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A Report from

South Africa, Cape Town to Port Elizabeth areas, 10th – 26th September 2009,

Alan Miller

In two-and-a-half weeks we enjoyed wonderful scenery, superb wildlife viewing, delicious food and wine and excellent hospitality. With 187 species of birds and 44 species of mammals it was an experience we can thoroughly recommended.

The ‘team’ for the trip was Anne and Alan Miller and Anne and Geoff Wall. We share a love of all wildlife and in addition Anne and Geoff majored on flowers.

This was the first visit to South Africa for us all. Whilst there were stories circulating about crime and personal safety, at no time did any of us feel threatened or worried. We did take sensible precautions like staying as a group and being careful at night but having said that we were mainly on the tourist Garden Route and everyone was relaxed and helpful.

It was springtime and the weather was, in the main, very pleasant. A weather front carrying drizzle passed through whilst we were in the Winelands, and the effect of mountains close to the sea gave us some cloud and cold at Wilderness. Cape Town was hot and sunny and the temperature in the Little Karoo was hot and dry. During the whole trip one could count on one hand the number of flies seen and mosquitoes were non-existent.

A great deal of planning went into the trip and we used Essential Birding, Western South Africa by Callan Cohen and Claire Spottiswoode together with the Sasol Birds of South Africa Field Guide by Sinclair, Hockey and Tarboton, the Field Guide to Butterflies of South Africa by Steve Woodhall, and the Field Guide to Mammals of Southern Africa by Chris and Tilde Stuart. Additionally some material was found on the internet and we are grateful to Birding Africa, especially Marje Hemp, for help. Also our three guides, Tertius (Birding Africa), Keera (Blaauwbosch Game Reserve) and Jami (Kichaka Game Reserve) were a wealth of knowledge and helped make the trip a success.

I am aware that common names vary from source to source so I have used those from the field guides detailed above.

We were delighted to have had new birds to add to our trip list every day of the tour. For butterflies, the first part of the holiday was very quiet with occasional sightings of a Painted Lady and unidentified ‘whites’ on journeys. From mid September things began to look up with more butterflies being seen. This was a ‘general interest’ holiday and it’s fair to say that we could have seen more bird species had we been more focussed, however we were pleased to have recorded 187 species and had a wonderful time doing so!

For flights we chose to travel from our local airport at Teesside via Amsterdam to Cape Town on KLM. It was a daytime flight to South Africa and an overnight flight home. With only one hour time difference, jetlag was not an issue. We finished our travels at Port Elizabeth and used a South African Airways flight to get back to Cape Town airport for the return leg. All flights were efficient and on-time.

Whilst in Cape Town we didn’t have a vehicle but for the rest of the trip we hired a Hyundai Tucson from Avis with the arrangements being made through Blackheath Lodge. Whilst not our preferred choice of vehicle, the passenger area was roomy and comfortable enough, but the boot space was small and on travelling days our luggage could not be hidden under the tanneau cover. The petrol engine was fairly efficient when fully loaded, and economical (to us) with fuel being half the price of the UK. Distances can be deceptive and we covered over 2000 kilometers. Away from the seaside tourist routes traffic was extremely light.

The following is a day-by-day summary of our trip including the wildlife highlights:

Friday 11th September – Cape Town

We arrived late at Cape Town airport the night before and stayed at Blackheath Lodge following a private transfer direct to the accommodation. We woke on our first day to a beautiful clear morning with noisy Cape White-eyes in the Bottlebrush tree outside our room. Cape Gull and Hartlaub’s Gull were passing overhead and a pair of Rock Kestrels were on the roof of the nearby Ritz hotel.

After breakfast we set off for a walk along the seafront towards the harbour and waterfront areas. Hadeda Ibis, Cape Sparrow and Cape Wagtail were on the grass next to the promenade and Cape Canary was singing from the trees. Along the coastline sightings included Swift, Antarctic and Sandwich Terns, Cape, White Breasted, Bank and Crowned Cormorants, African Black Oystercatcher and Kittlitz’s Plover.

After a look around the Waterfront we took an open-top City Sightseeing hop-on-hop-off tour bus to see more of Cape Town. It was a clear day so we got off at the Cable Car Station stop from where we ascended Table Mountain by the Cableway. There were a number of trails at the top, all clearly marked and easy walking. We took the Dassie walk and the Agama Walk. Red-winged Starling was common and we also saw numerous Orange-breasted Sunbirds and Familiar Chats. On the rocks were Black Girdled Lizards and a single Southern Rock Agama.

Late afternoon we descended the mountain and completed our bus tour, getting off near our accommodation where we returned for afternoon tea and cakes. Around Cape Town pigeons were regularly seen with the commonest being Speckled Pigeon and Feral Pigeon. We also saw Cape Turtle-doves which were to be a daily sighting throughout our stay.

Saturday 12th September – Cape Peninsular

We had booked a guided birding day through Birding Africa and chose their Cape Peninsula day trip. The day was clear, warm and sunny. It was mainly still but there was a fresh breeze when we were at the Cape of Good Hope.

After an early breakfast we were collected from Blackheath Lodge by guide Tertius Gous. Our first stop was Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. This was a fabulous place with wonderful Proteas, Aloes, Ericas and lots more colourful plants in flower which were magnets for the birds. Sightings included Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Malachite Sunbird, Amethyst Sunbird, Lesser Double-collared Sunbird, Cape Batis, Sombre Greenbul, Cape Siskin, Brimstone Canary, Forest Canary and Cape Francolin.

All too soon it was time to move on and we stopped on the plateau above Cape Town where we saw Neddicky and Greater Striped Swallow. Then it was south down Cape Peninsular. Enroute we added Jackal Buzzard and Black-shouldered Kite before arriving at Kommetjie. We saw more Cormorants and African Black Oystercatcher before adding Grey Heron, Little Egret and Common Fiscal. As we were readying to leave an African Darter flew overhead.

On again to the Cape of Good Hope National Park. We had a sandwich lunch at the café at Cape Point surrounded by Red-winged Starling and a single Cape Bunting. We were also joined by a Four Striped Grass Mouse looking for titbits under the tables.

We took the funicular to the lighthouse viewpoint and added Cape Gannet at sea. Also we watched a Humpback Whale for some time as it ‘blew’, ‘tail fluked’ and ‘flipper slapped’.

Next stop was Olifantsbos Bay still within the park. As we nearer the bay we added Ostrich and a herd of Bontebok antelope. The main interest in the bay was a large raft of Antarctic Terns.

By this time is was late in the afternoon so we turned north to Simonstown and Boulders Bay. We arrived just after the Visitor Centre had closed but managed to access the boardwalk to the beach for cute views of many African Penguin. We also added Speckled Mousebird and Southern Boubou.

As we left Boulders Bay the light was failing and we ran out of time to visit Strandfontain Sewage Works but we still had two delights to come. As we passed the railway station we saw what we initially thought to be a rock in the sea close to the shore. When it moved we realised to was a Southern Right Whale which then showed well. Last sighting on the power lines next to the railway lines were two Spotted Eagle Owls.     

Sunday 13th September – Cape Town to Franschhoek

Our hire car was delivered to Blackheath Lodge after breakfast and we departed on a drizzly morning. We left Cape Town on the N2 and drove round False Bay to Betty’s Bay where we visited the only other mainland African Penguin Colony. We found this more natural and more enjoyable than Boulders Bay.

We continued on to Hermanus to find it blustery and damp but we did connect with more Southern Right Whales ‘breaching’ and ‘logging’ in the bay.

Our plan was to then go cross-country to Franschhoek via Villiersdorp. A good decision because as we drove the unmetaled roads we made a few birding stops for good views of Blue Crane, Bokmakierie, Southern Red Bishop, Yellow Bishop and African Pied Starling.

The scenic pass between Villiersdorp and Franschhoek was covered in mist but we did see a herd of Eland.

Our accommodation for the next few nights was Auberge Clermont in Franschhoek.

Monday 14th September – Franschhoek

We awoke to mist on the hills but clear in the valley. Around the auberge were more Cape White-eyes with Cape Robin-Chat and Karoo Thrush. After breakfast we walked into Franschhoek enroute passing a stand of Eucalyptus trees in which we disturbed a Cape Eagle Owl which flew up to a branch and gave us splendid views.

At the Huguenot monument we added Fiscal Flycatcher and it good to compare it with the Common Fiscal which we had seen earlier in the day as these are easily confused. Whilst walking back to the auberge we saw our first Black-headed Heron.

The rest of the day was spent visiting the Rickety Bridge Vineyard including an afternoon lunch. The weather closed in at tea-time.

Tuesday 15th September – Franschhoek

Again we awoke to mist on the hills with the valley overcast. After breakfast we headed for the Boschendal Winery for a vineyard tour and tasting. Arriving early, amongst the vines we saw a Common Duiker antelope grazing and lots of Cape Canaries feeding.

After the wine tasting we called at The Franschhoek Motor Museum which housed a collection of eighty vintage vehicles in four purpose-built buildings. Returning to our auberge we saw the ever-present Pied Crow and White-necked Raven, and saw our only Osprey of the trip.

We dined in Franschhoek and on returning to the parking area at the auberge a Small-spotted Genet crossed infront of us and sat in the tree under which we parked.

Wednesday 16th September – Franschhoek to Skeiding

After breakfast with clearing skies we left Franschhoek and headed over the pass towards Villierdorp. We stopped to view a rainbow with both ends in one camera view and found a large mixed flock of Southern Red Bishop and Yellow Bishop (unfortunately no pot of gold). A little further on we found more Bontebok.

Along the farm drive to Skeiding Ostrich farm near Heidelberg there were Blue Crane, Egyptian Geese, Cape Sparrow and Grey-winged Francolin. Once settled in we went for a walk seeing Blacksmith Lapwing, Pin-tailed Whydah, African Hoopoe, Familiar Chat and Capped Wheatear.

Thursday 17th September – Skeiding to Oudtshoorn

On a fine, clear morning we enjoyed a farm tour before breakfast, the real purpose of which was to feed the Ostriches. There were many Southern Masked and Cape Weavers in nest-building colonies.

On the journey to Oudtshoorn we drove through the Tradouws Pass towards Barrydale before turning East. The Pass sides were beautiful with a carpet of yellow from the leaves of the Cone Bushes. On our route raptors showed well with good views of Jackal Buzzard, Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Yellow-billed Kite, Black-shouldered Kite and Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk.

Our accommodation at Oudtshoorn was De Zeekoe Guest Farm and a walk before dinner turned up Karoo Prinia, Cape Bulbul, African Stonechat, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Alpine Swift, Red-faced Mousebird, White-backed Mousebird, Pearl-breasted Swallow and a Common Quail.  

Friday 18th September – Oudtshoorn

A clear, calm and sunny day. Pre-breakfast birding added to the sightings Horus Swift, African Reed-warbler and Levaillant’s Cisticola.

The morning was spent visiting Cango Caves. Enroute we passed a small lake on which was Red-billed Teal. Before leaving we had refreshments at the Terrace Café and were joined by Red-winged Starlings and Fork-tailed Drongos looking for scraps at the tables. At stops whilst driving back to Oudtshoorn we saw a stunning male Amethyst Sunbird, Protea Seed-eater and Cape Rock-thrush together with Karoo Widow butterfly.

The early afternoon was spent at Cango Wildlife Ranch affording close views of some wildlife including big cats, and a unique opportunity to enter the Cheetah enclosure. Back at the farm we stopped at a lake which was rich in birds including Red-knobbed Coot, Marsh Sandpiper, Ruff, Little Stint, Black-winged Stilt, Three-banded Plover and Kittlitz’s Plover. A bonus was a magnificent African Fish-Eagle which landed on top of a tree on an island in the middle of the lake.

Saturday 19th September – Oudtshoorn to Blaauwbosch

Leaving Oudtshoorn after breakfast we headed east on a sunny morning across the Little Karoo to Blaauwbosch Private Game Reserve 100kms north-west of Port Elizabeth. Enroute we added Booted Eagle and Karoo Long-billed Lark to the list.

Blaauwbosch private reserve covers some 5,000 hectares of land and our two day package included four game drives with our Ranger, Keera. Our first evening game drive was a delight. Mammal sightings included Elephant, Giraffe, Eland, Greater Kudu, Red Hartebeest, Springbok, Plains Zebra, Black Wildebeest, Mountain Reedbuck, Gemsbok Yellow Mongoose and Small Grey Mongoose. New birds were Rufous-naped Lark and Anteating Chat.

With clear skies and no light pollution the stars were amazing with the Milky Way clearly visible.

Sunday 20th September – Blaauwbosch

With clear skies and a hot day we enjoyed two game drives and some relaxing time over the middle period. 

The dawn game drive added Blesbok and Cheetah to the mammal list. New birds included Verreaux’s Eagle, Gabar Goshawk, Kori Bustard, Acacia Pied Barbet, Karoo Scrub-robin and African Firefinch.

During the middle period there were some butterflies in flight and I recorded Pan Opal, Red Tip, Sooty Blue, African Common White, Meadow White, Citrus Swallowtail and Silver Arrowhead.

The evening game drive brought more mammal sightings with a new species, Klipspringer. After our ‘sundowner’ during the return drive our spotter had a powerful searchlight which enabled us to see Striped Polecat, Cape Eagle Owl and Fiery-necked Nightjar.

Monday 21st September – Blaauwbosch to Wilderness

Another hot, clear day with a morning game drive and brunch before we departed. New mammals were Bat-eared Fox, Cape Buffalo and Lion.

We then had a long drive to Wilderness in the middle of the Garden Route and in an area of Afromontane Forest. We found out that one effect of the forested hillsides close to the sea was more cloud and rainfall. The nearer we got to Wilderness the more cloud was overhead with a little dampness in the air.

Our accommodation, Serendipity, was on the bank of the Touw River and from the elevated deck sightings included Knysna Turaco, Little Bittern, Yellow-billed Duck, African Darter, Black Saw-wing and Greater double-collared Sunbird.

Tuesday 22nd September – Wilderness and Knysna

The day dawned still and clear. From the deck before breakfast there were Little Grebe, White-breasted Cormorants and Yellow-billed Ducks on the river with Cape Gulls patrolling overhead. In the garden were Forest Canaries, Common Waxbill and Streaky-headed Seed-eater.

We spent most of the day in Knysna. Enroute we found a Forest Buzzard on a roadside telegraph post. Knysna Estuary held good numbers of Cormorants, Heron, Egrets and Plovers. We drove along George Rex Drive and opposite the entrance to Leisure Isle is Woodbourne Pan, a wet area where we stopped to scan and added Avocet and Cape Teal to our list.

We returned to Wilderness after lunch and parked at the Ebb and Flow campsite. There was cloud cover but no wind. We set off on the Half-collared Kingfisher trail. An added interest along this woodland trail is that most of the trees were species labelled. About halfway to the waterfall we came across a commotion taking place in the tree canopy and we were entertained by a dispute between a number of Knysna Turaco, Green Wood-hoopoe, Brown-backed Honeyguide and Fork-tailed Drongo who all wanted to claim a particular spot. As it was getting late we turned around at this point. As we crossed the Touw River back to the car a scan revealed African Darter, Black-headed Heron, Little Grebe and a passing Malachite Kingfisher. As we were searching a reedy area for the Clicking Water Frogs which we could hear a Cape Clawless Otter passed infront of us at close range.

Wednesday 23rd September – Wilderness

A clear, sunny and still morning made for good visibility. The first new addition was a Lesser Swamp-warbler in the garden reeds then over breakfast a Pied Kingfisher flew down the river. As we were leaving Serendipity there was a pair of Swee Waxbill in the car parking area.

First stop was a viewpoint above Wilderness looking inland. It was called ‘Map of Africa’ because the hillside between two gorges resembled Africa. From here we drove to Victoria Bay, recommended by our host as a quiet scenic cove. When we arrived the bay was overrun with surfers as it was the first day of a four-day surfing competition. We spent a pleasant morning watching the entertainment. Walking back to the car there was a confiding pair of Southern Boubou.

Next stop was Dolphins Point. Whilst no Dolphins were visible we did see more Southern Right Whales and added Bar-throated Apalis to the bird list.

After lunch some spent the afternoon on the viewing deck at Serendipity whilst other walked part of the Giant Kingfisher trail.

Late afternoon the men returned to the Ebb and Flow campsite and enjoyed a flyover African Fish-eagle.

Thursday 24th September – Wilderness to Kichaka

A pre-breakfast birdwatch checking the skies proved productive with African Black Swift, Little Swift, Lesser Striped Swallow and White-throated Swallow.

Today we had a long drive to Kichaka game reserve some 100kms North-East of Port Elizabeth. As we had to be there for 2pm we concentrated on making progress. A stop for fuel near Jeffreys Bay turned up a colony of Cape Weavers very active in trees adjacent to the garage.

Kichaka is a Luxury Game Lodge and guests have safari access rights to 7,500 hectares of land owned by the Lalibela estate.

We were collected from the Reception building by our Ranger, Jami and enroute to the Lodge encountered a herd of Elephant. One male was in ‘must’ and warranted a wide berth.

Our evening game drive was enjoyable and although no new mammals for the trip were seen we did view Blesbok, Cheetah, Giraffe, Red Hartebeest, Springbok, Warthog, Plains Zebra, Black Wildebeest, Mountain Reedbuck, Gemsbok, White Rhinocerous, Vervet Monkey, Impala and Common Reedbuck. Birdwise we had good views of female Black Cuckooshrike, Long-tailed Widowbird, Cape Longclaw, African Pipit, Reed Cormorant, Secretarybird and African Hoopoe.

Friday 25th September 2009 – Kichaka

Again the format was two game drives, one pre-breakfast and one late afternoon with free time between. We woke to a beautiful day with clear skies and in the pool outside the lodge we had our first view of Hippopotamus. By 6.30am were on safari.

New mammals were Bushbuck, Nyala and Blue Wildebeest and new birds African Spoonbill and African Crowned Eagle. Leopard Tortoise and Marsh Terrapin were also seen. Arriving back at the lodge for brunch we saw our only Hamerkops of the trip, and our first Forest Weavers.

Much of my free time was spent looking for butterflies around the lodges and False Silver-bottom Brown, Yellow Pansy, African Common White and Citrus Swallowtail were seen.

The highlight of the afternoon game drive was excellent  close sighting of Lions. Common Waterbuck was a new mammal sighting and new birds were Spotted Thick-knee and Dark-capped Bulbul.

Saturday 26th September 2009 – Kichaka to Port Elizabeth and Cape Town Airport

Our last day dawned beautiful and clear and at 6.15am over coffee and croissant we enjoyed close views of a bull Elephant feeding at the waterhole infront of the Lodge a few yards away from us.

The focus of the morning drive was Lions and we had superb close views of Lions, Lionesses and cubs. Not to be outdone, we added Southern White-bellied Korhaan and Red-winged Francolin before seeing Black Harrier on our way back to the Lodge. We also saw an African Monarch butterfly.

After brunch we departed Kichaka at midday and enroute Port Elizabeth (PE) airport stopped at some Salt Works by the N2. We were hampered by lack of time and roadworks but did manage to see a flock of Greater Flamingo.

At PE airport, whilst waiting for our internal South African Airways flight to Cape Town, a scan of the sky revealed a White-rumped Swift.

At Cape Town airport I saw the last bird of the trip – a House Sparrow. Time to go home; KLM flight via Amsterdam to Teesside.

If further details are required, the author can be contacted on

Bird List (in .pdf frormat)


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