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Western Cape Trip Report: Tanqua Karoo birding tour, 20-21 September 2010

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: This was a 2-day tour, starting and ending in Cape Town.
We visited key birding sites in the Western Cape: Blaauwberg, Darling, Ceres, Kouebokkeveld and the Tankwa (Tanqua) Karoo.

Detailed Trip report

20 September 2010 ­ Blaauwberg, Darling, Ceres & Kouebokkeveld

I met Stephan and Otji at Rondevlei Nature Reserve at 6h45 so we could avoid the city's traffic and get going early. Thus by 7h45 we were already along the Blaauwberg coastline enjoying the classic view of Table Mountain across Table Bay in the early morning sunshine. 

Here we found several Crowned Cormorants and African Black Oystercatcher on the coastal rocks. We found White-fronted Plovers along the high tide mark and then crossed over the road into the coastal thicket and picked up some of the bush birds; Bokmakierie, Cape Robin-chat, Karoo Scrub-robin and Grey-backed Cisticola. There was a cold front approaching the Cape from the north west, and a light rain broke through every now and then. We headed up the coast, turning into the Darling road to see if we could find Southern Black Korhaan. We heard two males calling almost as soon as we arrived, but Stephan only managed a glimpse of one some way off before it disappeared into the bush. A Black Harrier made a far off fly past, whilst Pied Starling, Cape Canary, Greater Striped Swallow and Cape Sparrow abounded. The cold weather kept many of the birds in cover as we travelled down the road, picking up Red and Yellow Bishop amongst a breeding colony of Cape Weavers. 

Cape Teal, Egyptian and Spur-winged Geese were in a roadside dam, as Blacksmith Lapwing and Three-banded Plover skirted the waters edge. We found a calling Lesser Honeyguide, but the bird called from the back of trees beyond our reach and after a while the rain drove us into the car and along the road. Despite the rain, the hill sides that we passed near Darling were coloured purple with spring flowers. After picking up Cape Longclaw near the roadside, we turned inland, travelling through the town of Malmesbury, over the beautiful Seweweeks Poort and on to the Mitchell’s Mountain Pass. Here we stopped at a couple of sites to take in the scenery and have a look around. Booted Eagle turned up and then Streaky-headed Seed-eater amongst the boulders of a lookout over the waterfall in the pass. Further on in the town of Ceres we picked up some lunch and used our last chance of getting fuel and other supplies before entering the Tanqua. 

We had lunch over looking Ceres from the Gydo Pass and then reached the rocky plateau of the Kouebokkeveld. Here at a productive stakeout en route we found Protea Canary amongst a stand of old Proteas. In this area we also found our first Mountain Wheatear and a number of Cape Sugarbirds. We pressed on, leaving the small farms behind and entered the area of rock plateaus that have shaped into strange features by the elements. Stopping at a location we travelled in by foot to an overhang with several paintings of San rock art. These paintings depicted various scenes of San life. Here in a rock crack we flushed an owl, getting only brief views of the bird. We travelled further up the crack and got a slightly better view of the bird, which we made out to be a Barn Owl. This was confirmed by the feathers found amongst the pellets lying along the length of the rock crack. With daylight coming to a close we headed to Klein Cedarberg, our guest house for the night, but not before picking up Rock Martin and Cape Rock Thrush amongst the boulders around us. 

At the guest house we found Familiar Chat amongst the buildings and Blacksmith Lapwing and Three-banded Plover at the water pond. Brown-throated and Rock Martins mixed with a lone White-throated Swallow as Cape Weaver arrived to drink before nightfall. After a great supper we had a short drive, finding Smith’s Red Rock Rabbit and a Spotted Eagle Owl before turning in for the night.

21 September 2010 ­ Kouebokkeveld, Tanqua Karoo, Cape Town

During the night a cold front blew in over the Cape and the next morning a cold wind was blowing from the North. We set off at 7h45 and soon found a female Southern Black Korhaan in the road. We travelled over the mountain range and stopped for breakfast near the rock walls of Peerboomskloof. Here we tried for Cinnamon-breasted Warbler and although we heard the bird it didn’t show against the cliffs. We had more luck however with Fairy Warbler and Layard’s Titbabbler before setting off on to the dry lowlands of the Tanqua. 

Before long we had picked up a pair of Karoo Korhaan and a Karoo Chat. Pale Chanting Goshawk appeared and we found Red-capped Larks at leaking water pipes. Unfortunately the Tanqua roads lived up to their tough reputation and we had a flat tyre; this didn’t stop us for long and we picked up Karoo Chat whilst changing it! Off again and we entered a dry river bed to find Dusky Sunbird on a flowering bush, followed by Namaqua Warbler that responded nicely amongst the thick riverine vegetation. 

Some ways on Large-billed Lark appeared and then a pair of Spike-heeled Lark amongst dry grass clumps. By this stage the wind had picked up and unbelievably it started to rain ­ a very rare event in this otherwise arid landscape. We decided to head back toward Ceres and found a Ludwig’s Bustard that flew over and then conveniently landed within scope distance. We were just celebrating this when the road decided to claim our spare tyre that sprang a serious leak. This meant a walk to a local farm house to get help; where I was greeted by 20 mourners as the grandmother at the farm house had just passed away! As it turned out their phone line was also down, which necessitated a trip to another local farm where cell phone reception was reputably to be had whilst standing on a rock behind the homestead. I managed to get a lift there and eventually found the “rock” which turned out to be the size of a half brick. Lo and behold however, standing on the “rock” one could get cell phone reception ­ step off the rock and one got nothing! Talk about some local knowledge! With reception we soon had a breakdown truck bring a spare tyre and we thus made it back to the town of Ceres by nightfall.  

Our bad luck with the tyre unfortunately cut short our birding, but not before we had a pair of Karoo Korhaans display right next to the car while we waited for our spare tyre to arrive. 

Birding Africa Trip Report by Tour Leader Dalton Gibbs .

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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Black Harrier photograph courtesy of Keith Offord.
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