Bird Highlights: Cape Sugarbird, Cape Grassbird, Cape Rockjumper (notice the trend?) Cape Rock Thrush, Blacksmith Lapwing, African Black Oystercatcher, African Penguin, Victorin's Warbler, Cape Siskin, Amethyst Sunbird and Malachite Sunbirds, Bokmakierie, Southern Black Korhaan, South African Shelduck, Cape Penduline Tit, Black-crowned Night Heron, Black Crake, Karoo Lark and many more...
Mammals and reptile species: Rock Hyrax, Small Grey Mongoose, Steenbok, Eland, Cape Crag Lizard, Angulate Tortoise and Red Hartebeest
Detailed Trip Report
Thursday 9 July - Hottentots Holland
After collecting Brian from his hotel in the city centre at 07:00, we headed east along the N2 highway, exiting onto the coastal road at Gordon's Bay. Dark, threatening clouds hung over the Hottentots Holland Mountains, although no rain had been predicted for the area.
Exiting the car at our first stop, the small coastal village of Rooiels, we were greeted by a stiff, chilly wind, which meant a rather quiet start to the day's birding. Nonetheless, we weren't the only life forms to brave the cold and wind, and we were soon treated to many excellent views of male Orange-breasted Sunbirds, making every effort to have their resplendent plumage seen and their raucous voices heard despite the weather. A confiding Cape Bunting provided further amusement, foraging in the sandy road verge. Cape Rockjumpers were heard calling in the recently burned area just beyond the car park, although they proved to be too distant to pick out. Moving along the road, we encountered our first Cape Sugarbird, a male perched conspicuously on a tall shrub next to the road. A lone White-necked Raven cruised above the rocky flats between the road and the ocean, and Cape Grassbird was heard calling from the dense bush, eventually revealing itself, allowing great views of its cryptic but beautiful plumage. Stopping to scan any likely-looking patches of terrain, we were rewarded with our first views of our main target for the Rooiels stop, Cape Rockjumper Three birds were seen, calling and darting about the sandstone boulders before they plunged into the surrounding vegetation. After some patient anticipation, one of the group re-emerged, a stunning male and now much closer. After several minutes of appreciation, it eventually disappeared back into the fynbos. The spectacle wasn't yet over, however, as a female emerged in the same place moments later, providing a wonderful demonstration of the sexual dimorphism in this species (though by no means drab, the females are relatively less colourful). Buoyed by our success, we headed back to the vehicle, picking up Yellow Bishop and Familiar Chat along the way, as well as a male Cape Rock Thrush singing from a cottage rooftop on the drive out.
We continued along the R44, winding our way behind the Rooiels mountains and eastwards along the coast to the village of Betty's Bay and our next stop, the Stony Point seabird colony, one of only two mainland breeding colonies of African Penguin. Winding through the village, we picked up our first Cape Spurfowl as well as many Speckled Pigeon on the rooftops. Sacred Ibis, Blacksmith Lapwing and African Black Oystercatcher were seen foraging amongst the kelp east of the Stony Point car park. Entering the colony itself, we soon caught up with the African Penguins, including adults, downy chicks and greyish one-year-olds. Some adult birds were still moulting, seeming more than a little grumpy in the wind and cold (understandably, as African Penguins do not feed during their +/- 3 week moult, living instead off fat reserves). The cormorant roost was very busy, with breeding in full swing! The lower lying areas were occupied mainly by White-breasted Cormorant, with the endangered Bank and Cape Cormorants preferring the rocky boulders. Crowned Cormorant proved less numerous and more difficult to pick out, but eventually we sighted a few amongst a group of Bank Cormorants. Grey Heron and Cape Wagtail were seen moving about the colony and we had great views of a single Crowned Cormorant on a rock not far from the boardwalk. Non-avian highlights included the ever-present Rock Hyraxes (Dassies), although none of the usual lizard species had resolved to brave the cold.
Our next stop was the Harold Porter National Botanical Gardens, where we had lunch after some birding in the gardens. Highlights of the lawns and flowerbeds of the main gardens included many Southern Double-collared and Orange-breasted Sunbirds, as well as a single juvenile Amethyst Sunbird, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape Canary, Cape Rock Thrush, Swee Waxbills and Speckled Mousebirds warming their bellies in the intermittent patches of sunlight. Ambling along the rocky paths on the slopes of Leopard's Kloof, we had good views of a spectacular Cape Sugarbird with an enormously long tail, as well as several Neddickys. The piercing call of a Victorin's Warbler caused much excitement and inching closer to the source of the cacophony, we were treated to brief but quality views of the bird as it left the dense scrub several times for more exposed perches within ten metres from where we stood on the path. Jackal Buzzard was also seen gliding over the cliffs. Further along, we heard Cape Siskin calling from the rocky slopes well above us, with a good ten minutes of neck-craning and squinting into the back-lit clouds yielding rather average views. As it seemed the birds had no intention of coming closer, we reluctantly continued along the path. To our great relief, we stumbled upon a pair of Cape Siskin feeding on some foliage overhanging the path. Much better! Further highlights in the garden included good views of Sombre Greenbul, a species that we had struggled to get quality views of for much of the afternoon, and Cape Batis, as well as Small Grey Mongoose.
Friday 10 July - West Coast
Hitting the road at 07:00 again, we set out northwards along the R27 which runs along the west coast. Shortly after leaving the built-up areas and entering more natural vegetation, we turned west onto the silwerstroomstrand road for an introduction to strandveld birding. Highlights included: many Malachite Sunbirds, with several very active and vocal males competing for the attention of the relatively less energetic females; our first views of Bokmakierie. We also had a few raptors, including Black-shouldered Kite and Rock Kestrel.
Continuing along the R27, we turned east this time onto the Darling Hills road. We were greeted by a pair of Bokmakierie calling in duet, as well as a pair of Common Fiscal, whose calls were less easy on the ears. After a few minutes of inactivity punctuated by the occasional Cape Sparrow, we had a sudden burst of action, with a startled Steenbok darting away into the scrub followed almost immediately by a male Southern Black Korhaan leaping into the air and passing directly overhead in its noisy display flight. After landing on the opposite side of the road, a few minutes anticipation rewarded us with great views of the bird as it peeked out of the scrub and tip-toed along the border between the thicker scrub and the cleared area along the road. Buoyed by our encounter with the Korhaan, we continued along the dirt-road, picking up Capped Wheatear, Red-capped Lark and flocks of Common and Pied Starlings in the agricultural fields. The regular Blue Cranes were unfortunately absent, the small dam yielding Yellow-billed Duck, Red-billed Teal, Spur-winged and Egyptian Geese as well as both Kelp and Hartlaub's Gulls. Before turning round, we had good views of Cape Teal where the road crosses a small stream, as well as brief views of Three-banded Plover. Our final noteworthy sighting was a pair of South African Shelduck in the fields near the small dam.
We then entered the West Coast National Park, with a stop for another Steenbok proving very fruitful as we heard the characteristic call of Cape Penduline Tit in the distance. After some scanning, we picked out the tiny birds, a pair calling from some low bushes in the middle-distance. Responding well to brief playback, the pair moved in for a closer look, their tiny weight barely bending the slender restio culms (stems) that they chose as perches.
We focussed our initial efforts along the main road of the park's eastern sector, picking up, amongst others, Karoo Scrub Robin, Cape Robin-chat, White-backed Mousebird, Cape Bulbul, Yellow and White-throated Canaries and Chestnut-vented Titbabbler. Long-billed Crombec was also nice to see. The granite-capped hill of the Seeberg view-point had a small herd of Eland grazing on the open grassy areas, seemingly oblivious to several Pied Crows using their immense bodies as convenient, mobile perches. On the road up to the view-point, we had good views of Grey-backed Cisticola and a Rock Kestrel perched on a tall bush. A short walk around the viewpoint yielded fantastic views of the Langebaan lagoon with thousands of Greater Flamingoes dotting the shores. African Fish Eagle was heard giving its famous call, while Rock Hyrax and Cape Crag Lizard provided some non-avian entertainment.
Along the road to the Seeberg hide, we had fantastic views of a covey of seven Grey-winged Francolin. A single Cape Spurfowl foraged amongst the smaller francolins, allowing an excellent comparison of their different size posture and plumage. The small saltpans near the hide were very dry, but several Kittlitz’s Plovers and Cape Wagtails were seen. From the hide, we had further views of Kittlitz's Plover, as well as several White-fronted Plovers darting about in the sand. Large numbers of Greater Flamingo basked in the shallows, with smaller numbers of Lesser Flamingo scattered amongst them. Several pairs of African Black Oystercatcher stalked about near the water's edge and we were able to pick out a few Swift Tern amongst the roosting Kelp and Hartlaub's Gulls.
We stopped for lunch at the restaurant at Geelbek, with good views of Eland and Common Ostrich on the road in. Grey Heron were seen roosting in the large trees lining the road. Cape Weaver and a particularly adventurous Common Fiscal provided entertainment throughout lunch, with a surprise sighting of Black-crowned Night Heron in the trees overlooking our table. After lunch, we had many sightings of Angulate Tortoise along the roadside and very good views of Karoo Lark foraging at the road verge. The Abrahamskraal hide was being watched over by a lone Red Hartebeest and we picked up Reed Cormorant, Red-knobbed Coot, Yellow-billed Duck, Common Moorhen and Little Grebe on the water. After a short while, we also had good views of Black Crake as it ventured out of the fringe of thick reeds on the far bank. A flyover of a large flock of African Spoonbill was nice to see, and we made our way home after a good day's birding.
A Birding Africa Trip Report by Tour Leader Campbell Fleming.
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., www.netbooks.co.za or www.wildsounds.co.uk). However you're always welcome to contact us if you're interested in a guided trip in this area.