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Trip Report: Western South Africa, 28 July - 13 August 2005

This late winter birding trip was designed for a family of five, including two 9-year old twin girls (Lara and Florence) and a third, 11-year old girl (Alice). Each member of the family was very unique but all were a fantastic delight to travel and bird with. In fact, this was one of the most enjoyable trips I have ever guided. The family was excellent (a happy and enthusiastic family), and we found a lot of extremely exciting and difficult birds, despite the fact that we also allocated a fair amount of time to non-birding activities such as Cango Caves and walking to the top of Table Mountain.

The trip encompassed Cape Town, West Coast, Tanqua Karoo, Little Karoo, Garden Route and Overberg.

Some of the highlights included close views of Red-chested Flufftail, three excellent sightings of African Finfoot and finding good numbers of Hottentot Buttonquail. We had close encounters with a plethora of other localised endemics such as Blue Crane, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Protea Canary, Victorin’s Warbler, Knysna Warbler, Knysna Woodpecker, Knysna Turaco and Cape Rockjumper to name but a few. Mammals (including whales) and wildflowers were spectacular.

Since the Jeffers family had birded Namibia the previous year, we targeted bird species the family had not yet seen in Namibia. A real highlight (especially for Carol) was Blue Crane, a bird the family had missed in Namibia. Some of our aims were to see all the birds on Raymond’s wish list, while also to see some of the tourist and historical sites, scenery and a lot of mammals.

Day 1, 28 July 2005:

After collecting the family from the airport in the morning, we headed to Afton Grove B&B. In the grounds of this excellent 4-star birder-friendly B&B, we encountered our first of several common endemics such as Southern Boubou. We spent the afternoon doing the Robben Island historical and prison tours, and in the process found African Penguin, the endemic Bank (in fine breeding plumage) and Crowned Cormorant and quite a number of other species.

Day 2, 29 July 2005:

We visited the extremely impressive sea cliffs and nearby fynbos at the south-western-most tip of the African continent, Cape of Good Hope. Here we found Cape Sugarbird, Cape Siskin and other tantalising Cape endemics. We then visited the Boulders African Penguin colony and Strandfontein Bird Sanctuary which is filled with impressive numbers of Great White Pelican, Greater Flamingo, waterfowl, African Purple Swamphen, African Marsh Harrier and a host of other water-associated birds. The highlight was excellent views of White-backed Duck, a bird that I had never seen at this site before. Seeing it here took pressure off later parts of the itinerary. O/N Afton Grove B&B.

Day 3, 30 July 2005:

Pelagic day. A real highlight as usual! How can seeing literally hundreds of albatrosses and other pelagic seabirds not be a spectacular highlight? O/N Afton Grove B&B.

Day 4, 31 July 2005:

Since the weather was excellent, we first birded Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens first thing in the morning before starting the long walk to the top of Table Mountain via Skeleton Gorge. Only three of us, the two youngest girls (aged 9) and myself made it to the top of Skeleton Gorge – the others opted to stay around the botanical gardens. Once at the top of the gorge, Lara, Florence and I walked to the highest point of Table Mountain (Maclear’s Beacon) and then eventually down Platteklip Gorge before we caught a taxi back to Kirstensbosch. As usual, we added high quality birds to our list today – things like the first of many of the stunning Cape Batis. We encountered the endemic and uncommon Forest Buzzard in the botanical gardens. O/N Afton Grove B&B.

Day 5, 1 August 2005:

We visited the Constantia Greenbelts where with the help of the young girls we easily found our target species, Knysna Warbler. Then we headed inland to the beautiful vineyard-covered valleys of Stellenbosch, Franschoek and Paarl for a little wine tasting. After this we headed to Paarl Mountain where some thorough searching eventually rewarded us with close views of Protea Seedeater (Canary). O/N Soverby Guest House.

Day 6, 2 August 2005:

We departed Stellenbosch for the West Coast, finding the unique Western Cape subspecies of Cloud Cisticola, the stunning Cape Longclaw, several other endemics such as Southern Large-billed Lark and the unbelievable Black Harrier en route to the West Coast National Park. Here we easily found our main target birds: Southern Black Korhaan, Grey-wing Francolin and Southern Grey Tit. The coastal form of Karoo Lark provided a lot of entertainment. We could not find the Cape form of Clapper Lark – none were displaying at any of the sites we tried. O/N at the excellent birder-friendly Falcon’s Rest B&B.

Day 7, 3 August 2005:

The Columbine Peninsula yielded its target species (Cape Long-billed Lark and Sickle-winged Chat) quickly. So, we were well on time to embark on crossing the impressive Cederberg Mountain Range, the other side of which lies one of the greatest endemic hotspots on earth, the Karoo semi-desert. Lunch on the Cederberg summit did not yield Cape Rockjumper as it sometimes does, but we did find a covey of Grey-wing Francolin. BLUE CRANE was the exciting highlight after crossing the mountains and we found our first of many Peregrine Falcons (strangely no Lanners for the entire tour). We had a great taste of Karoo birding with the likes of Fairy Flycatcher and other fine endemics before we had to call it a day. O/N at the hospitable Tanqua B&B (which has become legendary in birding circles because of its proximity to sites for difficult Karoo species).

Day 8, 4 August 2005:

Karoo birding never disappoints and the Jeffers got great photos of Cinnamon-breasted Warbler – a bird they had actually seen before in Namibia – there are few people who can boast having seen this rare and localised skulker in two different countries! The Karoo also yielded Black-headed Canary, several endemic chats and larks (including Karoo Long-billed Lark), Pale Chanting Goshwak, Booted Eagle, Layard’s Tit-babbler and as usual a plethora of others. O/N Tanqua B&B.

Day 9, 5 August 2005:

Continued Karoo birding added quality species to our list including Karoo Korhaan, Namaqua Warbler, Karoo Eremomela and many others. We then embarked on a long drive to Outshoorn where we spent the night at Baron’s Palace B&B.

Day 10, 6 August 2005:

We found Cape Penduline Tit before heading for Cango Caves where most of the morning was spent. We then headed to the top of the extremely impressive Swartberg Pass for lunch. An unbelievably strong wind did not deter us from finding Cape Rockjumper and Sentinel Rock Thrush, but Victorin’s Warbler did not put in an appearance (we only heard it briefly in the howling gale). Eventually, we crossed the beautiful Outeniqua Mountains, heading out of the dry Karoo and to the forests, lakes and mountains of the Garden Route. O/N Ebb and Flow, Wilderness National Park.

Day 11, 7 August 2005:

First thing in the morning we visited a nearby site for African Finfoot, and 11-year old (well, almost) Alice spotted this elusive bird quite quickly. Apart from the finfoot - a bogey bird for many a hardened and experienced South African birder not to mention visiting birders – this proved to be a hot birding site! Half-collared and Giant Kingfishers, Knysna Turaco, Forest Canary, Chorister Robin-chat and many other specials put on a fine show. We then headed for the hides of the Wilderness Lakes, where searching and luring eventually generated fantastic views of Red-chested Flufftail. Flufftails are amongst the most skulking birds on the African continent, but with the help of Florence and the other young girls we managed to get the most incredible and close views of this species possible. Afternoon birding in the beautiful forests in the area yielded Knysna Woodpecker (which we encountered a lot after this day), Olive Woodpecker and many others. O/N Ebb and Flow.

Day 12, 8 August 2005:

A river boat trip from Plettenberg Bay yielded White-backed Night Heron and several other more common species. En route to Nature’s Valley we found Victorin’s Warbler and other species. The Groot River Bridge at Nature’s Valley yielded our second African Finfoot for the trip. Throughout our stay at the Garden Route, we encountered very good numbers of Knysna Turaco, Knysna Warbler and Knysna Woodpecker, but we never saw (we only heard) Olive Bush Shrike. O/N Nature’s Valley Guest House.

Day 13, 9 August 2005:

Since the Outeniqua Choo-tjoe was closed for maintenance, we instead decided to embark on a long walk to the point of Robberg Peninsula. The Cape Fur Seal colony was very interesting and we saw Humpback Whale. New birds for our list included Cape Rock Thrush, but Ground Woodpecker was not around and had to wait until the last day of our tour.

Day 14, 10 August 2005:

After final Garden Route birding, we headed westwards (back towards Cape Town), to the highly recommended Honeywood Farm near Grootvadersbosch Forest. Red-necked Francolin, Burchell’s Coucal and other new birds were added to our growing list. Fiery-necked Nightjar entertained us in the evening while searching (this time unsuccessfully) for Buff-spotted Flufftail.

Day 15, 11 August 2005:

After birding the forest in the morning, we visited the Bontebok National Park, which is a fine birding site that generated some exciting species. We then headed south and were rewarded with Agulhas Long-billed Lark and displaying Agulhas Clapper Lark (what an impressive sight!!). We cleaned up efficiently on the endemics we needed for the day. The bird of the day was Hottentot Buttonquail – we encountered good numbers. For conservation purposes, we do not reveal the location of this species as it is an endangered and easily disturbed species. But, we stumbled across this species at an as yet unknown site. O/N Buchu Bush Camp where the night air was filled with the sound of nocturnally displaying Clapper Lark and Fiery-necked Nightjar.

Day 16, 12 August 2005:

We spent a few hours watching the Southern Right Whale spectacle at Koppie Alleen in de Hoop Nature Reserve. Cape Mountain Zebra, Eland (Africa’s largest antelope), Bontebok and other mammals entertained us while finding Southern Tchagra and other exciting birds the reserve has to offer. In the afternoon we headed for the Potberg section of de Hoop Nature Reserve where we yet again heard Knysna Woodpecker, saw Cape Vulture, but looked in vain for Striped Flufftail. Evening birding yielded Barn Owl and Spotted Eagle Owl. O/N Buchu Bush Camp.

Day 17, 13 August 2005:

We drove back to Cape Town, shopping and looking at Southern Right Whales at Hermanus, and then birding Rooiels. At Rooiels we found Verraux’s Eagle, Cape Rockjumper, our only Ground Woodpecker for the trip and other fine species. Eventually we arrived at Cape Town International Airport where we were shocked to hear that the British Airways flight back to Heathrow had been cancelled due to a strike. The Jeffers had to stay in Cape Town an extra night, but eventually managed to fly out of South Africa to make the British Birding Fair a couple of days later!

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:
South Africa: Western Endemics

Please click this link for more detailed information about our upcoming Cape Tours.
Please also visit our tour calendar and description of other South African tours.
Focus Western South Africa rivals any other place in Africa for the number of endemic bird species and accessibility: over 80% of South Africa's endemics occurs here. This varied scenery with dramatic mountain ranges, the unqiue Cape floral Kingdom and the semi-desert plains of the Karoo also offers mammals, chameleons, geckos, butterflies and interesting plants, to suit both keen birders and nature enthusiasts. We also offer pelagic trips out of Cape Town, to see albatross, shearwaters, petrels, whales and dolphins.
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 Mediterranean climate, which can be warm in summer (October to March) and chilly in winter (June to September), the rainy season.
Comfort A good standard of accommodation in guest houses, lodges and farm stays.
Transport We travel by minibus or four wheel drive vehicle.
Group Size This depends on the specific tour. Please enquire.
Top birds • Darling area: Cape Clapper Lark, Blue Crane
• West Coast National Park: Southern Black Korhaan, Black Harrier, Chestnut-banded Plover
• Tanqua Karoo, a semi-desert: Karoo Eremomela, Namaqua Warbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Ludwig’s Bustard, Burchell’s Courser, Black-headed Canary, Layard’s Tit-Babbler, Rufous-eared Warbler, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Karoo Korhaan, Black-eared Sparrowlark
• De Hoop and Agulhas Plains: Cape Vulture, Blue Crane, Denham's Bustard, Damara Tern, Knysna Woodpecker, Agulhas Long-billed Lark, Agulhas Clapper Lark, Southern Tchagra
• Cape coastal Fynbos and mountains: Cape Rock-jumper, Victorin's Scrub-Warbler, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Siskin, Ground Woodpecker, Neddicky and Cape Rock-Thrush
Click here for more practical tour information and a trip report.
Optional extension: Afromontane forest at Grootvaderschbos or Wilderness in the Garden Route.
• Grootvaderschbos: Narina Trogon, Forest Canary, African Crowned Eagle, Knysna Woodpecker, Knysna Warbler, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Olive Bush-Shrike
• Wilderness National Park, Garden Route: Knysna Turaco, Narina Trogon, African Wood Owl, Green-backed Camaroptera, Green Woodhoopoe, Chorister Robin-Chat
Top mammals Whales, Dolphins, Cape Grysbok, Chacma Baboon, Caracal, Striped Polecat, Grey Mongoose, Cape Fox, Bat-eared Fox, Porcupine, Cape Mountain Zebra, Bontebok, Eland
Booking Please contact us if you wish to book a guided or a self-drive tour. 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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