BIRDING THE GARDEN ROUTE

Within the mix of many biomes in Southern Africa the Garden Route represents the only area  enjoying year round rainfall of varying intensity depending on time of year. As such it represents a diverse mix of evergreen habitat types ranging from pristine tracts of fynbos to established cathedral forest bisected by spectacular gorges that have cut their way over  time through the rugged coastal plain to the sea.

Knysna Turaco

Knysna Turaco

From a birding point of view the area has much to offer in the way of some of our most striking and secretive birds. Time spent patiently birding along the many forest trails is bound to prove rewarding with the added attraction of the floral beauty that gives this unique area its descriptive name. This post is intended to assist visiting birders in finding their way around the mosaic of habitats along with specific site localities for some of the more challenging species that frequent the area.

Cape Batis

Cape Batis

Operating out of the Wilderness is by far the best option as this holiday village is central to most of the scenic attractions in the area with the added benefit of being close to the town of George and the Outeniqua Pass that leads to the Little Karoo to the north of the mountain range.

Birding base of choice in the Wilderness has always been the Kingfisher Country Guest House (tel. 044 877 1955) owned and superbly run by Phil & Sue Millard. Conveniently located on the edge of the village adjacent to the start of the coastal forest near the Touws River. Dawn chorus in the well maintained garden commences with Chorister Robin and Olive Bush Shrike as they compete for audio dominance while work their way through the shrubbery.

Red-necked Spurfowl

Red-necked Spurfowl

Add to this the raucous call of the Knysna Turaco and the crowing of Red -necked Francolin to the bubbling sound of Burchell’s Coucal and the ponderous call of the Tambourine Dove and you have some idea of what this unique location has in store.

Regular visitors to the feeding tables adjacent to main veranda include Fork-tailed Drongo, Streaky-headed Canary, Cape Weaver, Grey-headed Sparrow and Laughing Dove. A short pre-breakfast stroll in the direction of the Fairy Knowe Hotel  could add Cape Robin Chat, Brimstone and Forest Canary, Amethyst and Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Red-eyed Dove, Cape Bulbul, Olive and if very lucky Knysna Woodpecker to your list. The hedgerows and thickets support Cape Batis, Sombre Bulbul, Southern Boubou, African Paradise and Blue-mantled Flycatcher, Speckled Mousebird, Bar-throated Apalis, Cape White-eye, Dusky and Fiscal Flycatcher.

Further afield at Ebb & Flow and beyond are a number of ‘Kingfisher’ trails of which the Brown-hooded Kingfisher trail is by far my favourite. This well-maintained trail follows a meandering stream and holds a number of ‘specials’ including Knysna Scrub Warbler, Black Saw-wing, Half-collared Kingfisher, Starred Robin, African Firefinch and if conditions are right the shy and elusive Buff-spotted Flufftail.

Greater Double-collared Sunbird

Greater Double-collared Sunbird

Continuing along the road in an easterly direction towards Swart Vlei takes you past the Malachite Kingfisher hide at Langvlei for views of waterfowl as well as Common Waxbill, African Reed Warbler and if lucky Red-chested Flufftail along the reed edge adjacent to the board walk. From here the route takes you between two of the lakes to the main hide adjacent to the Nature Conservation offices at Rondevlei which can be good for Little Rush and Lesser Swamp Warbler, Black Crake and African Rail if water levels are right. Open water holds Great Crested Grebe, Cape Shoveller, Yellow-billed Duck and variety of waterfowl. This is the best area for Osprey and African Fish Eagle as well as various herons and egrets.

Heading back towards George from Wilderness provides the opportunity to visit the Kaaiman’s River area on the left of the N2. Here one can search for African Finfoot, Half-collared Kingfisher and Black Duck in the early morning or late afternoon when the area is relatively undisturbed. Thickets hold Sombre Bulbul and Knysna Warbler. Continuing into George the open grassland beyond the new shopping Mall should be checked for Black-winged Plover in association with the relatively common Crowned Lapwing. 

Taking the road beyond Ebb & Flo on the Touw River that leads to the plateau above Wilderness will take you to the ‘Big Tree’ beyond Hoekwil at Woodville.

Black-bellied Starling

Black-bellied Starling

Aside from the magnificence of this enormous Yellowwood the circular forest trail is  good for Olive Pigeon, Black-bellied Starling, Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Black-backed Puffback Shrike, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Green Woodhoopoe, Green-backed Camaroptera, Terrestrial Brownbul, Lemon Dove, Scaly-throated and Lesser Honeyguide.

Careful scanning and patience could produce views of Narina Trogon which is not uncommon in this forest. Raptors above the forest canopy include Crowned Eagle, African Goshawk, Forest and Steppe Buzzard. At night the picnic area is a good site for Wood Owl.  

Black-headed Oriole

Black-headed Oriole

Should time prove insufficient or concern exist regarding precise localities for certain species listed the services of Margaret Kiely (tel.044 3432164) should be engaged. No birder has a better working knowledge of the area and what to expect under different weather conditions and time of year. Margaret’s fee is a modest R400.00 for at least 5 hours birding irrespective of group size.

In the event of the weather closing in to the extent that birding the area is impossible then a trip over the Outenqua Mountains to bird the rain shadow in the vicinity of Oudtshoorn for the day comes highly recommended.

Enjoy the Wilderness, it is by far the most exciting and scenic birding locality we have in the Western Cape !

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