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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
Snowy winter landscape of the Cape mountains ©
Birding Africa tour leader Tertius Gous.
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
African Dusky Flycatcher © Birding Africa tour leader Tertius
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
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., www.netbooks.co.za
or www.wildsounds.co.uk). However
you're always welcome to contact
us if you're interested in a guided trip in this area.