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South Africa – the Kalahari to the Cape, September 2006


Bennet's woodpecker

Shy Albatross

“Summer came early to the Cape this year and we enjoyed superb sunny weather for all of our time in Cape Town, apart from the last day.  None more so than on the pelagic when the journey out and back was bathed in sunshine and the sea was the calmest I have ever seen it.  These were perfect conditions to enjoy the Shy and Black-browed Albatrosses, White-chinned and Pintado Petrels, Sooty and Great Shearwaters, hordes of Cape Gannets, and Northern Giant Petrel attending a trawler. 

The Cape Rockjumpers performed amazingly well, competing for our attention with a group of Ground Woodpeckers and a Cape Rock Thrush while the African Penguins on nearby Stony Point were as endearing as ever.  The good winter rains had Kirstenbosch Botanical gardens looking fantastic with swathes of Pin-cushion Proteas attended by Cape Sugarbirds, Orange-breasted and Lesser-double Collared Sunbirds.  A Klaas’s Cuckoo out in an appearance and the resident Spotted Eagle Owl was in its usual tree.  Elsewhere we found a large flock of Sabine Gulls off Moullie Point, watched Southern Right Whales splashing around close inshore, saw the most southerly Ostriches in the world at Cape Point, and found Cape Siskins close to our accommodation and Spotted Thick-knees at Kommetjie.

We began our journey among the red dunes of the Kalahari Desert where we found Namaqua and Burchell’s Sandgrouse coming into to drink, several Kori Bustards, dozing Verreaux’s Eagle Owls, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Crimson-breasted Shrike, a rare Bennett’s Woodpecker, Gabar Goshawks, and a variety of mammals from stately Gemsbok to alert Meerkats.  Augrabies had African Pied Wagtails and lots of water and Pofadder’s Red Larks performed on cue, along with other highlights around the back roads of Bushmanland including Karoo Long-billed and Fawn-coloured Larks, Black-headed Canary, Rufous-eared Warbler, Pale-winged Starlings, and Ashy Tit to name a few.

In Goegap Reserve we watched Ludwig’s Bustards, Mountain and Capped Wheatears, iridescent Malachite Sunbirds, tiny Karoo Eremomelas, and Damara Canaries before heading off into the hills around Kamieskroon where we found some superb sheets of wild flowers.  Lambert’s Bay Cape Gannet colony had been suffering from attacks by some of the local Cape Fur Seals and had been deserted a few months before we arrived.  Luckily the situation is now under control and although not back to full strength, there were still plenty of birds present, all busy displaying.  This was also a great place to get good views of Swift Terns as some large flocks were gathered on the rocks around the harbour, along with plenty of Hartlaub’s and a few Grey-headed Gulls.  The open air seafood meal on the beach later that night was a perfect end to the day and much appreciated, not least for those delicious huge crayfish. 

Heading south we found the often-difficult Protea Canary in a narrow ‘kloof’ and scanned the Berg river estuary for a variety of wildfowl and waders.  We called in at Saldana to get close views of our first African Black Oystercatchers and Bank Cormorants before arriving at our ever so welcoming guesthouse at Langabaan.  We had a pleasant morning in the West Coast Nature reserve with an obliging Southern Black Korhaan, Cape Grassbird and great views of both African Marsh and Black Harriers and we managed to find a Chestnut-banded Plover at the very last-chance site.  We found time to call in at one of the many wild flower reserves where we were treated to a fine display of flowers and the tiny aerial dots of a displaying Cloud Cisticolas before moving inland and up into the Cederburg Mountains, ending the day at a wonderfully remote guesthouse.  From here we explored the karoo, and found Cinnamon-breasted Warblers showing well in their famous rocky gorge while Horus Swifts zoomed overhead, Fairy Flycatchers on the way into Ceres and Cape Clapper Larks right by our guest house. 

The rains this winter had been some of the best in the karoo for ten years and parts of this normally sombre grey and brown landscape were covered in vibrant yellow flowers.  Still, birds were typically scarce but we did manage to find Karoo Korhaan, some smart Black-eared Sparrowlarks, Red-capped and Spike-heeled Larks, noisy Namaqua Warblers and some amazing gatherings of White-necked Ravens, although it may have been the lunch at the Tanqua Karoo Guest house that really stood out.  We popped into Ceres to find Black Duck and then it was on to Swellendam.  Our visit to this beautiful town was memorable, not only for the superb accommodation and wonderful food, but also for the visit to the Bontebok Reserve where we found several Stanley’s Bustards, some in full display, Pearl-breasted Swallows, lots of Fiscal Flycatchers, an incredibly obliging Olive Bush-shrike, and of course lots of smart Bonteboks.

Driving south we found Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Algulhas Long-billed Larks, Blue Cranes in the wheat fields and Cape Vultures circling around Potberg and were treated to a wonderful first view of Cape Town as we crested Sir Lowry’s Pass.  Our four days at the delightful Afton Grove passed all too quickly and will be remembered for the delicious meals and genial hosts as much as the birds.”  Steve Rooke

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