Trip Report: Black Harrier Western Cape Loop -
17 to 20 July 2005
– Cape Town to Langebaan
We met at Klein Boscheuwel at 7 am. The weather was just changing
and what had been a calm night turned into a blustery Sunday morning.
By the time we got out of the car at the Tokai parking lot, it was
just light enough to get onto the birds, but a north wind had picked
up dramatically, turning the raptor watching conditions from perfect,
into fairly trying. We got some views of a pair of Forest Buzzard
circling up out of the forest, one of which was being bombed by
an unidentified accipiter. Soon we got onto some Chaffinch calling
and with some patience and determination, managed to find one in
the top of a pine tree. The same pine forest harboured a small troop
of roosting baboons who seemed to be clinging on for dear life with
the onset of the winds.
By 9:30 we were in the Constantia greenbelts looking
for Knysna Warbler. They were eventually coaxed to call, but after
some frustrating glimpses in a vegetation tangle, they disappeared
behind a razor wire fence, and we were unable to relocate. Another
pair began calling at about 11 am after the wind had died down,
but was unwilling to venture out of the thick undergrowth.
Our visit to the Main ocean pier at the Cape Town
harbour in search of the Sheathbill was frustrated by a film crew
who had set up on the pier for the day to film a movie and had evidently
chased the bird off – frustrating, since in the day before’s
recce we’d had views of it from only metres away. So instead,
we headed up the west coast ticking White-backed Duck, African Purple
Swamphen and Glossy Ibis at the Dolphin Beach Pans on the way out.
Up at the West Coast National Park, we headed
for the tern roost at Tsaarsbank (Wattled Starling on the way) and
managed to find at least 5-10 Antarctic Terns (some still just coming
out of breeding plumage) in amongst a mix of Common, Arctic and
Swift Terns. The lagoon harboured large numbers of Greater Flamingos,
and we were rewarded with great views of 2 different Black Harriers
in the strandveld and a group of 3 Marsh Harriers quartering over
the Phragmites reeds.
Our last target species was Cape Penduline Tit
which we eventually got close to Seeberg in the Strandveld. Quite
possibly the tits had begun breeding already and the area around
Seeberg hill has a high concentration of the “Kapokbossie”
(eriocephalus sp?) which was already producing good quantities of
cotton – a substance highly sought after by the tits for nest
18/07/05 – Langebaan to Tanqua Karoo
via Kransvlei Poort and Skitterykloof
We made an early start in the mist with our sights set on Kransvlei
Poort north of Citrusdal. On the way we stopped west of Picketberg
wheat fields and picked up the Cloud Cisticola. Also around were
a few Blue Cranes, a small flock of White Storks, Sickle-winged
Chat and Large-billed Lark.
At the Kransvlei Poort, we were quickly rewarded
with a pair of Fairy Flycatchers and a Layard’s Titbabbler,
followed soon after by a very confiding Protea Canary.
The weather had cleared and it was a beautiful
post-frontal day in the Koue Bokkeveld - perfect conditions for
scoping the Verreaux’s Eagle that we found perched on the
cliff side in the Katbakkies Pass. Unfortunately, though, a second
front began moving in and by the time we had reached Skitterykloof,
the north wind had got up again. The Cinnamon-breasted Warblers
were not too disturbed by the wind though, and we eventually got
views of a pair in the sunlight on the rocky ledges on the way down
into the kloof. Two other pairs were also heard calling from different
parts of the kloof – one on the northern side and one at the
Tractrac Chat was the next target species and
was easily found on the roadside after the P2250 turnoff. The Tanqua
Karoo north of Skitterykloof was exceptionally dry and there were
very few birds around. Our first sight of the Tanqua Guest house
included a plume of dust from a borehole drill rig – they
had tried drilling twice in the past two days – 150m down
– no water! Esther (of the Tanqua Guest House) reckons it’s
the driest year they’ve seen it in at least 25. The Lucerne
fields were a dust bowl (usually green by this time of year) and
the dam reduced to a mud puddle – though still harbouring
Greater Flamingos, South African Shelduck and Avocet.
19/07/05 – Tanqua Karoo to De Hoop
We woke early to a cold stiff NW wind and greying skies - Perhaps
rain was on the way… Trying to find the Karoo Long-billed
Lark in these conditions was trying, but after working the low ridge
to the NE of the road through to the double gate, we were eventually
rewarded with great views of an inquisitive, calling and displaying
bird – perhaps he too was dancing to bring on the rain…?
It was raining lightly in the SW corner of the
Tanqua, South of Eierkop, and the veld looked a little less parched
and much greener in these parts. The birds at the fig tree avenue
in Karoopoort were quite active and we heard Namaqua Warblers and
found a pair of Pririt Batis.
Our route through to Swellendam took us through
more rain, rainbows and clouds, but we emerged into a relatively
clear Overberg, and were soon rewarded with great views of an Aghulas
Long-billed Lark calling from the convenient perch of a roadside
fencepost. The wheat fields were just greening up after what has
been, according to the farmer we stayed with at The Cottage, the
wettest winter in his memory. The Longbilled Larks were taking full
advantage and the birds could be heard displaying at every stop
Also taking advantage of the unusual conditions
were 3 Black Storks, a Black Sparrowhawk (in a small patch of Bluegums),
a pair of Black Duck (in a small stream +- 3km from the Malgas turnoff)
and 2 Cape Vultures were seen flying overhead near The Cottage turnoff.
Korhaans and bustards were conspicuous in their absence.
We headed for De Hoop Nature Reserve to look for
the Aghulas Clapper Lark. After nearly 2 hours of attempts to flush
them from their preferred habitat we headed home, only to discover
that there was one displaying in the darkness above our heads as
we got our luggage out of the car. It was a still evening and both
Fiery-necked Nightjar and Spotted Eagle Owls were heard calling.
De Hoop to Cape Town via Kleinmond, Betty’s Bay and Rooi Els
The wind picked up in the night and the rain started in the early
hours of the morning. We woke to heavy rain squalls and gusting
winds. We held out little hope for finding the clappers from the
night before, but after some patience and persistence managed to
find one displaying in between squalls above a remnant patch of
Renosterveld 200m from the Infanta/De Hoop road junction. Also there,
was a Martial Eagle and Cape Vulture.
Our next stop was at the Ysterklip reserve alongside
the Arabella Golf Estate in Kleinmond. We were targeting the Hottentot
Buttonquail, but were unable to find them despite some energetic
and persistent effort, and were rewarded only by more Clapper Larks,
Great Crested Grebe and a nesting Black Duck (10 eggs).
At Betty’s Bay we headed up into the Harold
Porter Botanical Gardens and were quickly able to find a Victorin’s
Warbler. We scoped the African Penguins from the main road and then
headed through to Rooi Els. By this time the weather had taken a
turn for the worse again and we headed off in gusty winds and light
rain to look for rockjumpers and siskins. About 300m down the road
south of Rooi Els, I suggested we take shelter behind a large rock
and scan the hillside from there, which we duly did, only to discover
that a female Cape Rockjumper had had the same idea. She seemed
a little surprised to see us and proceeded to call her Male counterpart
over to have a look at us. Whilst this was going on, an inquisitive
Cape Siskin suddenly arrived on the scene and we had great looks
at her too. What a great end to our trip - we were back at Klein
Boscheuwel by 6pm.
Trip report by Birding Africa tour leader Malcolm
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
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