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A Report from

Western Cape, 21st Sept 09-28th Sep 09,

Steve Baines

Lee, Brian & me

An idea to visit Cape Town and get to grips with some Cape endemics during a week’s hard birding was hatched last year between me and my brother Lee. With only a week in the field we decided to maximise our time by utilising the services of a local bird guide. 

After some net research we decided on Brian Vanderwalt. The decision to use Brian was down to the fact that he catered for individual birders (or 2 in our case) as opposed to most other guides who specialise in group tours.

As it transpired I don’t think we could have picked a better bird guide. Brian’s birding skills proved to be exceptional.  He knows all the bird calls and how to replicate them to elicit a response, where to look for the more elusive species, and most importantly his identification skills are second to none. He also put the time in, always going the extra mile, quite literally, to get us the birds.    

During the preparation period we e-mailed Brian a suggested itinerary and an indication as to what we were after. Brian came back with a revised itinerary that suited our needs and also organised accommodation and a Pelagic for us.

I cannot recommend Brian highly enough. If you are planning a trip to the Western Cape then please visit his web site and e-mail him on

We flew out of Heathrow on Sun 20th Sep on the red-eye to Cape Town.

Accommodation used during the week was:

The Village B&B, Ceres
The Braeside B&B, Cape Town
Port of Call B&B, Simons Town e-mail:
Honeywood cottages, Grootvadersbosch

Table Mountain

21 Sep

After an uneventful flight we arrived at Cape Town International at 08:00 and were duly met by Brian. First bird of the trip was African Pied Crow, swiftly followed by House Crows raiding the airport rubbish bins.  

Straight from the airport Brian took us on his whistle stop ‘habitat tour’, a bird familiarisation exercise around Cape Town where the birds came thick and fast and the lifers starting racking up.

First up was a visit to the Greater Vleis estuary.  Here we picked up the likes of Antarctic Tern, Reed Cormorant, Hartlaub’s Gull, Blacksmith Plover and African Darter among many others.  Moving on to a couple of inland lakes we picked up Levaillant’s Cisticola, Red-Knobbed Coot, Greater Striped Swallow and Brown-throated Martin plus many more. Next stop was the dunes near Cabo Tormentosa (Bay of Storms). This was to pick up White-fronted Plover. Duly ticked we then went on to connect with a bewildering array of birds such as Southern Red Bishop, Red-faced Mousebird, Little Rush Warbler, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Cape Canary, Cape Robin-Chat, Yellow Canary, Bar-throated Apalis, Bokmakierie, Rufous-vented Tit-Babbler and Southern Double-collared Sunbird. All these and plenty more in the space of just 30 minutes or so! 

Cape Canary   
Blacksmith Plover

The plan of action was to spend our first evening in the town of Ceres, at the gateway to the Tanqua Karoo.

Heading up the west coast before turning inland at Darling we connected with Blue Crane, African Grassland Pipit, Jackal Buzzard, Yellow Bishop, Pin-tailed Whydah, Spotted Eagle-Owl and Cloud Cisticola.  

On arrival at Ceres, Brian took us to a fast flowing river running through the town that held African Black Duck, Giant Kingfisher, a confiding African Goshawk and Olive Thrush.

After dropping off our bags at The Village B&B we headed out to a spot that Brian knew held Protea Canary. These were duly seen along with Cape Sugarbird, Malachite Sunbird and Cape White-eye

Over a beer that evening, we tallied up our total so far and found we had seen 107 species. Not bad for day one!

Cape Sugarbird
Cape Sugarbird

22 Sep

Up early and on the road to drive the 100km or so into the heart of the Tanqua Karoo. En-route we met with Black Harrier, Grey-winged Francolin, White-necked Raven, Orange-throated Longclaw and Black-shouldered Kite

Driving through the Du Toit’s Kloof Mountains and into the Hex River valley we eventually entered into the arid, scrubby plains of the Tanqua Karoo. We made many stops picking up specialities such as Karoo Scrub-Robin, a displaying Cape Clapper Lark, Red-capped Lark, Pied Starling, Verreaux’s Eagle, Lark-like Bunting and Mountain Wheatear. Southern Pale Chanting Goshawks were particularly numerous, perched on any high vantage posts available. Arriving at a small gully, around Karoopoort, we came across Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, and Fairy (Flycatcher-) Warbler.    

Other tracks and fields were explored producing more Karoo specialities such as Karoo Lark, Karoo Chat, Karoo Eremomela et al.  A large lake in the middle of the semi desert seemed a little out of place especially as it hosted a nesting African Fish Eagle.

A stop at a tree covered picnic site gave us Pririt Batis, Acacia Pied Barbet, Long-billed Crombec and White-backed Mousebird.

During the day we saw a total of 7 species of lark including Black-eared Sparrow-Lark, a very hard to find nomadic bird, and 9 species of Chat including Sicklewing, Tractrac and Southern Anteater Chat.

Southern Black Korhaan  

23 Sep

Having settled into our new accommodation at Braeside B&B in Cape Town, we headed off to Kirstenbosch Gardens, widely recognised as one of the world’s finest botanical gardens  

As an introduction to Cape birds the gardens take some beating. A great diversity of bird species can be found, including many Cape endemics, of which most are very approachable. Highlights here were Black Saw-wing, Southern Boubou, Rameron Pigeon, Dusky Flycatcher, Forest Canary and Mountain (Forest) Buzzard. A Black Sparrowhawk showed well and the resident Spotted Eagle-Owl was present.  The gardens themselves are quite superb with a dramatic backdrop of the famous Table Mountain.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens 
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Ever onwards we then visited Strandfontein Sewage Works arguably the best water bird site close to Cape Town.  

Yellow-billed Duck 
Red-Knobbed Coot

All the duck species were seen including the elusive White-backed Duck and Hottentot Teal.

Large numbers of Black-necked Grebe dominated the pools. An African Black Crake was a good find skulking along the margins. 

White-breasted Cormorant 
African Darter

The obligatory visit to Boulders Beach for the African (Jackass) Penguins was followed by a loop around the Cape peninsula picking up, among other things, Orange-breasted Sunbird, finally calling in at Kommetjie, a small seaside village on the west coast of the peninsula, to get Cape and Crowned Cormorant. A Southern Right Whale breaching not too far from the coast made for impressive viewing.

African (Jackass) Penguin 
African (Jackass) Penguin

24 Sep

A trip out today towards Betty’s Bay to hopefully connect with Cape Rockjumper.

At a very blowy Rooi Els. Cape Bunting and Cape Grassbird were seen along with close views of Cape Rock-Thrush. A pair of Cape Rockjumpers were duly picked up as well as Cape Siskin and Piping Cisticola aka Neddicky. Unfortunately Ground Woodpeckers weren’t showing.

Rooi Els 
Rooi Els

On to Harold Porter Botanical Gardens in search of Victorin’s Warbler. The cultivated gardens are quite small and dominated by the high rocks of Disa Kloof and Leopard Kloof. The quest for Victorin’s proved fruitless as, although we heard a couple, they couldn’t be located. Swee Waxbill was new however.

Harold Porter Botanical Gardens 
Olive Thrush

A flying visit to Betty’s Bay sewage works added Three-banded Plover and Water Thick-Knee. At Stoney Point we also got breeding Bank Cormorant.

With a couple of hours daylight left Brian suggested we head further east to Bredasdorp to get Denham’s (Stanley) Bustard. A displaying male was found along with Blue Crane, Yellow-billed Kite and Common Fiscal Shrike. Another long but satisfying day in the field.

25 Sep

A full day out along the west coast. Black-shouldered Kite were numerous and Black Harrier was seen along with Southern Black Korhaan.

West Coast National Park

At the West Coast National Park we first visited Abrahamskraal waterhole, the only fresh water source in the park. Here we had Southern Red Bishop, Grey-backed Cisticola, Orange-throated Longclaw, Cape Weaver, African Black Crake, Banded Martin, White-throated Swallow, Pied Kingfisher and many more.

Southern Red Bishop
Pied Kingfisher

Moving on to the Geelbek mudflat bird hide we viewed Three-banded Plover, Kittlitz’s Plover, African Marsh Harrier, and various waders including Marsh Sandpiper, Whimbrel and Greenshank. Other birds seen from the hide included Great White Pelican and African Shelduck.

The next hide visited was situated overlooking a salt pan. Parking by the Geelbek manor house we walked the short distance to the hide. African Hoopoe was seen on the walk, along with another Black Harrier. At the salt pan the much sought after Chestnut-banded Plover was found along with Kittlitz’s and White-fronted Plover

A short drive down to the Seeberg hide gave us Caspian and Greater Crested Tern.

Greater Crested Tern 

On the way back to Cape Town we dropped into a tracked area south of Langbaan Quarry and in a 1 km stretch found 5 species of lark comprising Red-capped, Large-billed, Karoo, Cape Clapper and Long-billed Lark.

From here we made our way back to Simons Town.

26 Sep

The previous evening we were informed that the Pelagic out of Simons Town was cancelled and would not be going out at all this weekend. With this in mind we changed itinerary and decided to head across Hottentots Holland Mountains, via St Lowry’s Pass, to Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve.

En route we called in again at Rooi Els in another vain attempt to connect with Ground Woodpecker. Birding was almost impossible as a gale raged around us. A cursory glance seaward showed lots of seabirds passing through. A sea watch was thus undertaken with excellent results.. Albatross were being blown in along with Petrels and Cape Gannets. Many went unidentified but both Shy and a juvenile Grey-headed Albatross were identified along with Sooty and White-chinned Petrel. A Pomarine Skua was also seen close to shore.

Back on the road and near Riviersonderend our first Cape Crow was noted along with Blue Crane, Black Harrier, Jackal Buzzard, plus Alpine and African Black Swift.

Brian took us to view an African Crowned Eagle nest, where the female was sitting tight. A fly over Hammerkop and displaying Denham’s Bustard were also seen.

We arrived early evening at Honeywoods cottages, located in the Grootvadersbosch nature reserve. The reserve incorporates a large indigenous forest and a number of eastern species reach their western limit here. The first bird seen was Greater Double-collared Sunbird. Yellow Bishop and Fork-tailed Drongo’s were also common around the buildings.

Greater Double-collared Sunbird

27 Sep

An early morning walk around the reserve produced African Harrier-Hawk, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Streaky-headed Canary and Olive Bush-Shrike. Another visit to the Crowned Eagle nest site area produced both Black and Red-chested Cuckoo, Spotted Eagle-Owl and African Paradise-Flycatcher.

On leaving Grootvadersbosch we headed towards Malagas and beyond. Along the way we picked up Karoo Korhaan, Capped Wheatear, Denham’s Bustard, Crowned Plover, Booted Eagle, Southern Black Korhaan and the target bird Agulhas Long-billed Lark.

Agulhas Long-billed Lark 
Crowned Plover

28 Sep

Back in Cape Town and our final day saw us taking it easy with a return to Kirstenbosch and Rondevlei Nature Reserve. The reserve is small, with a series of hides along a footpath overlooking pools and reed beds. Hippopotamus have been introduced here and ample signs of their presence were evident although none were actually seen. Birds seen here included Water Thick-Knee, Sacred Ibis, Pied Kingfisher, African Fish-Eagle, Southern Masked Weaver, Southern Red Bishop and Lesser Swamp Warbler.

Sacred Ibis 
Southern Red Bishop

Late afternoon we returned to the Braeside B&B to wash and change before heading to the airport for our evening flight back to Heathrow.

In conclusion, the weeks birding far exceeded our expectations, thanks in no small part to Brian’s birding prowess, enthusiasm and untiring willingness to drive us around for hours on end. Thanks once again Brian, you made the trip memorable for all the right reasons.

Egyptian Goose

Below is the final trip list of 215 species.
Bold denotes lifers for me.
Anybody wanting any more info can contact me at

Common Ostrich
African (Jackass) Penguin
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Shy Albatross
Grey-headed Albatross
White-chinned Petrel
Sooty Shearwater
Cape Gannet
African Darter
White-breasted Cormorant
Cape Cormorant
Bank Cormorant
Long-tailed (Reed) Cormorant
Crowned Cormorant
Great White Pelican
Grey Heron
Black-headed Heron
Purple Heron
Cattle Egret
Little Egret
Black-crowned Night-Heron
Greater Flamingo
Sacred Ibis
Hadada Ibis
Glossy Ibis
African Spoonbill
Egyptian Goose
African Shelduck
Spur-winged Goose
White-backed Duck
Cape Teal
Yellow-billed Duck
African Black Duck
Red-billed Teal
Hottentot Teal
Cape Shoveler
Southern Pochard
Maccoa Duck
African Fish-Eagle
Verreaux’ Eagle
Booted Eagle
Martial Eagle
African Crowned Eagle
Black-shouldered Kite
Yellow-billed Kite
Black Harrier
African Marsh Harrier
Mountain (Forest) Buzzard
Jackal Buzzard
Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk
African Harrier-Hawk
African Goshawk
Black Sparrowhawk
Rock Kestrel
Lanner Falcon
Cape Francolin
Grey-winged Francolin
Helmeted Guineafowl
Blue Crane
African Black Crake
Purple Swamphen
Red-knobbed Coot
Denham’s (Stanley) Bustard
Southern Black Korhaan
Karoo Korhaan
African Black Oystercatcher
Black-winged Stilt
Pied Avocet
Water Thick-Knee
Spotted Thick-Knee
Crowned Plover
Blacksmith Plover
Grey Plover
Greater Ringed Plover
Kittlitz’s Plover
Three-banded Plover
White-fronted Plover
Chestnut-banded Plover
Eurasian Whimbrel
Marsh Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper
Pomarine Skua
Kelp (Cape) Gull
Hartlaub’s Gull
Caspian Tern
Greater Crested Tern
Sandwich Tern
Common Tern
Antarctic Tern
Speckled Pigeon
Rameron Pigeon
Red-eyed Dove
Ring-necked ( Cape Turtle ) Dove
Laughing Dove
Namaqua Dove
Red-chested Cuckoo
Black Cuckoo
Alpine Swift
African Black Swift
Little Swift
African White-Rumped Swift
Speckled Mousebird
White-backed Mousebird
Red-faced Mousebird
Giant Kingfisher
Pied Kingfisher
European Bee-eater
African Hoopoe
Acacia Pied Barbet
Chat Flycatcher
Fiscal Flycatcher
African Dusky Flycatcher
Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher
African Paradise-Flycatcher
Cape Batis
Pririt Batis
Cape Clapper Lark
Cape Long-billed Lark
Agulhas Long-billed Lark
Karoo Lark
Spike-heeled Lark
Thick-billed Lark
Red-capped Lark
Black-eared Sparrow-Lark
Brown-throated Martin
Banded Martin
Rock Martin
White-throated Swallow
Pearl-breasted Swallow
Greater Striped Swallow
Black Saw-wing
Cape Wagtail
Orange-throated Longclaw
Grassland Pipit
Cape Bulbul
Sombre Greenbul
Southern Boubou
Olive Bush-Shrike
Bokmakierie (shrike)
Common Fiscal (Shrike)
Cape Rockjumper
Cape Rock-Thrush
Olive Thrush
Karoo Thrush
Cape Robin-Chat
Karoo Scrub-Robin
African Stonechat
Mountain Wheatear
Capped Wheatear
Sicklewing Chat
Karoo Chat
Tractrac Chat
Familiar Chat
Southern Anteater Chat
Grey-backed Cisticola
Levaillant’s Cisticola
Piping Cisticola (Neddicky)
Cloud Cisticola
Rufous-eared Warbler
Karoo Prinia
Bar-throated Apalis
Fairy (Flycatcher-) Warbler
Cinnamon-breasted Warbler
Little Rush Warbler
Cape Grassbird
African Reed Warbler
Lesser Swamp Warbler
Karoo Eremomela
Long-billed Crombec
Layard’s Tit-Babbler
Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler
Dusky Sunbird
Amethyst (Black) Sunbird
Southern Double-collared Sunbird
Greater Double-collared Sunbird
Orange-breasted Sunbird
Malachite Sunbird
Cape White-eye
Cape Sugarbird
Fork-tailed Drongo
House Crow
Cape Crow
African Pied Crow
White-necked Raven
Red-winged Starling
African Pied Starling
Common Starling
Lark-like Bunting
Cape Bunting
Cape Canary
Forest Canary
Yellow Canary
Brimstone Canary
White-throated Canary
Streaky-headed Canary
Protea Canary
Cape Siskin
Black-headed Canary
Swee Waxbill
Common Waxbill
Pin-tailed Whydah
Cape Weaver
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop
Yellow Bishop
House Sparrow
Cape Sparrow


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