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South Africa, July 2 - August 3, 2001,Wim Veraghtert
Wim Veraghtert Prins Albertlei 21, 2390 Oostmalle, Belgium;
Between July 2nd and August 3rd, we made a birding trip to South Africa, covering nearly the whole country. Participants on this four week trip were Jeroen Huyghe, Tom Goossens and Wim Veraghtert. The main aim of the tour was to see as many species as possible, focusing on the endemic species. Of course, much attention was paid to mammals as well.
With a list of more than 700 species, South Africa is a must for every keen birder. Moreover, the country offers the chance to see many of the about 90 endemic species of Southern Africa.
The trip proved to be quite succesful, as 473 species were seen, including several spectacular species, such as Black Harrier, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Wattled & Blue Crane, Cape & Orange-breasted Rockjumpers, Knysna & Victorin's Warbler, Woodward's Batis, Long-tailed Pipit, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Cape & Gurney's Sugarbird and Protea Canary. One of the highlights of the trip was a Southern Royal Albatross -the 3rd for Southern Africa- on a pelagic trip off Simon's Town.
02/07 Flight Brussels - London - Johannesburg
03/07 Arrived at Johannesburg around 8 am. Rust De Winter Nature reserve.
04/07 Nylsvlei Nature Reserve. Drove back to Johannesburg to pick up luggage.
05/07 Drive to Magoebaskloof; birded there in the evening
06/07 Woodbush Forest reserve - Hans Merensky Reserve
07/07 Kruger NP: Punda Maria - Pafuri
08/07 Kruger NP: Punda Maria - Shingwedzi
09/07 Kruger NP: Shingwedzi - Satara
10/07 Kruger NP: Satara - Crocodile bridge
13/07 Mkuzi - Bonamanzi
14/07 Bonamanzi - St. Lucia/Cape Vidal
15/07 Durban: pelagic trip
16/07 Durban: Pigeon Valley - Mtunzini (Rapphia Palm monument + Umlalazi Lagoon)
17/07 St. Lucia - Cape Vidal - Drive to Oribi Gorge
18/07 Oribi Gorge and the Paddock area
19/07 Oribi Gorge - Port Shepstone - Drive to Sani Pass
20/07 Sani Pass
21/07 Himeville - Drive to Kimberley
22/07 Kimberley: Kampfers Dam - Beaconsfield Park 1908 - Langberg area
23/07 Kimberley: Road to Langberg - Beaconsfield Park 1908 - Drive to Karoo NP
24/07 Karoo NP
25/07 Grootvadersbosch - Malgas area
26/07 Malgas area - Hermanus - Sir Lowry's Pass
27/07 Cape Peninsula: De Hel - Kommetjie - Cape of Good Hope NP
28/07 Simon's Town: pelagic trip
29/07 Boulders Beach - Karoopoort - Katbakkies
30/07 Katbakkies - Inverdoorndam - Michell's Pass
31/07 West Coast NP - Tienie Versveld Flower Reserve
01/08 Clanwilliam - Cape Town
02/08 Cape Town - Flight to London - Brussels (arrived 03/08 at 10 am)
We mostly slept in tents, either on campgrounds or by the side of the road. On our first night, we had to take a hotel -we took hotel Naboomspruit, the only hotel available, ridiculously expensive at 100R per person! - as our tents hadn't arrived yet! In some areas, such as Kimberley, nights were so cold that we preferred to sleep in a hotel. Formule 1 hotels proved to be cheap (R165 or 175 for the three of us) and comfortable. These hotels can be found in most large cities of South Africa, including Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Kimberley and Cape Town.
In Durban, we stayed in the Impala Holiday Flats (equally 175R, with guarded parking lot).
Campings in South Africa varied from basic to luxurous, but most were very good. It is certainly worth to bring the Lonely planet guide along.
It is advisable to book accomodation in national parks in advance, especially in Kruger NP.
Was cheaper than in Belgium, and super markets are omnipresent. We preferred to eat in cheap restaurants, notably Kentucky Fried Chicken (fingerlickin' good). Debonaire's Pizza may also be recommended.
We flew from Brussels Airport to London Heathrow with British Airways, then connecting with a South African Airways flight to Johannesburg. On arrival we found out that our luggage was still in London. Eventually, it was 48 hours later that we could pick up our bags. Needless to say, this delay meant serious waste of time, so we had to skip our planned visit to Pietersburg NR (for Short-clawed Lark) and we lost more than half a day which was to be spent in Kruger NP.
When one wants to bird South Africa, it is best to hire a car, as getting around by means of public transport is almost impossible. In some of the national parks, such as Kruger or Karoo NP, a car is obligatory, because it is prohibited to leave one's vehicle within the park.
We hired a Budget rental car, a Toyota Corolla 1.6 (Tazz) for four weeks, which cost about 36.000 BEF. We travelled about 8000 km. The surplus of 150 R was charged for dropping the car off at Cape Town. The highways and roads, including most of the unpaved roads are of good quality, allowing driving at relatively high speed and optimal planning.
Petrol was reasonably priced, as we paid about 3.5 to 4 R per liter (Unleaded).
Being mid-winter, July is not the best month to visit South Africa. Summer visitors, such as some of the cuckoos, swallows or kingfishers, are absent, as well as palaearctic migrants.
Weavers, widows and whydahs are in winter plumage, making identification often tough. Some specialties of the region, such as Bush Blackcap, African Rock Pipit, African Broadbill and flufftails, may be difficult, if not impossible, to find in winter. However, this country has got a lot to offer, so, even in winter, a visit is certainly worthwhile.
Generally good, with temperatures varying between 23 and 27° C in Transvaal and Natal, lower temperatures inland and c20°C in the Western Cape. However, we did have rain at Magoebaskloof, Pafuri and Punda Maria (Kruger NP) and at the Cape Peninsula.
It was very cold at Karoo NP, mainly because of the very windy conditions, making birding unpleasant. Nights were cold at inland sites, with temperatures of c -2°C at Sani Pass, and even -8°C at Kimberley.
Health & Safety
No vaccinations are needed but there is a serious Malaria risk in the north and the east of the country. Places such as Kruger NP, Mkuzi and Bonamanzi are intermediate risk malaria areas, so it may be advisable to take prophylactics. However, as mosquitoes are almost absent during winter, we didn't take any precautions. Lariam may have some unpleasant side effects.
Ticks were numerous in Bonamanzi and in the Oribi Gorge area. An insect repellent (DEET) may be useful, as ticks in the area are known to transmit certain diseases.
Snakes can be found anywhere, but are scarce during winter. We saw a huge Cobra from our car in Kruger NP, but we didn't identify it, as several species (more than 5) of cobra occur. Please be careful, as South African snakes, notably Black Mamba, are among the most poisonous species in the world.
We didn't experience any crime or violence during our trip, but as high fences and armed security guards were omnipresent, it was clear that South Africa is not the safest country on earth. For example, the Fig Forest Walk in Mkuzi was closed because of some recent attacks and muggings. However, for a birder, it is possible to travel across the country without any troubles. It may be wise to avoid certain areas, such as Johannesburg and Cape Town, especially after dark.
We brought two Kowa telescopes along with us. These were very useful at Nylsvlei, Nsumo Pan (Mkuzi), Mtunzini, Kampfers dam (Kimberley) and the coastal areas. Using a tape recorder proved to be rewarding to lure out species such as Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Knysna and Victorin's Warblers, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Scaly-throated Honeyguide and Protea Canary amongst others. A good torch is a must.
Rust De Winter NR and environs: Initially, it was not our plan to visit this reserve. As our luggage didn't arrive at Johannesburg International, we chose to visit a birding spot relatively close to Johannesburg. Information on how to get there can be found in Top Birding spots p. 138. On our first day, this place offered a nice introduction to some of the more common species, such as Natal Francolin, African Fish Eagle, Chinspot Batis, Arrow-marked Babbler, Familiar Chat, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, Little Bee-eater, Lilac-breasted Roller, Grey Lourie, Neddicky, White-bellied Sunbird and Grey-headed Sparrow, Golden-breasted Bunting. Other interesting birds in the area included Coqui Francolin (3), Lizard Buzzard (1), Kalahari Robin (1), Long-tailed Shrike (5), Southern Black Tit (2), Pearl-spotted Owlet (2), Black Sunbird (1) and Marico Sunbird (1).
Nylsvlei Nature Reserve: This reserve consists of a large floodplain, one of the largest wetlands of South Africa, which hosts many sought-after species. The best time to visit this spot is the wet season, when species like Rufous-bellied Heron, Slaty Egret, Dwarf Bittern, Lesser Gallinule, Lesser Moorhen, Striped Crake and Black-winged Pratincole are often present. However, in July, we still managed to see Goliath Heron (1), Squacco Heron (2), Intermediate Egret (4), Hottentot Teal (8), White-faced Duck, Spur-winged Goose, African Jacana, Ethiopian Snipe (6), Marsh Owl (2), Orange-throated Longclaw (2), Brown-throated Martin (4), Pearl-breasted Swallow, Burchells Coucal and Zitting Cisticola. Most of these birds were observed from the Vogelfontein hides.
The drier part of the reserve hosts some interesting bushveld species. An entrance fee of 5R per person (plus 7R for a vehicle) has to be paid.
Amongst the birds encountered in the Acacia thornveld surrounding the headquarters of the reserve were African Hawk Eagle (1), Bennett's Woodpecker (1), Namaqua Dove, Crimson-breasted Gonolek (1), Three-streaked Tchagra, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Fairy Flycatcher (1), Marico Flycatcher (3), White-browed Sparrow-weaver, Great Sparrow (1), Black-cheeked Waxbill (1), Violet-eared Waxbill (1) and Blue-billed Firefinch. Directions can be found in Top Birding Spots.
Petroport Panorama West: This gas station, situated along the N1 between Johannesburg and Pretoria, is certainly not a recommended birding locality, but we made a stop here no less than three times as we had to return to Johannesburg to pick up our luggage after our visit to Nylsvlei NR. Several new species were seen for the first time at this spot, notably Secretarybird (2), Red-billed Woodhoopoe, African Palm Swift, Orange-breasted Waxbill (c10), Common Waxbill, Melba Finch (1), Streaky-headed (1) and Black-throated Canary (1), Common Myna, Long-tailed Widow, Red Bishop and Spotted-backed Weaver. Our first Blacksmith Plover, Cape Wagtail and Cape Sparrow were also observed at this spot.
Magoebaskloof: Woodbush Forest Reserve: The hilly Magoebaskloof area contains beautiful indigenous forest interspersed with patches of exotic pine plantations. The best part of the reserve is the forest drive, which can be difficult to find without proper directions. To reach the reserve, take the turnoff (on the R71) to the left to Woodbush. When you enter the reserve, continue for a few 100 m and turn then to the right, following a sign to 'De Hoek Hut'. This seldom used road (the forest drive) winds steeply down to Debengeni Falls. Despite the fog (and drizzle) during our morning visit, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-streaked Bulbul, Blue-billed Firefinch, Knysna Lourie (10+), Rameron Pigeon, Olive Bush-shrike and Lesser Double-collared Sunbird put in appearance. Generally, birds were concentrated in bird flocks, which also contained Square-tailed Drongo, Cape White-eye, Cape Batis and Bar-throated Apalis. However, the best bird was a male Black-fronted Bush-shrike, a specialty of the area. A Chorister Robin was a most welcome addition to our list, but this individual didn't react to the tape. A Cape Parrot seen flying around was the only definite sighting of the trip.
The Debengeni Falls, well signposted, may also provide good birding. About 4 Long-tailed Wagtails and our first Collared Sunbird were observed. To visit the falls, a fee of 5R per person is payable at the entrance.
Free camping is allowed in Woodbush Forest Reserve; ask the ranger where to camp.
Hans Merensky Nature Reserve: As was the case with Rust De Winter, it was not our plan to visit this place, but we made a brief stop here on our way to Kruger NP. A walk on the Cormorant trail, which can be found opposite the entrance (at the other side of the R529) and is completely free, proved to be quite productive, especially the riverine area. Amongst the species noted were Fan-tailed Flycatcher (1), African Black Duck (3), African Green Pigeon (10), Greater Scimitarbill (1), Red-faced Mousebird, Purple-crested Lourie (1), Giant Kingfisher (1), Malachite Kingfisher (1), Black-collared Barbet, Southern Black Flycatcher and Long-billed Crombec. Remarkably, all three species of Firefinch were recorded: Red-billed (3), Jamesons (3) and Blue-billed (4).
Arnot's Chat, Stierling's Barred Warbler and Red-billed Helmetshrike also occur in the reserve.
Kruger National Park: This park needs little introduction. The prime attraction of this reserve is the game. Besides, the park, which covers nearly 20 000 square km, has got a bird list of over 500 species. Birding in the park is easy, as birds can easily be found in the generally open habitats and raptors are widespread. Kruger NP, which is known to be one of the finest birding localities in Southern Africa, is less productive in winter than in summer. Although we saw a lot species which were not recorded elsewhere, the number of birds present was often disappointing. The monotonous mopane woodland in the northern and central section of the park was particularly bird-less.
Birding can also be frustrating as it is prohibited to alight from one's vehicle apart from designated areas such as restcamps and picnic sites. Moreover, all gates of the park are locked half an hour before dusk (17h30 in July) till half an hour after dawn (06h00 in July). As a result of this, chances to see nightbirds are limited. One may try to see some owls at the restcamps or take part in an organised nightdrive (which must be prebooked).
Normally, it is very dry during the winter, but it was raining when we entered the park. Apart from the rain at Pafuri and Punda Maria, the weather was fine during our visit.
In the park several localities are particularly interesting:
- Pafuri: This is the northernmost part of the park, which proved to be hold a great variety of species, including several specials. Even on a rainy day, we recorded Böhms Spinetail (1 at the picnic site), Tropical Boubou (2 at the picnic site), Hooded Vulture (2 overhead), Bearded and Cardinal Woodpecker, African Hoopoe, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike, Brubru, Crowned Hornbill, Kurrichane Thrush,Blue-grey Flycatcher, Meve's Long-tailed Starling and Spectacled Weaver. The bridge over the Luvuvhu River should be checked for spinetails and Pel's Fishing Owl. We searched in vain for these species, but noted Giant Kingfisher and Bearded Robin, and even a Horus Swift amongst the many Little Swifts present. A splendid White-crowned Plover was seen further along this river, as well as a White-fronted Bee-eater colony. From Pafuri, one can follow a loop (S63) onto a viewpoint at/on Letaba River. Birds noted by us included 5 more White-crowned Plovers, our first Kittlitz Plovers, Greenshank (2), Saddle-billed Stork (1), Hamerkop, Martial Eagle (1 imm. + 1 ad.), Giant Kingfisher (1), Trumpeter Hornbill (2) and Red-faced Cisticola (1). The baobabs in the Pafuri area should be checked for Mottled Spinetails but we didn't see any.
Along the road (H1-8) between Punda Maria and Pafuri, we had good views of Double-banded Sandgrouse (1 male), Red-crested Korhaan (1), Dark Chanting Goshawk (1), Bateleur, Crowned Guineafowl, Natal, Swainson's and Crested Francolin and White Helmetshrike (10+). Undoubtedly, the highlight of the day were 3 Cheetahs which gave good views along the S60. Other mammals observed in the area were Elephant (2), Impala, Kudu and Vervet Monkey.
- Punda Maria: This camp is situated in the north of the park. In the area surrounding Punda Maria sought-after species, such as White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Dickinson's Kestrel and Arnot's Chat, occur, but can be difficult to find. We searched in vain for all three species, but we did see Mosque Swallow (4 along the S60), Groundscraper Thrush (2 along the H1-8), White-browed Robin, Long-tailed Shrike and Southern Black Tit (2). The surroundings of Klopperfontein Dam (along the S61) proved to be good for raptors, with 3 Tawny Eagles, 4 Lappet-faced Vultures and 2 Martial Eagles soaring overhead. A Dwarf Mongoose was briefly seen along the S60. The scrubby area's along the S61 also produced Southern White-crowned Shrike (1), Rattling Cisticola, Purple Roller (1), Crested Barbet, Arrow-marked Babbler and Little Bee-eater.
Punda Maria camp itself also offers good birding. Kurrichane Thrush, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike, Melba Finch, Grey-headed and African Yellow-throated Sparrow and Natal Francolin were amongst the birds observed. Greater Blue-eared Starling were abundant, Scarlet-chested Sunbirds were fairly common. The Flycatcher trail up the ridge behind the camp may produce several good species, but the only noteworthy bird recorded during our walk in the rain was our first Dusky Flycatcher.
In the evening, we taped out an African Barred Owl, which gave excellent views at the entrance of the camp. At night, Spotted Hyena, Thick-tailed Bushbaby and Large-spotted Genet were seen from the camp!
The road between Punda Maria and Shingwedzi (H1-7) produced several new species, including Yellow-bellied Eremomela (1), Little Banded Goshawk (Shikra) (1), White-winged Widow (5), African Paradise Flycatcher (1) and Cinnamon-breasted Rock Bunting (1). Along the S58, a pair of Double-banded Sandgrouse, White-backed Vulture and Crested Barbet were noted. The Babalala picnic site didn't produce any new birds, although Red-billed Hornbill (2), Grey Hornbill (2) and Red-billed Woodhoopoe (2) were recorded.
Several fishing Pied Kingfishers represented the only notable sighting from the birdhide at Shingwedzi. A Goliath heron was also seen along Shingwedzi River. South of Shingwedzi, we encountered White-headed Vulture (2), Sabota Lark (1), Crested Barbet, Long-tailed Shrike, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike and Purple Roller (2) along the H1-6. Highlights at the Mooiplaas picnic site included Grey-headed Bush-shrike, a male Black Cuckooshrike, Southern Black Flycatcher (2), a female Golden-tailed Woodpecker, a pair of Green-capped Eremomela's and a Greater Scimitarbill.
The surroundings of Mopani seemed to be devoid of bird life. We continued south to Letaba, noting Red-billed Oxpeckers and 4 more White-headed Vultures along the road.
- Satara: Grey-rumped Swallow (6 near Olifants River), Red-crested Korhaan (1 female), Grassveld Pipit, Southern Black Tit, White-headed Vulture (2), Purple Widowfinch (5+), Jamesons Firefinch, Melba Finch, White-winged Widow (c10), Golden-breased Bunting and Burchells Starling (5+) were amongst the birds seen along the H1-5 and H1-4 between Letaba and Satara. Highlight of the day (09/07) was without doubt a party of four roadside Ground Hornbills.
At the camp of Satara itself, we enjoyed Burchells Starling (common), African Mourning dove, Red-billed Buffalo-weaver (fairly common) and Groundscraper Thrush (1), whilst an African Scops Owl was heard at night.
Mammals were well represented in the Satara area, as we encountered 7 Buffalo's, Elephant, Giraffe (10+), Lion (3 females), Impala and a Common Duiker.
Along the H1-3 we saw a Brown Snake-eagle perched on a dead tree, Tawny Eagle, Little Banded Goshawk (Shikra), Mosque Swallow and a Little Egret. A Brown-headed Parrot was briefly seen.
- Skukuza: Amongst the birds recorded here were another party of four Ground Hornbills, Burchells Coucal, Speckled Mousebird and, more commonly, Golden-breasted Bunting, Swainson's Francolin and Red-billed Oxpecker. From Skukuza, we drove south to Lower Sabie, observing another party of four Ground Hornbills, Marabou Stork (2), White-headed Vulture (1), Martial Eagle (1) and White-backed Vultures. Hooded Vulture was another noteworthy species. 2 Saddle-billed Storks were found along the Sabie river, but we failed to find African Finfoot or Half-collared Kingfisher.
- Lower Sabie: Here we visited Sunset Dam, which may hold Open-billed Stork. 6 Marabou Storks were present, as well as Hamerkop, Purple Heron, Great White Egret, Striated Heron and African Jacana. On our way to Crocodile Bridge, we got distant views a male Lion. Along the H4-2, we found White-browed Robin, Black Sparrowhawk (1 briefly seen), Grey Hornbill, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike and Southern White-crowned Shrike (1).
Accomodation: Camping is possible at most restcamps (90 R per night). During holidays, campsites may be quite crowded, so it is advisable to book (we didn't). At Shingwedzi, we were told that the Satara campsite was fully booked, but on arrival there, we found this not to be the case.
An entrance fee of 30R per person (plus 24R for a car) has to be paid.
Conclusion: Kruger NP is certainly a top birding spot, a must for every keen birder. We visited the park for only four days, and it would be better to spend more time in the park (which could have been possible for us, if we didn't had to wait for our luggage in Johannesburg) to search for several interesting species not recorded by us, such as Black-bellied Korhaan and Kori Bustard, Temminck's Courser, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Giant Eagle Owl, Monotonous Lark, Bushveld Pipit, Grey Penduline Tit or Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird. It would also be better to avoid holidays, as many tourists were present in July.
Wakkerstroom area: Although we visited this birding locality for only one day, it proved to be very rewarding, with a good number of species seen not recorded elsewhere. Our first stop was along the R543 c20 km before Wakkerstroom. In the fields Southern Bald Ibis (12), Red-Shouldered Widow (c20), Red-capped Lark, Black Crow and Jackal Buzzard (1) were noted. On arrival at Wakkerstroom, it was clear that temperatures at night had dropped well below 0°C.
We first tried the road to Amersfoort and Wydgelegen, along which Blue Korhaan (4 rather distant birds), Southern Bald Ibis (8), Red-capped and Spike-heeled Larks (4), African Pied Starling, Red-throated Wryneck (2), Ayres Cisticola (few), Sentinel Rock Thrush (4), Orange-throated Longclaw, Cape Bunting, Cape Grassbird (1), Grey-wing(ed) Francolin (6) and Rock (Speckled) Pigeon. Flocks of Cape Sparrows, Long-tailed Widows and Red bishops were feeding on the fields.
In the afternoon, we visited Zaaihoek dam and the bridge over Slang River. Ground Woodpecker, Buff-streaked Chat (3 + 1), Drakensberg Prinia (2), Cape Robin, Mountain Chat (3) and Red-winged Starling were amongst the additions to our list. Other birds recorded included Southern Bald Ibis (3), African Black Duck (2), Rock Kestrel (1), Sentinel Rock Thrush (1) and Cape Bunting.
The Wakkerstroom Vleireserve, a wetland close to the village, produced Purple Gallinule (4), Hottentot Teal (c10), Red-billed Teal (3), Yellow-billed Duck (common), African Snipe, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot (common) and White-breasted Cormorant.
Finally, we visited the famous Yellow-breasted Pipit field along the Utrecht road. Un-fortunately, this species is not present in winter. An Eastern Long-billed Lark was found at this spot, as were 2 Orange-throated Longclaws. Further along the road, we obtained good views of the superb Blue Korhaan (3 individuals). Yellow Mongoose, Suricate and Rock Dassie were added to our mammal list.
Although we didn't see any of the three target endemics (Yellow-breasted Pipit, Rudd's and Botha's Lark), we really enjoyed this birding spot. Seeing no cranes was rather dissappointing, but both Southern Crowned and Blue Cranes were seen at other places afterwards. If you spend more time in the area, Red-winged Francolin, Black-winged Lapwing, Marsh Owl, Pale-crowned Cisticola, Cape Rock Thrush, African Rock Pipit and the above mentioned endemics may be found. For more info, contact John McAllister email@example.com or buy the Wakkerstroom Bird and Nature Guide by Warwick Tarboton.
Mkuzi Game Reserve: As Guy Gibbon points out on his website, Mkuzi (or Mkuze) is definitely among the top ten birding spots in Southern Africa. Although Kruger NP is a lot bigger than Mkuzi and holds many more animals, a stay in Mkuzi Game Reserve is certainly worthwhile for every keen birder. The park hosts some 'Zululand specialties' and a visit to (E)Nsumo pan is highly recommended. We stayed for one and a half day and saw most of our 'wanted' species. The major disappointment was the fact that the Fig Forest Walk was closed, and guided walks were no longer offered, due to recent robberies and muggings.
Along the River View Walk, we encountered Pink-throated Twinspot (1 stunning pair), African White-throated Robin (2), Bearded Robin (2), a party of 5 White-eared Barbets, Red-fronted Tinkerbird (1), Golden-tailed Woodpecker (2), Crowned (1) and Trumpeter Hornbill (2 + 2), Scarlet-chested and Collared Sunbird, Red-billed Woodhoopoe and Southern Black Tit. Nyala, Burchell's Zebra and Blue Wildebeest were common in the park.
The following stop was at Kubube and Kumasinga hides. Kubube hide produced a female Klaas's Cuckoo, White-throated Robin, Rudd's Apalis (2), Black-bellied Starling, Southern Boubou, Blue-grey Flycatcher and Bearded Robin. Next morning, 3 Gorgeous Bush-shrike were heard in the surroundings of the hide, but none responded to the tape. At Kumasinga hide, Grey Waxbill (4), Pink-throated Twinspot (2), Rudd's Apalis (2) and Black-headed Oriole gave good views. We played a tape of African Broadbill, which occurs in the sand forest between the hides, but we failed to find this elusive species.
At Nsumo Pan, we were treated to Open-billed Storks (9), Marabou Storks (11), Woolly-necked Stork (1), Yellow-billed Stork (1), Glossy Ibis (few), African Spoonbill (20+), Little Egret, Hamerkop, White-faced Duck, Pink-backed Pelican (c10), White Pelican (at least 58), Kittlitz Plover, Curlew Sandpiper, Pied Avocet, Water Dikkop (2), Whiskered Tern (c10) and Grey-headed Gull. In the thornveld surrounding the pan we found Yellow-spotted (Eastern) Nicator (1 briefly seen), Forest Weaver (c5), Orange-breasted Bush-shrike and Trumpeter Hornbill.
The airstrip area may hold Lesser Black-winged Plover, Black-bellied Korhaan, Desert Cisticola and Stierling's Barred Warbler, but the only birds found by us were Crowned Plovers, Lizard Buzzard, Mouse-coloured Flycatchers (3) and a party of 4 White Helmetshrikes.
Noteworthy species observed around the swimming pool included Terrestrial Bulbul and a White-headed Vulture overhead. A short walk near the entrance produced White-browed Robin (1), Long-tailed Wagtail (1 TG), Dusky Flycatcher and the only Heuglin's Robin of the trip (WV). At night, a Spotted Eagle Owl was spotlit along the road to the entrance.
After leaving the park, 2 Black Storks were seen circling over Mkuze village (WV).
This reserve proved to be more expensive than Kruger NP, as a total of 185R had to be paid for a two day visit (24 R entrance fee per person, 35R entrance fee for the car, 3R emergency service, 6R community levy and 105R for the campsite (35R per person)). There's a small souvenir shop in the park, but it is advisable to bring food along with you. Night drives were fully booked when we were there, and you're not allowed to drive around at night on your own. We played some nightjar tapes (Mozambique Nightjar is present), but none responded.
We were dissappointed not to find the endemic Neergaard's Sunbird, Southern Banded Snake-eagle nor Green Coucal. Pel's Fishing Owl is sometimes reported from the now inaccessible Fig Forest.
Bonamanzi: This privately owned game reserve is well-known among South African birders. The sand forest, the palm savanna and the (inaccessible) floodplain in the reserve are host to many much wanted species, such as Pink-throated Twinspot, Pink-throated Longclaw, Rudd's Apalis, Neergaard's Sunbird, African Broadbill, Golden Weaver and last but not least Lemon-breasted Canary. However, we had only the time to spend one evening and one morning in this reserve. A visit in July is not particularly recommended as most of the above mentioned species can be difficult, if not impossible, to find on a brief winter visit, and a number of these can also be seen in Mkuzi. Highlights were Gorgeous Bush-shrike (2 well seen, others heard only), Natal Robin, Crowned Guineafowl, African Yellow White-eye (2), Yellow-spotted (Eastern) Nicator (1), Narina Trogon (1 by JH), Black Cuckooshrike (2), Grey Sunbird and Rudd's Apalis (1). Golden-rumped Tinkerbarbet (c10) and Pygmy Goose (2) were added to our lifelists. Two parties of Grey Waxbill, a Scaly-throated Honeyguide (WV and TG), Thick-billed Weaver (1 female), Purple-banded Sunbird (1 male), Blue-grey Flycatcher and four species of bulbul were also worth mentioning.
We searched in vain for Neergaard's Sunbird (may be seen near the manager's house), Lemon-breasted Canary (frequents often cultivated areas outside the reserve during winter) and African Broadbill.
Before we entered Bonamanzi Game Reserve, we paid a brief visit to the airstrip near HluHluwe. This site may host Black-rumped Buttonquail or Lesser Black-winged Plover, but the only birds recorded by us were our first Yellow-throated Longclaw, Bronze Mannikin, Purple-Banded Sunbird (2), Grassveld Pipit and White Pelican (c60 overhead).
Accomodation: It is possible to stay in one of the more expensive tree houses, but recently the reserve opened a campsite (40R per person). As a result of this, Bonamanzi is now more accessible for low-budget travellers. Moreover, there's no entrance fee. Day visitors are not allowed. Booking may be advisable, as only four tent or caravan sites are available. A map can be obtained from the office.
One is also allowed to walk in the park, and to drive around at night. Our nightdrive was not very productive, as a Fiery-necked Nightjar was the only nightjar seen. Mammals seen in the park included Plains (Burchell's) Zebra, Blue Wildebeest and Porcupine.
Greater St.Lucia Wetland and Cape Vidal: Another well-known site, which hosts similar species as Bonamanzi. Though, the area supports several specials not found elsewhere, notably Woodward's Batis and Livingstone's Lourie. We only visited the eastern shore of Lake St. Lucia, especially the Cape Vidal area. The Mvubu trail at Cape Vidal offers accessible dune forest birding. Highlights included the endemic Brown Robin (1 on the campsite, 1 along the road), Woodward's Batis (2 males) Cinnamon Dove (JH), Green Twinspot (2), Black Cuckooshrike (1 female - JH), Yellow-spotted Nicator (WV), Olive Sunbird, Olive Bush-shrike (1), Scaly-throated Honeyguide (1), Crowned Hornbill, African Paradise Flycatcher (1), Blue-grey Flycatcher and Forest Weaver. A large bird briefly seen twice must have been a Green Coucal, but could not be relocated. Red duiker was added to our mammal list.
The Sugarloaf Camping proved to be quite good. We had nice looks at a female Woodward's Batis, a pair of Livingstone's Louries, Yellow weaver (4), Natal Robin, Olive and Collared Sunbird, Yellow-bellied Bulbul and Dusky Flycatcher.
The marshes and pine plantations along the road to Cape Vidal yielded African Cuckoo-hawk (1), Long-crested Eagle (1), Crowned Eagle (1), Brown Snake-eagle (1), Reed Cormorant, Intermediate Egret (2), Woolly-necked Stork (2), White-backed Duck (2), Pygmy Goose (6), Banded Martin (2). Southern Banded Snake-eagle is likely to be seen along this road, but none were observed by us. Natal Nightjar or even Grass Owl are possible after sunset, although a local birder told us not to look for Natal Nightjar in Natal.
We paid an entrance fee of 65R for the three of us.
Durban Pelagic Trip: This trip, which was organised by David Allan, was prebooked via e-mail. The following report was sent to SABirdnet by David Allan:
"Our 8 July pelagic was cancelled due to strong winds but we did get out on Sunday 15 July. Cape Gannet numbers were particularly high with several flocks of hundreds of birds seen sitting on the water. Yellow-nosed Albatrosses (mainly juveniles) were common (about 50 seen in all) and we had one distant Shy Albatross. As always, White-chinned Petrels (about 100 in all) were the most abundant tubenoses. Five Subantarctic Skuas were patrolling the harbour mouth and we saw about another 10 out in the deep. Swift Terns were fairly common offshore and we had a distant Osprey in the Bay on both our arrival and departure. Bird of the day was a Flesh-footed Shearwater associated with a large flock of gannets that we saw repeatedly over an hour or so with great close-up views in flight and on the water."
If one also plans a pelagic trip off Simon's Town (Cape peninsula), it is not necessary to take part in a Durban pelagic. The only species seen off Durban but not recorded off the Cape was Flesh-footed Shearwater. However, photographing conditions were better off Durban than off Simon's Town.
Pigeon Valley (Durban): A small and quiet park on the outskirts of Durban, situated beside the University of Natal, turned out to be surprisingly good. This forest patch is known to be one of the best places to see Spotted Ground Thrush (in winter), of which one was well observed by us. However, the highlight of the park was a species we totally didn't expected, notably the secretive Buff-spotted Flufftail. One pair showed well at a small pond, whilst another male was only briefly seen. At the same pond, we obtained good views of African Goshawk (1 imm.), Olive Sunbird, Cape White-eye, Tambourine dove, Thick-billed Weaver and Golden-rumped Tinkerbarbet. Other interesting species included Narina Trogon (1 male), Grey Sunbird (2), Purple-crested Lourie (c5), Sharp-billed Honeyguide (1), Bully Canary (2), Olive Thrush, Forest Weaver and Golden-tailed Woodpecker (1). We failed to find Green Twinspot and Black Sparrowhawk, which may also be seen in the park.
Entrance is free. The entrance can be found along the Princess Alice Avenue.
Mtunzini: This village on the Natal Coast is well-known as the best spot to see Palm-nut Vulture. Besides, this locality has got a lot more to offer.
We first visited the Rapphia Palm Monument. Buff-spotted Flufftail (1 male briefly seen), Chorister Robin (2), Natal Robin, Wattle-eyed Flycatcher (1), Green-backed Bleating Warbler and Red-billed Firefinch (4) were seen from the boardwalk. Although we put in a serious effort to see the vulture at the Monument, we didn't find any, but we did see Woolly-necked Stork (5), White-eared Barbet (5), Black-bellied Starling, our first Black Saw-wing Swallows (c10) and Yellow-throated Longclaw in the surroundings. Eventually, we found a pair of Palm-nut Vultures at the other side of the village, near the Tree Nursery.
Afterwards we paid a visit to the Umlalazi Lagoon, noted for its wintering Mangrove Kingfishers. However, this elusive species may be very difficult to find and playing a tape at sunset was necessary to see this enigmatic kingfisher. One individual gave excellent views and must be reckoned amongst the highlights of the trip.
Another sought after species seen here was African Finfoot. One female was seen at the other side of the lagoon and a telescope was needed to get some decent views of the bird. Because of this sighting, we decided not to visit Enseleni NR, a well-known stake-out of this species. Amongst the birds noted in the park were Malachite Kingfisher (2), Pied Kingfisher and Gorgeous Bush-shrike (heard only).
An entrance fee of 7 R per person has to be paid to visit the lagoon.
Oribi Gorge NR and surroundings: As David Allan says in his guide, Oribi Gorge is one of the most scenic and easily accessible birding spots in southern KwaZulu-Natal. On our first day of our memorable stay in the area, we were guided by Graham Acheson and Mike, whose surname we didn't get, two birders we met at St. Lucia. This extremely friendly guides showed us a wide diversity of birds, including several sought-after species. In early morning, we visited a beautiful, but normally inaccessible patch of indigenous forest near Paddock, which offered some outstanding forest birding. Highlights of this walk included Knysna Woodpecker (1), Barratt's Warbler (heard only), Starred Robin (2), Green Twinspot (2), Cinnamon Dove (several heard only), Blue-mantled Flycatcher (2), Little Sparrowhawk (1 imm. seen briefly), Olive Woodpecker, Rameron Pigeon, Chorister (1) and Brown Robin, Olive Bush-shrike (1), Grey-headed Bush-shrike (1), Trumpeter Hornbill (heard only), Forest Weaver and Olive Sunbird. Other additions to our list were White-necked Raven (2), Gurney's Sugarbird (2), Lazy Cisticola (2) and Croaking Cisticola (heard only).
We also tried to see Broad-tailed Warbler, but this species can be difficult to find during winter.
In the afternoon, we visited the famous Oribi Gorge NR. We first visited the hutted camp, but then proceeded to the Mziki Walk, which proved to be longer than expected. However, fantastic views of the gorge could be obtained from up the ridge.
An obliging Spotted Ground Thrush foraging on the lawn at the hutted camp was a good find. The endemic Greater Double-collared Sunbird was another addition to our list (4 individuals noted). Along the Mziki walk Red-throated Wryneck (2), Mocking Chat (10+), Striped Pipit (1), Cape Rock Thrush (6), Lazy Cisticola (2), Southern Black Tit, Black Sunbird (2), Scaly-throated Honeyguide (1 heard only) and Jackal Buzzard (1) were recorded amongst others.
At the bridge, Starred Robin (1) and Long-tailed Wagtail (1) were worth mentioning. Of the many butterflies around, Painted Lady was the only we could identify.
Next morning, we made a stroll on the Baboon View walk, where we were able to see Long-billed Pipit (1), Striped Pipit (1), Mocking Chat (2), Lesser Honeyguide (1), Olive Woodpecker and more unexpectedly, Sharp-billed Honeyguide (1).
One of the main attractions in the park is the nest of a Crowned Eagle pair, which is situated very close to the road. When we were in the park, one fledged juvenile was still present in the surroundings of the nest. We managed to get crippling views of this individual, which posed for more than a quarter in front of our telelenses. Both Chorister and Brown Robins were seen along the roadside.
Camping is possible in Oribi Gorge NR (20R per person) and a nominal entrance fee (9R) has to be paid at the office before entering the park. A useful map, plus a booklet containing a mammal list can be obtained at the office.
Port Shepstone: Here we visited a private garden (Fergus's) in the Abington road area, in which all three species of mannikin can be seen feeding. The main attraction is the uncommon Pied Mannikin. Of course, this garden is not accessible to everyone, but a visit may be arranged through Graham Acheson. We had to wait for nearly two hours before a group of Pied Mannikins arrived. Bronze Mannikins were common, but Red-backed Mannikins didn't show up. Other birds recorded in the area included Pin-tailed Whydah, Purple-crested Lourie (2), Crowned Hornbill (6), Trumpeter Hornbill (2) and Thick-billed Weaver (2).
Sani Pass: Another unforgettable birding locality. Although it can be rather cold in winter and only a handful of interesting species are present, a visit to the majestic Drakensberg mountains can be very rewarding.
The road up Sani Pass between the two border posts is very steep and a 4-wheel drive vehicle is needed to reach the Lesotho border. Our Toyota Corolla made it up to the South African border. We covered the distance between the two border posts (8km) on foot, so it was a 16km walk in all. Amongst the birds recorded were the superb Orange-breasted Rockjumper (at least 6 seen), Drakensberg Siskin (5 individuals showed well), Wailing Cisticola, Spotted Prinia, Yellow-rumped Widow (c10), Rock (Speckled) Pigeon, Bokmakierie (2), Cape Bunting and Blue-billed Firefinch (2). A visit to Sani Top Chalet, reputedly the highest pub in Africa (2865 m), is highly recommended, as a hot chocolate was most welcome after the long and steep walk. We were somewhat disappointed not to find African Rock Pipit in the area. This species normally occurs on the plateau, in the surroundings of the pub.
Birders who want to visit the area by car, may contact Robin Guy, a local bird guide. The border posts are open from 8 am to 4 pm daily.
Accomodation: We stayed at the Sani Lodge, a renowned backpackers hostel. A double dorm costs 45R per person. At night, temperatures dropped well below 0°C. Both Southern Bald and Sacred Ibis can be seen from the hostel.
The day after our visit, the whole area between the border posts was covered in snow!
Nearby, the fields and wetlands in the Himeville area can be very productive. The wetland at the junction of Sani Road and the Himeville-Nottingham Road road may hold a pair of Wattled Cranes, of which one individual was seen by us. This wetland also held a pair of African Marsh Harriers. The small stream at the same junction may produce Half-collared Kingfisher. At a large dam well below Sani Lodge, we were treated to sightings of Southern Crowned Crane (2), Cape Shoveler (2), Southern Pochard (c5), White Stork (1 - an unexpected bonus), Red-billed Teal (c10) and numerous Yellow-billed Ducks and Red-knobbed Coots.
The road from Himeville to Pevensey may yield Stanley's Bustard, which was not found by us at this road, but we managed to see Southern Crowned Crane (up to 7), Red-collared Widow (c25), Buff-streaked Chat, Orange-throated Longclaw, Common Waxbill and an immature African Fish Eagle.
However, no less than 14 Stanley's bustards were found along the road between Himeville and Nottingham Road, as were Bearded Vulture (1), Cape Griffon (1 + 26), Lanner Falcon (2), our only Gymnogene, Bokmakierie and Buff-streaked Chat.
During the long drive to the Kimberley area, we recorded our first Northern Black Korhaans (4), Secretarybird (1) and numerous Cape Sparrows, African Pied Starling and Pied Crows.
Kimberley: The surroundings of this inland city offers some good quality birding, with a number of good species which can only be seen in the northern part of South Africa. For us, it also meant to be an introduction to some of the species typical of Western South Africa, such as White-backed Mousebird, Red-eyed Bulbul or Rufous-eared Warbler.
The Kimberley area is thoroughly covered in Essential Birding by Cohen and Spottiswoode.
- Kampfers Dam: This large dam, north of the city, hosts a large colony of both Lesser and Greater Flamingoes, the former being the most abundant. However, as there's only one accessible viewpoint, we were somewhat disappointed to obtain only rather distant views of Lesser Flamingo. 4 Greater Flamingoes perched closeby. Furthermore, we recorded Cape Teal (5), Maccoa Duck (3), Levaillant's Cisticola and a Secretarybird.
- Beaconsfield Park 1908: A seemingly uninteresting spot, which became well-known after the discovery of the recently described Long-tailed Pipit. During our visits to the park, the only pipit encountered proved to be a Long-tailed! The bird could be well studied and photographed. Amongst the birds seen in the park were White-backed Mousebird (3), Olive Thrush, Wattled Starling, Red-eyed Bulbul, Fiscal Flycatcher, African Hoopoe and Southern Masked Weaver (2).
- Road to Langberg: Situated c12 km west of Kimberley, this road, which can by reached by turning off to the left from the R357 to Douglas, held several Karoo specials. We birded along this gravel road, picking up Pale Chanting Goshawk (2), Rufous-eared Warbler (2), Scaly-feathered Finch (c15), Yellow Canary (6), Short-toed Rockthrush (2 males and 2 females), Buffy Pipit (2), Fawn-coloured Lark (3), Chat Flycatcher (4), Kalahari Robin, Namaqua Dove and Spike-heeled Lark.
- Big Hole (Mine museum): This tourist attraction is worth visiting, as it also offers the chance to see the near-endemic Bradfield's Swift. From an hour before sunset, many swifts gather above the Big Hole, including tens of Alpine and tens of Bradfields Swifts. It is very difficult to accurately estimate numbers of swifts present. In addition to this Kimberley special, Black (Verreaux's) Eagle (1), Rock Kestrel (2), Lanner Falcon (1), White-backed Mousebird, Crested Barbet and Familiar Chat were noted.
In Kimberley, we stayed in the Formule 1 hotel, as night temperatures dropped to -8°C. However, day temperatures vary between 14 and 18 degrees. On our second day, a cold breeze made birding unpleasant.
Karoo NP: This national park, situated near the city of Beaufort West, supports several sought-after Karoo endemics. Due to bad weather, a number of these could not be detected during our one-day visit. Because of the very windy conditions and low temperatures (freezingly cold), we decided to cease our quest for Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Ludwig's Bustard, Sickle-winged Chat, Black-headed Canary, Dusky Sunbird and finchlarks. We still managed to add Karoo Korhaan (1 pair), Layard's Tit-babbler (2 + 2), Thick-billed Lark, Karoo Robin (3), Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Chat (4), Tractrac Chat (1), Pale-winged Starling (fairly common), White-throated Canary (2) and Malachite Sunbird (1 male) to our list though. Other interesting species included Ostrich (c10), Karoo Long-billed Lark (1 at Lammertjiesleegte), Pale Chanting Goshawk (1), Mountain Chat (4), Fairy Flycatcher (2), Lesser Double-collared Sunbird and Long-billed Pipit. A Southern Tchagra at the campsite was a most welcome addition to our endemic species list. Cape Mountain Zebra and Red Hartebeest were seen during the game drive at Lammertjiesleegte. The fourth Ground Woodpecker of the trip was noted at Klipspringerpas, the highest point of the park, where Black Eagle (2 adults + 2 immatures), White-necked Raven and a Cinnamon-breasted Rock Bunting (TG) were also recorded.
Access to the park is free (!), and we paid 85R for one night on the campsite. It was rather chilly at night. There is a small shop in the reserve.
Grootvadersbosch NR: Situated near the pittoresque village of Zuurbraak, this reserve offers the chance to several forest (and fynbos) species which may be difficult to see elsewhere. Accurate directions to the forest reserve can be found in Essential Birding, p. 69.
In the forest, we had good views of Forest Canary (c10), Grey Cuckooshrike (1), Blue-mantled Flycatcher (1), Cape Batis, Olive Bush-shrike (1), Swee Waxbill (2) and Yellow-throated Warbler (2). Although we played a tape, there was no sign of any Knysna Warblers.
The slopes above the forest, covered with fynbos, produced Cape Siskin (1 pair seen twice), Forest Buzzard (1), Black Saw-wing Swallow (2) and Rameron Pigeon (1). The price bird of this area was Victorin's Warbler, which was commonly heard in the fynbos. Eventually, one gave brief but excellent views in response to tape playback. A Bushbuck was the only new mammal seen.
Greater Double-collared Sunbirds and Bully Canaries were fairly common in the office area. Forest birds such as Red-necked Francolin, Black Sparrowhawk, Cinnamon Dove, Wood Owl and Knysna Woodpecker also occur, but were not recorded by us.
An entrance fee of 12R has to be paid at the office. There is a campsite in the reserve.
Malgas area: The farmland between Malgas and Swellendam is one of the places in South Africa to see the majestic Blue Crane. On our first afternoon visit, at least 12 birds were seen. Next day, we counted at least 35 individuals along the N2 between Caledon and Riviersonderend. Other interesting species included Capped Wheatear (3 + 1), Peregrine (1), Stanley's Bustard (1 + 9 + 7), Karoo Korhaan (1 + 3), Southern Thick-billed and Red-capped Larks, Agulhas Long-billed Lark (2), Agulhas Clapper Lark (1), Southern Grey Tit (1), Cape Weaver (fairly common) and Yellow and White-throated Canary (2). The best areas for larks are the shrubby fields, c12 km from the N2. Our first Cape Francolin and European Starlings were also observed in this area. In the evening, Spotted Dikkops were heard calling and after sunset, one was seen flying over the road. Several Yellow Mongooses were seen in the area.
At night, we tried to add African Wood Owl to our list at the Swellendam campsite, but Fiery-necked Nightjar was the only nightbird recorded.
Detailed directions can be found in Essential Birding, p.63.
We camped by the side of the road.
On our way to Hermanus we saw our first Black Harrier along the N2.
Hermanus: The main attraction of this famous place are the whales. After a long wait, we got rather distant views of 2 Southern Right Whales. Cape Cormorant and Hartlaub's Gull were the only new birds noted. Photogenic Rock Dassies posed for our camera's.
Sir Lowry's Pass: We made an evening visit to this well-known stake-out of Cape Rockjumper, one of the most enigmatic endemics of Southern Africa. However, conditions were bad as it was extremely windy (but sunny though). Climbing the ridge above the pass was not always easy, regarding the weather conditions. On our walk to Gantouw Pass we saw 6 Cape Sugarbirds and 2 superb males Orange-breasted Sunbird. At least 2 Victorin's Warblers were heard singing in the fynbos. However, our target species didn't react to the tape. Disappointed we returned to the car, but just before we reached the main road (N2), a splendid male Cape Rockjumper put in appearance!
Cape Peninsula: Little more than a day was spent on the peninsula. On 27/07, we started at De Hel, a small forested area in the vicinity of Constantia. This spot is a new stake-out of Knysna Warbler, as the species has become rather difficult at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (it is a difficult species anyway). We obtained good views of one bird which responded to the tape. Please note that this species creeps on the ground in a mouse-like way! Another individual was only briefly seen. Chaffinch (heard only), Lesser Double-collared Sunbird, Cape Batis and Bar-throated Apalis were recorded amongst others.
Next stop was Kommetjie. 2 Antarctic Terns, Sandwich and Swift Tern, 2 African Black Oystercatchers, Bank and Crowned Cormorant were present at Die Kom. We tried to do some seawatching, but our seawatch session (1 Shy Albatross was the best bird) was ceased early, because it started to rain. And it rained for the rest of the day, seriously spoiling our afternoon.
We spent the remaining hours in Cape the Good Hope NR, but the weather was too bad to search for Black-rumped Buttonquail or Cloud Cisticola. Pied Avocet (4), African Black Oystercatcher (7), Swift Tern, Cape Grassbird and Grey-backed Cisticola were worth mentioning. A beautiful Black Harrier was the best bird seen in the park. The endemic Bontebok was seen in small numbers.
From a birder's perspective a visit to Cape point is not a must, but we all wanted to visit the Cape, which is popularly perceived as the meeting point of the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. Moreover, Cape the Good Hope NR supports more than a thousand species of indigenous plants! At the parking near Cape Point, we had a dangerously close encounter with an agressive male Chacma Baboon.
We paid an entrance fee of 20R per person.
Next day, we took part in a pelagic trip off Simon's Town (see report below). In the morning of 29th, we first visited the African Penguin colony at Boulders Beach. Photographing opportunities were good. One has to pay 10R to enter this small reserve.
We slept at camping Imhoff (Kommetjie, 75R per night) and at camping Oatlands (Simon's Town, same price).
Pelagic Trip off Simon's Town: A must for every keen birder! The trip was guided by John Graham, Trevor Hardaker and Ian Sinclair, some of South Africa's foremost birders. 13 passengers were on board of the Zest II when we departed from Simon's Town at 7 am. This pelagic trip proved to be very succesfull, as one of the birds observed was a Southern Royal Albatross, a 3rd for South Africa! A report of this trip and photographs of the albatross can be found at www.zestforbirds.co.za.
When we passed Cape point, numbers of seabirds increased, as Black-browed and Shy Albatross, Northern Giant Petrel and Sooty Shearwater were recorded. The first of no less than 17 Soft-plumaged Petrels gave good views. When we approached a trawler, thousands of pelagic birds could be seen in all directions, mostly Pintado and White-chinned Petrels, Shy and Black-browed Albatross. Excitement really started when an alleged Wandering Albatross turned up. Ian Sinclairs memorable sentence "It's a f***ing Southern Royal!" caused quite a stir among the passengers. Eventually, we obtained magnificent views of this huge bird. The odd Yellow-nosed Albatross (ssp. bassi) also put in appearance. On the way back, a distant Northern Royal Albatross was briefly sighted, but a Southern Giant Petrel of the rare white morph was more co-operative. Among the many pelagic birds, we also saw Antarctic Prion (c50 in all), Wilson's Storm Petrel (c100) and Subantarctic Skua (c100). Mammals noted on the trip included 20 Long-finned Pilot Whales, c50 Common Dolphins and c50 Cape Fur Seals. Afterwards, we celebrated our new species in the pub, whilst we watched the rugby match between South Africa and Australia (South Africa won). Thanks to Gavin and Lindsay Walker for paying our drinks!
A pelagic trip costs 80US$ per person and can be arranged through the above mentioned website.
Tanqua-Karoo Loop: After our succesful pelagic trip we headed back north to pick up some Karoo specials we hadn't seen yet in Karoo NP. First stop: Karoopoort where the endemic Namaqua Warbler was easily heard and eventually 2 were also seen. Long-billed Crombec, Karoo Robin and White-throated Canary were also noted at Karoopoort.
The most rewarding karoo habitat can be found along the R355 to Calvinia. We spent the evening at Eierkop, where Karoo Lark (2 + 1), Sickle-winged Chat (2 TG), Karoo Chat (2 + 2), Rufous-eared Warbler (2), Grey-backed Cisticola and Malachite Kingfisher (1) were amongst the species recorded by us. Surprisingly, we didn't see any Karoo Eremomela's, a species which is normally easily found here, according to Essential Birding.
Tracks of the mythical Aardvark were found along the road.
We put up our tents at the Katbakkies picnic area and made a nightdrive in the area. 2 Steenboks were the only notable sighting. However, the rocky outcrops at Katbakkies are one of the best places to see Cape Eagle Owl. Freckled Nightjar also occurs.
Please note that no accomodation can be found along the R355. Tap water is available at Katbakkies.
Katbakkies provided some quality birding, as Cinnamon-breasted Warbler (2), Pririt Batis (1 pair), Acacia Pied Barbet (2), Southern Grey Tit (2), Chat Flycatcher (1), Fairy Flycatcher (3), White-backed Mousebird and Lesser Double-collared Sunbird gave good views.
A party of 4 Karoo Eremomela's were found between the R355 and Katbakkies. The birds were present in the vicinity of a roadsign 'Hartnekskloof', approx. 2 km from the junction with the R355. We continued a bit further north on the R355. Undoubtedly, the highlight of this very area was a female Ludwig's Bustard (c8 km north of the turnoff to Katbakkies). In addition, the R355 produced Southern Thick-billed Lark, Karoo Lark, Yellow Canary, Southern Grey Tit (2), Rufous-eared Warbler (1). Other species which may be found along the R355 include Namaqua Sandgrouse, Dusky Sunbird, Black-headed Canary and, further north, Grey-backed and Black-eared Finchlark and Burchell's Courser. Many of these species are nomadic.
A brief stop at Eierkop didn't add any new species. We scanned Inverdoorndam and found Greater Flamingo (1), Double-banded Courser (3), South African Shelduck (16), Pale Chanting Goshawk, Capped Wheatear (1) and Sickle-winged Chat (2).
We left the karoo and drove to the west. Our next stop was Michell's Pass, where a tape for Protea Canary was played. No succes.
West Coast NP: On one of our last days, we still managed to add about ten new species to our list, including many waders. Bird hides at Geelbek proved to be very good (even in July), as Terek Sandpiper (1), Marsh Sandpiper (1), Greenshank (30+), Whimbrel, Red Knot (c70), Curlew Sandpiper (50+), Sanderling (2), Kittlitz Plover, Black-winged Stilt and Bar-tailed Godwit (3) were seen. Apart from the waders, we recorded Greater Flamingo (100+), White Pelican (6 + 2), Sandwich and Caspian Tern (6), African Sedge Warbler (2), Levaillants Cisticola (4). Two hides which can be reached by following a path through the meadows produced Chestnut-banded Plover (c20) among White-fronted Plovers and a Little Stint. Orange-throated Longclaw, Yellow-rumped Widow, Grey-backed Cisticola and a Black harrier were present in the meadow area. From the bird hide at the north of the lagoon we saw Curlew (c10), Whimbrel, Turnstone, Curlew Sandpiper, White-fronted Plover and another Black Harrier. Other interesting species observed in the park included Southern Black Korhaan (2 males), Wattled Starling, Capped Wheatear, Lesser Double-collared and Malachite Sunbird, Yellow and White-throated Canary and Southern Thick-billed Lark.
West Coast NP is an excellent birding locality, but it would be better to visit the park during summer, when thousands of waders, including up to 10 000 Marsh Sandpipers, are present.
An entrance fee of 8 R per person has to be paid. Please note that campings at Langebaan and at Yzerfontein don't allow tents!! We put up our tents near the road, in the vicinity of the entrance of West Coast NP.
Nearby, the Tienie Versveld Flower Reserve (near Darling) is one of the best places to see the minuscule Cloud Cisticola. The endemic subspecies tertrix shows a neatly streaked breast. We saw 2 birds high up in the sky, but none showed well. A pond in the reserve hosted Cape Teal (2) and Cape Shoveler (2). 4 Blue Cranes were foraging on a field next to the reserve.
Clanwilliam: This is probably the best place in the world to see the endemic Protea Canary. The species can normally be found in a gorge known as Kransvleipoort, a gorge c10 km south of the village of Clanwilliam. Accurate directions to the poort can be found in Essential Birding, p. 56. We got decent views of a pair of Protea Canaries, Cape Sugarbird (1), African Bush (1) and Malachite Sunbird (1). Playing a tape may be necessary if you want to see the canary.
Before dawn, Freckled Nightjar was heard calling in this vicinity.
We slept in our tents, in the vicinity of the poort, but there's a hotel in town.
Protea Canary was the last addition to our list and this sighting meant the end of our trip. We returned to Cape Town, where we visited the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. The night was spent in the Formule 1 Hotel.
Africa (Transvaal - Natal), July-August 1996, Jan van der
* Cape Province, South Africa, February 20 - March 6, 1999, Gruff Dodd.
* South Africa. A birdwatching trip from July 7 until July 31, 2000, Stijn De Win.
* Cape, Namibia and the Shakawe area in Botswana, 14th October - 12th November 1996, Jan Vermeulen.
* South Africa, August 3-30, 1991, Richard Fairbank.
* South Africa, July 6 - August 17, 1995, Rob W. Goldbach.
A useful siteguide can be found on Guy Gibbon's website www.sabirding.co.za .
Additional information may be found on the website of the African Bird Club:
- Pelagic seabirding off Cape Town, RSA, by Callan Cohen.
- Birding Africa's basement - the Cape to the Kalahari, by Keith Barnes.
*CHITTENDEN, H., Top Birding spots in Southern Africa, Pretoria, 1992. Useful, but doesn't
contain much detail. Maps in the books are too small and confusing.
*COHEN, C. and SPOTTISWOODE, C., Essential Birding Western South Africa. Key routes from Cape Town to the Kalahari, Cape Town, 2000. As the title points out, this booklet is essential for every birder looking for Cape specialties. Information is detailed and maps are accurate.
*The booklet Birding in Southern KwaZulu-Natal by David Allan also contains a lot of useful information. Maps are far more detailed than those in Top birding
*SINCLAIR, I. and HOCKEY, P., The larger illustrated guide to Birds of Southern Africa (SASOL), Cape Town, 1996. The new pocket version of this guide, which contains new illustrations of the pipits (including Long-tailed), the albatrosses and some of the larks, was bought in Kruger NP.
*NEWMAN, K., Newman's Birds of Southern Africa, Update 1991.
*JOYCE, P., Globetrotter Road Atlas of South Africa, Cape Town, 2000. Not recommended. The maps often lack detail and one large, clear map would be preferable.
* MURRAY, J., WILLIAMS, J. and EVERIST, R., Lonely Planet. South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland. 3rd edition, Hawthorn, 1998. Very useful.
*COLLAR, N.J., CROSBY, M.J. and STATTERSFIELD, A.J., Birds to Watch 2. The World list of Threatened Birds, Birdlife Conservation Series No. 4, 1994.
*STUART, T., STUART, C., Field Guide to the Mammals of Southern Africa, 2nd edition, Cape Town, 1998.
Guy Gibbon's excellent set of 6 cassettes contains ALL species of the Southern African region. Southern African Bird Calls by Len Gillard can also be useful, but this set lacks some of the more interesting species.
Durban Natural Science Museum
P.O. Box 4085
Chairman of the South Coast Trogons Bird Club
P.O. Box 215
Many thanks to David Van den Schoor and Stijn De Win, for useful pre-trip information, to
Graham Acheson and Mike, whose surname we don't know, for guiding us around in the Oribi Gorge area, showing us several sought-after species and for giving directions to the Wattled Crane site, to David Allan, John Graham, Ian Sinclair and Trevor Hardaker for professional assistance on the pelagic trips.
Full Trip List (BIG)