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