrier were spotted along the road. At the Darling intersection we first headed down towards the sea, and soon added Common Fiscal, a Bokmakierie singing on a roadside fence-post, a group of Grey-winged Francolin, Karoo Scrub-Robin and Grey-backed Cisticola at the bottom car-park and the expected Spotted Thick-knees on the way back where a Cape Grassbird also showed well.
After the coastal detour we headed inland to the grasslands near Darling, on the way we added Pied Starling, a young Jackal Buzzard,Capped Wheatear and Red-capped Larks in the fields, with Pearl-breasted Swallows near the Duckitt's farm turn-off. The European Bee-eaters were about and still seemed to be feeding chicks at nest-holes in the clay embankment. Returning up the road we spotted our first pair of Blue Cranes with a small chick near the dam, then a second pair in the wheat stubble below the road and a further flock of 46 birds on a nearby rise. At the dam we added Three-banded Plover and Spur-winged Goose. These two diversions had proved very worthwhile although the hoped-for Southern Black Korhaan was not about.
At the Yzerfontein intersection we turned east towards the Tienie Versveld Wildflower Reserve. Here, the southeaster was starting to make itself felt, but despite the wind, the first birds spotted were a pair of Cloud Cisticola, also still bringing in fairly large insect prey to a suspected nest-site. The veld was already very dry, but other birds seen were African Pipit, Cape Longclaw and a very brief view of a calling Large-billed Lark. The top dam held no waterbirds at all. Returning to the car, we noticed a large flock of Blue Cranes on the opposite hill near the wind turbines and counted 73 birds.
We again crossed the national road and headed towards the salt pans just outside Yzerfontein, but the water here had almost dried up and there were very few birds about. A Rock Kestrel was hovering looking for breakfast, and White-fronted Plover was added to the list, sadly not Chestnut-banded.
We entered the West Coast National Park and headed for the Abrahamskraal waterhole. The White-throated Swallows were busily feeding three growing chicks at their nest in the hide, Yellow Canaries were coming in to drink, but apart from the expected Cape Shoveler, Yellow-billed Duck (no Cape Teal), Little Grebe,Red-knobbed Coot and a solitary African Spoonbill there were few waterbirds visible, partly due to the increasing wind and the ever more encroaching reeds. Levaillant's Cisticola and Yellow Bishop were seen and Lesser Swamp Warbler was heard calling in the reeds. We had a good view of a male Namaqua Dove on the road after leaving the hide.
Yellow Canary (male)
We headed up the western side of the lagoon with several good sightings of hunting Black Harriers on route. At the intersection, where an adult Spotted Eagle-owl had been seen on a recent trip, we scanned the dunes next to the road and found two well-grown young owls sheltering under a bush near the top of the dunes. Here we also added our first Cape Spurfowl. At the coast the sea was fairly rough with the strong wind. African Black Oystercatchers were on the rocks together with Crowned Cormorants and a few Ruddy Turnstones were present. Numbers of Kelp Gulls were braving the incoming waves to cash in on the exposed mussel banks. Offshore there were a few Cape Gannets a long way out, Cape Cormorants nearer the shoreline and several large petrels (probably Southern Giant Petrels) could be glimpsed every so often in the channel between Jutten Island (with its large population of Cape Fur Seals) and the mainland.
Black Harriers were again seen on our way back down the lagoon. We also spotted two adult and two young Bontebok. In the avenue of eucalyptus trees heading into Geelbek we encountered a male Cardinal Woodpecker, a Spotted Flycatcher and a number of Southern Double-collared Sunbirds feeding in the shrubs. A walk around the Geelbek grounds gave a brief view of an African Hoopoe after which we headed off towards the back pans. Here the southeaster was exceptionally strong and there were very few waders about.
Cardinal Woodpecker (male)
Heading north we ascended Seeberg Hill where Laura's excellent spotting ability picked up a male Southern Black Korhaan a short distance from the track. It was feeding in the long grass but gave quite good views before disappearing from sight behind the dense shrubbery. The wind was gale force on the hill, making the viewing of the interpretive displays inside the building a mandatory stop. A White-throated Canary was seen as we headed back down the hill and continued to the Seeberg hide. Acacia Pied Barbet was a good find along the track. The tide was coming in, but the pans behind the hide were surprisingly totally dry. Nevertheless there were White-fronted and Kittlitz's Plovers about together with a few Common Ringed Plovers, Little Stint and Curlew Sandpipers. In front of the hide there was little activity, with some Common Tern, a few Little Tern and a small group of Greater Flamingo braving the elements. The pair of White-throated Swallows nesting in the Seeberg hide had small chicks which were still being brooded. Returning up the track we had our first White-backed Mousebirds.
White-throated Swallow and young chicks
A short return visit to Geelbek gave good views of two African Hoopoes and a female Cardinal Woodpecker before we headed out of the park. A group of Eland near the Duinepos chalets and a very impressive bull eland crossing the road ahead of us were a good addition to the mammal list. We also encountered several snakes during the day, a Cape Cobra on the way to Tsaarsbank as well as a Boomslang and a Molesnake on the road. Angulate Tortoises were not as common as on some occasions, and one large specimen had unfortunately been recently crushed by a vehicle.
Our last new species for the day was a Caspian Tern flying over Rietvlei before we returned to Camps Bay at about 19h15. It had been a good day despite the very strong wind with a bird species list of 103 species (plus one heard only and one seen by the guide only).
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.
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.
Only a low level of fitness is required.
Throughout the year.
Moderate; can be warm in summer and chilly in winter.
A good standard of accommodation in guest houses, lodges and small hotels.
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.