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Western Cape Trip Report: West Coast, 12 August 2014

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Itinerary: West Coast and West Coast National Park

Number of species and highlights: 92 species seen - including Black Harrier, Namaqua Dove, Southern Black Korhaan, African Black Oystercatchers, Cape Grassbird, Large-billed Lark, Blue Crane

Detailed Trip Report

I collected Dutch birder Marijn from his Milnerton accommodation at 7am on Tuesday, 12 August for a birding day trip up the West Coast. As the daylight improved and we neared our first birding stop along the R27 we were suddenly enveloped in thick mist. The light along the Grotto Bay road was therefore rather poor, but we soon picked up Spotted Thick-knee, Bokmakierie, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and Karoo Scrub-Robin amongst others. There were also a number of cormorants present on the rocks, but visibility out to sea was minimal.

Crossing the R27 we headed up the Darling Hills Road and soon heard Southern Black Korhaan calling. The second calling male was seen well, close to the roadside fence, although the mist still made for very poor photographic light. Around the dam on the hill we had Capped Wheatear, Red-capped Lark, African Pipit, Crowned and Blacksmith Lapwings, a juvenile Jackal Buzzard and a flypast by an African Marsh Harrier. At the edge of the dam we spotted a male South African Shelduck amongst the other waterbirds. Blue Crane could be heard but not located due to the thick mist. Fortunately we soon afterwards came across four cranes in good view.

Blue Crane

Continuing along this road, we added numerous Cape Weaver, Yellow and Southern Red Bishops, White-backed Mousebird, a single Namaqua Dove, and after hearing them on several occasions, we eventually had good views of Cape Grassbird. Turning onto the R315 towards Darling we spotted a pair of Large-billed Lark at Duckitt's Orchid Nursery and at the Tienie Versveld Wild Flower Reserve we immediately heard Cloud Cisticola calling overhead. Seeing the bird was a challenge, but eventually we made out the tiny, noisy dot in the sky. Cape Longclaw showed well and whilst photographing Yellow Canary on the fence we noticed a pair of Three-banded Plover at a roadside pan. A Banded Martin was seen near the R27/R315 intersection, an early returning intra-African migrant.

By this time the mist had cleared and a warm, windless and cloudless day made for very pleasant birding conditions. After entering the West Coast National Park we soon had our first of a number of Black Harriers in flight. The Abrahamskraal waterhole was fairly quiet, possibly as the water-level was very high. There were however clouds of insects flying just above the water's surface and it was fascinating to watch a very agile Lesser Swamp Warbler catching these from its reed perch. At least one of the White-fronted Swallow pair which breeds inside the hide was present (another early return), and Marijn managed a short glimpse of a Black Crake.

Lesser Swamp Warbler

We headed up the lagoon towards Seeberg hide. Many Angulate Tortoises were present along the road enjoying the fresh green grass shoots and wild flowers. At Seeberg the tide was rapidly coming in, and there were considerable numbers of both Greater and Lesser Flamingoes to the right of the hide. A Caspian Tern was spotted, and a number of Swift and Common Terns were roosting near the flamingos, unfortunately against the afternoon sun. Migrant waders present were a few Curlew Sandpiper, Common Whimbrel and a single Eurasian Curlew. A Kittlitz's Plover was settling in to breed behind the hide, and several White-fronted Plovers were present amongst the low dunes with a group of African Black Oystercatchers on the shoreline. Here a White-throated Swallow, probably one of the pair that has bred inside the hide, had also returned.

Wattled Starlings

Birding along the boardwalk and at the car park yielded Chestnut-vented Titbabbler, but a calling Bar-throated Apalis would not show itself. The Karoo Prinias were getting ready to breed and were calling everywhere, as were the Karoo Scrub-Robins and the Bokmakieries. On the way down to Geelbek we had a great view of a female Southern Black Korhaan at the edge of the road and we encountered a group of three Black Harriers flying over. Opposite the parking area for the Geelbek hide I was surprised to see a pair of Blue Crane. Grey and Black-headed Herons were starting to construct their nests on top of the eucalyptus trees and near the main buildings were many feeding Wattled Starlings amongst the Pied and Common Starlings.

We returned to Abrahamskraal hide in the late afternoon, but the crakes and rails again did not show themselves. A flypast by two African Marsh Harriers was enjoyed before we started back to Cape Town, being back in Milnerton at about 18h45 after a most enjoyable day's birding. Our species total for the day was 96 - 92 seen by both parties, one each seen by the guide or client only (Grey-backed Cisticola and Black Crake) and two species heard only (Little Rush Warbler and Bar-throated Apalis).

African Marsh Harrier

A Birding Africa Trip Report by Tour Leader Otto Schmidt.

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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