Birding Africa
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Western Cape Tour, Hottentots Holland & Overberg, 6 & 7 April 2012

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Itinerary: We birded Rooiels, Stoney Point, Agulhas Plains, De Hoop Nature Reserve

Highlight species: Cape Rock-jumper, Southern Tchagra, Cape Siskin, Blue Crane, Agulhas Long-billed Lark

Total number of species recorded: 112

Detailed Trip Report

Day 1

After meeting up with Stefano at his accommodation, we embarked on our two day journey, making a beeline for our first stop – the seaside village of Rooiels. En route, along the N2, we spotted many of the invasive House Crow in the vicinity of the airport and a Black-shouldered Kite hovering above the grassy roadside verge, waiting to swoop upon any unsuspecting rodents that might have wandered into the open. A photographic break at one of the viewpoints along Clarence Drive proved fruitful, yielding excellent views of Cape Sugarbirds, the males displaying by enthusiastically clapping their wings and elegant tails and uttering their jumbled metallic calls. A Cape Bunting seemed very impressed with our vehicle, hopping about to view it from different angles and disappearing beneath the chassis for quite some time. Also seen was a very active Neddicky which darted about in the thick vegetation above the road, calling all the while. Frustratingly, we heard the piercing call of a Victorin's Warbler emanating from way up the slope in the tangled thicket. Searching for it would have been impractical as its location on the slope was fairly inaccessible and reaching it would have taken hours we did not have. In addition to the avian sightings, we also had superb views of False Bay in the soft morning light. After winding our way down to Rooiels, we were greeted by a very strong wind and, rather more pleasantly, a pair of magnificent Verreauxs' Eagle soaring above the cliffs. After watching the eagles wheel and dive about the sky for quite some time, we struck off along the path, quickly encountering Orange-breasted Sunbird, Red-winged Starling, Cape Sugarbird and Cape Weaver (in rather drab non-breeding plumage). An obliging male Cape Rock-thrush perched atop a rock not far from the road, allowing excellent views.

We saw Speckled Mousebirds, not wasting any time on their flights between bushes, and we saw and heard many Malachite Sunbirds, the males of which were all in eclipse plumage. While scanning the boulder strewn slope for Cape Rock-jumper, we spotted a pair of Ground Woodpeckers calling from atop one of the many small boulders. Ground Woodpeckers are the largest woodpeckers in Southern Africa and one of only three ground dwelling woodpecker species in the world.

Further along the road, we picked up non-breeding Yellow Bishops, the yellow rumps of the males still very evident, Familiar Chat, Greybacked Cisticola and Karoo Prinia. We witnessed a heated vocal and aerial battle between three Cape Grassbirds, a species which, although calling often, is usually rather skulky. After searching extensively for Cape Rock-jumper and seeing nothing, we began to think that perhaps the violent winds (at times, we were knocked off balance by the stronger gusts) were keeping them from venturing above the vegetation. Eventually we turned back, but did not give up hope, hoping to pick up the Rockjumpers on our way back to the carpark. For the most part, the return journey was woefully uneventful, yielding nothing more than rocks. Around the bend from the carpark, at the very ragged edge of preferable terrain, a male Cape Rock-jumper flitted out of the vegetation and alighted atop a large boulder less than 20m from the roadside. Neither of the guides had ever seen Rockjumpers this close to the carpark and we watched happily as the male was joined by a female.

On the way back to the car, we came across a Cape Dwarf Chameleon, which was rather dangerously crossing the road while several cars traversed. A leucistic female Orange-breasted Sunbird was a surprise indeed and White-necked Raven was our last sighting at Rooiels, with a pair of them circling the carpark and cawing above our heads.

Before heading to the Stoney Point penguin colony, we took a brief rest stop at the Rooiels shops, with Rock Martin and Greater Striped Swallow gliding about above the buildings. Between the Stoney Point parking lot and the gate to the fenced colony, we had views of Cape Wagtail, Hartlaub's Gull and Little Egret. There are currently over 150 pairs of African Penguin at Stoney Point and upon entry, we were greeted by many of these charismatic birds at different moulting stages. As we ambled along the walkway, heading to the cormorant roost, we were treated to the antics of a mischievous Rock Hyrax as it dashed teasingly between irate penguins which held their ground, wings outstretched and heads tilted forward, braying their frustration at the unperturbed intruder. The cormorant roost held White-breasted, Cape, Crowned and Bank Cormorants, allowing us ample time to compare the distinguishing features of each species. In flight, the white rumps on many of the Bank Cormorants were particularly conspicuous. Out to sea, we noticed a school of fish being bombarded by Cape Gannets. Closer inspection revealed that the fish were also being preyed upon by a pod of Common Dolphins. After viewing the spectacle for some time, we made our way back to the vehicle, spotting Cape Bulbul and Cape Girdled Lizard along the way. After rejoining the N2, we had Common Ostriches in the fields, Jackal Buzzards perched on the telephone poles, one or two late Steppe Buzzard, as well as Cape Crow and our first Blue Cranes, South Africa's national bird. In terms of mammals, the monotony of cows, sheep and motorists was broken by a pair of endearing Grey Rhebok.

We stopped at Riviersonderend for some lunch and a well-deserved rest. With renewed energy, we continued along the N2, turning off onto a dirt road to chalk up some Overberg specials. Scanning the fallow fields, we soon spotted Capped Wheatear, Pied Starling and more Blue Cranes. Our first real excitement was hearing the distinctive call of an Agulhas Long-billed Lark. We soon located the bird and had good views as it fluttered up from the ground and perched atop a fencepost near the roadside. We also encountered Large-billed and Red Capped Larks along the road, the latter being the most abundant by far. Denizens of the patches of scrubby renosterveld included Karoo Scrub-robin, Red Bishop, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape Sparrow, Bokmakierie, White-throated Canary and Namaqua Dove.

A particularly fruitful stop was in the vicinity of a river bridge. We spotted Acacia Pied Barbet and Cape Turtle-dove in the roadside scrub and despite our best efforts, we could not get the call of a particularly skulky Chestnut-vented Titbabbler to materialise into an actual sighting. One of our last stops of the day was on the top of a gentle hill, overlooking a valley in which many Spurwinged Geese and Egyptian Geese milled about. The opposite slope held a flock of Helmeted Guineafowl, including our second leucistic bird of the day! After a few minutes, the geese took off, circling the area a few times before landing on the powerlines which ran along the valley. After viewing them through our binoculars, we realised that there was paler, far larger bird perched further down the line. Closer inspection revealed that it was a Cape Vulture! Our last noteworthy sighting of a very productive day's birding was a Karoo Korhaan, sharing a field with some stunning Blue Cranes wonderfully backlit by the setting sun. We reached our accommodation just as the sun began to set and witnessed a stunning moonrise as we prepared our dinner. We went over the day's checklist and called it a night.

Day 2

With the weather looking fine and clear, we left our accommodation early with the intention of birding first the Eastern (Potberg) and then the Western section of De Hoop Nature Reserve, while doing some more farmland birding along the way. Almost immediately we had our best views of the trip of Agulhas Long-billed Lark, along with Red-capped Lark, Cape Canary and on the other end of the size spectrum, the ubiquitous Blue Crane. A fallow field with good cover turned up one of our target birds, Cape Clapper Lark marjoriae subspecies, sometimes regarded as a separate species, namely Agulhas Clapper Lark. We had good views of one perched on a roadside fence, and had many displaying a bit further off.

Moving towards Potberg we stopped at the edge of the reserve where the grassy renosterveld turned up our first Denham's Bustard of the trip, as well as Grey-backed and Cloud Cisticolas (the latter remaining frustratingly invisible as it called from way up in the clear blue sky), in addition to the Near-Threatened Bontebok, an antelope once on the verge of extinction.

Upon entering the De Hoop Nature Reserve we had views of Cape Sugarbird as the vegetation changed from open farmlands to fynbos and thicket. Almost immediately after parking we had arguably the bird of the trip, Southern Tchagra, being uncharacteristically bold and allowing great views as it gave its harsh calls, even perching on the telephone lines!

African Hoopoe, a less-than-common bird in the Western Cape, strutted on the lawns and three species of sparrow (Cape, House and Southern Grey-headed Sparrow) fed in close proximity to one another! Fork-tailed Drongo proved entertaining as ever, hawking insects in its characteristic swirling fashion. One devoured an Autumn Widow butterfly a few metres away from us, while drawing the not altogether friendly attentions of a pesky Southern Double-collared Sunbird. Other common thicket birds included Southern Boubou, Karoo Prinia, Cape Robin-chat and Fiscal Flycatcher. Many a Cape Vulture soared overhead and were joined rather unexpectedly, by an immature Martial Eagle who shared the skies with a small flock of Barn Swallow and a lonely Little Swift. By now the wind had picked up and the weather looked to be turning rather rapidly. We decided to start heading out, but not before picking up our last special of a very productive birding stint: Cape Siskin, first flying high overhead, and then feeding on the ground in the parking lot, giving excellent views.

As the skies darkened we made our way to the Western section of De Hoop Nature Reserve. The open lawns close to De Hoop Vlei provided a flock of low-flying Hirundines, including Barn Swallow, Brown-throated Martin, Black Saw-wing and Pearl-breasted Swallow. Unfortunately the heavens soon opened, and birding around the campsite's Milkwood thicket proved almost impossible, although a brief scan of the vlei turned up a variety of waterbirds, including Black-winged Stilt, Red-knobbed Coot, Cape Shoveller, Yellow-billed Duck, Little Grebe and both Cape and Hottentot teals. A visit to Koppie Alleen along the coast, and more braving of the elements, provided African Black Oystercatcher and a pair of Red-winged Starling sitting, rather incongruously, alongside the oystercatchers in the intertidal zone! By now it was past midday and the birding had become extremely slow in the rain and cold, and so we decided to start making our way back to Cape Town, birding the farmlands along the way. Unfortunately, apart from another Denham's Bustard as we left the reserve, the drive proved uneventful birding-wise as we traversed the land beneath tumultuous skies, arriving back in Cape Town in the late afternoon after a rewarding and exciting trip.

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

A Birding Africa Trip Report by Tour Leaders Seth Musker and Campbell Fleming.

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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