Report: Western South Africa Clean Up, 9 - 25 September 2005
Day 1: Kirstenbosch and Constantia Greenbelts
After picking up all at the airport, we headed straight to the scenic
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Here we got good first looks at
many of the more common Fynbos species. These included Spotted Prinia,
Cape Bulbul, Olive Thrush, Cape Robin Chat and gorgeous Malachite
Sunbirds. Our first group of Helmeted Guineafowl delighted all and
on the mammal front we were treated to a friendly and tame Small
Grey Mongoose. After Kirstenbosch we travelled to the nearby Constantia
Greenbelts, home of the very elusive Knysna Warbler. The Warbler
remained elusive but we did notch up Cinnamon Dove.
The day was not over yet and we made our way to the famous Strandfontein
Sewage Works where we were treated to a spectacle of waterbirds
including Red-billed and Cape Teal, Maccoa Duck, Greater Flamingo,
Cape Shoveller, and Great Crested and Black-necked Grebe. We were
treated to good views of three reed-dwelling LBJs – Lesser
Swamp and Little Rush Warblers as well as Levaillant’s Cisticola.
In the late evening on route to Simonstown we spotted a Spotted
Eagle Owl perched up on the side of the road.
Day 2: Pelagic and Sheathbill
Today was a day to remember as a dawn start saw us heading out of
Simonstown harbour to the trawling grounds off the continental shelf
about 30 miles south of Cape Point. Our pelagic guide, the knowledgeable,
sea-faring Ross Wanless joined us for the day. Not far beyond the
Cape Point we started seeing pelagic species including White-chinned
Petrel and Sooty Shearwater. Further in, a Soft-plumaged Petrel
did a brief fly-by over our boat and we picked up on numerous Shy
Albatrosses. When we got to the trawlers we were treated to a spectacle
of note - over 1000 seabirds including Pintado Petrel, Black-browed
and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and Wilson’s Storm Petrel.
It was not long at the trawling grounds when there was a shout of
Wandering Albatross which we all marvelled at. On route back to
Simonstown our boat stopped off at the breeding site for the range-restricted
Bank Cormorant. After such a successful pelagic, our confidence
was boosted and with high hopes we headed for Cape Town harbour
to search for Greater Sheathbill – which had been reported
in the week prior. After some negotiations with harbour security
we were let in and after about 5 minutes of scanning we had located
this all-white somewhat chicken-like bird. After relishing this
sighting for a while, we returned to Simonstown very satisfied with
the day’s performance.
Day 3: Constantia Greenbelts, Sir Lowry’s Pass and Rooiels
Early in the morning we were treated to a Black Sparrowhawk perched
out in the open. Stopping at another site for Knysna Warbler in
the Constantia Greenbelts we located Bar-throated Apalis and a calling
Buff-spotted Flufftail which as per usual was not showing itself.
The dismay with the Flufftail very soon ended when a Knysna Warbler
flew in right in front of our noses! We enjoyed marvellous views
of this little bird for a few minutes before it disappeared from
view. We then decided to hit the mountains at Sir Lowry’s
Pass for the Cape Rockjumper. After many hours hard work in a blustering
wind we had had no luck. We did manage to find numerous other good
birds including Victorin’s Warbler, Cape Grassbird, Grey-backed
Cisticola, Cape Weaver, Yellow-rumped Widow and the colourful Orange-breasted
Sunbird. Birds of prey included Peregrine Falcon and an unexpected
Black Harrier. We then moved onto the town of Rooiels, another site
for the Rockjumper on the eastern slopes of False Bay. Upon stopping
at Rooiels we had 3 Black Eagles and a Secretarybird in the skies
up above us. Other birds included Neddicky, Cape Rock Thrush, Cape
Siskin and Familiar Chat but despite much climbing still no Rockjumper.
We returned to Simonstown in the late afternoon.
Day 4: Darling Farm Loops and West Coast National Park
After navigating through Cape Town morning traffic we made our way
to the productive farm loops in the Darling area. Here we picked
up Karoo Scrub Robin, Northern Black Korhaan, Red-capped Thick-billed
and Spike-heeled Lark. After some searching we located the Cape
Clapper Lark. Other species included Yellow-bellied Eremomela, the
majestic Blue Crane (South Africa’s national bird) and the
colourful Cape Longclaw. The afternoon was spent in the West Coast
National Park – here we enjoyed the colourful Yellow Canary
and Southern Red Bishop as well as Cape Francolin. The famous hides
at Geelbek delivered Kittlitz’s Plover among a range of regular
Palaearctic visitors. A visit to a nearby salt-pan found us our
other important target wader – the Chestnut-banded Plover.
Birds of prey included Pale Chanting Goshawk and Black Harrier.
We overnighted at the comfortable Falcon’s Rest in Langebaan.
Day 5: Velddrift
We had an early morning start getting us to a stakeout for Cape
Clapper Lark at dawn. The Clapper Lark was not playing the game
but we did manage to find Karoo Lark. After some brief birding at
the Berg River Estuary we took the long road north in windy conditions.
A stop for an hour or so at Paradyskloof near the town of Clanwilliam
produced the difficult-to find endemic, the Protea Canary as African
Black Swift and stunning views of a perched Black Eagle. After a
long, windy drive we made our first stop on the grassy desert plains
between Springbok and Pofadder. Here we had our first Grey-backed
Finchlarks and Lark-like Buntings. Getting closer to Pofadder we
started our search for the localised endemic, the Red Lark. After
a long and hard search, we eventually had brief, distant views of
the dune form of this species. A group of Namaqua Sandgrouse around
sunset were enjoyed by all. We got to the small, rural town of Pofadder
Day 6: Pofadder to Augrabies
Another dawn start saw us birding the farm roads around Pofadder.
A group of Sclater’s Larks early in the morning was a good
find. Other species seen this morning included the colourful Black-headed
Canary, Karoo and Tractrac Chat as well as the diminutive Pygmy
Falcon. A very windy, dusty drive up towards the Namibian border
at Onseepkans produced a Martial Eagle and not much else. Due to
recent good rains, the plains between Pofadder and Augrabies were
covered in grass and here we found our first Black-eared Sparrow-larks
among huge numbers of the Grey-backed variety. A late afternoon
walk around Augrabies Falls National Park delivered Alpine Swift,
African Pied Wagtail and Orange River White-eye.
Day 7: Augrabies to the Kalahari
An early morning walk around the restcamp at Augrabies provided
us with lovely views of Namaqua Warbler and Golden-tailed Woodpecker
as well as pair of Klipspringer on the mammal front. The drive to
the sizeable town of Upington delivered our first Booted Eagle as
well as Swallow-tailed Bee-eater. In Upington itself we located
Pearl-spotted Owlet and Malachite Kingfisher. After a brief lunch
we undertook the long road through Kalahari dunefields to the world-famous
Kgalagadi Transfronteir Park. In the Acacia thornveld on route we
found the exquisite Lilac-breasted Roller, the very striking Crimson-breasted
Shrike as well as Grey Hornbill. A walk around the restcamp just
before the sun set revealed the majestic Purple Roller.
Day 8: Kgalagadi Transfronteir Park
Another early start saw us at the start of a very exciting day in
the Kalahari. Raptors abound here and on the day we counted no less
than 27 Lanner Falcon’s among good numbers of Black-shouldered
Kites, Pale Chanting Goshawks, Black-chested Snake Eagle and Lappet-faced
and African White-backed Vultures. Also seen were the lovely Kalahari
Scrub Robin, Sociable Weaver, Scaly-feathered Finch and White-browed
Sparrow-weaver. Mammal-wise we were treated to the difficult to
see Honey Badger as well as Gemsbuck, Blue Wildebeest and Springbuck.
A night drive proved to be a special highlight. A nesting Barn Owl
with 3 chicks in a giant Sociable Weaver nest was quite a sight.
We also managed to add Double-banded Courser and Fiery-necked Nightjars
to our lists. The main highlight bird-wise on the night-drive was
certainly the White-faced Scops Owl perched out in the open. Mammal-wise
the night drive was superb – we saw numerous Springhares (odd,
somewhat Kangaroo-like rabbit-sized rodents), the impressive Porcupine
and enjoyed good views of Bat-eared and Cape Fox.
Day 9: Kgalagadi to Brandvlei
An early start produced beautiful early morning views of a group
of Cape Fox around their den. A birding stop in Acacia thornveld
to the south of the National Park produced an out of range Brown-crowned
Tchagra as well as Ashy Tit and Verraux’s Eagle Owl. We then
undertook the long drive to the small town of Brandvlei ticking
Karoo Korhaan on route. A late evening search for the plains form
of Red Lark proved unsuccessful.
Day 10: Brandvlei to Tanqua Karoo
An early start saw us Larking once more. Our first find was an interesting
colour form of the Karoo Long-billed Lark. Our Lark morning provided
us with further confusion as we came across a pair of out of range
Sabota Larks, and despite much further effort we could not locate
the plains form of the Red Lark. The road down to the Tanqua Karoo
is very scenic and produced Karoo Eremomela as well as South African
Shelduck and South African Cliff Swallow. A stop at the scenically
impressive Akkerandam Nature Reserve provided us with Layard’s
Titbabbler and more looks at Black-headed Canary. We enjoyed a beautiful
sunset over the Cedarberg and after passing though some splendid
countryside in the full moonlight we got to our guest house at Tanqua
Karoo at about 2100. The days birding was not over and we located
Rufous-cheeked Nightjar in the grounds of the guest house.
Day 11: Katbakkies to Grootvadersbosch
A 0430 start saw us heading for the legendary Katbakkies pass for
Operation Cinnamon – the search for the tricky Cinnamon-breasted
Warbler. 4 hours of hard work and effort were finally rewarded with
brief but good views of this little bird. The dainty Fairy Flycatcher
was commonly seen during the 4 hour haul. A brief stop at Eierkop
provided us with Southern Grey Tit. After some delays with the vehicle
upon getting back to the tarred roads we were on our way to Grootvadersbosch
enjoying another Cape Clapper Lark on route. We enjoyed beautiful
scenery in the setting sun and got to Grootvadersbosch at 2030 but
not before spot-lighting a Cape Eagle Owl (and numerous Spotted
Eagle Owls) on route over the Tradouw’s Pass.
Day 12: Grootvadersbosch and Wilderness
The famous forests of Grootvadersbosch were very alive. The sometimes
difficult Knysna Woodpecker was remarkably easy in the parking-lot
and was seen after Swee Waxbill, Forest and Bully Canary and Red-necked
Francolin were already under the belt. Other birds included Blue-mantled
Flycatcher, Olive Woodpecker, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-throated
Woodland Warbler, Red-chested Cuckoo and a brief Brown-backed Honeybird.
We arrived at Wilderness shortly after lunch and some afternoon
birding produced Knysna Turaco and Forest Buzzard. Night-time birding
provided us with lovely views of African Wood Owl.
Day 13: Wilderness to Nature’s Valley
A morning birding session at Wilderness produced Starred Robin,
Chorister Robin Chat, African Paradise Flycatcher, more Knysna Turacos,
Black Sunbird, African Fish Eagle, Half-collared Kingfisher and
Pin-tailed Whydah. The highlight of the day was certainly our stop
at the Kaaiman’s river after breakfast. Upon arrival a bird
was spotted swimming out in the open – we could not believe
our luck as it turned out to be a male African Finfoot that kept
swimming closer and closer to us. We enjoyed watching, photographing
and videoing the display that this bird gave for about 30 minutes
before it finally disappeared into the fringe vegetation. As if
this was not enough for one day, a stop at a hide near Wilderness
on route to Nature’s Valley provided us with very good views
of the skulking Red-chested Flufftail! After such a spectacular
morning’s birding, the rest of the day seemed rather quiet
with more Swee Waxbills and Forest Canaries being the highlight.
Day 14: Nature’s Valley
The morning walk around Nature’s Valley produced the remarkable
Narina Trogon as well as Scaly-throated Honeyguide, more Knysna
Woodpeckers, Lazy Cisticola and a wonderful view of Crowned Eagle
interacting with an African Fish Eagle. After breakfast we drove
east on the mountain passes towards the Storms River. Just beyond
the Storms River, on a farm track, a sighting of Black-winged Lapwings
meant that we could add these to our list. The late afternoon was
spent back in Nature’s Valley, despite much searching the
Black-bellied Starling was nowhere to be found but African Goshawk
and Brown-hooded Kingfisher were seen.
Day 15: Nature’s Valley to De Hoop
Another early departure saw us undertaking some spectacular mountain
passes in search of Cape Rockjumper and Ground Woodpecker. The Woodpecker
succumbed, but not the Rockjumper – that ended up requiring
further effort. At the town of Swellendam a quick visit to the Bontebok
National Park delivered Cloud Cisticola and Cape Mountain Zebra
and Bontebok on the mammal front. In the afternoon the Agulhas plain
produced numerous Agulhas Long-billed Larks as well as a single
Agulhas Clapper Lark after some work. The day came to a close with
us enjoying Blue Cranes lit up by beautiful afternoon light. We
arrived at our accommodations shortly after dark.
Day 16: De Hoop to Cape Town
An early morning search for the cryptic and skulking Hottentot Buttonquail
was unsuccessful. A few hours in De Hoop Nature Reserve found us
the endemic Southern Tchagra and Greater Honeyguide. We moved on
to the Potberg section of the reserve where we found good numbers
of Cape Vulture and a calling Lesser Honeyguide (no visual). The
highlight of our visit to Potberg was a group of out of range Black-bellied
Starlings which we all enjoyed. These were followed by a short game
of cricket on the lawns of Potberg before travelling back to Sir
Lowry’s Pass for another go at the Cape Rockjumper. In the
strong winds, things did not look hopeful and we moved on to the
Rooiels site. Here it took us some time and a fair bit of climbing
to get everyone a good look at this bird. We arrived in Cape Town
shortly after dark, and enjoyed a well-served drink and meal.
Day 17: Cape Town, Cape Point and fly out
A lazy, relaxed start at 08:30 saw us travelling to the Constantia
Greenbelts once again – this time to add the very local, introduced
Chaffinch to our lists. The quest was successful, but our search
for the Red-chested Sprrowhawk proved fruitless. After a brief visit
to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope it was time to go back to
the airport. Here, we waved our sad goodbyes at the end of an incredibly
successful trip on which over 350 species were seen.
Trip report by Birding Africa tour leader Duan Biggs.
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.
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
Only a low level of fitness is required.
Throughout the year.
Mediterranean climate, which can be warm in summer (October
to March) and chilly in winter (June to September), the rainy
A good standard of accommodation in guest houses, lodges and
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.