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Western Cape Tour, West Coast and Hottentots Holland, 19-20 January 2012

Itinerary: We visited key birding sites in the Western Cape: West Coast National Park and Hottentots Holland.

Total number of species seen: 161!

To see particiapant John Malloy's photographs taken on this day trip, please scroll down and click here, here (Hottentots Holland) and here (West Coast).

For more information about our upcoming Cape Tours, please click here.

Cape Sugarbird on a day trip with Birding Africa © Alastair Kilpin

Birding from the hide in West Coast National Park © John Malloy

Yellow Bishop © John Malloy

Common Fiscal © John Malloy

African Penguin © Alastair Kilpin

Cape Girdled Lizard © Alastair Kilpin

Orange-breasted Sunbird © John Malloy
Orange-breasted Sunbirdon a day trip with Birding Africa © John Malloy

West Coast National Park © John Malloy
West Coast National Park © John Malloy

Hottentots Holland © John Malloy

Detailed Trip Report

19 January 2012 - West Coast

After a massive heatwave during the week we were looking forward to some slightly cooler temperatures aided by some coastal fog along the Cape West Coast…and this we thankfully got!

The wind also played along and we had a cracking start outside the town of Melkbosstrand – the neat little wetland held some good birds in two African Purple Swamphen, two Black-crowned Night Heron, Little Grebe, Purple Heron and one Hottentot Teal amongst others. The bush around the pan was noisy with non-breeding Southern Red Bishops, young Bokmakierie, White-throated Swallow and two Black-shouldered Kite perched in perfect view with the subadult bird gulping down a rodent. Cape Shoveler, Black-winged Stilt and Common Greenshank added to the mix before we moved north to the Darling area. We had some Pied Starling, White-backed Mousebird, sneaky Spotted Thick-knee and three Blue Crane – our exquisite national bird. Cape Sparrow, African Pipit and Red-capped Lark were in the fields, but the highlight was the Southern Black Korhaan. Even though we did not seen them too closely, three birds were very vocal and flying in the strandveld a few hundred metres away.

The tides in the West Coast NP were good for the wader hides later in the day, so we headed straight to Velddrif on the Berg River. The raptors stole the show. Besides the numerous Steppe Buzzards, Yellow-billed Kites and Pied Crows (reclassified an for the day), we had three other superb raptor sightings: A roadside Secretarybird was a nice surprise as we watched it hunting the fields – this unique African bird is in serious decline and becoming tougher and tougher to find. Coming back from the river en route to Saldanha we stopped for a Booted Eagle and managed to add a Lanner Falcon to the list! Back to Velddrif: the salt pans had dried out significantly over the past few weeks, making viewing tricky. We managed to get Ruff, Common Greenshank, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint and Marsh Sandpiper. The fresh water hide produced a nice pair of endemic South African Shelduck, loads of Yellow-billed Duck, Caspian Tern and Little Egret. Both Lesser and Greater Flamingo were sighted at the back of the pans. We also had Large-billed Lark as it called from the saltmarsh.
The roads back south held a few more Namaqua Dove fly-bys and a field with Crowned Lapwings and a nesting Spotted Thick-knee. Unfortunately we also saw Bat-eared Fox as a roadkill. Our first stop in West Coast NP was at the famed Seeberg Hide. There was a nice collection of waders with Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Red Knot, Grey Plover and Little Stint all showing well. A very nice huddle of over a hundred Sanderling made for some active viewing as well. The bulk of the terns roosting were Common with a Caspian and some Swift and Sandwich also present. The highlight was 5 non-breeding Damara Tern – this species can be tricky to separate from Little Tern, but the slightly longer, drooping bill and call helped us make the ID.

In the warmest part of the day we made our way south to the Geelbek centre – a tiny Kittlitz’s Plover chick being the attraction on the boardwalk to the hide. The Eucalyptus grove delivered the goods with a few hole-nesting species; African Hoopoe, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow and three Cardinal Woodpeckers. The restaurant was alive with birdsong and activity around the fountain, mostly Cape Bulbul, Yellow Bishop and Cape Weaver. A smart male Pin-tailed Whydah also joined the show. A short walk after late lunch added a Steenbok antelope, more waders, vocal Sandwich Tern and Chestnut-vented Titbabbler before we made our way to the freshwater hide at Abrahamskraal. The larger birds like African Spoonbill and waterfowl were roosting, but the pan was quite active - Common Moorhen and Red-knobbed Coot with chicks and a few Black Crake out in the open. Little Rush-warbler and African Rail were vocal from the reedbeds. We had briefs views of European Bee-eater as we left the site and later collected some roadside Wattled Starlings near Yzerfontein.

The day was wrapped up in more windy conditions at Rietvlei north of Cape Town. A large roost of Great White Pelican and about 15 Great Crested Grebe were the notable sightings. Seeing this number of grebe in this region is not common at all and a great way to finish our birding for the day.

20 January 2012 - Hottentots Holland

With mist pouring over Sir Lowry’s Pass we tried to obtain views of a skulking yet vocal Bradypterus, Victorin’s Warbler in some dense restios. This was our first and most important target of the day. We only obtained glimpses, but were entertained by numbers of the stunning Orange-breasted Sunbird that were around us. Cape Grassbird, Yellow Bishop and Karoo Prinia all put in a show as well as a Steppe Buzzard perched high up on the rocks. Some lovely pink Erica longifolia brightened up the scene but when the mist became too dense, we left the site and headed deeper into the Hottentot’s Holland.

We had to hike a hill to obtain views of the target Cape Rockjumper - excellent views indeed and there found ourselves surrounded by Cape Siskin, Neddicky and Orange-breasted Sunbird. Two of the mountain-loving Klipspringer antelope bounded up ahead of us (translated as Rock-jumper), so we had done the Rockjumper double! The Fire Heath Erica cerinthoides and the bright-orange Watsonia schlecteri added a splash of colour to the summer scene. Lower down the mountain some flowering gums were attracting a range of nectivores; Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Malachite Sunbird, Cape Sugarbird and surprisingly no less than 4-5 Amethyst Sunbirds. This is another bird that appears to be extending its range westwards and it was a real treat to catch glimpses of the iridescent green head and amethyst throat. We also had Cape Canary, Fiscal Flycatcher and heard Cape Batis.

We moved into the Vyeboom valley onto some farmland which proved to be really good. Some White-backed Duck that have been resident for a few months were still present as well as some more tropical birds in the shape of White-faced Duck. Little Rush-warbler was not as confiding as usual, but both it and Levaillant’s Cisticola did pose briefly in some Juncus reeds. An African Stonechat pair hawked insects and we had African Purple-Swamphen with an immature feeding on the fringes of the dam. The last bit through the farms added Blue Crane, endemic Grey Rhebok antelope, Cape Crow, 2 confiding Large-billed Lark and Capped Wheatear.

As the day warmed up again we moved a little into the Overberg which proved quite fruitful. The highlight was undoubtedly finding a beautiful Black Sparrowhawk perched out in the open at eye level as the road rose above the one riverbed. It never moved and to add to the scene, some Blue Crane flew and called in the background view. The next small river crossing held Swee Waxbill, Alpine and White-rumped Swift and Spotted Flycatcher – this Palearctic migrant is not so common this far south. In this dry environment, a stop at an exotic oak and poplar grove was always going to have potential – so we did and immediately got four ‘forest’ birds in Sombre Greenbul, Cape Batis, African Dusky-flycatcher and 2 African Black Duck. We added a few more raptors before stopping near a known Greater Honeyguide call site – a subadult male appeared just as we were gawking at the amethyst throat of yet another Amethyst Sunbird!

We then headed south to the coast and got our first African Fish-eagle of the trip. An unexpected roadside stop for Cape Rock-thrush near the Palmiet River turned into 4 rock-thrush, a relaxed Cape Sugarbird and a very excitable Victorin’s Warbler that was calling as we got out the vehicle! We had a frantic session photographing the action around us as Cape Robin-chat and Grey-backed Cisticola entered the fray as well. Driving through the town of Betty’s Bay we had a great roadside sighting of a Hadeda Ibis grappling with a slippery Cape Legless Skink and managed a few half-decent photos. Buoyed by this, we arrived at the Stony Point penguin colony ready for some good photographic opportunities…which we got! All the marine cormorants were present, with the rapidly declining Bank Cormorants really starting to get some new nests underway.

Our last stop of the day was the famous Rooi Els site, below the mountains and overlooking the ocean. We had just alighted from the vehicle when we were treated to a Humpback Whale blowing its spout just off the Rooi Els point. The late afternoon is not ideal for this site, but we were entertained by a number of White-necked Raven, Grey-backed Cisticola, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Bunting, 2 Chacma Baboon and a last Cape Sugarbird feeding in the beautiful yellow & crimson Overberg Pincushion.

We ended the trip with the superb drive along the False Bay coast adding Bottle-nosed Dolphin and African Marsh-harrier to end with a 2-day trip tally of 161 species!

A Birding Africa Trip Report by Tour Leader Alistair Kilpin. Pictures taken by Al Kilpin.

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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