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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Western and Northern Cape, South Africa, 15 July-29 August 2008,
Oscar Campbell [ojcampbell25_@_yahoo.com] (Omit underscores if emailing)
Having gone to town and had a ball in Kruger and KwaZuluNatal in 2007 (see http://www.birdtours.co.uk/tripreports/s_africa/Kruger-2/Kruger-07.htm ), Cape Town seemed an obvious gateway to complete the South African experience this summer. Having recently returned, I’m struggling to think of another country that combines such a prolific and fascinating avifauna with world-class mammal-watching, an excellent tourist infrastructure, reasonable costs, landscapes and vistas that are perpetually of the scale and a whole host of non-birding back-up activities.
The purpose of this trip report is provide details on the logistics of the trip, and outline the bird species that can be expected on a visit to the region in (local) winter. In addition, I have provided short overviews of each of the main areas visited and some as up-to-date as possible stake-out gen for a handful of species that need particular searching for.
Given six weeks, this was pretty relaxed but slightly complicated by two stints in Cape Town to fit in with two companions, neither of whom had as much time as me, nor much overlap in their schedules.
July 15: Arrive Cape Town early PM and head straight for De Hoop.
July 16 – 19: De Hoop and The Overberg
July 20 – 25: Knysna area
July 26 – 30: Cape Town
July 31 – 2 August: Central Bushmanland (Calvinia, Brandvlei, Upington)
August 3 – 9: The Kalahari (Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park)
August 10 – 12: Northern Bushmanland and Namaqualand (Augrabies, Pofadder, Springbok).
August 13- 15: West Coast: Clanwilliam area, West Coast National Park, Darling
August 16 – 20: Cape Town (again)
August 21 – 24: Tanqua Karoo and Karoo National Park
Finally, being a teacher and given that returning to work earlier than absolutely necessary simply is not an option, I returned to Knysna, via the Swartberg Pass from Karoo NP, and stayed there for the remainder of the trip. The main objective was to fly like a bird (paraglide) rather than see many but, as it turned out, I had a good time doing both.
Timing and weather
August is the start of spring in western SA and, in many respects, was a perfect time to visit. Cape Town is meteorologically diverse, to say the least: prepare for every conceivable possibility here. The closest I can get is to say it’s a bit like Shetland, without the cold and the sun does exist (and was pretty frequent during our stay, but we may have been lucky). Elsewhere, the weather was highly predictable and mostly immaculate, with bright, clear, fresh days and cool nights. Temperature extremes, even in the arid interior, were limited (by local standards): high 20s tops early pm, and always above freezing even pre-dawn in the Kalahari. Hence, no enforced siestas, but not too much shivering either, even under canvas at 5am as the lions started roaring.
Rainfall seems to have been good this winter, and the plants had responded: Namaqualand, the Tanqua and the West Coast all looked sensational and were alive with display-flighting larks, canaries and sunbirds. Even in Cape Town by the second half of August, spring was clearly starting to unfold: hirundines returning, much nest-building and singing, and even a few cryptic skulkers singing back just when we needed them to.
First and foremost, you need the South African Birdfinder . A site-guide par excellence, this is a mine of pin-sharp information, and a delight to use, especially to anyone brought up on those dreary ‘Where to watch Birds in…’ from the UK. Makes trip reports like this one (almost!?) redundant.
For identification, as last year, we were lumbered with Birds of Africa (South of the Sahara) and the related Sasol Birds of Southern Africa . Maybe we’re spoilt by having the Collins Bird Guide or Sibley for the northern hemisphere but, as last year, we didn’t like either of the local field guides: once we’d graduated from sunbirds to larks, never mind pipits, both books regularly posed more questions than they answered. Some questionable (laughable, if you want to be unkind) illustrations and morasses of vague, wishy-washy text are the main complaints. Mind you, despite (or because?) of this, we did have a lot of “fun” sorting out 18 varieties of lark. Maybe it depends on your definition of fun. A quick bookshop perusal in Cape Town didn’t reveal anything better, so, for the meantime, you’re stuck with these.
For sound-recordings, we used Southern Africa Bird Sounds (Guy Gibbons, 1995). These proved dead handy, both for checking IDs and tuning in to the next up-coming lark on the road, and for a bit of luring in the field. Cisticolas, rock-jumpers and Victorin’s Warblers loved these CDs, and no way would Knysna Warbler have materialised without them.
A Field Guide to the Mammals of Southern Africa worked well for things with fur.
Lonely Planet (Cape Town) and Rough Guide (South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland) were useful for background information, other activities etc. Local tourist offices are excellently set up and very helpful and can provide a lot of similar information.
South Africa Road Atlas by Map Studio. Handy, glovebox-sized. We picked this up in the airport on arrival.
All books (and maybe the CDs?) are available at reasonable prices with ease in Cape Town. Try the CNS store at International Arrivals for starters.
Up-to-date contact details for all accommodation used is given below. We booked the first 10 days prior to arrival, and did likewise for the Kalahari. Otherwise, we merely phoned ahead a day or two before arrival, and had no difficulties. Mind you, it was low season. Trying that at Christmas is probably inadvisable. Prices are per room per night, unless otherwise stated. The international code for South Africa is 0027. The exchange rate during our trip was approx 14Rand = 1GBP and we relied heavily on ATMs for topping up our cash flow. These were easy to find everywhere, and took all manner of cards.
Sunbird Mountain Retreat, Hout Bay, Cape Town. Ph: 021 7907758 http://www.sunbirdlodge.co.za/ R400. Signposted from the M63 between Constantia and Hout Bay, which is useful as it’s complicated to find (being half-way up Table Mountain). Very close to Kirstenbosch and Constantia. And had Striped Flufftail calling in the garden one night!
Hantam Hotel, Calvinia Ph: 027 341 1512 R450. On the main road out of town, beyond the Spar. They were quite nonplussed when we rolled in at midnight, having singularly failed to find where we had booked.
Brandvlei Hotel, Brandvlei Ph: 054 6030002 R260. Obvious on the main (only!) street in town. Quirky but very obliging. Decent beer for celebrating your first Red Lark, alongside a big painting of said species in the dining room.
Die Eiland Holiday Resort, Upington Ph: 054 3340286/7/8 R300. Good Orange River birding in the grounds. On the south bank of the river; see South African Birdfinder for directions.
Kgalagadi Transfrontier and Karoo National Parks www.sanparks.org R120 approx per pitch. You need to pay entrance fees on a daily basis as well. Check out a Wildcard if you are staying about 6 nights or more, in any combination of national parks. If you don’t fancy the cold (or camping full stop), or are going in the summer, there are a selection of chalets and rondavels at each campsite. Check the website for details.
Pofadder Hotel, Pofadder 054 9330063 Approx. R520. Signposted from the N14. You won’t get lost in Pofadder!
Springbok Lodge, 37 Voertrekker Street, Springbok Ph: 027 7121321 R260. Right in the town centre.
Clanwilliam Hotel, Clanwilliam Ph: 027 4821101 R720. Handy for Protea Seed-eater, but a bit austere and sterile. Don’t book your honeymoon here.
Seagulls Guesthouse, 15 Wightman Way, Langebaan Ph: 022 7721017 / 082 7053448 firstname.lastname@example.org 5 minutes from West Coast National Park
Chantilly Guesthouse, 18 Alheit Street, Ceres. Ph: 083 4419532 www.chantillyguesthouse.co.za R250 per person. Poles apart from the Clanwilliam Hotel; really friendly and helpful. Surprisingly forgiving when I traipsed in from the Tanqua Karoo hours late and covered in mud.
Pelagic Trip Organised via www.capetownpelagics.com and also see the related site www.birdingafrica.com. R1400 per person, which is a rather expensive way of getting violently ill: be prepared! Mind you, awesome birding. These folks can also do a lot of the organisation for your trip if you tell them what you want, and offer a guiding service too. Worth it if you’re on a tight schedule?
Driving is easy and hassle free on tar. Gravel roads (unavoidable, especially in the Karoo and for De Hoop) were fine and singularly lacking in potholes, albeit very dusty. The tracks in the Kalahari are sand and require some nerve and high revs (in a 2WD, in just a few places); you don’t want to have to push too often in lion country! (and you are not supposed to get out of car! At least, not unless you are trying to piece together Verreaux’s Eagle Owl from a monkey puzzle of dead fall).
Other activities Lots of these! Some or all of us indulged in the following at various points during the trip. Mostly we just turned up, or booked these on the phone the day before, but a couple of web addresses are provided if you would like to get more information or book ahead. We recommend:
Mountain-biking, whale-watching boat trips (and lots more from shore), sea kayaking, various Cape Town museums and Robben Island (places limited: book ahead if you can: http://www.robben-island.org.za/), skydiving (http://www.skydiveplett.com/), paragliding (www.coastalparagliding.co.za) and shark cage diving (http://apexsharkdiving.com/index.htm). You can do the last activity at Gansbaii as well as Simonstown, but it is only at the latter location that you stand a reasonable chance of seeing these awesome predators breaching. This is highly seasonal, and most likely in mid-winter.
Here follows short, personal overviews on each of the main areas visited. They are far from exhaustive, but may suffice whilst you wait for your copy of the South African Birdfinder to arrive.
A De Hoop and the Overburg (3 hours east of Cape Town)
Starting with sugarbirds waking us up on the first morning, this splendid reserve (and no, I’ve no idea why it’s not a national park) was an easy, prolific introduction to birding the western Cape. We made two full day-trips into the reserve, plus a side-trip to Cape Agulhas in between and spent some 4-5 hours scouring the adjacent Overburg farmlands. Many fynbos, wetland and farmland species are common here. Black Harrier and Southern Tchagra both fell (eventually: we found better sites for both) and lark fun began in earnest with Agulhas Clapper and Agulhas Long-billed, neither too far from Denham’s Bustard. Blue Cranes, like Southern Right Whales are a slam dunk. The latter alone justify the visit here; we managed 30 both days and, whilst we saw them in many other places, this was the only place (other than Plettenburg, east of Knysna) that we saw them breaching (frequently!)
B The Knysna forests (6 hours east of Cape Town)
Fynbos, sandy coast and estuarine habitats are all available here, but we concentrated on the patches of Afromontane forest, here growing at sea level.
Birding Goudveld State Forest, close to and in the Forest Edge Grounds resulted in good sightings of African Crowned Eagle, Black Sparrowhawk, Knysna Woodpecker, and especially and repeatedly, Grey Cuckooshrike. Turacos were common and just once, but heart-stoppingly, White-starred Robin appeared, lurking on the back edge of a noisy flock. Wood-Owls called most evenings, and Black-winged Plovers were in the field adjacent to Forest Edge (winter only for the latter?)
Birding was equally good, and certainly much easier (although, to be fair, I was there a month later i.e. early spring as opposed to winter) at Lake Brenton, on the edge of Knysna Lagoon. This area, perhaps because it is mostly residential, is not mentioned in the South African Birdfinder. To get to it, take the signposted left turn off the only road between the N2 and Brenton-on-Sea, and then go left again at the T-junction at the bottom of the hill (or follow the signs for Renette’s Candles or Glen House B & B). Verdant, well-healed suburbia merges into remnant forest patches and damp scrub. By late August, the whole area was alive with bird song. Saw-wings, turacos and seed-eaters were all notable, but eclipsed (in decreasing order of visibility) by Chorister Robin-chats (blatant), Scaly-throated Honeyguide (calling continually on three mornings in a row from the same tree) and Knysna Warbler (two, heard only). Victorin’s Warbler was common (by voice) in the coastal scrub closer to Brenton-on-Sea.
Finally, and best of all, don’t miss Wilderness National Park, c45 minutes west of Knysna. A total of 6 hours on the trails over two days yielded wicked views of a full suite of skulky forest species. More Robin-chats, Olive Bush-Shrike, Lemon Dove, two species of honeyguide (Lesser pished to dementia: his, not mine!) and some random fly-over Denham’s Bustards seemed like a great tally, until, crème-de-la-crème, a Narina Trogon -YE GODS!- materialised on a fully exposed chest-high snag at 20 feet! This was 15 metres along the Half-collared Kingfisher trail from the tar road i.e. halfway along the very first boardwalk. This was 10.55 and 10 minutes after I had decided the night before that I would need to have started the long trek back to Cape Town. Morale: keep trying, and don’t be afraid to cut things (a little!) fine.
C Cape Town
Whatever you do, do not fly into this sensational Everest of a city, quickly leap on a pelagic, spend a day more trying to tweak out Knysna Warbler and co. and then head off. Whilst possibly prejudiced (having flown in from the Marianas Trench that is Dubai) we universally thought Cape Town to be stratospheric in just about every respect. We easily filled some 10 days here, mixing a variety of non-birding activities with field days, depending on daily weather.
This area is exceptionally well-covered in the South African Birdfinder, so just a couple of snippets:
We found early morning raptor-watching to be excellent. We returned twice to the dramatic viewpoint on the upper edge of Kirstenbosch (access from M63, a 10 minute walk uphill from Cecilia Plantation Car Park) and notched up 10 species in all. These included Peregrines hammering a Verreaux’s Eagle, Booted Eagle displaying and, eventually, Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk.
Don’t miss out on Cape Point for whales, Peregrines and Orange-breasted Sunbirds. However, busloads of tourists outnumber Hottentot Buttonquails by thousands to one, so get out to the tip either early in the day or late-on.
Pelagic magic is a must, and digging out four great albatrosses out of thousands of mollymawks was, almost, bird highlight of the entire trip. Not least when the first Wanderer came close enough to inspect the vomit drifting off the port side! Only the later appearance of la Narina pipped that. But be warned; these are tough trips in little boats amongst big waves. Take all pre-trip precautions you can think off.
We found rock-jumpers easily at Sir Lowry’s Pass (and on the Swartberg Pass) but also made a trip in search of more to Rooi Els (see specific gen below). The landscape alone easily justifies this trip – this side of False Bay is totally different, and more peaceful, than the Cape Point side.
We spent one afternoon ascending Table Mountain from the lower cable car station and found this very worthwhile. Not for birds, simply for the best views of the surely the best city on earth.
D The Karoo and Namaqualand (Calvinia: 5-6 hours north-east of Cape Town; Ceres 2 hours east-north-east)
We covered a lot of this vast, arid interior, mainly in transit to and from the Kalahari. In addition, we side-tripped into the Tanqua Karoo via Ceres. In doing so, we visited virtually all locations noted in the South African Birdfinder and found one-night stopovers, then moving on next day, quite adequate (although this did require driving quite late into the evening a couple of times). Covering a selection of sites is a good tactic as certain key species are highly nomadic and, if not present in one area, may be quite straightforward in another. We certainly found this with, for example, Sclater’s Lark. It’s also really important to get an eye in for microhabitat; we found Red, Stark’s and Sclater’s Larks in distinctive sites, all of which were very different from one another and from the (presumably unsuitable) bouldery rubble and knee-high vegetation that comprises most of the Karoo.
Just a few highlights included loads of flyover sandgrouse, delightful Black-headed Canaries commonly (Damara Canary only close to Springbok, where abruptly common), roadside coursers, delectable and numerous Rufous-eared Warblers and Orange River White-eyes and plunging in after Sclater’s Lark with Ludwig’s Bustards and Black-eared Sparrowlarks on the way.
Stops along the Orange River (try Keimos and Kakamas bridges, as well as Die Eiland and Augrabies) added a selection of (regionally very localised) riparian species, as well as breath-taking dawn photography opportunities. At the latter, you can also observe the multi-coloured leaping Broadley’s Flat Lizards, of Planet Earth fame. Don’t miss these: they look a lot, lot better than they sound!
At Springbok we decided – admittedly after some deliberation – that Barlow’s was a Lark too far and we decided to leave the 260km round trip and assessment of flank streaking to the real Alauda-masochists. This freed up a day for some civilised flower-viewing at Geogap and Namaqualand National Park. The former, in particular, was sensational. By late August, the floral display was also well underway in the Tanqua Karoo, especially at Eierkop and the north end of the P2250 complete with ‘butterflying’ sparrowlarks and roadside bustards. Cinnamon-breasted Warbler and Karoo Eremomela both finally fell here, once we were primed for their calls. Finally, Ground Woodpeckers also suddenly became straightforward, with 5 in four days in the Tanqua.
E The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (260 km – almost 3 hours – north of Upington)
This, the insertion of South Africa into the Botswana – Namibia frontier, is the country’s second showcase game reserve, after Kruger. It is organised like the latter in many respects but, being so remote, receives a tiny fraction of the visitors, most of whom are committed, hard-core bushveld campers. Hence, our VW Chico 1.4 stood out rather a lot! We found the isolation and solitude of the park most refreshing and greatly enjoyed finding our own lions, leopard, hyenas and the like, without having to worry about being rapidly surrounded by swarms of day-trippers.
Being so arid (technically semi-desert, with 200mm of rain annually, mostly in summer thunderstorms), cover is very sparse. This facilitates game-viewing, but also limits faunal diversity. We ratcheted up 21 species of mammals and 90 species of birds inside a week (regarding the latter, significantly more are possible in Kruger in a day). However, 36 of these were not recorded further south and one, Crested Barbet, wasn’t on the park list (although we later saw one even further west, at Augrabies). Key species included blatant Kori Bustards and Secretarybirds, Burchell’s Sandgrouse (widespread once learnt), 15 species of raptor, 4 species of owl in a day, Crimson-breasted Shrike and a bonus sighting of Rosy-faced Lovebirds; this Namibian speciality is marginally in range here. We found Mata-Mata to be by far the best camp for birding although one of the experiences of the trip occurred near Nossob when a pride of lions surrounded the car with one particularly curious cub ascending onto the bonnet to scratch the side mirrors and rasp the windscreen, causing us to dive for the fine print of our rental agreement.
Some practicalities: Make sure you reserve online as far in advance as possible; accommodation is limited especially if you are not camping. Midday temperatures are surely astronomical in high summer; in winter night-time temperatures can drop to well below freezing. However, we did not suffer this. All three camps are well-organised and well-stocked but it is more economical to bring in as many supplies as you can, especially drinking water. Don’t miss out on doing a night-drive at the earliest opportunity; we managed this at Mata-Mata and Twee Rivieren with that at the former outstanding. Finally, at night, make sure you look up: the great gig in the sky is overwhelming, even from light years away.
F Clanwilliam and West Coast National Park (3 hours and 1 hour north of Cape Town, respectively)
Firstly, ensure you take in Kransvleipoort. We had a prolific morning here, not least with Cape Siskin and Protea Seed-eater within 100m of each other. The Cape Gannet colony at Lambert’s Bay was also good value. West Coast National Park is day-trippable from Cape Town but we choose to have two nights in Langebaans. This is yet another South African birding location that combines sensational scenery, a magnificent spring flora and a host of interesting birds, mostly easily located. Black Harriers are hard to miss whilst Southern Black Korhaans are not much trickier. By hiking out to the saltmarsh pan hides south west of Geelbek Manor House, we fell in with Chestnut-banded Plover without difficulty. We also had a mid-morning Caracal crossing the road near the Seelbeg Hide; apparently West Coast NP provides the best chance of a sighting in Southern Africa of this evasive cat. Finally, we took in the Darling area en route to Cape Town: this provided some farmland species including Blue Crane, plus Cloud Cisticola and our only Banded Martins of the trip.
Specific Gen on selected species
Here I provide some brief details on 17 potentially tricky species that we put some time in looking for. We saw many tricky species simply by looking hard and using our wits and the South African Birdfinder; below I only add any extra or updating details on gen provided in the latter.
Actually not tricky at all, and easily seen in three disparate areas: found as we searched for Sclater’s and Stark’s Larks (see below) and along the P2250, where intensive scanning of the flattest, sparsest plains, even on a windy mid-afternoon, produced 9. Otherwise, this species was definitely easiest to locate in the early morning or late afternoon when small groups are readily apparent in flight.
We were delighted – and rather surprised – to find this species coming into to drink at the small tap just across from the shop at Mata-Mata campsite, very close to the entrance gate. A total of 8 birds appeared inside an hour, including a family with one juvenile. Presumably this indicates local breeding, although this may be erratic rather than regular. We also noted our only Green-winged Pytilia at the same tap.
After a tip-off, we found two in the lush (by Kalahari standards) isolated thorn tree in front of the Mata-Mata shop. You can search for them whilst waiting for the lovebirds to fly in.
Cape Clapper Lark
Having missed this species on breezy afternoon searches around Darling and at Cape Point, this, the 18th and final piece of our lark jigsaw, fell into place at Ceres, en-route to the Tanqua Karoo. Leaving Ceres on the R46 for the Theronsberg Pass, a lush lake soon appears on the right. One km further along the road from here, intensive farmland begins, with bisecting strips of remnant renosterveld (semi-natural, scrubby vegetation). Three Clappers were easily located from the main road, display-flighting over the renosterveld on the south side of R46. Listen for the clear, rising whistles that carry much further than the wing-flapping rattle.
Agulhas Clapper and Agulhas Long-billed Lark
Both species were located along the Swellendam Road from De Hoop. From the De Hoop access track, turn west on the main gravel road and, after several km, turn north for Swellendam. After about 6 km, this road runs through a shallow valley, with a mosaic of cropfields and renosterveld ridges. Agulhas Clappers were easily located by song as they used piles of stones to launch their display-flights from. Agulhas Long-billed Lark eventually appeared on roadside fencepost 8 km south of the N2 junction, with another Clapper in the same area.
Cape Long-billed Lark
Having seen Eastern Long-billed Lark in 2007, and Agulhas and Karoo (common) earlier in this trip, this was our fourth and final South African Certhilauda. It was also the best, and quite a shock by lark standards: runt Whimbrel isn’t too far off the mark! We located ours at Wadrifsoutpan, south of Lambert’s Bay, as recommended in the South African Birdfinder. We crossed into the strandveld just north of the seaward pan and kicked around between that and the dunes until we eventually heard one displaying. This allowed us to track it down.
We looked intensively all morning for this species close to Brandvlei without success. That afternoon we then continued northwards along the R27 and, 40km south of Kenhardt, the terrain changes abruptly to sparsely grassed, flat, pebbled plains. Following a suspicious looking flyby, we followed our noses and eventually located some 8 birds in two groups. Several trip reports, spanning several years, mention this species here so it really does appear to be regular in this area. There are roadside drinking troughs nearby although, being winter, we didn’t spend much time waiting by these. Later in the trip we searched for the species near Pofadder, without success.
We located this species on two different late afternoons: at Brandvlei (24 km south of town, along R27) and, after a lot more searching, at Koa Dunes, near Aggenys, Pofadder. The latter site also had Damara Canaries (at the drinking trough) and many Black-eared Sparrowlarks in the dunes. We waded in here and stomped around, something not possible at Brandvlei where the fences have clearly been designed to thwart even the most athletic (or desperate!) birders.
This was located readily 15 km north of the N7 on the Pofadder to Onseekpans road. We met one of the local farmers who readily granted access for a trawl of his fields on the east side of the road. Having warmed up to the song using CDs, we readily located some 20 in 2 hours. Like the Rolling Stones, they looked at their best when singing from a distance, especially, we found, when gleaming silver 100 metres overhead in a perfect karoo-blue sky.
Like Ludwig’s Bustard, not actually tricky at all. In fact, really widespread, although this may be in response to the rains. However, very difficult to locate on the ground, and this didn’t happen until the P2250. Surprisingly, this was the only area we saw them displaying: singing birds butterflying into the wind over miles of Compositacea-yellow desert was one of the spectacles of the Karoo.
We had a lot of fun with these. They were immediately detected very close to the N2 at Sir Lowry’s Pass on the opposite (inland) side of the road to obvious parking lay-by, and also in the mist at the Swartberg Pass (500 metres west of the summit, on the north-facing slope). At Rooi Els we overshot the turn-off suggested in the South African Birdfinder and proceeded up the hill along the R44. On the brow, 1 km east of the river bridge, a small hillside track contours back towards the village. We picked out an evasive female and an exhibitionist, territorial male soon after arrival.
We tried for this at Constantia Greenbelts in late July, without success. Two hours fishing in mid-August eventually yielded a response and one hour later, we’d seen this spiky-billed Locustella-wannabe at 8 feet. We played the tape very sparingly: the bird did not seem to sing in immediate response to it, but it certainly came closer. In the hour we spent with it, it can’t have moved more than 5 feet through the tangle. By late August, birds were easily located on song at Brenton and Wilderness.
Having squeezed one out of De Hoop, this species was much easier to see at Karoo National Park. We found three on the Klipspringer Pass, including one song-flighting in the gorge right below the watchpoint for the Verreaux’s Eagle eyrie.
Unless you’ve been lucky enough to fall in with Garnet Pitta, you won’t believe the intensity of red on these Kalahari must-sees. One was seen poorly at Twee Rivieren but, by then, we’d amassed some 20 sightings: all (others) were either in Mata-Mata camp (where unmissable) or along the Aoab valley, up to 30 km south of Mata-Mata. The good news is that, unlike Garnet Pittas (and contrary to some of what we’d read) they aren’t a bit skulky.
Protea Seed-eater and Cape Siskin
We expected trouble from both of these, so to see both at Kransvleipoort on the same morning was a cause of major jubilation. 300 metres into the gorge, at the first obvious big outcrop that almost touches the road on the right hand side, we found a pair of siskins nest building and perching in the tall, shady (Eucalypt?) trees in front of the outcrop. One hundred metres further we added Protea Seed-eater singing from the scrubby slope, and also had another just below the top of the gorge. These were our only seed-eaters, but Cape Siskin subsequently popped up several times: pairs were seen very well twice at Sir Lowry’s Pass, and 8 shared a boulder with a rock-jumper on the Swartberg Pass. Clearly a finch that appreciates exclusive company!
Whilst a lot of people made sure I had really a rather nice time in South Africa, two really stand out:
First Gillian Ensor, self-proclaimed (and seemingly reasonably content) “Birder’s Moll” (no, I didn’t know what that meant either, until I read Bill Bryson’s Made in America).
Secondly Peter Dolton for coping with my lark compulsion with admirable humour and providing sufficient Pink Floyd and The Who to ensure those empty freeways whizzed by. Most of the time.
Surprisingly both continued to speak to me after completion of the trip, and both even proof-read this report and made a number of helpful suggestions.
Species List (Click for a list of all 324 species definitively recorded. Names and order broadly follow Birds of Africa (South of the Sahara).