Timothy and Lynda Hyde from Australia booked a six day private birding safari following a conference in Cape Town. Objective was to visit a cross section of different habitat types in the Western Cape with mammals and birds foremost in mind. Scenic attractions and cultural experiences to be built in as added attractions. As such the route the tailored tour followed was similar to our regular one week ‘Cape Intro’ birding tour.
The route in the wake of' the departure of our summer migrants started at Cape Point itself on what must surely rank as the windiest day for the year to date with gale force winds buffeting the south western tip of the continent. This to the extent we could hardly stand up to take stock of our surroundings. Even the resident African Ostrich and Bontebok antelope community were having difficulty holding their own between gusts.
Conditions such as this are nothing new to the ‘Cape of Storms’ and called for ‘pocket birding’ aimed at winkling out sought after sightings in sheltered spots of well protected worth within the Cape Point Nature Reserve.
This practical approach proved successful and Speckled Mousebird, Lesser Double-collared and Orange-breasted Sunbird, Southern Boubou, Cape Bulbul, Fiscal Flycatcher, Jackal Buzzard, White-necked Raven, Fiscal Shrike, Red-winged Starling and Bokmakierie were ‘ticked’ off in quick succession
Following the Atlantic coast towards Kirstenbosch resulted in Swift Tern, Little Egret, African Black Oystercatcher, Spotted Thick-knee, Crowned and White-breasted Cormorant, African Sacred Ibis, Hartlaub’s and Kelp Gull being added along with Cape Cormorant and Cape Gannet as they gusted past in flight lines beyond the wind-lashed breakers.
Due to the prevailing weather we headed for the Kirstenbosch as the ‘fynbos’gardens and remnants of indigenous forest are low lying in a dell sheltered from the north westerly gales by Table Mountain itself. Here we were not to be disappointed and Sombre Bulbul, Olive Thrush, Malachite Sunbird, Cape and Forest Canary, Cape Francolin, Crowned Guineafowl, Egyptian Goose, Cape Robin Chat, Cape White-eye, Dusky Flycatcher, Spotted Eagle Owl, Red-eyed Dove and Cape Turtle Dove, Forest Buzzard as well as an African Goshawk circling high above the canopy were added to the list. Cape Sugarbirds were conspicuous by their absence in the Gardens and it was clear that they had recently moved off into the flowering protea belts along the southern coastline and adjacent mountain range to breed.
From Kirstenbosch we set off for the Cape Flats to explore the extensive wetland system that is host to a wide variety of waterbirds with Rondevlei Bird Sanctuary as the start out point. African Snipe, Blacksmith Lapwing and Three-banded Plover were feeding on the exposed mud flats while African Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis and Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, African Purple Gallinule, African Darter foraged about in the shallow sections between the reedbeds. An unexpected bonus was a fly past of a Little Bittern that obligingly settled in an exposed situation for more than enough time for us to enjoy close up views of this secretive species.
Heading on into the main wetland complex added Greater Flamingo, Black-winged Stilt, Maccoa Duck, Spur-winged Goose, Cape Teal, Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveler, Red-billed Teal, African Marsh Harrier, Little and Black-necked Grebe, Reed and White-breasted Cormorant, Grey and Black-headed Heron, Great White Pelican at the upper end of the size scale while the lower end delivered Zitting and Le Vaillant’s Citicola, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Little Rush Warbler, African Pipit, Karoo Prinia, Common Waxbill, Cape Wagtail and a pair of alien House Crows. On the way back to Simon’s Town we stopped for rafts of the ever so endearing African Penguin coming ashore for the night at the Boulders Coastal Park.
Early the following day we headed up with West Coast in search of Strandveld specials. Karoo Scrub Robin was the first of these closely followed by White-backed Mousebird, Bully and Yellow Canary, Pied Starling, Cape Sparrow, Capped Wheatear, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Southern Red Bishop and Black-shouldered Kite.
Heading further north produced good sightings of Blue Crane, Orange-throated Longclaw, Wattled Starling, Large-billed Lark, Cloud Cisticola before entering the West Coast Park. Although the majority of migrant shorebirds had left the tidal flats still supported fair numbers of Curlew Sandpiper, Grey Plover, Whimbrel. Pied Avocet and Kittlitz Plover were present in number and Caspian Tern hunted over the incoming tide. A short stop at a rocky outcrop produced excellent views of Peregrine Falcon and a surprise encounter of a pair of Black Eagles circling overhead. On the mammal side Eland, Springbok, Plains Zebra, Blue Wildebeest and Small Grey Mongoose were recorded along with both Leopard and Angulate Tortoise for the reptile list.
Our overnight stop at a fishing village on the West Coast, situated in a pristine area of coastal habitat, added Grey-winged Francolin, Crowned Lapwing, Acacia Pied Barbet, White-throated Canary, Yellow Bishop, Rock Kestrel, Cape Bunting, Grey-backed Cisticola and Cape Weaver to the list before breakfast.
Meandering across the sprawl of fallow wheat fields and adjacent indigenous habitat towards the Berg River provided good sightings of Sickle-winged Chat, Cape Long-billed Lark, Red-capped Lark, Ant-eating Chat, Lanner Falcon, Southern Black Korhaan, Southern Grey Tit before connecting with White-fronted Plover, Pied Kingfisher, Mallard and Grey-headed Gull in the estuary area.
Entering the Karoo is always a moving experience as one soaks up the view of distant horizons and flat topped mountains dotted across the unfolding landscape that stretches away into the arid interior of the country. Far from being devoid of life the semi-arid south western sector is rich in biodiversity and as such represents the highlight of any birding tour to the Western Cape.
Heading out across the open plain Pale Chanting Goshawk, Karoo Chat, Rufous-eared Warbler and Jackal Buzzard were recorded late that afternoon before adding Karoo and Spike-heeled Lark, Karoo Green Eremomela, Layard’s and Chestnut-vented Titbabbler, Familiar Chat, Mountain Wheatear, Trac Trac Chat, Karoo Korhaan, Greater Kestrel, Dusky Sunbird, Fairy Flycatcher and Namaqua Warbler during the course of the following day as well as Southern Pochard on a farm dam.
From here our routing took us south over the spectacular Cape Folded Mountains towards the Agulhas Plain. A loose flock of African Black and Alpine Swift were found feeding at the highest point in the mountain range and provided close up views for all to enjoy.
Stands of isolated protea scattered along the mountain slopes supported Cape Sugarbird and Malachite Sunbird while lower down Streaky-headed Canary, Southern Masked Weaver, Brown-hooded Kingfisher and Fork-tailed Drongo were present in a wooded ravine.
Once on the wheat field plain itself Agulhas Long-billed Lark was recorded in typical stony habitat along with Blue Crane in abundance. Later in the day a pair of Denham’s Bustards was located close to the road in perfect light. A systematic search of a large stand of exotic gum and wattle trees produced Cape Batis, Brimstone Canary, Southern Boubou, Cape Siskin and Greater Double-collared Sunbird but no woodpeckers or honeyguides.
Just before settling into our accommodation for the night a single Cardinal Woodpecker was seen tapping away in a fig tree to close off yet another good birding day.
An early start the following day added Great Crested Grebe to the list and Cape Vulture as they circled above the barren wheat fields. Common Stonechat, African Hoopoe, Rock and Brown-throated Martin as well as two pairs of late departing Greater Striped Swallows were present in the vicinity of an old farmhouse. A walk through a scattered stand of very old milkwood trees produced excellent sightings of the highly secretive Southern Tchagra and a totally unexpected and delightful view of a male Knysna Woodpecker preening itself in an exposed position for our viewing enjoyment.
With the weather deteriorating we headed west to False Bay to search the coastal mountain range for the enigmatic and highly charismatic Cape Rockjumper. In this regard we were not to be disappointed in spite of the howling wind and onset of driving rain that put paid to our search for Victorin’s Warbler and Neddicky. As such the Cape Rockjumper was the last of the sightings for the six day trip and represented the jewel in the Western Cape birding crown. Total for the autumn trip added up to 170 bird species representing the resident mix of possibilities outside of pelagic seabirds as the majority of migrants had already departed north by the time the start of the trip. Mammal count was 21 species and included sightings of three of Africa’s ‘Big 5” mammals – African Lion, Cape Buffalo and White Rhinoceros..
In their own words the Hyde’s described their private South African birding tour with Avian Leisure as: ‘Highly recommended! Touring with Patrick and Avian Leisure was a delight! – professional, easy to get on with, flexible to our needs and interpreted our brief precisely.’
For more information on private, tailored birding tours and wildlife safaris with Avian Leisure for birders, wildlife enthusiasts and travelers with photographic interests, contact us
Ph: +27 21 7861414 mobile: 083 272 2455 or 083 560 5510.