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Western Cape Tour: West Coast birding tour, 7 October 2010

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Itinerary: Cape Town, Milnerton Lagoon, Grotto Bay, Darling Hills Road and West Cast National Park

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Detailed Trip Report

I collected Marie Watt and Marcia Kirkwood from their Waterfront hotel at about 07h45 on Thursday, 7 October for a day-trip up the West Coast.  It was an extremely windy day, but apart from a slight drizzle when leaving town, the very strong wind and the sky remaining overcast for most of the day, the rain held off and it was a pleasant temperature.

Our first short stop was at the Milnerton lagoon, where roosting Common and Sandwich Terns, a fishing Little Egret, a single Greenshank and a pair of Mallards amongst others got the day going.

Heading along the R27, we started spotting Yellow-billed Kites, occasional Black-shouldered Kite, a perched Rock Kestrel and rather too many Pied Crows.

We turned down towards Grotto Bay, but the flowers which were still present had not opened because of the cool overcast weather and the birds were keeping low in the wind. However, we did add Fiscal Shrike, Yellow Canary, Cape Spurfowl and Spotted Thick-knee on the way back. At the coast a single gull flew up to investigate the car, and it turned out to be a Grey-headed Gull in full colour.

We then travelled for a short distance down the Darling Hills Road, and this came up trumps once again, with Blue Crane, Spur-winged and Egyptian Geese and SA Shelduck and a great sighting of a Black Harrier at the earth dam.  Banded Martin, European Bee-eater, African Hoopoe, Capped Wheatear, Red-capped Lark, African Pipit, Crowned Lapwing, Malachite Sunbird, Cape Longclaw and others all gave good views before we turned back towards the R27.

On entering the West Coast National Park, we stopped several times for Angulate Tortoises crossing the road, and a family of one male and two females Ostriches with a group of young chicks was a pleasant sighting as we headed for the Abrahaamskraal hide.  Here the Pearl-breasted Swallows nesting in the hide seem to have small chicks, a number of Cape Teal were on the pan, frequently being hassled by an aggressive female South African Shelduck and a pair of Cape Shovelers had chicks in tow.  A pair of African Marsh Harriers were seen, and several canaries, mainly Yellow Canary but including a pair of Black-headed Canary, were seen. However, some of the expected smaller species generally around the hide were not in evidence, probably due to the strong north-westerly wind.

From the hide we headed up the western side of the lagoon towards Plakkiesbaai.  Here, the views were great as always, but apart from African Black Oystercatchers, White-fronted Plovers and a few Cape Cormorants fishing in the surf birding was very quiet. Heading back towards Geelbek, it was a little distressing to see three dead puffadders on the road, no doubt the result of speeding motorists.  We did however also see one lovely live specimen crossing the road ahead of us.

The water-level at the Geelbek hide was seen to be exceptionally high, with a number of Greater Flamingoes feeding on the landward side of the hide. After a pleasant lunch at the Geelbek restaurant, we headed towards Seeberg as the tide was still very high. Seeberg lookout was very windblown, but just before the turn-off to the Seeberg hide we had a good and lengthy stop to view a male Southern Black Korhaan feeding next to the road.

On reaching the boardwalk to the Seeberg hide, we discovered that the pans behind the hide were totally flooded and part of the boardwalk had water lapping over it preventing access to the hide.  In fact, a Pied Kingfisher was eyeing its next meal from the near end of the boardwalk and a large group of flamingoes, including several Lesser Flamingoes, were roosting in the water behind the row of dunes. A single Caspian and one Swift Tern were seen flying past, but observing waders was not an option, a particularly high tide and the very strong north-wester having inundated the area.

Heading back towards the parking area, we decided that the time had come to start heading back to town.  Just then, the bush near the parking came alive with bush-birds and we added a number of new species for the day in a matter of minutes. These included Karoo Scrub-Robin, White-throated Canary, White-backed Mousebird, Chestnut-vented Titbabbler, Cape Penduline-Tit, Cape Bunting and Bokmakierie. This delayed our departure somewhat, and it was about 17h00 by the time we left Seeberg.  

Apart from one more good view of Black Harrier (this time outside the park), bringing sightings of this impressive raptor to six for the day, we were back in a now gloomy and rainy Cape Town by about 18h30. The total species for the day was 90 (89 seen + I heard), plus 3 additional species seen by myself but not the clients. Given that the very strong wind kept many of the bush-birds in hiding, and access to the wader hides was not possible due to the times of the tides and the very strong wind blowing down the lagoon, this total can be regarding as reasonably satisfactory.

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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