Report: Western South Africa, 28 July - 13 August 2005
This late winter birding trip was designed for a family of five,
including two 9-year old twin girls (Lara and Florence) and a third,
11-year old girl (Alice). Each member of the family was very unique
but all were a fantastic delight to travel and bird with. In fact,
this was one of the most enjoyable trips I have ever guided. The
family was excellent (a happy and enthusiastic family), and we found
a lot of extremely exciting and difficult birds, despite the fact
that we also allocated a fair amount of time to non-birding activities
such as Cango Caves and walking to the top of Table Mountain.
The trip encompassed Cape Town, West Coast, Tanqua Karoo,
Little Karoo, Garden Route and Overberg.
Some of the highlights included close views of Red-chested Flufftail,
three excellent sightings of African Finfoot and finding good numbers
of Hottentot Buttonquail. We had close encounters with a plethora
of other localised endemics such as Blue Crane, Cinnamon-breasted
Warbler, Protea Canary, Victorin’s Warbler, Knysna Warbler,
Knysna Woodpecker, Knysna Turaco and Cape Rockjumper to name but
a few. Mammals (including whales) and wildflowers were spectacular.
Since the Jeffers family had birded Namibia the previous year, we
targeted bird species the family had not yet seen in Namibia. A
real highlight (especially for Carol) was Blue Crane, a bird the
family had missed in Namibia. Some of our aims were to see all the
birds on Raymond’s wish list, while also to see some of the
tourist and historical sites, scenery and a lot of mammals.
Day 1, 28 July 2005:
After collecting the family from the airport in the morning, we
headed to Afton Grove B&B. In the grounds of this excellent
4-star birder-friendly B&B, we encountered our first of several
common endemics such as Southern Boubou. We spent the afternoon
doing the Robben Island historical and prison tours, and in the
process found African Penguin, the endemic Bank (in fine breeding
plumage) and Crowned Cormorant and quite a number of other species.
Day 2, 29 July 2005:
We visited the extremely impressive sea cliffs and nearby fynbos
at the south-western-most tip of the African continent, Cape of
Good Hope. Here we found Cape Sugarbird, Cape Siskin and other tantalising
Cape endemics. We then visited the Boulders African Penguin colony
and Strandfontein Bird Sanctuary which is filled with impressive
numbers of Great White Pelican, Greater Flamingo, waterfowl, African
Purple Swamphen, African Marsh Harrier and a host of other water-associated
birds. The highlight was excellent views of White-backed Duck, a
bird that I had never seen at this site before. Seeing it here took
pressure off later parts of the itinerary. O/N Afton Grove B&B.
Day 3, 30 July 2005:
Pelagic day. A real highlight as usual! How can seeing literally
hundreds of albatrosses and other pelagic seabirds not be a spectacular
highlight? O/N Afton Grove B&B.
Day 4, 31 July 2005:
Since the weather was excellent, we first birded Kirstenbosch Botanical
Gardens first thing in the morning before starting the long walk
to the top of Table Mountain via Skeleton Gorge. Only three of us,
the two youngest girls (aged 9) and myself made it to the top of
Skeleton Gorge – the others opted to stay around the botanical
gardens. Once at the top of the gorge, Lara, Florence and I walked
to the highest point of Table Mountain (Maclear’s Beacon)
and then eventually down Platteklip Gorge before we caught a taxi
back to Kirstensbosch. As usual, we added high quality birds to
our list today – things like the first of many of the stunning
Cape Batis. We encountered the endemic and uncommon Forest Buzzard
in the botanical gardens. O/N Afton Grove B&B.
Day 5, 1 August 2005:
We visited the Constantia Greenbelts where with the help of the
young girls we easily found our target species, Knysna Warbler.
Then we headed inland to the beautiful vineyard-covered valleys
of Stellenbosch, Franschoek and Paarl for a little wine tasting.
After this we headed to Paarl Mountain where some thorough searching
eventually rewarded us with close views of Protea Seedeater (Canary).
O/N Soverby Guest House.
Day 6, 2 August 2005:
We departed Stellenbosch for the West Coast, finding the unique
Western Cape subspecies of Cloud Cisticola, the stunning Cape Longclaw,
several other endemics such as Southern Large-billed Lark and the
unbelievable Black Harrier en route to the West Coast National Park.
Here we easily found our main target birds: Southern Black Korhaan,
Grey-wing Francolin and Southern Grey Tit. The coastal form of Karoo
Lark provided a lot of entertainment. We could not find the Cape
form of Clapper Lark – none were displaying at any of the
sites we tried. O/N at the excellent birder-friendly Falcon’s
Day 7, 3 August 2005:
The Columbine Peninsula yielded its target species (Cape Long-billed
Lark and Sickle-winged Chat) quickly. So, we were well on time to
embark on crossing the impressive Cederberg Mountain Range, the
other side of which lies one of the greatest endemic hotspots on
earth, the Karoo semi-desert. Lunch on the Cederberg summit did
not yield Cape Rockjumper as it sometimes does, but we did find
a covey of Grey-wing Francolin. BLUE CRANE was the exciting highlight
after crossing the mountains and we found our first of many Peregrine
Falcons (strangely no Lanners for the entire tour). We had a great
taste of Karoo birding with the likes of Fairy Flycatcher and other
fine endemics before we had to call it a day. O/N at the hospitable
Tanqua B&B (which has become legendary in birding circles because
of its proximity to sites for difficult Karoo species).
Day 8, 4 August 2005:
Karoo birding never disappoints and the Jeffers got great photos
of Cinnamon-breasted Warbler – a bird they had actually seen
before in Namibia – there are few people who can boast having
seen this rare and localised skulker in two different countries!
The Karoo also yielded Black-headed Canary, several endemic chats
and larks (including Karoo Long-billed Lark), Pale Chanting Goshwak,
Booted Eagle, Layard’s Tit-babbler and as usual a plethora
of others. O/N Tanqua B&B.
Day 9, 5 August 2005:
Continued Karoo birding added quality species to our list including
Karoo Korhaan, Namaqua Warbler, Karoo Eremomela and many others.
We then embarked on a long drive to Outshoorn where we spent the
night at Baron’s Palace B&B.
Day 10, 6 August 2005:
We found Cape Penduline Tit before heading for Cango Caves where
most of the morning was spent. We then headed to the top of the
extremely impressive Swartberg Pass for lunch. An unbelievably strong
wind did not deter us from finding Cape Rockjumper and Sentinel
Rock Thrush, but Victorin’s Warbler did not put in an appearance
(we only heard it briefly in the howling gale). Eventually, we crossed
the beautiful Outeniqua Mountains, heading out of the dry Karoo
and to the forests, lakes and mountains of the Garden Route. O/N
Ebb and Flow, Wilderness National Park.
Day 11, 7 August 2005:
First thing in the morning we visited a nearby site for African
Finfoot, and 11-year old (well, almost) Alice spotted this elusive
bird quite quickly. Apart from the finfoot - a bogey bird for many
a hardened and experienced South African birder not to mention visiting
birders – this proved to be a hot birding site! Half-collared
and Giant Kingfishers, Knysna Turaco, Forest Canary, Chorister Robin-chat
and many other specials put on a fine show. We then headed for the
hides of the Wilderness Lakes, where searching and luring eventually
generated fantastic views of Red-chested Flufftail. Flufftails are
amongst the most skulking birds on the African continent, but with
the help of Florence and the other young girls we managed to get
the most incredible and close views of this species possible. Afternoon
birding in the beautiful forests in the area yielded Knysna Woodpecker
(which we encountered a lot after this day), Olive Woodpecker and
many others. O/N Ebb and Flow.
Day 12, 8 August 2005:
A river boat trip from Plettenberg Bay yielded White-backed Night
Heron and several other more common species. En route to Nature’s
Valley we found Victorin’s Warbler and other species. The
Groot River Bridge at Nature’s Valley yielded our second African
Finfoot for the trip. Throughout our stay at the Garden Route, we
encountered very good numbers of Knysna Turaco, Knysna Warbler and
Knysna Woodpecker, but we never saw (we only heard) Olive Bush Shrike.
O/N Nature’s Valley Guest House.
Day 13, 9 August 2005:
Since the Outeniqua Choo-tjoe was closed for maintenance, we instead
decided to embark on a long walk to the point of Robberg Peninsula.
The Cape Fur Seal colony was very interesting and we saw Humpback
Whale. New birds for our list included Cape Rock Thrush, but Ground
Woodpecker was not around and had to wait until the last day of
Day 14, 10 August 2005:
After final Garden Route birding, we headed westwards (back towards
Cape Town), to the highly recommended Honeywood Farm near Grootvadersbosch
Forest. Red-necked Francolin, Burchell’s Coucal and other
new birds were added to our growing list. Fiery-necked Nightjar
entertained us in the evening while searching (this time unsuccessfully)
for Buff-spotted Flufftail.
Day 15, 11 August 2005:
After birding the forest in the morning, we visited the Bontebok
National Park, which is a fine birding site that generated some
exciting species. We then headed south and were rewarded with Agulhas
Long-billed Lark and displaying Agulhas Clapper Lark (what an impressive
sight!!). We cleaned up efficiently on the endemics we needed for
the day. The bird of the day was Hottentot Buttonquail – we
encountered good numbers. For conservation purposes, we do not reveal
the location of this species as it is an endangered and easily disturbed
species. But, we stumbled across this species at an as yet unknown
site. O/N Buchu Bush Camp where the night air was filled with the
sound of nocturnally displaying Clapper Lark and Fiery-necked Nightjar.
Day 16, 12 August 2005:
We spent a few hours watching the Southern Right Whale spectacle
at Koppie Alleen in de Hoop Nature Reserve. Cape Mountain Zebra,
Eland (Africa’s largest antelope), Bontebok and other mammals
entertained us while finding Southern Tchagra and other exciting
birds the reserve has to offer. In the afternoon we headed for the
Potberg section of de Hoop Nature Reserve where we yet again heard
Knysna Woodpecker, saw Cape Vulture, but looked in vain for Striped
Flufftail. Evening birding yielded Barn Owl and Spotted Eagle Owl.
O/N Buchu Bush Camp.
Day 17, 13 August 2005:
We drove back to Cape Town, shopping and looking at Southern Right
Whales at Hermanus, and then birding Rooiels. At Rooiels we found
Verraux’s Eagle, Cape Rockjumper, our only Ground Woodpecker
for the trip and other fine species. Eventually we arrived at Cape
Town International Airport where we were shocked to hear that the
British Airways flight back to Heathrow had been cancelled due to
a strike. The Jeffers had to stay in Cape Town an extra night, but
eventually managed to fly out of South Africa to make the British
Birding Fair a couple of days later!
Western South Africa rivals any other place in Africa for
the number of endemic bird species and accessibility: over 80%
of South Africa's endemics occurs here. This varied scenery
with dramatic mountain ranges, the unqiue Cape floral Kingdom
and the semi-desert plains of the Karoo also offers mammals,
chameleons, geckos, butterflies and interesting plants, to suit
both keen birders and nature enthusiasts. We also offer pelagic
trips out of Cape Town, to see albatross, shearwaters, petrels,
whales and dolphins.
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
Only a low level of fitness is required.
Throughout the year.
Mediterranean climate, which can be warm in summer (October
to March) and chilly in winter (June to September), the rainy
A good standard of accommodation in guest houses, lodges and
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.