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Western Cape Tour and Day Trips in Autumn, 2-18 May 2010

This tour took in the best of the Western Cape's birding sites, with highlights such as Cape Eagle Owl and Protea Seedeater.
Please scroll down for the detailed trip report and images.
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Itinerary: We visited key birding sites in the Western Cape: the Cape Peninsula, Strandfontein Waste Water Treatment Works, Kirstenbosch, Silvermine, Kommetjie & Southern Peninsula, Hottentots Holland, Cape Peninsula and Cape Point, Darling, West Coast National Park, Paarl Bird Sanctuary, De Overberg: Kogelberg, Harold Porter, Stoney Point, Karwyderskraal, Aurora and Mountain Mist, Tanqua Karoo National Park, Grootvadersbos Nature Reserve and De Hoop Nature Reserve.

Total number of species seen: Despite the time of the year (late autumn) and the inclement Cape winter weather during much of the tour, we picked up a total of 239 species, including 197 which were lifers for Alan!

Detailed Trip Report

2 May ­ Cape Peninsula & Strandfontein Waste Water Treatment Works (Guide: Dalton Gibbs)

Alan and I left the Grand Westin in Cape Town at 7:00 on a still, clear morning, driving up Signal Hill to take in the sunrise. Here amidst a red and yellow sunrise we found Bokmakierie, Helmet Guineafowl, Karoo Prinia and Cape Robin-chat. A Jackal Buzzard and Orange-breasted Sunbird provided some endemic species as we descended the hill towards the Atlantic Seaboard. 

Orange-breasted Sunbird on the Cape Peninsula. (c) Callan Cohen
Orange-breasted Sunbird on the Cape Peninsula. © Callan Cohen

Stopping near Llandudno, we saw Cape and Bank Cormorant on coastal rocks and Malachite Sunbird in nearby eucalyptus trees. A drive through Hout Bay brought us to De Hel; a forest patch where we found Sombre Greenbul, Cape Batis and Cape White-eye. Sadly, Knysna Warbler ­ a target species, was nowhere to be found at this time of the year. 

Sombre Greenbul on the Cape Peninsula. © Deirdre Vrancken

A short drive took us to Rondevlei Nature Reserve on the Cape Flats where we saw the usual variety of water birds, livened up by a Peregrine Falcon perched on a nearby stadium light and good views of Goliath Heron. Water Thick-knee generally a more cryptic species, gave us good views. A few dozen Great White Pelican made an impressive display on the island in front of the Scotto Hide. On leaving the reserve we saw some members of Cape Town’s only Hippopotamus population lounging around in the shallow water on the far side of the wetland. 

Our last stop of the day was the Strandfontein Waste Water Treatment Works; an area with 350ha of sewage treatment ponds and surrounding bush. Several waterfowl species greeted us, including Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveller, Red-billed and Cape Teal. A surprise was four Fulvous Duck, which provided excellent views. A late lunch stop at ‘Tim & Toms Track’ placed us above dozens of feeding Greater Flamingo, Pied Avocet and Black-winged Stilt. Good views of Cape Longclaw and African Marsh Harrier finished off the day as the sun started setting and we returned to Cape Town with a total of about 90 species for the day. An excellent tally for the Cape Peninsula.

Strandfontein Waste Water Treatment Works (c) Deirdre Vrancken Cape Spurfowl, (c) Deirdre Vrancken
Strandfontein Waste Water Treatment Works with Greater Flamingo; Cape Spurfowl, © Deirdre Vrancken

3 May ­ Kirstenbosch, Silvermine, Kommetjie & Southern Peninsula (Guide: Dalton Gibbs)

An early start ensured we missed the early morning traffic as we headed towards Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens to catch the dawn chorus. Sombre Bulbul, Forest Canary and Olive Thrush were making their voices heard. A walk through the top indigenous forest turned up no Lemon Doves as we had hoped, only Southern Boubou and Cape Batis. In the lower cycad forest area we found the resident Spotted Eagle Owl and had good close up views as it slept on a branch. A family of confiding Cape Spurfowl gave us close up views, as these birds have obviously been fed and would climb into your rucksack given half a chance. We failed to find Cape Sugarbird in the top gardens and drove out to the mountaintop on Oukaapse Weg near Silvermine. Here we had good views of Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Sugarbird and Cape Siskin, as well as a surprise sighting of Verreaux’s Eagle

Verreaux's Eagle - only one pair breed on the Cape Peninsula. (c) Callan Cohen Spotted Eagle Owl at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, (c) Deirdre 
Verreaux's Eagle - only one pair breed on the Cape Peninsula. © Callan Cohen
Spotted Eagle Owl at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, © Deirdre Vrancken,

A drive out to Kommetjie on the Atlantic seaboard revealed the area covered in mist and we failed to find the three endemic cormorants of the region and had to settle for some more common shoreline birds. We continued our drive along the coastline, stopping at various places to view White-necked Raven and a troop of Chacma Baboons near Cape Point. On the False Bay coast we stopped and had distant views of Cape, Bank and Crowned Cormorants, getting closer and better views of these species as we approached Simonstown. Further on at Glencairn we found two pairs of obliging African Black Duck in the wetland area, whilst further on at the Silvermine River mouth, we saw Cape Weaver as well as Pied Kingfisher which had been evading us. 

African Black Duck (c) Deirdre Vrancken www.birdingafrica.comAfrican Black Duck © Deirdre Vrancken

4 May ­ Hottentots Holland and Winelands: Harold Porter, Stoney Point and Paarl Bird Sanctuary (Guide: Michael Mills).

Normally a day trip to the Hottentots Holland Mountains is welcomed by the discerning visiting birder who is keen on seeing some hard to find Cape fynbos endemics. However, this day dawned cold and wet and with the weather against us from the start, we headed along the spectacular coastal road from Gordon’s Bay to Rooiels. Here the heavens opened and we bravely sought Cape Rockjumper on the boulder-strewn mountain slopes, but to no avail. We did however see a pair of Verreaux's Eagles soaring above the cliff face, where they are likely to be nesting at this time of year. Further on, at the Harold Porter Botanical Reserve in Betty's Bay, we took shelter in the new Leopard Rock Restaurant and during a break in the weather we managed to lure a skulking Victorin’s Warbler from a gully in the fynbos. At around midday we paid a quick visit to Stony Point which allowed us to study all four species of marine cormorants in more detail, including the endemic Bank Cormorant and Crowned Cormorant. And, of course, there were lots of African Penguins, which were quite at home in the cold and blustery weather.

In the afternoon we headed for Paarl Bird Sanctuary, situated on the banks of the Berg River, where we saw amongst others Palm Swift and numbers of water-associated birds including Hottentot Teal, Southern Africa's smallest duck species, and and Malachite Kingfisher, which are known to breed here.

5 May ­ Cape Peninsula to Cape Point (Guide: Otto Schmidt) 

I collected Alan Knue at his Cape Town hotel at 07h00 on a wet, cold and windy day typical of the Cape winter. The suggested route was down the western side of the Peninsula to the Cape Point Nature Reserve. Our second bird of the day, as we headed down Ou Kaapse Weg, was a Peregrine Falcon flying across the road in front of the vehicle. At Kommetjie, we checked the rocks and shoreline, but apart from many Kelp Gulls, Common Starlings and Cape Wagtails feeding amongst the washed-up kelp from the previous night’s storm, there were only a few Swift Terns, Crowned Cormorants, Little Egrets, African Black Oystercatchers and Hartlaub’s Gulls present on the rocks.

At the Slangkop lighthouse we headed along the boardwalk towards the rocks to scan the very rough and wind-swept ocean. Visibility varied from poor, when the swirling mist and clouds closed in, to reasonable when patches of clear sky blew over. During these spells, we managed to spot several Shy Albatross, White-chinned Petrel, Northern Giant Petrel, Sooty Shearwater and several Cape Gannet.

When the weather closed in again, we continued south towards Cape Point. Just short of Misty Cliffs, we were very surprised to find a Black Harrier flying towards us over the road. Turning around, we headed back and followed it as it slowly flew alongside the road into the stiff northwester, giving us excellent close-up views. The bird, which from its markings appeared to be a juvenile, was one species we had not expected in that area. In Misty Cliffs we turned down to the beach looking for White-fronted Plover, but were unsuccessful. We did however see our first Chacma Baboon in the village. After entering the Cape Point Nature Reserve, we first headed down to Olifantsbos, where we added White-fronted, Kittlitz’s and Three-banded Plovers to the list, and noted another Shy Albatross out at sea. There were numerous African Black Oystercatchers on the beach, and a group of Rock Martins were feeding along the shore-line. As we left the parking area, two large Eland were spotted close to the road, and later on the drive back to the main reserve road we saw further baboons as well as a group of three adult and a young Bontebok. Good views were also had of Rock Kestrel, Black-shouldered Kite, Cape Grassbird and Yellow Bishop.

By this time the weather had cleared quite noticeably at Cape Point, and we headed down to a view-site to scan the ocean towards Bellow Rock for any pelagic species, but only Cape Gannet, Swift Tern and Cape cormorant were present, the ocean below us being unexpectedly calm. The bush birds were keeping low in the wind, but we did add Striped Field Mouse to our list of mammals. We stopped at Buffels Bay for coffee, where we had our refreshments in the company of a group of Common Ostriches.

We then headed back towards Kommetjie, spotting a perched Jackal Buzzard just after exiting the reserve. At Kommetjie, the weather was closing in again, with very restricted visibility, so we continued on over Ou Kaapse Weg and then across to Sandvlei and the False Bay coast-line. At Sandvlei we stopped near the yacht-club and were fortunate, in the drizzle, to add African Fish Eagle, White-backed Duck (at least 20 birds), Great Crested Grebe and Pied Kingfisher to our list. We then continued along Baden Powell Drive towards Strandfontein Waste Water Treatment Works, which we entered during a heavy rain shower. However, this cleared and we spotted most of the expected species, with a few Barn Swallows still present amongst the many Brown-throated Martins, Little Swifts and occasional African Black Swifts seen overhead. Amongst the duck species there were many Spurwinged Geese, as well as two Fulvous Ducks, but no White-faced Duck or Hottentot Teal could be located. Good views were obtained of several African Marsh Harriers, which brought the number of raptor species for the day to seven.

Only small numbers of Swift Terns were present in the Works, including some juveniles, but adults carrying fish were again seen heading from False Bay towards Table Bay. Other than the Greater Flamingos and many very pink-looking Great White Pelicans, Grey, Black-headed and Purple Heron, Pied Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Red-knobbed Coot,  etc., good views were also had of a number of bush birds such as Cape Longclaw, African Pipit, Cape Bulbul and Zitting Cisticola.

As the weather and light conditions deteriorated, a fuel-stop along Strandfontein Road added Cape Canary, and a detour through Claremont brought Spotted Thick-knee as the last new species of the day. As we passed the Newlands cricket ground, a group of Swift Terns carrying fish passed overhead heading back into the strong northwester to feed their chicks on Robben Island, a round-trip that has been estimated at 80 kilometres. We were back in town at about 17h45. Given the poor, and particularly the windy weather conditions, a list of 88 species for the day was fairly satisfactory.

6 May ­ Darling and West Coast National Park (Guide: Dalton Gibbs)

The weather continued as for the past few days with rain coming down in measures as we left Cape Town. Once through the traffic a brief stop along the coast at the Blaauwberg Conservation Area turned up only a few bush birds and some marine species such as Cape Gannet and Crowned Cormorant. Not being able to see the signature view of Table Mountain across the sea, we decided to head north to get beyond the worst of the rain. Turning off the West Coast road we picked up our first Blue Cranes, with good views of a family with young birds. Red-capped Lark, Capped Wheatear and African Pipit were also knocking about the fields. Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler and Cape Robin-chat were common in the bush, but several of the regular species in this habitat didn’t make an appearance in the cold weather. 

Closer to Darling the rain came down and we sought shelter in a coffee shop for the worst of it to pass. Taking advantage in a gap in the rain, we stopped at the Tienie Versveld Nature Reserve, finding very wet Cloud Cisticola, Cape Longclaw and Black-headed Heron. A Grey Rhebok was out in the open on an adjacent hillside and a Cape Grysbok made an uncharacteristic appearance in daylight., probably because conditions were overcast.

Dodging the worst of the rain we travelled on to the West Coast National Park where we had lunch in the new bird hide at Abraamskraal. Various small passerines came in to drink. There were also good views of Black Crake along the water edge. Common Ostrich lined the road on the way toward Geelbek, where we picked up Black Harrier and close views of a male Southern Black Korhaan in a slightly bedraggled condition after a passing shower of rain.  

Karoo Lark and a surprise West Coast Clapper Lark displaying near the road after the rain were a welcome sight. With this bit of sun we also had White-backed Mousebirds, Karoo Scrub-robin and Rufous-vented Tit-babbler on the road verge. At the Geelbek hide we picked up a variety of Palearctic waders that seemed to have taken up the over wintering option. These included Grey Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Whimbrel, Greenshank and a surprise Eurasian Curlew. At the Seeberg Hide things were quieter, with a variety of terns and gulls on the sand banks. An Acacia Pied Barbet increased our species of bush birds, whilst a covey of Grey-winged Francolin provided good close up views on the side of the road. Up on Lookout Hill a Dusky Sunbird made an appearance (these usually occur in more arid areas). 

With the sunset painting the sky a spectrum of colours we headed out of the park, finding Red Hartebeest (Alcelaphus caama) and Cape Grysbok to add to our mammals for the day. We completed the drive back to Cape Town with the darkness setting in; having seen quite a bit for what had started as a cold, wet, rainy day!

7 May ­ The Overberg: Kogelberg, Harold Porter, Karwyderskraal (Dalton Gibbs)

We left Cape Town at 07:00 and travelling against the traffic on the N2 Highway, we turned onto the False Bay coastline on the eastern side of the City. We stopped several times and found Cape Rock Thrush, one of our target species for the day. With this in hand we tried at a spot before Rooiels for Cape Rockjumper which Alan had dipped on a few days before. A wait of 10 minutes was rewarded by the characteristic piping of the male bird, which Alan soon located not far from us. We walked up the mountain slope and watched this male for a while, and despite having excellent views of the bird, were unable to locate a female. Relieved after having good views of this species, Alan confessed that this was his top species for tour, but didn’t want to jinx it by saying so before hand!!

Cape Sugarbird, seen on a Birding Africa Western Cape Tour, Callan 
Cape Sugarbird, seen on a Birding Africa Western Cape Tour, Callan Cohen

Moving on to Rooiels, we watched the resident pair of Verreaux’s Eagle at their nest site, Orange-breasted Sunbird and Cape Sugarbird. We searched for Ground Woodpecker, and although failing to find these, were rewarded with sightings of a further four Cape Rockjumpers including a female. A short drive later and we were at the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens in Bettys Bay to try for some missing species which had escaped us due to poor weather the week before. At Disa Gorge we located the resident pair of African Black Duck and a feeding group of Swee Waxbill. Cape Batis, Fork-tailed Drongo and Dusky Flycatcher gave charming close up views, whilst Sombre Greenbuls called profusely from the forest canopy. 

Feeling lucky, we stopped off at the Kleinmond Nature Reserve to search for Hottentot Buttonquail. In this we failed, but did manage to turn up Cape Clapper Lark in the short restio beds. We moved on to the town of Kleinmond for lunch, finding a flock of Swift Terns and Cape Gannets off the coast whilst we enjoyed our lunch. A brief showing by a cetacean amongst the fish shoal offshore was probably that of Bryde’s Whale, an inshore fish feeding species. Another attempt for the Buttonquail at Arabella was also unsuccessful, so feeling not so lucky any more we decided to round off the day along the Karwyderskraal Road. Here we picked up Pearl-breasted Swallow, Cape Crow and a fine pair of Denham’s Bustard before setting off  back to Cape Town on the national road. 

Alan stayed in Cape Town on 8 and 9 May and went off on another Birding Africa trip on May 10.

10 May: West Coast National Park to Mountain Mist  (Guide: Michael Mills)

We headed north from Cape Town up the R27, hoping for drier weather ahead of us, but when we arrived at the West Coast National Park there we still regular squalls coming through. We made best use of the short dry spells, quickly finding Cape Penduline Tit right beside the road. Down at the water's edge we spent a short while in the hide, and managed to lure a very cooperative pair of African Rail from the reeds, which gave excellent views. Further on we paused to find a pair of Grey Tit at a rocky outcrop, before moving on to the Vredenburg area. Here an icy wind blew, but we still managed to pick out several Sickle-winged Chat along the roadside, a confiding Cloud Cisticola, Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Southern Ant-eating Chat and, after a lot of effort, a pair of Cape Long-billed Lark. After a warm lunch we continued to Velddrif, where we paused to find Chestnut-banded Plover and a couple of bright Lesser Flamingos, and finally on to Mountain Mist, which we decided had been named appropriately. We huddled around a blazing fire to warm up, making short forays into the surrounding fynbos to watch Protea Seedeater, Cape Bunting and Cape Sugarbird. After dark we found a single Freckled Nightjar along the road.

11 May: Mountain Mist to Cape Town (Guide: Michael Mills)

With heavy mist and driving rain at the top of the mountain, we decided to head for lower altitudes, which proved a good strategy. Before dawn we found a Spotted Eagle Owl perched on a roadside pole, and Fiery-necked Nightjar hunting along a Eucalypt plantation. After dawn we slowly made our way back up the mountain for breakfast, pausing to watch two groups of Ground Woodpecker, a circling Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk and, amazingly, a Cape Leopard being mobbed by a pair of Pied Crows. The views were brief before the secretive animal slunk behind a sandstone outcrop, but Allen and Rob were fortunate to join the elite club of people having set eyes on a leopard in the Cape mountains! After breakfast the weather showed no sign of improvement, so we headed for the coastal lowlands where it was a little  brighter, finding several Lanners and a trio of White Storks feeding in some recently ploughed fields. We spent the afternoon back in the West Coast National Park, where we were entertained by several smart Southern Black Korhaan, Karoo Lark and Black Harrier, and we watched a Secretarybird striding across the plains. Our final stop produced improved views of Little Rush Warbler, before it was time to head back to a rainy Cape Town.

12 May ­ Cape Town, Citrusdal, Peerboomskloof, Tanqua Karoo (Guide: Dalton Gibbs)

Alan, Rob and I set off from Cape Town on our extended trip at 7:00, stopping at Blaauwberg to see the sun rise over the iconic view of Table Mountain. Unfortunately the thick mist meant we could only see some cormorants and gulls on the rocks, so we consoled ourselves with some local bush birds. The usual Cape Robin-chat, Karoo Prinia and Karoo Scrub-robin responded to our ‘pishing’ calls, but the majority of the species refused to be called up and sulked in the cold wet bush. We set out north to find the sun and soon did so up the Piekenierskloof Pass, where we stopped to take in the magnificent views. 

On top of the
Piekenierskloof Pass. © Dalton Gibbs

A few male Malachite Sunbirds were vying for position over the first few aloes that had started to flower on the rock faces. After picking up lunch at a local farm stall we left the national road at Citrusdal and headed into the mountains, stopping at a river with the hope of finding Giant Kingfisher. We never did, but managed to pick up Hamerkop; a bird with a distinctively-shaped head that’s in a Family (Scopidae) all on its own and is endemic to sub-Saharan Africa.  After lunch along the mountain pass we found a flock of Greater Flamingo on a high altitude wetland, along with a variety of waterfowl, including Cape Shoveler and South African Shelduck. Family groups of Grey Rhebok (a species of antelope endemic to South Africa) were seen in a number of places in farm fields.

Entering the Kouebokkeveld Mountains, an area of open rock sheets with amazing formations, we passed our overnight accommodation and headed for Peerboomskloof to make the most of the daylight, on the way picking up Pale Chanting Goshawk, Fairy Flycatcher, Rufous-eared Warbler and Layard’s Tit-babbler. We played the call of Cinnamon-breasted Warbler and had just given up after a 10-minute wait, when it’s head popped out from a crack in the rock. A brief good view of the bird was had before it was gone; disappearing behind the rocks again. 

Arriving at our guesthouse just after 17:00 we settled in and had a look around before supper. Just after dark we had Cape Eagle Owl on the roof of the house and later Fiery-necked Nightjar calling. After an excellent supper we did some star gazing before deciding on a night drive with a spot lamp. Just outside the property we had Smith’s Rock Rabbit cross our tracks, but no further animals as the temperature got colder in the night. These rock rabbits are a favourite prey of Cape Eagle Owl.  

13 May ­ Tanqua National Park (Guide: Dalton Gibbs)

We arose with the sun to meet the early birds, having Fiery-necked Nightjar and smaller Cape Sparrows around the chalets. Scrub Hare was near the dam, with Three-banded Plover along the water’s edge. After a hearty breakfast we set off for the Tanqua Karoo descending the other side of the Kouebokkeveld escarpment.

Upon reaching the scrubby plains below we joined the long dusty road that links the towns of Ceres and Calvinia; the longest uninhabited road in South Africa. Pale Chanting Goshawk were scattered along telephone poles and we soon found the charming Spike-heeled lark. Red-capped Larks had formed winter flocks and these we came across a number of times. 

Botterboom Tree, our vehicle and the Tanqua Karoo © Dalton Gibbs

Along the dry Tanqua riverbed we worked hard to locate Namaqua Warbler, that refused to show itself after giving its characteristic call. The diminutive Pirit Batis, cocky Karoo Thrush and a flock of White-backed Mousebirds made an appearance, as well as Fairy Flycatcher. Karoo Chat was about, as well as a pair of Tractrac Chat. We stopped at the Tanqua National Park headquarters to have our lunch, finding an Acacia Pied Barbet to keep us amused. From here we travelled up on a spectacular steep pass that brought us to the top of the Roggeveld escarpment with amazing all round views of the Tanqua. Pale-winged Starling and Dusky Sunbird made appearances, with its rocky habitat different to the dry plains of the Tanqua below. 

With the sun going down we set off back to the warmth of our guesthouse, entering thick mist as yet another cold front approached the Cape and settled across the Koue Bokkeveld mountains. On the way up the escarpment we found Scrub Hare in the lights of our car, making a great end to a memorable day. 

14 May ­ Tanqua Karoo, Tradouw Pass, Grootvadersbos  (Guide: Dalton Gibbs)

Up with the sun we  enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before we travelled through the Tanqua once more. At Peerboomskloof we found White-throated Canary, Layard’s Tit-babbler and Karoo Scrub-robin. 

Once on the Tanqua plains we turned south, stopping at Eierkop to find Karoo Eremomela. We unfortunately failed on this front, but had great views of a pair of Verreaux’s Eagle that flew over the small hill.  We traveled on through the parallel valleys of the Little Karoo, stopping to have lunch in the small town of Montagu, famed for its fine Cape wines. 

Southern Double-collared Sunbird © Deirdre Vrancken,

From here we travelled down the Tradouw Pass, stopping to have a look at some of the fynbos vegetation along the roadside. A stop at a small forest patch yielded Cape Batis and three sunbird species; Malachite, Southern Double-collared and Amethyst. Arriving at Honeywood Farm, our home for two nights, we went through to bird the indigenous Afromontane forest. Greater Double-collared Sunbird and Sombre Greenbuls were around at the forest edge, with Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher appearing once we entered the forest. The weather however soon closed in and the rain started in earnest. By this stage it was late in the day and we retreated to the shelter of Honeywood Farm, where an excellent supper awaited us. 

15 May ­ Grootvadersbos Nature Reserve (Guide: Dalton Gibbs)

We left at first light to meet the dawn chorus in the forest and were rewarded with a number of the forest species; new birds for the trip that we turned up were Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Olive Bush Shrike and Olive Woodpecker as well as several commoner bush birds. We returned to Honeywood for a late breakfast and then returned to the forest, walking the trail to the bottom of the valley and then returning via the Redwood trees.  We tried for Narina Trogon and the skulking Knysna Warbler, but neither species replied to their calls. We did find a young solitary male Bushbuck. 

We had lunch on the picnic tables at the offices, picking up a flock of Red-faced Mousebirds near by. Swee and Common Waxbills fed nearby and we had further views of Olive Bush Shrike. By this stage of the afternoon we set off for the forest edge to search for Red-necked Spurfowl; although not present, we found a number of the fynbos species such as Cape Sugarbird and Orange-breasted Sunbird. As it was starting to get dark we started a search for Wood Owl and were rewarded sometime later with brief views of a pair coming to us in a dark forest patch.  Even with a spot light it was difficult to get good views of these birds and we had to be satisfied knowing that these silent birds were out there watching us! We returned to Honeywood Farm for an excellent supper and time to warm up in front of the fire. 

16 May ­ Grootvadersbos, De Hoop Nature Reserve (Guide: Dalton Gibbs)

After a leisurely breakfast we found a Greater Honeyguide that showed up outside the house; it had come to feed off the wax from the beehives in the adjacent work shed.  After saying goodbye to Honeywood Farm and the Moodies, we descended to the Agulhas Plain below, crossing the national road and travelling on the dirt roads of the lowlands. On the way to De Hoop Reserve we soon found Agulhas Long-billed Lark amongst African Grassveld Pipits and Red-capped Lark. This was soon followed by Karoo Korhaan and the larger Denham’s Bustard. 

Our route took us to the town of Malagas, where we crossed the Breede River on the hand pulled pont. We scanned the river for kingfishers, but only turned up Reed Cormorant and African Darters. At the turn off to our farm accommodation, we found an obliging Agulhas Long-billed Lark that gave us close up views.  A large flock of domestic Ostriches took interest in our birding activities and soon Robert had a dozen or so pecking at his clothes and camera. At the same time a curious flock of sheep approached us from the other side of the road and we were monetarily surrounded by lots of curious farmyard animals; no doubt doing their version of human watching. 

We dropped our bags off and went across to the nearby Potberg, where the only regional breeding colony of Cape Vulture is still to be found against the mountain. We passed several Bontebok and Eland on the way in and ate our lunch in the large Eucalyptus forest at the foot of the mountain, hoping to find Knysna Woodpecker. We had several views of Cape Vulture flying over and walked up the mountain to a vantage point for better views, but found by this stage that they had gone. Still at this point we visited the Black Eagle cave and viewed some old rock art painted on the cave walls by San people. There were a couple of interesting fynbos plant species flowering that we stopped to inspect on the way down and by total random chance found a Fynbos Grass Lizard perfectly camouflaged in a dead bush. Had we not been intently looking at its plant at the time we would never have seen it. Robert got some good close up pictures before it quickly slipped away into the vegetation. 

Once down the mountain we worked the Eucalyptus forest and came up with Olive Woodpecker and then three species of Honeyguide in succession; Greater, Sharp-billed and Lesser Honeyguide. The Knysna Woodpecker that we also were searching for unfortunately eluded us, and with the sun setting we had to head for our near by accommodation and an excellent supper. 

17 May ­ De Hoop Nature Reserve (Guide: Dalton Gibbs)

After an early breakfast we headed straight for the western section of De Hoop Nature Reserve, finding several Blue Cranes on the way to the gate. On the lower plains of the reserve Bontebok, Grey Rhebok and  Common Ostrich greeted us on the way in as we started our search for Southern Tchagra. This took some searching, with birds constantly staying out of sight and skulking in the thick bush below the short cliffs next to the wetland. There were hosts of Red-knobbed Coot setting up nests on the wetland, as Great Crested Grebe vied for territory. Flocks of Little Grebe clustered in groups, mixing with Yellow-billed Duck and Cape Shovelers. We picked up Red-faced Mousebird and Southern Boubou before we eventually located a Southern Tchagra that reluctantly showed itself in thick bush at the cliff edge.

Going across to the nearby restaurant we found African Hoopoe and Cape Mountain Zebra, a rare species of which only 1000 or so individuals remain.  A flock of Grey-winged Francolin showed themselves near by as we retired to the restaurant for lunch. After lunch we took a drive down to the extensive white dunes that line this section of coast, pausing at various interesting spots. One of these was a recently burnt area where we studied the pipits; hoping to find Plain-backed Pipit. This unfortunately was not about and we had to settle for African Grassveld Pipit and Large-billed Lark. Alan had a brief sighting of what was possibly Agulhas Clapper Lark, but the bird disappeared into a restio bed, the preferred habitat for this species. 

We took a walk along the white coastal dunes, having distant views of Cape Gannet feeding on an offshore shoal of fish. On the road back we had views of Striped Field Mouse, the only diurnal rodent for the area. We stopped to search the restio patch along the side of the road where we had seen the possible Clapper Lark, but only turned up Grey-backed Cisticola. Back at the De Hoop lake area we searched the bush edge again, hoping to find Knysna Woodpecker. Instead we had good views of the Southern Tchagra who now decided to show themselves. By this late stage it was time to drive back over the hard dunes and return to our farmstay.

18 May De Hoop to Cape Town via Greyton (Guide: Dalton Gibbs)

Before day break Alan and I set out for Potberg for a final shot at Knysna Woodpecker, which sadly did not show itself despite us seeing plenty of the other local species. After a good breakfast we packed up and set off for Cape Town, stopping at patches of indigenous bush along the route to see what we could find. The roadside was quiet, with the occasional Denham’s Bustard and Blue Cranes in fields and the odd Black-shouldered Kite on telephone poles. We took the back roads to Greyton, a small town in the Overberg region of the Western Cape, where I had contacted the local bird club for a stake out of Amethyst Sunbird and Barn Owl. On the way we had a surprise European Hobby that gave us excellent views as we put a scope on to it. Closer to Greyton we came across four Open-bill Storks that were thermalling overhead. These birds were no doubt part of a larger group that had recently made a sudden influx into the Western Cape. Once in Greyton we headed to a house of a member of the bird club who had a nectar feeder in their garden. Within 10 minutes we had picked up excellent views of four sunbird species: Malachite, Greater Double Collared, Southern Double Collared and Amethyst, our target species.  We then headed for the Dassiesklip farm stall along the national road to find lunch and track down a Barn Owl. We arrived at Dassieshoek and searched the building, only to discover that owl boxes had been installed on the outside of the building and the birds were unfortunately no longer visible; unfortunate for us but no doubt better for the birds themselves! We made had a quick trip into Cape Town and to the airport. 

Despite the time of the year (late autumn) and the inclement Cape winter weather during much of the tour, we picked up a total of 239 species, including 197 which were lifers for Alan!

A Birding Africa Trip Report by Tour Leader Dalton Gibbs, Michael Mills and Otto Schmidt. Pictures taken by Dalton Gibbs.

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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