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Western Cape Tour, West Coast, 29 December 2012

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Itinerary: Darling Hills, West Coast National Park: Abramskraal, Tsaarsbank, Seeberg Hide, Geelbek.

Highlight bird species: African Fish Eagles, Black Harrier, Blue Cranes, White-backed Mousebird, Northern Giant Petrels, African Marsh Harrier and many more...

Total number of species recorded: 94 seen and 1 heard

Detailed Trip Report

I met Swedish birder Hakan, outside Kirstenbosch at 07h30 on Saturday, 29 December 2012 for a day-trip to the West Coast National Park.

The traffic was not heavy and we were soon heading north of the city where we stopped briefly at the wetlands before getting onto the coastal freeway to look, unsuccessfully, for Greater Painted Snipe . Here we quickly encountered the first Steppe Buzzards and Yellow-billed Kites, and these two species became regular sightings as we headed north.

At the Ganzekraal turn-off we checked a group of circling buzzards/kites for a larger raptor, and this turned out to be a juvenile African Fish Eagle.

As the tides at the Geelbek hides would not be right in the morning, we decided to turn east off the R27 onto the Darling Hills road, and the first dam produced a second African Fish Eagle, this time an adult. Also present were five Blue Cranes, and we soon spotted other species such as Red-capped Lark, Capped Wheatear and African Pipit. The area was very dry and birding was quite slow. We did however add species such as White-backed Mousebird and later an over- flying Jackal Buzzard.

Passing though Darling we continued back to the R27, then north to the West Coast National Park, where our first stop was at the Abrahaamskraal hide. Even here the dry conditions were evident, and apart from Yellow Canary, the most common birds coming in to drink were Larklike Buntings. We also picked up our first Namaqua Doves, a species we saw several times during the day. The reed-beds at Abrahaamskraal are quite dense and nothing unusual was seen, so we continued up the western side of the lagoon towards the coast.

At Tsaarsbank the ocean swells were enormous, and an exciting find was 4 or 5 large dark pelagic birds which were circling above the swells or swimming just offshore, seemingly attracted by a dark floating food item, possibly a dead seal. After observing them for some time and consulting the books, we concluded that they were Northern Giant Petrels. Several Cape Gannet and numerous Cape Cormorant groups passed by and an African Penguin was spotted in the giant swells. The rocks were however fairly empty apart from African Black Oystercatchers and a few gulls, with no roosting cormorants or waders.

We continued back down the lagoon and across to the Seeberg hide, where the spring tide was coming in rapidly, and the Common Terns and a single Caspian Tern, a mixed group of Greater and Lesser Flamingoes, oystercatchers and a few large waders - mainly Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwits, soon left to look for an alternative roost site. Behind the hide we noted several smaller waders such as Kittlitz's Plover, White-fronted and Common Ringed Plover, Little Stint and the occasional Curlew Sandpiper. A single Brimstone Canary was seen here, and White-throated Canary was present on the walk back to the car-park.

Heading back to the tarred road, we had great views of Bokmakierie, but both Southern Black Korhaan and Grey-winged Francolin eluded us, and by that time we had not even spotted a Cape Spurfowl. However, we had good views of a Black Harrier heading down towards Geelbek, where a late lunch was enjoyed in the company of the attending Cape Weavers, Cape Wagtails and a male Yellow Bishop. African Hoopoe, Rock Kestrel, Black-shouldered Kite and, finally, a group of Cape Spurfowl, were spotted around the homestead before we walked across towards the old hides in the saltmarsh area, hoping for Chestnut-banded Plover. Numerous small waders were gathered on the back pans, but no new species were added although a number of young Kittlitz's Plovers did cause some initial confusion. Grey-backed Cisticola was seen on the way across and Cape Longclaw was heard, but the area was very dry.

We then stopped for a while along the bluegum avenue leading in to Geelbek, but nothing noteworthy was about. It was now time to head back, and just south of Geelbek an African Marsh Harrier made a nice addition to the list.

By the end of the enjoyable day's outing, we had a list of 94 species seen, including 9 raptors, and 1 heard.

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

A Birding Africa Trip Report by Tour Leader Otto Schmidt

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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