Trip Report: South Africa
16-19 June 2009 Summary: We designed a custom 4-day trip around
the Western Cape, South Africa, for Paul Mostyn, an experienced
birder from the UK with over 1000 birds on his Africa lifelist.
Paul had done two trips in southern Africa before, but never in
the Cape region, so the aim of the trip was to get as many of the
Cape endemics as possible on his list. On our journey to find these
birds, we explored the Cape coastline, West Coast strandveld habitat,
farmlands of the Swartland and Overberg, the unique Mountain fynbos
and the desert expanses and cliffs of the desolate Tanqua Karoo.
Although it was winter, we had perfect weather and many fine encounters
including a host of spectacular fynbos and Karoo endemics. Some
of the highlights were spending time with a group of Cape
Rock-jumpers in the mountains with Verreaux’s
Eagle, Cape Sugarbird, Cape Siskin
and Orange-breasted Sunbird all around; very close
Protea Seedeaters which defied being called skulking;
a spectacular territorial dispute between two groups of Karoo
Korhaan; tremendous views of Cinnamon-breasted
warbler (less than a metre from our feet!); Karoo
Eremomelas and Rufous-eared Warbler together
on the Karoo plains; all three Long-billed Lark
species possible – Cape, Karoo and Agulhas; a single field
with over 25 Cape Vultures, Blue Cranes
and 4 Denham’s Bustards; Knysna Woodpecker
less than 20 metres away; and a host of excellent mammal sightings
including Cape Fox and Striped Polecat.
DAY 1: 16 June 2009, Cape Town and up the West Coast:
After collecting Paul Mostyn from his hotel in Camps bay, we headed
in search of his first target species, Bank Cormorant. We had excellent
views of the breeding-plumaged birds at a nearby colony on an offshore
granite boulder, where their white rumps were conspicuous. The population
of this endemic has declined over 75% over the last 30 years, now
numbering less than 3000 birds. Recent storms and a strong onshore
wind had brought a plethora of usually pelagic seabirds right into
the breakers. These included many White-chinned Petrels, a Giant
Petrel hulking over the waves and a brief Shy Albatross. A fishing
boat making its way towards Cape Town harbour through the rough
seas attracted Cape Gannet and small ‘commandos’ of
Cape Cormorants were seen flying low over the water in search of
their marine breakfast. Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gulls were hard
to miss, calling raucously above the car park. Some further seawatching
at Mouille Point yielded a similar variety of birds, before we headed
northwards out of Cape Town.
The weather was really starting to look up – the wind died
down as we left the coast and there were barely any clouds. On our
way out of Cape Town, we stopped at a few roadside wetlands in the
Rietvlei vicinity. Our first views of Cape Spurfowl were rather
comical with a small covey pottering along the sidewalk much like
human pedestrians. Red-knobbed Coot, Cape Shovellor, Red-billed
Teal and Little Grebe were present on the water with a pair of Water
Thick-knee on the far bank and a Brown-throated Martin flying overhead.
Lesser Swamp Warbler was very vocal amongst the reeds and Little
Rush Warbler was also heard calling. Some spishing rewarded us almost
instantly, with great views of Little Rush Warbler. The Lesser Swamp
Warbler was much slower to respond, but was eventually coaxed to
the fringe of the reedbed.
We headed up the West Coast, where the first surprise sighting in
the Darling farmlands was a Cape Fox! It bolted across an open field,
giving good views, and leaped into a patch of tall grass. This was
to be the first of many great mammal sightings on the trip. Flocks
of Pied Starling and Cape Sparrow were present in the fields and
we picked up a few Capped Wheatears on the roadside fenceposts.
A colourful African Hoopoe provided some excitement, as did Cape
Longclaw. A roadside reedbed was occupied by a very vocal breeding
colony of Cape Weavers which were probably attempting to get an
early brood out before being parasitized by Diederik Cuckoo which
only arrive later in the season. Little Rush and Lesser Swamp Warblers
were barely audible over the din of the weavers.
A small covey of Greywing Francolin were eventually located in one
of their favourite spots, and we were rewarded with views a family
of six of these cryptically-plumaged birds. We had flyovers of Jackal
Buzzard, Rock Kestrel and a pair of Black-shouldered Kites. As we
neared Darling, we encountered a fallow field filled with hundreds
of Spurwing Geese and over 30 Blue Cranes. On the other side of
Darling, we entered the Tienie Versveld Wildflower Reserve where
we were able to call up a pair of the unique Western Cape subspecies
of Cloud Cisticola which alighted on a nearby bush, offering fantastic
views of their streaky ‘necklaces’. A pair of Malachite
Sunbirds and a Black-headed Heron were also present.
We had lunch in the Geelbek Restaurant in the West Coast National
Park, being entertained by Cape Weavers that were quick to jump
onto the tables of unsuspecting patrons! The strandveld vegetation
of the West Coast National Park held many of Paul’s target
birds. In one of the shallow valleys, we witnessed a pair of Black
Harriers engaged in a spectacular display flight which produced
smiles all round. A Southern Black Korhaan (a bustard) flushed from
the vegetation, taking flight and calling harshly, and allowing
good views of the distinctive black primaries. We also encountered
a pair of obliging Karoo Larks and a small family of minute Cape
Penduline Tit. Other sightings included Cape Bulbul, a single Little
Swift, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Prinia, Long-billed
Crombec, White-backed Mousebird, Chestnut-vented Titbabbler, Rock
Martin, two Wattled Starlings and a single, unseasonal Barn Swallow
with a group of Rock Martin.
The next destination was further north, on the Vredenberg Peninsula,
where the shale soils and agricultural lands hold a different suite
of birds. A field had hordes of Yellow Canary in the sedges and
perched on the fence, Large-billed Lark and Capped Wheatear. Further
along the road, we found a very productive field that yielded Cape
Long-billed Lark, Sickle-winged Chat, a female Namaqua Sandgrouse
(superbly spotted by Campbell) and White-necked Raven.
We made a stop at the coast nearby where we picked up a roost of
about 300 Antarctic Terns, with a few Swift Terns mixed in, Ruddy
Turnstone, Grey Heron and African Black Oystercatcher. A pair of
Spotted Eagle-Owls were also seen very well.
Crossing the Berg River at Velddrif, we saw Lesser and Greater Flamingo,
Black-winged Stilt and Caspian Tern. We headed across the coastal
plains and ascended the Piketberg mountains where we overnighted
where friends of ours have a cottage up in the mountains. It was
very chilly and we were glad to have a warm fire burning!
Day 2: 17 June 2009, Fynbos mountains to Tanqua Karoo:
We headed out on foot at sunrise to do some birding before breakfast.
In the vicinity of the cottage, we found Cape Sugarbird,
Cape Grassbird and our first Protea Seedeater of
the day. Further on, we found Cape Siskin, Cape Canary and Malachite
and Orange-breasted Sunbird. Upon seeing us, a male Cape Rock Thrush
started emitting a grating alarm call to which other birds responded
by coming together into a ‘party’. At one point, the
pair of Cape Rock Thrushes was joined by Cape Bunting, Cape
Siskin and Cape Robin Chat, all in the same bush! After
the fantastic early morning birding, our hunger was sated by a fantastic
homemade fry-up breakfast. We also added had Ground Woodpecker,
a Rock Kestrel and a stunning male Orange-breasted Sunbird. The
fynbos vegetation was looking excellent and we found a few interesting
plant species on our walk too.
En route to the Tanqua Karoo, we watched a Verreaux’s Eagle
perched on mountain cliffs, and enjoyed about half an hour with
an obliging group of Cape Rock-jumpers in a mountain pass. While
we sat quietly among the rocks watching the rock-jumpers, a male
Cape Siskin landed nearby and we had superb views. Neddicky and
Cape Bunting hopped around near our feet.
We later added Levaillant’s Cisticola , African Spoonbill,
Red-billed Teal, South African Shelduck, Yellow-billed Duck and
African Stonechat at a wetland. Chacma Baboons peered at us from
a rocky perched, and we found an out of range pair of Cape Crows
with some White-necked Ravens.
Once we were in the Karoo proper, we made a brief stop at Skitterykloof,
a spectacular gorge on the edge of the Karoo which is good for rocky
hillside specials. Here we had views of Fairy Flycatcher, White-throated
Canary and Mountain Wheatear (and heard a Cinnamon-breasted Warbler).
On the barren Karoo plains, we located four Karoo Eremomelas at
one of their territories. We had good views once they left the low
vegetation and even briefly perched on the fence! While we were
watching the eremomelas, a Rufous-eared Warbler called, and then
responded well to playback, alighting on the fence about five metres
from where we were standing. On the stroll back to the car, we saw
Karoo Chat and Yellow Canary.
One of the highlights of the day was witnessing a spectacular territorial
dispute between two groups of Karoo Korhaan (a
trio and a pair). This included fervent calling and brief leaps
into the air. An experience like this made a fitting end to a fantastic
day’s birding. We enjoyed a hearty meal at our remote lodge
up in the mountains, before doing the day’s birdlist and having
an early night.
Day 3: 18 June 2009, Tanqua Karoo
and to the Agulhas Plains:
Once again, we were up at sunrise to get some birding done before
breakfast. It was another beautiful day with clear skies but quite
windy in places. Our first encounter of the day was a confiding
covey of Greywing Francolin on the edge of the road. The feeding
group made soft churrs to each other and it was a pleasure to examine
their intricate plumage at such close range. Further down the mountain
pass, we converted our previous day's “heard only” to a spectacular
sighting of the highly furtive Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. We spend
a while watching this bird and it hopped and scurried between the
boulders. When the sunlight eventually came over the cliffs, we
were able to really examine the subtle “cinnamon” chest band of
After returning to our accommodation for breakfast, we made our
way back down the pass to do more birding. We saw a pair of Mountain
Wheatear as well as White-throated Canaries. Eventually we were
rewarded us with good views of Layard's Titbabbler. After waiting
for a considerable time, with a few flyovers keeping us hopeful,
we finally got good views of Black-headed Canary. Further on, we
had our second Cinnamon-breasted Warbler encounter
and at one point we had a warbler under a metre from where we were
standing! Usually a notorious skulker, this particular bird scurried
around and perched on a rock at the side of the road right in the
open. What a treat!
We dropped back onto the Karoo plains again and were entertained
by a pair of Karoo Larks amongst the roadside scrub, standing upright
and raising their crests as they darted from bush to bush. A patch
of thick thorny acacia held inquisitive Namaqua Warblers, beautiful
Fairy Flycatchers, White-throated Canary, Cape White-Eye, Dusky
Sunbird, Cape Turtle-Dove, White-backed Mousebird, Southern Double-collared
Sunbird and Karoo Thrush.
Another special that put in an appearance was the Karoo Long-billed
Lark. We saw a pair of them about sixty metres from the road and
got fantastic views in the scope. In the same area, we found a flowering
Hoodia succulent (famous for its appetite-supressing properties
and the legal battle between the Bushmen and diet-pill companies)
as well as a rather spectacular display of some early wildflowers.
Despite thorough scanning of several good areas, we were unable
to locate the scarce Burchell's Courser. We stopped for lunch where
we saw a mixed flock of Cape Sparrows and Black-headed Canaries,
as well as some distant Karoo Eremomelas again.
Later, we encountered a pair of Karoo Korhaan that could have been
the same ones from the previous day. Other sightings along the road
included Tractrac Chat, Karoo Lark, Cape Bunting and Rufous-eared
Warbler. At the Inverdoorn Dam, we saw over 1500 Redknobbed Coot
on the water as well as good numbers of South African Shelduck,
Egyptian Goose, Cape Shovellor and Greater Flamingo. The edge of
the dam was patrolled by Blacksmith Lapwing and there were Black-winged
Stilt in the shallows. The distant roar of Lions from the nearby
Inversdoorn Game Reserve was a surprise! From here we made up our
travel time, driving through the mountains to eventually reach our
accommodation on the Agulhas Plains, near the edge of the De Hoop
Day 4: 19 June 2009, Agulhas Plains to Cape Town:
We woke up at sunrise for the usual pre-breakfast birding and, right
outside the front door, saw a flock of calling Blue Cranes flying
past in the golden morning light. On a telephone poll next to our
accommodation, we witnessed a European Starling making convincing
mimic calls of both Agulhas Long-billed Lark and Fiery-necked Nightjar!
In the fallow lands, we had a beautiful, close-up sighting of an
Agulhas Long-billed Lark sitting on a fencepost and calling in the
soft morning light. After we had all absorbed this incredible bird,
we started the car and it flew off and performed a display flight
We stopped at various other fields and found Bokmakierie, more Blue
Cranes, Cape Teal, Yellow-billed Duck, Purple Heron, Common Moorhen
and Little Grebe. We also picked up Cape (Agulhas) Clapper-Lark
calling on a fencepost, and had superb views of a group of Denham’s
Bustards in a field. We made our way to a normally-reliable stake-out
for Knysna Woodpecker along the Breede River, but
things did not look promising as many of the trees had been washed
away by the recent floods and we heard none calling. However, slightly
further downriver we heard one calling, and Callan recorded it with
his microphone, and played the call back. The woodpecker immediately
flew directly towards us and landed in the shade of a clump of saplings,
under twenty metres from us!
After the superb views of the Knysna Woodpecker, we headed back
for a rather well-deserved late breakfast. Near our accommodation,
a field had over 25 Cape Vultures sitting on the ground. Other occupants
of the field included Denham’s Bustard and Blue Crane! It
was a great highlight on which to end the trip, before heading back
to Cape Town.
En route, we say a large troop of Chacma Baboons, foraging in a
field rather incongruously with a pair of Great White Pelicans!
Passing Cape Town International Airport, we completed the Southern
African corvid list with House Crow. We reached Paul’s hotel
in Camps Bay in the late afternoon. The total mileage for the four
day trip was 1332km and it was quality birding all the way!
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
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Our guides' knowledge of African
birds and birding areas is our greatest strength and together we
have rediscovered species, shared exciting observations with the
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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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