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Western Cape Trip Report: Paarl & Tanqua birding tour, 16 & 17 June 2010

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Itinerary: We visited key birding sites in the Western Cape: Paarl Bird Sanctuary, Mitchell's Pass, Gydo Pass, Swartruggens mountains and the Tanqua Karoo.

Total number of species seen: 117 species

Highlight species: Protea Canary, Karoo Eremomela and more.

Snowy winter landscape of the Cape mountains © Birding Africa tour leader Tertius Gous.

Detailed Trip Report

I collected Richard and Kaori at their Guest House in Pinelands at 7h00 and while packing the vehicle, an Olive Thrush put in an appearance as the first bird of the trip. The weather was overcast and cold after two days of bitterly cold weather in the Cape. Fortunately it started clearing up as we entered Paarl Bird Sanctuary at about 8h30 en route to our overnight stop in the Swartruggens mountains north of Ceres. The snow-covered peaks of the Du Toitskloof mountain range in the east made for a spectacular backdrop as the day's birding started in earnest.

African Dusky Flycatcher © Birding Africa tour leader Tertius Gous.

Paarl Bird Sanctuary is a well-known for water birds, but while enjoying brunch at the first pan we were treated to good bush birds such as Cape Bulbul, Cape Robin-chat, Fiscal Flycatcher, African Dusky Flycatcher, Cardinal Woodpecker, Cape Canary, Brimstone Canary, Lesser Honeyguide, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Yellow Bishop and Red-eyed Dove. Malachite Kingfisher was easily found and a Little Bittern popped out of the reeds. African Purple Swamphen, Black Crake, Common Moorhen and Lesser Swamp-Warbler all came out of the reed beds to sun themselves. The open expanses of water had African Black Duck, Cape Shoveler, Yellow-billed Duck, Egyptian Goose, Cape Teal, Red-knobbed Coot, Little Grebe and Greater Flamingo, while Brown-throated Martins flitted overhead. A lone Goliath Heron, which is an uncommon bird in the western Cape, was present on one of the islands. There were numerous breeding Hartlaub's and Grey-headed Gulls. The trees on the island in the northernmost pan were covered with breeding White-breasted and Reed Cormorants. A surprise sighting was a Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk shooting out of the tall bluegum trees bordering the pans.

Chacma Baboon © Birding Africa tour leader Tertius Gous.

The plan was to traverse the mountains above Wellington via the Bain's Kloof Pass but the pass was closed due to recent rockfalls, so we had to take a detour via Tulbagh en route to Ceres. A lone African Spoonbill was seen at a farm dam along the way and a group of Great White Pelicans seemed out of place in the middle of a wheat field. Capped Wheatears and African Stonechats were common in the farmlands. A quick roadside stop near VoŽlvlei Dam produced Spotted Prinia, Bokmakierie, Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Scrub-Robin and Jackal Buzzard in one of the few remaining patches of renosterveld vegetation. The slope behind the Tolhuis restaurant along the Mitchell's Pass west of Ceres had a very confiding male Cape Rock-Trush. Here we also found Bar-throated Apalis and a Verreauxs' Eagle pair soared above. We also bumped into a family of Chacma Baboons and some inquisitive Rock Hyraxs. Nearby, a very vocal pair of Protea Seed-eaters caused considerable excitement. Malachite Sunbirds were common and a few White-necked Ravens were present as well. We also saw Rock Kestrel. Heading further up, Cape Crow was seen in an open field while African Fish Eagle soared above a large farm dam. A pair of South African Shelducks was found on one of the numerous farm dams along the road.Upon entering the rugged Swartruggens mountains we chanced upon two Bat-eared Foxes and while watching these curious canids, we also noticed a herd of Grey Rhebok foraging in an open field. Rock Martins were common and we found Cape Weaver foraging on protea flowers. Cape Sugarbird and Orange-breasted, Malachite and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds were common at dense stands of protea, and at one stage Richard counted no less than 15 Orange-breasted Sunbirds in one protea bush! Special birds at the Katbakkies Pass were Mountain Wheatear, Cape Bunting and Cape Siskin. Soon after arriving at our overnight stop we witnessed several flocks of Cape Siskin flying overhead. The grounds of the lodge held Cape Spurfowl, Cape Bunting, Cape Sparrow, Familiar Chat and Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk.

Fairy Flycatcher © Birding Africa tour leader Tertius Gous.

The next day saw us up bright and early to witness a landscape covered in frost and Tafelberg peak in the distance topped with snow. Although the air was crisp there was not a cloud in the sky. As we stopped to appreciate a lone Steenbok ram next to the road on the way to Skitterykloof, a flock of Red-winged Starlings passed quickly overhead. The birding at Skitterykloof was excellent and we soon added several new species to the list. These included Layard's Tit-babbler, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Streaky-headed Seed-eater, Grey Tit, Pririt Batis, Southern Masked Weaver, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Long-billed Crombec, Dusky Sunbird and Hamerkop. We tried our best to find the elusive Cinnamon-breasted Warbler but luck was not on our side.

Yellow Canary and Streaky-headed Seed-eater © Birding Africa tour leader Tertius Gous.

Then it was on to the sunny Tanqua plains where many memorable birds were seen including Rufous-eared Warbler, Karoo Chat, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Karoo Lark, White-throated Canary, Yellow Canary, Tractrac Chat, Large-billed Lark, Spike-heeled Lark and large flocks of Red-capped Larks. A particularly memorable moment was having tea along the road with a Karoo Eremomela calling close-by. The bird was very approachable but strangely alone. We had sightings of several groups of Karoo Korhaans to make up a total of 12 birds for the day. On the way to the Tanqua River near the old Tanqua Guest House we encountered a pair of Lanner Falcons with the smaller male being a particularly pale individual. We found Namaqua Warbler in the phragmites reeds along the Tanqua River and White-backed and Red-faced Mousebirds in the Acacia thickets. A single Greater Kestrel was seen and two Ludwig's Bustards made a fly-past late in the afternoon. Unfortunately none of the nomadic birds that occasionally frequent the Tanqua, such as Black-headed Canary, Lark-like Bunting, Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Black-eared Sparrowlark and Burchell's Courser were present. Numerous seed-eating birds congregated at a small but dry pan next to the road including a flock of approximately 50 Common Waxbills. We stopped at the Inverdoorn dam where three Southern Black Korhaans were foraging on the open plain that surrounds the dam. The dam held large numbers of Red-knobbed Coot, and numerous Black-winged Stilts and Pied Avocets. The last bird of the day was a Spotted Eagle-Owl sitting prominently on a telephone pole next to the road.

Snow on the Cedarberg mountain range © Birding Africa tour leader Tertius Gous.

A Birding Africa Trip Report by Tour Leader Tertius Gous.

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: Cape Day Trips and Western Cape Tours

Please click this link for more detailed information about our upcoming Cape Tours.
Focus 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.
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 Moderate; can be warm in summer and chilly in winter.
Comfort A good standard of accommodation in guest houses, lodges and small hotels.
Transport We travel by minibus or four wheel drive vehicle.
Group Size This depends on the specific tour. Please enquire.
Top birds Fynbos endemics, Karoo endemics and raptors in a spectacular setting
Top mammals whales, dolphins, Cape Grysbok, Chacma Baboon, Caracal, Grey Mongoose
Booking Please contact us if you wish to book. 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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