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Western Cape Tour, West Coast National Park, Sunday 14 April 2013

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Itinerary: Milnerton Lagoon, Grotto Bay, Tienie Versveld Flower Reserve near Darling, West Coast National Park - Abrahamskraal waterhole, Geelbek and Seeberg Hide.

Highlight bird species: Red-backed Shrike (male), Southern Black Korhaan & Black Harrier

Highlight mammal species: Caracal

Total number of species recorded: 104 seen and 2 heard

Detailed Trip Report

I met Mark and Janet, two Canadian birders at their Cape Town hotel at 07h00 for a birding day-trip up the West Coast. The weather was sunny and pleasant.

Our first stop was at the Milnerton lagoon - Pied Kingfisher (and a blue/green Ring-necked Parakeet, no doubt an escapee), followed by a short stop at the wetlands, Atlantic Beach - African Snipe and then the Dolphin Beach pans - Purple Swamphen, before heading up the coast via Blouberg and Melkbos.

Along the R27 freeway we turned down towards Grotto Bay, hoping to pick up Grey-winged Francolin, but the area was still very dry and they were not about. We did see Spotted Thick-knee and added Grey-backed Cisticola and White-backed Mousebird. Crossing the R27, we continued down the Darling Hills Road where the dam produced a pair of South African Shelduck. Other species such as Cape Sparrow, Capped Wheatear, Pied Starling, Bokmakierie, Jackal Buzzard, African Pipit, Fiscal Flycatcher, Brimstone Canary and Southern Red Bishop were added along the road.

We continued through Darling and stopped at the Tienie Versfeld Wildflower Reserve to look for Large-billed Lark, which could be heard calling. At the dam in the reserve we were surprised to find four Greater Flamingo as well as Pied Avocet and Black-winged Stilt. Further along we picked both Large-billed and Red-capped Lark, and spotted a small cisticola in the grass. It eventually perched conveniently in a bush giving a photographic opportunity and confirming it as a Cloud Cisticola. We also spotted a pair of Steenbok. Both Cape Longclaw and Blue Crane were heard here, but not seen.

Cloud Cisticola by Otto Schmidt
Cloud Cisticola (endemic Cape subspecies) © Otto Schmidt

We entered the West Coast National Park at about midday and soon sighted a group of Red-faced Mousebirds. Our first stop was at Abrahamskraal waterhole, and although it was shortly after midday, the birds were quite active. Black Crake was soon spotted, as was the African Rail directly below the hide, unfortunately moving back into the reeds too quickly for a picture. A Black Harrier perched briefly across the pan, and the waterbirds usually present - Red-knobbed Coot, Little Grebe, Common Mooorhen, Cape Shoveler and Yellow-billed Duck as well as Lesser Swamp Warbler and Purple Swamphen were seen. Behind the hide or coming to drink were African Stonechat, Karoo Prinia, Levaillant's Cisticola, Yellow and White-throated Canary, with African Sacred Ibis and African Spoonbill at their normal roosting spot along the pan. Also along the pan, to our surprise, we spotted a male Red-backed Shrike, an unexpected species this far south, possibly a bird engaged in "reverse migration".

Red-backed Shrike photographed by Otto Schmidt on a Birding Africa Tour

After a productive spell in the hide, we headed to Geelbek for lunch, where we enjoyed the antics of a Cape Weaver male systematically destroying one of its old nests. A non-breeding male Yellow Bishop, Cape Wagtail and several House Sparrows were also about to join the Cape Weavers at the tables to clean up the lunch scraps.

We continued up the West Coast Park, stopping for several large male eland along the road and then driving up to the Seeberg lookout point. Here we eventually added a Karoo Scrub-Robin, this individual having an injured face, but otherwise quite perky. The Southern Black Korhaan often seen along this path was not around, so we continued to the Seeberg hide, picking up Long-billed Crombec on the way. With the tide coming in, a good number of waders were accumulating, with several Eurasian Curlew and a group of Bar-tailed Godwits present directly in front of the hide. A number of other migrant wader species were added, with several Grey Plovers in full breeding plumage. Also about behind the hide were a pair of Kittlitz's Plover, a pair of Cape Teal, and a number of White-fronted Plovers sitting, each in their own "crater" , on the dry pan alongside. Here, a Cape Longclaw was also spotted. Both Greater and a single Lesser Flamingo (juvenile) were on the water's edge, and Swift and Sandwich Tern and African Black Oystercatcher were also about. By now a cold mist was heading in from the north.

Back along the boardwalk we had a pair of Bar-throated Apalis and another drive up the Seeberg hill had Janet's eagle eyes find the male Southern Black Korhaan. Another male was seen along the tarred road soon afterwards, and passing Geelbek on our way out we added two more Black Harriers and an African Marsh-Harrier.

Another highlight was still to come just short of the park exit, when Janet called out "There's a cat, red with long ears", and to our amazement we then spent 10 minutes driving alongside a Caracal which occasionally stopped to glance at us before padding on parallel to the vehicle. Eventually it crossed the road ahead of us, and was last seen heading down the bank with its tail twitching, probably eyeing its supper as we headed out of the park just before the gate closed at 18h00. We were back in Cape Town just after 19h00 after an excellent day's birding with a day-list of 104 species (plus two heard).

Caracal photographed by Otto Schmidt on a Birding Africa Tour

For a full list of species from this trip, please contact us.

A Birding Africa Trip Report by Tour Leader Otto Schmidt

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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