South Africa is always an interesting destination for birds and mammals and this tour featuring the Western Cape and Kruger National Park was no exception. The group under the guidance of Geoff and Mark managed to see 337 species of birds and almost 50 of mammals this despite having our pelagic tour off Cape Town cancelled three times because of unseasonal weather. The vast majority of the Cape’s specialty birds were observed including the uncommon and declining African Penguin, Bank Cormorant, Cape Rockjumper, Black Harrier, Black and Denham’s Bustards, Blue Crane, Knysa Woodpecker, Namaqua and Victorin’s Warblers and Cape Grassbird. Ducks were in abundance throughout the Cape and a Striated Heron at Paarl was particularly noteworthy. Mammals were widespread and concentrated within Kruger with highlights including a pair of Leopards in a dead tree and the night drive allowing close views of African Wild Cat, Genet and Civet. White and the rare Black Rhinoceros were also seen. Game was also common in the park.
My thanks go out to Geoff for his organisation of the tour and the kilometres behind the wheel in sometimes difficult conditions. Without his input and knowledge of South African birds and wildlife the tour would not have been the success it was.
28th/29th: Heathrow, Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Paarl
From our various homes in the UK we met up at Heathrow Terminal 1 for the flight with South African Airways down to Cape Town. We arrived ahead of schedule and cleared passport and immigration before meeting up with Geoff, our guide. From the airport we travelled to the attractive university town of Stellenbosch which has many beautiful old buildings built in typical Dutch style. Birds were few along the fast motorway system apart from Egyptian Geese and Blacksmith Lapwings. Checked in at Stellenbosch where the gardens held Cape White-eye, Speckled Pigeon and Olive Thrush. After lunch we travelled to Paarl Bird Reserve allowing us a gentle ifconfusing introduction to some of South Africa’s wetland birds. Pulling up at the first vantage point the pools and adjacent reeds revealed Little and Cattle Egrets, White-breasted and Long-tailed Cormorants, African Black Duck, Sacred Ibis, Malachite Kingfisher and Striated Heron the last being a major rarity in Cape Province. Passerines of interest included Lesser Swamp, Little Rush and African Marsh Warblers, Tinkling Cisticola, Common Fiscal, Fiscal Flycatcher, Yellow and Cape Canaries, Cape Bulbul, Cape and Southern Masked Weavers, Malachite Sunbird and Karoo Prinia. A short distance away the lagoon opened up into a more open landscape offering extended views of Paarl. Here we observed Greater Flamingo, Black-crowned Night Heron, White-faced Whistling Duck, Red-billed and Cape Teals, Cape Shoveler, Southern Pochard, Maccoa Duck, Black-winged Stilt and migrant Common Sandpipers. A drive to the far side added Greater Striped and White-throated Swallows, Plain Martin, Cape Francolin, Cape Sparrow, Cape Wagtail, African Spoonbill, Three-banded Plovers, Pied Avocet, Water Thick-knee, Grey-hooded Gulls and a single Kelp Gull. It was soon time to leave with the grasses adding the attractive Swee Waxbill, Common Waxbill and Pin-tailed Whydahs.
September 30th: Stellenbosch, West Coast National Park via Atlantis and Darling, Abrahamskraal, Rietvle
Weather: Sunny with cool southwest winds 20 C.
Breakfast was arranged for 7am after the long travel day from Europe. In and around the gardens we added Cape Robin Chat and Cape Batis. After breakfast we headed towards Atlantis via country roads. Along the road stops at several ponds yielded the commoner wetland species such as Blue Crane and Glossy Ibis, with Little Swifts nesting under road bridges. We passed through wheat fields and areas recently used for oil seed rape. This was particularly good for open country species; Red-headed and Zitting Cisticolas, Red-capped Lark, African Pipit, African Stonechat, Capped Wheatear, Cape Sparrow and Yellow-billed Kites from further north. We passed through the rather rundown town of Atlantis and the decidedly better Darling before entering the vast West Coast National Park. The first sector of habitat added the first of many Common Ostriches, Black Harrier, Jackal Buzzard, White-backed Mousebird and Common Fiscal. Next on the agenda was the extensive tidal system which attracts many shorebirds from Northern Europe and the High Arctic. Along the boardwalk we observed our first Kittlitz’s Plovers, Red and Yellow Bishops and Tinkling Cisticolas. From the hide literally hundreds of waders were feeding on the extensive mud flats with the most numerous species being Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Grey Plover and Greenshank. Also present were Greater Flamingo, juvenile Lesser Flamingo, the tundra race of Ringed Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Pied Avocet, Whimbrel, Sanderling, Common and Sandwich Terns, and a pair of South African Shelducks. Returned to the road and walked towards the restaurant area recording Black-headed and Grey Herons, Namaqua Dove, Cape Francolin, Rock Kestrel, Cape Weaver, African Pied Starling and Rock Martins flying around the buildings. Lunch followed by a drive out on the tracks recording the rather drab Karoo Scrub Robin. Our next stop was Abrahamskraal a hide overlooking one of the few stretches of freshwater within the park boundaries. This was rich in birdlife with the uncommon Pearl-breasted Swallow nesting inside the hide. From the hide new species included a pair of African Marsh Harriers and African Black Crake. Time was starting to pass by as we joined the main highway to Cape Town. A short diversion produced a wonderful male Black Bustard calling and displaying by the track side whilst a closely-cropped field attracted African and Plain-backed Pipits. Cape Town was reached with a brief stop at Rietvle a large wetland within the city boundaries. New species here included Great Crested Grebe, Caspian and White-winged Terns. Our journey passed through Cape Town with great views of Table Mountain and the surrounding landscapes. The coast road was dramatic with views over the ocean until we reached Noordhoek our base for the next four nights.
October 1st: Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Simon’s Town, Boulders, Cape Point, Olifantsbos.
Weather: Sunny with light southeast winds 20 C/25 C.
The guest house grounds had a few birds including the introduced Common Chaffinch. After breakfast we headed to the world-famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens situated in the shadow of Table Mountain. On arrival an African Goshawk was giving its distinctive call and display overhead. We walked up the main path with a fly-by African Olive Pigeon. In the first area of shrubs a singing Sombre Greenbul, Forest Canary, Southern Double Collared Sunbirds, African Dusky Flycatcher and calling Southern Boubous. Further on the protea plants attracted the endemic Cape Sugarbird and Orange-breasted Sunbirds. The resident Spotted Eagle Owl was quickly located sitting quietly on a horizontal branch near a newly situated nest box. We diverted onto the forest trail with calling African Paradise Flycatchers and a pair of Rufous-chested Sparrowhawks on a twig-built nest. The morning passed quickly as we travelled to Simon’s Town once the thriving centre of the South African Navy. Borders was our next destination an important reserve for the small but increasing colony of African Penguins. From the boardwalk we had great views of the penguins and just offshore White-breasted and Cape Cormorants and Crested Terns the latter in large numbers. Next on the agenda was Cape Point, an area of the Cape of Good Hope National Park and an exceptionally attractive reserve on one of the southernmost points of Africa. The funicular railway is the best way to access this truly beautiful place. Once at the top a short walk produced the localised Cape Siskin and Cape Bunting. Overhead a Peregrine Falcon was seen looking for suitable prey. The end of the day was spent visiting Olifantbos which is rarely accessed by tourists. The low fynbos habitat here attracted the normally skulking Cape Grassbird, Familiar Chat, Cape Canary, Plain-backed Pipit, Malachite Sunbird, Tinkling Cisticola and Alpine Swifts hawking insects over the cliff tops. At the end of the road a sandy beach provided us with Pied Avocet, African Oystercatcher, White-fronted Plover, Great Crested, Sandwich and Common Terns and a single Crowned Cormorant. On the return to base the final birding stop added a recently arrived Steppe Buzzard and Brimstone Canary.
October 2nd: Strandfontein, Rondevlei, Kommetjie, Silvermine Valley.
Weather: Overcast with brisk southeast winds 20 C.
Overnight winds had increased significantly to cause the cancellation of our pelagic trip from Simon’s Town. The wind known locally as the Cape Doctor stayed with us all day and hampered our birding at several locations. After breakfast we headed to the water treatment works at Strandfontein one of the premier wetland sites for birds in Cape Province. Before arriving here a short stop produced Cape Gannets in False Bay. On entering the water treatment works we stopped at the first large lagoon which held Little and Black-necked Grebes, Greater Flamingo, Cape Teal, Cape Shoveler, Maccoa, Yellow-billed and Red-billed Ducks, Pied Avocet and Black-necked Stilt. On a grassy bank Geoff located a Spotted Eagle Owl with two well-grown owlets. The next pool attracted Little Stint and Three-banded Plover on the muddy edge and a pair of Caspian Terns passing overhead. Near the end of the drive an African Marsh Harrier was noted plus the uncommon Southern Pochard. Next on the agenda was Rondevlei which is basically an extension of ‘the works’ with extensive reed bed systems and hides. Rondevlei was a little disappointing no doubt due to the strong winds. The commoner birds were present in small numbers with excellent views of a Lesser Swamp Warbler feeding along the bottom of a reed bed. A few of us added Purple Heron before taking lunch by the entrance gate. We decided to visit the coastal town of Kommetjie which overlooks the rocky coast and seas off Cape Province. Hundreds of terns were present and careful sorting through the flocks revealed a few Roseate plus hundreds of Common Terns and several Great Crested and Sandwich Terns. A walk around the bay added the rare and localised Bank Cormorant with White-breasted, Crowned and Cape Cormorants. African Black Oystercatchers were numerous whilst offshore Cape Gannets and a single Whimbrel were noted. Our last stop was inland at Silvermine Valley (still windy here). A short walk down the road added Black-shouldered Kite, Jackal Buzzard, Southern Boubou and Brimstone Canary to the day list.
October 3rd: Rooiels, Harold Porter Botanical Gardens.
Weather: Overcast with brisk southeast winds 18 C
Due to weather conditions our planned pelagic was again postponed so a day planned later in the tour was brought forward for today. After breakfast we headed to the seaside village of Rooiels which borders areas of rocky slopes and cliffs. On arrival a walk along the main track in windy conditions made birding challenging at times. The group persisted and were rewarded with several quality birds. Within the first few hundred metres we had views of Cape Sugarbird, Cape Bunting, Red-winged Starling, Orange-breasted Sunbird and Yellow Bishop. From the rocky slopes we heard the distinctive calls of Ground Woodpeckers although we were unable to locate them. Over the cliffs several Rock Martins seeking insects and an immature Verraux’s Eagle searching for suitable prey. Ian found a pair of Cape Rockjumpers perched on a rock close to the track, close and prolonged views were had of this highly sought after and localised species. On the return walk observations of Piping Cisticola, White-necked Raven and a male Cape Rock Thrush perched on a telegraph pole. Our next stop was Harold Porter Botanical Gardens which was shrouded in low cloud despite being close to the sea. Lunch followed by a leisurely walk around the extensive grounds, some areas being recently burned. In the lower gardens Olive Thrush, Cape Francolin, Cape Canary, Karoo Prinia and a male Peregrine Falcon hunting for food. A walk around the trail produced little of note until a sheltered area was found next to the river. African Dusky Flycatcher and Cape Batis showed well and a Klaas’ Cuckoo called from nearby trees. By the bridge we eventually had brief views of Victorin Warbler an extremely skulking species which prefers low, dense vegetation. Back to base for the last night in Noordhoek.
October 4th: Cape Town, Johannesburg, Kruger National Park; Berg-en-Dal.
Weather: Cloudy and overcast 17 C/20 C.
We left our accommodation at Noordhoek and made the journey to Cape Town airport. This took longer than expected due to the heavy traffic conditions of the Monday rush hour. Checked in at South African Airways for the flight to Johannesburg. On arrival we joined the main highway eastwards towards Kruger National Park. The journey was largely uneventful as we passed through large swathes of farm land and several coal mining communities. Birds were few but included Black-shouldered Kite, Long-tailed Widowbird and a flock of Red-billed Quelea. Eventually we dropped off the high plateau down towards Kruger with a small town holding African Palm Swifts and the introduced Common Myna. At the park entrance gate a Dark-capped Bulbul and shortly after, on the road a Southern Ground Hornbill, a species in serious decline throughout much of its extensive African range. Arrived at Berg-en-Dal a rather run down camp by South African standards just before dusk. Red-billed Oxpeckers came into roost and a White-browed Robin Chat was seen by a brick wall.
October 5th: Kruger National Park including Berg-en-Dal, Afsaal, Skukuza, Satara.
Weather: Overcast although warm 25 C.
At 6am we met up by the restaurant for a pre-breakfast walk around the camp grounds. Our first stop was opposite the small dam which adjoins the camp. On and around the dam we recorded African Fish Eagle, African Jacana, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Black-collared Barbet, Kurrichane Thrush and two Violet-backed Starlings the latter being an irregular inter-African migrant. On the dam wall a family party of Wire-tailed Swallows and hawking Lesser Striped Swallows. The group walked slowly down the Rhino Trail recording several interesting species; Yellow-breasted Apalis, Black-backed Puffback, African Black-headed Oriole, Purple-crested Turaco, Collared, White-bellied and Amethyst Sunbirds, Spectacled Weaver, Yellow-bellied and Sombre Greenbuls. Large trees attracted Arrow-marked Babblers, Southern Black Tits, Southern Black Flycatcher, Lilac-breasted Roller and Yellow-throated Petronia. Meanwhile back in the gardens a Red-capped Robin Chat showed plus Grey-headed and Sulphur-breasted Bushshrikes and Brown-headed Parrots. We headed to the restaurant for breakfast, after an incredible start to the day for birds. At 0910 we were on the road again with the ultimate destination being Satara Camp. Beyond Berg-en-Dal main gate another series of stops (literally a few hundred metres) added Bataleur, Burchell’s Coucal, Green Woodhoopoe, Grey Go-away-Bird, African Grey and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Tawny-flanked Prinia, Wattled Starling and a stunning male Red-headed Weaver. Our journey took us to Afsaal a camp where you can get out and walk around. Before reaching Afsaal the dry woodland habitat revealed Red-billed Hornbill, Pied Barbet, Bearded Woodpecker, Magpie Shrike, Golden-breasted Bunting and Blue Waxbills. Along the road we found a pair of Double-banded Sandgrouse with well-grown chicks, White-winged Widowbird and a pair of Black-chested Snake Eagles circling over the tree line. Arrived at Afsaal where Cape, Greater Blue-eared and Burchell’s Starlings were in abundance. Other species of note were a roosting African Scops Owl and Grey-headed Bushshrike. On the road again with the next stop near a water-holding tank attracting African White-backed and White-headed Vultures, Brown Snake Eagle and a pride of Lions stalking game animals. Near Skukuza a Martial Eagle allowed a close approach as it perched in the top of a mature tree. Lunch taken in the grounds of Skukuza where the commoner starlings were noted plus Southern Grey-headed Sparrow and Village Weaver. After lunch we quickly added Tawny Eagle, Crested Francolin and best of all an African Finfoot out of the water by a small pool. Shortly afterwards a group of White Helmetshrikes appeared plus the first Swainson’s Francolins. Time was getting on as we stopped at several locations and a large pool. On the pool Little Grebe and Red-breasted Swallows coming down to drink. Also present were an immature Saddle-billed Stork, Black Egret and a recently arrived Barn Swallow. Checked in at Satara Camp base for the next two nights.
October 6th: Kruger National Park including Satara, Nwanedzi.
Weather: Warm and sunny with light southeast winds 30 C.
We met up at 0600 hours for a pre-breakfast drive into another sector of Kruger. Outside the camp gates the first birds seen were Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, doves including African Mourning, Red-billed and Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills and Lilac-breasted Roller. Birds were few and far between to start with until a Rufous-crowned Roller was found sitting in the top of an acacia tree. The first water hole attracted a newly arrived Wood Sandpiper. Further on down the track a pair of Double-banded Sandgrouse, Red-crested Bustard, Golden-tailed and Bearded Woodpeckers, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Brubru and Golden-breasted Bunting. An isolated water tank attracted White-browed Scrub Robin and White-crowned Shrike in the dry woodland. At the drinking area Hamerkop, Crowned Lapwing, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove and the commoner dry country birds. Down the track we encountered the strangely uncommon Square-tailed Drongo. The road passes by riverine forest with small water holes the latter attracting Woolly-necked Stork, Grey Heron, Brown-headed Parrot, Black-backed Puffback, Kurrichane Thrush and Wattled Starlings. In a more open area a pair of Sabota Larks showed well along with a Common Scimitarbill. The last stop before lunch was at elevated position overlooking a water hole surrounded by mature trees. This was an extremely productive area for White-faced Whistling Duck, Striated Heron, African Openbill, Greater Painted Snipe, Pied and Malachite Kingfishers, Wire-tailed Swallow and African Pied Wagtail. By the viewing area plants attracted Mocking Cliffchat, Marico and White-bellied Sunbirds and Orange-breasted Bushshrike. Returned to camp for lunch and an afternoon at leisure with a party of Chestnut-backed Sparrow Larks along the way.
October 7th: Kruger National Park including Satara, N’wanedzi and Lower Sabie.
Weather: Overcast and warm 35 C.
The day started with our pre-breakfast drive to a different sector of Kruger. The usual birds were in and around Satara Camp. Birding was a little slow to start with until two Maribou Storks flew in front of the van. The best birding area was a section of riverine forest attracting Klaas’ and Dideric Cuckoos, Arrow-marked Babblers, Bearded Woodpecker and family parties of Green Woodhoopoes. On the return to Satara a recent animal kill attracted Lappet-faced, African White-backed and Hooded Vultures, Tawny Eagle and two Black-backed Jackals. After breakfast we checked out for the journey down to Lower Sabie. Before leaving very close views of a roosting African Scops Owl. In no time at all the first of several groups of Southern Ground Hornbills were seen close to the road foraging for food. Down the road an area of mature trees allowed us to observe a Leopard asleep in a large tree. A short diversion here to the dry riverbed added Striped Kingfisher, White-throated Robin Chat and Forest Weaver. Returned to the main road with African Black-headed Oriole and a European Bee-eater hunting insects and on a large lagoon Little Grebe, Common and Wood Sandpipers. Lunch taken in an area where you are allowed to walk about. The vegetation here attracted Lazy Cisticola, Tawny-flanked Prinia and literally dozens of starlings, sparrows and hornbills looking for free food handouts. N’wanedzi was next on the agenda a viewing platform looking down onto a dam. A good place for herons as Goliath, Grey and Striated were present along with African Black Crake, African Jacana and Pied and Brown-hooded Kingfishers. The road to Lower Sabie drops quickly with the lower areas attracting Spotted Thick-knee, Red-crested Bustard, African Wattled Lapwing, and in flowering shrubs White-bellied Sunbirds. The river at Sabie is a magnet for birds and from the bridge we located African Black, African Palm and Little Swifts, South African Cliff and Wire-tailed Swallows. Sunset Lagoon had a wide range of birds including our first Yellow-billed Storks, Lesser Masked and Village Weavers. Arrived at Lower Sabie which has been radically extended and renovated (in parts) since the floods which affected the site earlier in the decade. The car park held Yellow-fronted Canaries and a Brubru. The observation deck was best with Saddle-billed Storks, White-fronted Plover, Grey-hooded Gull and a wide range of waterbirds. Near the tented camp a White-fronted Bee-eater was added to the day list..
October 8th: Lower Sabie, Sunset Dam, Ntamdanyathi, Nkuhlu.
Weather: Hot and sunny with light breezes 37 C.
Today was our last full day in Kruger before returning to Cape Province. As normal we were out on the road at 0600 hours in search of birds and mammals. Birds at Sunset Dam were similar to yesterday afternoon with the addition of a Giant Kingfisher. We then joined a loop road for the remainder of the pre-breakfast route. Larger trees attracted Brown-hooded and Woodland Kingfishers, Black-shouldered Kite, Grey-headed Bushshrike and a singing Sombre Greenbul. The highlight for many of us was two Leopards resting in a dead tree next to the road, a truly moving and memorable event. Arrived at the hide with flocks of Pin-tailed Whydah and Red-billed Quelea in the arid areas. From the hide we observed African Fish Eagle, African Black Crake, Bataleur, Dideric Cuckoo, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove and African Firefinch. Left the hide to make our way back when a pair of Secretary-birds appeared from nowhere walking slowly through the acacia trees. Further stops added Little Bee-eater, White-crowned and Long-tailed Shrikes, Crowned Lapwing and our first African Harrier Hawk of the tour. Breakfast followed at 0915. After breakfast we headed in a generally north direction following the Sabi River system. The first stop in a patch of forest yielded a pale morph Wahlberg’s Eagle, Southern Black and Pale Flycatchers, Black Cuckooshrike (female), Black-collared Barbet and Black-backed Puffback. Further along the Sabi River extensive sandbars attracted Lappet-faced, African White-backed, White-headed and Hooded Vultures and a Steppe Eagle perched in a tree next to the track. Lunch taken at a restaurant by the river a pleasant location with protection from the heat. In the river Striated and Squacco Herons, Common and Wood Sandpipers. Trees by the restaurant attracted Green Woodhoopoe, African Black-headed Oriole and Greater Blue-eared Starlings. Returned to Lower Sabie where we arranged to meet at the viewpoint at 1615 for a walk around the extensive grounds. From the view point a summering Little Stint and White-headed Lapwing and a stunning Black-shouldered Kite hunting at eye-level and close range. A slow walk through the mature grounds added African Green Pigeon, Cardinal Woodpecker and the common garden birds including a stunning White-browed Robin Chat. As dusk fell an immature Little Sparrowhawk was noted in a dead tree. Overhead we could study the fine identification points of Little, Horus and White-rumped Swifts. The last bird of the day was a pair of Scarlet-chested Sunbirds feeding on flowers in a partially dead tree.
October 9th: Lower Sabie, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Ceres.
Weather: Sunny and warm 30 C.
Today was a travelling one as we left Lower Sabie at 0530 for the journey back down to Johannesburg. Birding was limited to a small section of the park and a stop near some services en route. The latter added two Whiskered Terns and the commoner water birds of the High Velt. Flew down to Cape Town and transferred to Ceres a town whose main business is fruit growing. A stop before Ceres added a pair of Streaky-headed Seedeaters and Southern Double Collared Sunbirds. Checked in at The Village located in the centre of Ceres, a typical Afrikaans country town.
October 10th: Ceres and surrounding areas including the Tanqua Karo.
Weather: Sunny then cool and overcast with showers turning to heavy rains 15 C/20 C.
A later start today after the early starts at Kruger. After breakfast our first stop was at one of the many lagoons used to supply water to the farming communities. It was good to catch up with the water birds of Cape Province again especially the views of Maccoa Ducks. We travelled towards the extensive area known as the Tanqua Karoo stopping along the way for Pale Chanting Goshawks perched on telegraph poles. A remote farm was a magnet for birds including Greater Striped Swallow, Pied Starling, Cape and Southern Masked Weavers, Red Bishop and Cape Sparrows. Next on the agenda was a picnic area surrounded by rock faces and stands of shrubs and trees. This area produced interesting birds including Mountain Wheatear, Karoo Chat, Namaqua Warbler, White-backed Mousebird and calling Dusky Sunbirds. Further down the dirt road we diverted to another area where we could study Familiar and Tractrac Chats and a pair of Large-billed Larks by the roadside. Returned to the picnic area again with excellent views of the attractive Fairy Flycatcher and Red-winged Starlings. Returned to Ceres making stops at various wetland sites holding above average numbers of South African Shelducks and a lone Mallard. On an incline an adult Verraux’s Eagle was noted along with three unidentified falcons. A late lunch taken beyond Ceres with the car park giving us excellent views of Swee Waxbills. The weather had started to worsen with rain and increasing winds not a good sign for the remainder of the day. We drove around country roads looking for birds with sightings of African Spoonbill, Cape Francolin, Black-winged Stilt, Greenshank, African Stonechat and the uncommon Cape Crow. Returned to base with brief views of a Karoo Thrush in the gardens and a Cape Canary drinking from the fountain.
October 11th: Ceres, Worcester, Napier, Overberg, Hermanes.
Weather: Cloudy with heavy rain at times on a southeast wind 7 C/12 C.
As dawn broke the heavy rain and strong winds had persisted overnight and continued throughout the coming day. This in effect had an impact on our itinerary and birding. We headed towards the regional town of Worcester with a stop just beyond the town boundary. Flooded fields here attracted Yellow-billed and Red-billed Ducks, White-faced Whistling Ducks and two African Reed Warblers drinking from a stream. Further stops at wetland sites provided us with colonies of breeding Sacred Ibis and African Spoonbills. From the wetlands we gradually gained altitude to the general area known as Overberg which is an area high in cereal and fruit production. At lower levels a pale phase Booted Eagle was noted hunting over a hillside. On the barren hillsides large numbers of Blue Cranes which loosely associated with sheep and their feeding troughs. Careful scanning produced reasonable numbers of Red-capped and Large-billed Larks and Yellow Canaries. As we approached the farming town of Napier the fallow fields produced Black Harriers, Plain-backed and African Pipits, Crowned Lapwings and pairs of Cape Crows and a Kittlitz’s Plover on a nest. Lunch taken in Napier in what can only be described as a throw-back to the 1960’s. Afterwards we continued on our journey to Hermanes via country dirt roads. A plantation held a pair of African Paradise Flycatchers and a single Black Sawwing. Further along the road Denham’s Bustards were located walking around a well-grazed field. The weather was starting to worsen again as we approached the coastal town of Hermanes which has become internationally famous for land based whale watching.
October 12th: Hermanes, Grootvadersbosch.
Weather: Sunny with southeast winds 8 C/16 C.
The news was our planned pelagic trip had again been cancelled due to the unseasonal weather off Cape Town. This meant a change in plan with a visit to the remote forest reserve of Grootvadersbosch. Left at 0830 hours to travel around 150 kilometres east to access this unique place set among the vast cereal belt of Western Cape Province. Parked up at the reserve office and set off on a walk through mature forest. From the car park we could hear the distinctive calls of Red-chested Cuckoos (one was later seen perched in a dead tree for a lucky few). Below the car park we were fortunate to find a male Knysa Woodpecker calling from a stunted tree, great views of this rarely seen species endemic to South Africa. Before entering the trail we quickly located the rather localised Greater Double-banded Sunbird and the canopy loving Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler. A slow walk along the forest trail revealed Cape Batis, Olive Thrush, Bar-throated Apalis, Sombre Greenbul and a distant calling Tambourine Dove. At the bottom of the trail we heard the distinctive song of the bracken-loving Knysa Warbler and brief views of African Crested Flycatcher. Overhead a Forest Buzzard was seen in flight. Walked back to the gardens near the office for lunch with African Paradise Flycatchers, Cape Robin Chats and Cape White-eyes for company. A highlight however was a pair of Red-necked Francolins feeding on the forest edge. Lunch taken with Fiscal Flycatchers and three African Olive Pigeons perched high in a dead tree. At 1500 hours we set off for base stopping at a few locations en route. Common birds recorded with the addition of a displaying Cloud Cisticola and best of all a displaying Denham’s Bustard. An enjoyable day in a different habitat of the Cape.
October 13th: Hermanes, Cape Town.
Weather: Sunny although extremely windy along the coast.
A leisurely last day with walks along the sea front at Hermanes searching for Southern Right Whales which were present in low numbers. At 1030 we transferred to a nearby nature reserve and walked slowly around the trail network. Our last looks at Cape Sugarbirds and Orange-breasted Sunbirds. We decided to revisit Rooiels but this proved to be almost impossible as gale force winds were lashing the Cape Coast. Called it a day at 1300 hours and took lunch at Rooiels. Later in the day we transferred to Cape Town Airport and the flight home to Europe.
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