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Western Cape: Cape Endemics
Trip Report: 29 August - 4 September 2017

Areas covered: Hottentots Holland: Rooiels, Betty's Bay & Platbos forest; De Hoop Nature Reserve & Agulhas Plains; Grootvadersbos; Tankwa Karoo, and West Coast National Park.

Highlights included: African Penguin, Cape, Crowned, Bank Cormorant, Cape Vulture, Verreaux's Eagle, Forest Buzzard, Secretarybird, Black Harrier, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Denham's Bustard, Karoo & Southern Black Korhaan, Grey-winged Francolin, Blue Crane, Hottentot Buttonquail, Striped Flufftail, Chestnut-banded Plover, Red-necked Phalarope, Antarctic Tern, 9 lark spp., Knysna & Ground Woodpecker, Cape Rockjumper, Tractrac, Sickle-winged, Karoo, Ant-eating Chats, Southern Tchagra, Cinnamon-breasted, Namaqua, Victorin's & Knysna Warbler, Karoo Eremomela, Cloud Cisticola, Cape Penduline Tit, Fairy Flycatcher, Sentinel & Cape Rock-Thrush, Karoo Thrush, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted & Dusky Sunbird, Black-headed Canary, Protea Seedeater, Cape Siskin, Swee Waxbill.

Number of bird species: 226 with additional 5 for the 'heard only' list

Greater Kestrel © Dominic Rollinson
A single Greater Kestrel was seen in the open, arid habitat of the Tankwa Karoo.

Detailed Trip Report

A one week long trip had been organized for John Dole to target all of the Cape's endemics as well as any other lifers occurring in the area. Having only birded Africa in Kenya and Uganda there were many lifers on offer.

Leaving Cape Town early we headed east to Rooi Els, with the primary target being Cape Rockjumper. It didn't take long until we heard and then saw a pair of Cape Rockjumpers quite low down the slope along with Familiar Chat, Cape Bunting, Cape and Sentinel Rock-Thrush and Cape Grassbird. A Ground Woodpecker was heard high up the slope but unfortunately did not show itself for us. Other good birds seen here included Fiscal Flycatcher, Karoo Prinia, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted, Southern Double-collared and Malachite Sunbird, Cape Robin-Chat and Cape Bulbul. Nearby we had good views of Victorin's Warbler, while a quick stop at Stony Point in Betty's Bay saw us quickly tick off African Penguin, African Oystercatcher, Bank, Cape, Crowned and White-breasted Cormorant.

From here we moved on to Platbos Forest to try for Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher and Knysna Woodpecker. Unfortunately with a long day still ahead of us we couldn't afford much time here and dipped on both. We then moved nearby to Sandberg Nature Reserve where the big target was Hottentot Buttonquail. While we were walking up to the plateau, we flushed a small rallid/quail. The call of buttonquail went up; however, we quickly realized the dark plumage and bright red head and tail was certainly not a buttonquail but instead a male Striped Flufftail. This turned out to be bird of the trip and was most unexpected. After a couple hours walking the plateau we eventually flushed a pair of Hottentot Buttonquail. Other good birds seen here included Grey-winged Francolin, Jackal Buzzard and Grey-backed Cisticola.

We then headed further east towards De Hoop Nature Reserve. We made a quick detour towards De Mond Nature Reserve to look for Secretarybird, without any luck, but did come across the first of many Denham's Bustards on the trip as well as a single Black Harrier. From here we shot across to De Hoop just before sunset. The drive produced Cape Crow, Pied Starling, Red-capped and Large-billed Larks as well as many Blue Cranes.

The next morning a walk around the campsite soon produced Knysna Woodpecker and Southern Tchagra as well as more common birds such as Bar-throated Apalis, Southern Boubou, Sombre Greenbul, Cape Weaver, Cape Spurfowl and a Spotted Eagle-Owl in the predawn period. A scan over the nearby vlei produced Great-crested Grebe, Black-crowned Night Heron, Peregrine Falcon, Water Thick-knee and Red-billed Teal. A quick drive around the plains of De Hoop before breakfast soon notched up many of the Agulhas specials including Agulhas Long-billed and Cape Clapper Lark, Cloud Cisticola as well as Karoo Scrub-Robin, Cape Longclaw, Capped Wheatear, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Amethyst Sunbird and White-throated Canary.

On our way north to Grootvadersbosch Forest we came across a large group of Cape Vultures which were waiting for the thermals to pick up before they commenced the day's foraging. More Denham's Bustards were observed foraging in the wheat fields as well as a single Karoo Korhaan. We popped into Bontebok National Park near Swellendam which revealed a pair of Secretarybirds foraging in a distant field. We also picked up Brown-hooded Kingfisher nearby to Swellendam.

Cape Batis © Dominic Rollinson
Cape Batis

Arriving at Grootvadersbosch Forest we soon picked up Greater Double-collared Sunbird, along with other common forest species such as Cape Batis, Terrestrial Brownbul, Forest Canary and African Dusky Flycatcher. We tried the grassland slopes on the edge of the forest for Red-winged Francolin but the best we could do was to hear a distant group. The next morning we were back in the forest targeting Knysna Warbler. Despite our finding a calling bird near a stream, it would not show itself. We did manage to find more common forest species with Swee Waxbill and Black Saw-wing additional to the previous afternoon. In desperation we tried another spot where I had heard a distant Knysna Warbler calling earlier in the morning. Despite it being midday the bird soon popped out and provided point-blank views. We also managed good views of an Olive Bush-Shrike and on the forest edge Streaky-headed Seedeaters were seen briefly. We heard Red-necked Spurfowl on a number of occasions but unfortunately could not get any visuals. A Greater Kestrel was seen perched on a telephone pole just outside of the forest.

Next stop was the Tankwa Karoo where we targeted a number of the dry-country endemics. The drive was quite long and fairly uneventful but did produce a single adult Martial Eagle and a few Booted Eagles. While driving through one of the mountain passes we came across a pair of obliging Ground Woodpeckers. We only had a few hours in the afternoon before sunset, therefore it was a bit rushed. We did, however, manage to find a few of our targets. At Karoopoort we soon found Pririt Batis, Namaqua Warbler, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler and Mountain Wheatear. Heading into the mountainous koppies and plains of the Tankwa Karoo; we had Layard's Tit-Babbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Grey Tit and Cinnamon-breasted Warbler on the various koppies and in the gorges, while the open plains produced Karoo and Tractrac Chat, Karoo Lark, Pale Chanting Goshawk and Karoo Eremomela. We then headed back into the town of Ceres for the night with a full day's birding in the Tankwa ahead of us.

Up early the next morning and we headed back north to clean up any species we had missed on the previous day, as well as to push a bit further north into the Tankwa Karoo National Park where a number of species are at their southern limit. We found Rufous-eared Warbler without much difficulty, while a pair of South African Shelduck appeared quite lost alongside a completely dry dam. As we pushed further north Tractrac Chats became more numerous and we also had a couple of Namaqua Sandgrouse as we approached the park. Unfortunately we could not find any Burchell's Coursers on the plains in the park, but did manage to find a few calling Karoo Long-billed Lark, Dusky Sunbird and a single Greater Kestrel. Heading back south through the Tankwa we found Spike-healed Lark, Acacia Pied Barbet and a single Black-headed Canary before the long drive back to Cape Town. We stopped in briefly along a mountain pass close to the N1 which had Protea Seedeater and Verreaux's Eagle.

The next day involved a full day up the west coast and with the target list whittled down it meant we were able to specifically target individual species. A predawn start gave us great views of an African Wood-Owl in nearby Constantia. Next we birded the Darling area where we soon saw a number of displaying Cape Clapper Larks, which look and sound slightly different to the Agulhas Plains birds. At a nearby wetland we saw African Snipe, but despite our efforts could not get views of either Red-chested Flufftail or African Rail which were tantalisingly close by. We then headed further north to the salt pans of Velddrif where we found Chestnut-banded Plover as well as White-fronted Plover, Little Stint, Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper and the long-staying Red-necked Phalarope. Black-necked Grebes and both Greater and Lesser Flamingoes were noted in a nearby pan. From here we birded the agricultural fields around St Helena Bay which had Cape Long-billed Lark, Sickle-winged and Ant-eating Chat and Grey-backed Sparrowlark. Pushing back south into West Coast National Park we made our way straight to the Postberg section to enjoy the amazing spring flowers. The flowers did not disappoint and we also managed a group of Cape Penduline Tits en route. Southern Black Korhaans were seen throughout the reserve, as well as Long-billed Crombec, while Geelbek Manor House had both Wattled Starling and Karoo Thrush. African Rail was heard at Abrahamskraal Hide, but unfortunately would not show itself. We did manage to see the greyer coastal form of Karoo Lark.

Wwsr Coast flowers © Dominic Rollinson
West Coast flowers and scenery.

With news that the much anticipated Cape pelagic was cancelled for the weekend it meant we had two days to mop up anything we had missed so far on the tour. This was mostly done around the Cape Peninsula but did involve a couple trips further afield. A trip out to the Constantia greenbelts soon produced decent views of Olive Woodpecker as well as many views of the introduced Common Chaffinch. A quick walk in a nearby forest had a circling subadult Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk as well as a few Cape Siskin. A few hours were spent at the Strandfontein Sewage Works where we had many Cape Teals, Cape Shoveler, White-backed Duck, Southern Pochard, Black-necked Grebe, African Purple Swamphen, African Marsh-Harrier and an assortment of common waterbird species. We also managed to find African Reed, Little Rush and Lesser Swamp-Warblers in the extensive reedbeds. We tried the grassland and wheat fields north of Durbanville for African Quailfinch without any luck. On the final morning we decided to head south to Cape Point for a seawatch to try to catch up on a few species which we were missing due to the cancellation of the pelagic. The winds had not quite picked up yet and so there were not many seabirds around. We did see White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater and Cape Gannet, amongst the common terns, gulls and cormorants. I dropped John off in Stellenbosch, but not before we connected with the last new bird of the trip; the long-staying group of Black-bellied Starlings just outside Stellenbosch, a surprising westward shift for the species.

The trip was very enjoyable and highly successful as we managed to find all of the Cape's bird endemics.

A Birding Africa Trip Report by Tour Leader Dominic Rollinson.

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

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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