Birding Africa












Trip Report

17/07/05 to 20/07/05


Participant: Dave Callam
Guide: Malcolm Fair

17/07/05 – Cape Town to Langebaan
We met at Klein Boscheuwel at 7 am. The weather was just changing and what had been a calm night turned into a blustery Sunday morning. By the time we got out of the car at the Tokai parking lot, it was just light enough to get onto the birds, but a north wind had picked up dramatically, turning the raptor watching conditions from perfect, into fairly trying. We got some views of a pair of Forest Buzzard circling up out of the forest, one of which was being bombed by an unidentified accipiter. Soon we got onto some Chaffinch calling and with some patience and determination, managed to find one in the top of a pine tree. The same pine forest harboured a small troop of roosting baboons who seemed to be clinging on for dear life with the onset of the winds.

By 9:30 we were in the Constantia greenbelts looking for Knysna Warbler. They were eventually coaxed to call, but after some frustrating glimpses in a vegetation tangle, they disappeared behind a razor wire fence, and we were unable to relocate. Another pair began calling at about 11 am after the wind had died down, but was unwilling to venture out of the thick undergrowth.

Our visit to the Main ocean pier at the Cape Town harbour in search of the Sheathbill was frustrated by a film crew who had set up on the pier for the day to film a movie and had evidently chased the bird off – frustrating, since in the day before’s recce we’d had views of it from only metres away. So instead, we headed up the west coast ticking White-backed Duck, African Purple Swamphen and Glossy Ibis at the Dolphin Beach Pans on the way out.

Up at the West Coast National Park, we headed for the tern roost at Tsaarsbank (Wattled Starling on the way) and managed to find at least 5-10 Antarctic Terns (some still just coming out of breeding plumage) in amongst a mix of Common, Arctic and Swift Terns. The lagoon harboured large numbers of Greater Flamingos, and we were rewarded with great views of 2 different Black Harriers in the strandveld and a group of 3 Marsh Harriers quartering over the Phragmites reeds.

Our last target species was Cape Penduline Tit which we eventually got close to Seeberg in the Strandveld. Quite possibly the tits had begun breeding already and the area around Seeberg hill has a high concentration of the “Kapokbossie” (eriocephalus sp?) which was already producing good quantities of cotton – a substance highly sought after by the tits for nest building.

18/07/05 – Langebaan to Tanqua Karoo via Kransvlei Poort and Skitterykloof
We made an early start in the mist with our sights set on Kransvlei Poort north of Citrusdal. On the way we stopped west of Picketberg wheat fields and picked up the Cloud Cisticola. Also around were a few Blue Cranes, a small flock of White Storks, Sickle-winged Chat and Large-billed Lark.

At the Kransvlei Poort, we were quickly rewarded with a pair of Fairy Flycatchers and a Layard’s Titbabbler, followed soon after by a very confiding Protea Canary.

The weather had cleared and it was a beautiful post-frontal day in the Koue Bokkeveld - perfect conditions for scoping the Verreaux’s Eagle that we found perched on the cliff side in the Katbakkies Pass. Unfortunately, though, a second front began moving in and by the time we had reached Skitterykloof, the north wind had got up again. The Cinnamon-breasted Warblers were not too disturbed by the wind though, and we eventually got views of a pair in the sunlight on the rocky ledges on the way down into the kloof. Two other pairs were also heard calling from different parts of the kloof – one on the northern side and one at the eastern entrance.

Tractrac Chat was the next target species and was easily found on the roadside after the P2250 turnoff. The Tanqua Karoo north of Skitterykloof was exceptionally dry and there were very few birds around. Our first sight of the Tanqua Guest house included a plume of dust from a borehole drill rig – they had tried drilling twice in the past two days – 150m down – no water! Esther (of the Tanqua Guest House) reckons it’s the driest year they’ve seen it in at least 25. The Lucerne fields were a dust bowl (usually green by this time of year) and the dam reduced to a mud puddle – though still harbouring Greater Flamingos, South African Shelduck and Avocet.

19/07/05 – Tanqua Karoo to De Hoop
We woke early to a cold stiff NW wind and greying skies - Perhaps rain was on the way… Trying to find the Karoo Long-billed Lark in these conditions was trying, but after working the low ridge to the NE of the road through to the double gate, we were eventually rewarded with great views of an inquisitive, calling and displaying bird – perhaps he too was dancing to bring on the rain…?

It was raining lightly in the SW corner of the Tanqua, South of Eierkop, and the veld looked a little less parched and much greener in these parts. The birds at the fig tree avenue in Karoopoort were quite active and we heard Namaqua Warblers and found a pair of Pririt Batis.

Our route through to Swellendam took us through more rain, rainbows and clouds, but we emerged into a relatively clear Overberg, and were soon rewarded with great views of an Aghulas Long-billed Lark calling from the convenient perch of a roadside fencepost. The wheat fields were just greening up after what has been, according to the farmer we stayed with at The Cottage, the wettest winter in his memory. The Longbilled Larks were taking full advantage and the birds could be heard displaying at every stop we made.

Also taking advantage of the unusual conditions were 3 Black Storks, a Black Sparrowhawk (in a small patch of Bluegums), a pair of Black Duck (in a small stream +- 3km from the Malgas turnoff) and 2 Cape Vultures were seen flying overhead near The Cottage turnoff. Korhaans and bustards were conspicuous in their absence.

We headed for De Hoop Nature Reserve to look for the Aghulas Clapper Lark. After nearly 2 hours of attempts to flush them from their preferred habitat we headed home, only to discover that there was one displaying in the darkness above our heads as we got our luggage out of the car. It was a still evening and both Fiery-necked Nightjar and Spotted Eagle Owls were heard calling.

20/07/05 – De Hoop to Cape Town via Kleinmond, Betty’s Bay and Rooi Els
The wind picked up in the night and the rain started in the early hours of the morning. We woke to heavy rain squalls and gusting winds. We held out little hope for finding the clappers from the night before, but after some patience and persistence managed to find one displaying in between squalls above a remnant patch of Renosterveld 200m from the Infanta/De Hoop road junction. Also there, was a Martial Eagle and Cape Vulture.

Our next stop was at the Ysterklip reserve alongside the Arabella Golf Estate in Kleinmond. We were targeting the Hottentot Buttonquail, but were unable to find them despite some energetic and persistent effort, and were rewarded only by more Clapper Larks, Great Crested Grebe and a nesting Black Duck (10 eggs).

At Betty’s Bay we headed up into the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens and were quickly able to find a Victorin’s Warbler. We scoped the African Penguins from the main road and then headed through to Rooi Els. By this time the weather had taken a turn for the worse again and we headed off in gusty winds and light rain to look for rockjumpers and siskins. About 300m down the road south of Rooi Els, I suggested we take shelter behind a large rock and scan the hillside from there, which we duly did, only to discover that a female Cape Rockjumper had had the same idea. She seemed a little surprised to see us and proceeded to call her Male counterpart over to have a look at us. Whilst this was going on, an inquisitive Cape Siskin suddenly arrived on the scene and we had great looks at her too. What a great end to our trip - we were back at Klein Boscheuwel by 6pm.

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:
South Africa: Western Endemics

Please click this link for more detailed information about our upcoming Cape Tours.
Please also visit our tour calendar and description of other South African tours.
Focus 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.
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 Mediterranean climate, which can be warm in summer (October to March) and chilly in winter (June to September), the rainy season.
Comfort A good standard of accommodation in guest houses, lodges and farm stays.
Transport We travel by minibus or four wheel drive vehicle.
Group Size This depends on the specific tour. Please enquire.
Top birds • Darling area: Cape Clapper Lark, Blue Crane
• West Coast National Park: Southern Black Korhaan, Black Harrier, Chestnut-banded Plover
• Tanqua Karoo, a semi-desert: Karoo Eremomela, Namaqua Warbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Ludwig’s Bustard, Burchell’s Courser, Black-headed Canary, Layard’s Tit-Babbler, Rufous-eared Warbler, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Karoo Korhaan, Black-eared Sparrowlark
• De Hoop and Agulhas Plains: Cape Vulture, Blue Crane, Denham's Bustard, Damara Tern, Knysna Woodpecker, Agulhas Long-billed Lark, Agulhas Clapper Lark, Southern Tchagra
• Cape coastal Fynbos and mountains: Cape Rock-jumper, Victorin's Scrub-Warbler, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Siskin, Ground Woodpecker, Neddicky and Cape Rock-Thrush
Click here for more practical tour information and a trip report.
Optional extension: Afromontane forest at Grootvaderschbos or Wilderness in the Garden Route.
• Grootvaderschbos: Narina Trogon, Forest Canary, African Crowned Eagle, Knysna Woodpecker, Knysna Warbler, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Olive Bush-Shrike
• Wilderness National Park, Garden Route: Knysna Turaco, Narina Trogon, African Wood Owl, Green-backed Camaroptera, Green Woodhoopoe, Chorister Robin-Chat
Top mammals Whales, Dolphins, Cape Grysbok, Chacma Baboon, Caracal, Striped Polecat, Grey Mongoose, Cape Fox, Bat-eared Fox, Porcupine, Cape Mountain Zebra, Bontebok, Eland
Booking Please contact us if you wish to book a guided or a self-drive tour. 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, and combining interests in mammals, butterflies, dragonflies, plants and other natural history. Our guides know the continents birds like few others; we've written two acclaimed guide books on where to find Southern Africa's and Madagascar's best birds and will guide you to Africa's and Madagascar's most diverse birding destinations. 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.

For feedback from our guests, please see our tour information pages. For trip reports, please see our Trip Reports page.

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Black Harrier photograph courtesy of Keith Offord.
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