wild life tours South Africa
Wildlife tours South Africa


Aug '11: Namibian birding delights – Hartlaub’s Spurfowl

July '11: Boulders Coastal African Penguin Reserve – Simon’s Town

June '11: Halcyon Days in Cape Town

March '11: Chobe - The Enchanted River

Feb '11: The Ever So Enigmatic Cuckoo Finch

Feb '11: Sharp-Tailed Starling – The Holy Grail of the Caprivi Strip

Feb '11: Two Look-Alike Larks with Totally Different Personalities

Jan '11: Namibia Birding Trip Report

December 2010 News Snippets

Nov '10: Klaas's Cuckoo – Two Foster Parent Species

Oct '10: The Long & Winding Road up and over Naude's Nek

October 2010

Sep '10: Pelagic Trip out of Simon's Town

Sep '10: Australian Gannet sighting on South Africa's West Coast

August '10: Birds & whales at De Hoop on the Southern Cape Coast

May '10: Sauntering Up Sani Pass

April '10: Autumn Birding Trip

March '10: Anne Albatross Pelagic Birding Trip From Cape Town

Feb '10: African Openbill Eruption

Feb '10: Desert Duellers of Namibia

Jan '10: Ghost Striders of the Skeleton Coast

Oct '09: Bird Guide Training Course – De Hoop Nature Reserve

Sep '09: The Exquisite Cape Gannets of Bird Island in Lambert’s Bay

New Selection of Books about Birds

Winter Birding the 'Ivory Trail' at Pafuri in Kruger Park

June '09: Birding off the beaten track in Central Mozambique

Apr '09: Victorin's 'Secret' - By Patrick Cardwell

Mar '09: Cleansing of mind & body - Yoga Retreat at Avian Leisure

Feb '09: Stranger on the Shore - Macaroni Penguin

Jan '09: Northern India - A Kaleidoscope of Colorful Experiences

Jan '09: A Black Harrier Encounter of the Most Memorable kind

Dec '08: Of waders, terns, frogs and toads - a West Coast interlude

Dec '08: Spring ticking the Rooi Els track to Pringle Bay

Nov '08: New Itineraries


Hartlaub's Spurfowl ( Male) Hartlaub's Spurfowl ( Female)

Of all the ‘specials’ found within the Namibian bird list this highly specialised inhabitant of the boulder-strewn slopes and rocky outcrops of the Erongo and Waterberg Mountain is for me the most captivating and entertaining.

Recorded for the first time in 1928 this small, fairly rotund gamebird, with a relatively small head and disproportionately large beak, was named after Gustav Hartlaub (1814-1900), who practised ornithology in West Africa.

Due to its highly localised pattern of distribution linked to hilly and mountainous regions of sandstone and granitic origin, flanked by mixed grassland and dense scrub, this cryptic species requires a certain amount of effort when it comes to securing a good sighting or photographic shot.

Best time of year is before the onset of the cool winter weather, when the birds are most vocal, and the best time of day is just before sunrise. As such forward planning is essential to ensure success, and an early start to the day even more important, as you clamber up the rocky slopes to a suitable vantage point before dawn.

With luck, and good local input as to where to go, you should be in position with the sun behind you to view the opening liquid duet of the day, as closely bonded birds proclaim their territorial rights from the top of a prominent boulder. Such vocal activity at sunrise, made up of fast, often-repeated antiphonal duets, only lasts for a relatively short period of time, following which the pair descend into the surrounding scrub and scattered boulders for the rest of the day.

Originally classified as a ‘francolin’ the species has recently been listed in the ‘spurfowl’ category but, as you will notice from the images of both sexes, they lack the vicious spurs of the other francolin species, and appear to avoid physical contact with neighbouring pairs when defending territory or engaging in boundary disputes.

So when next you are birding in the mountains of Northern Namibia make the effort to clamber up to the cliff top before dawn, if you’re in the right habitat, to get your birding day off to a really great start with a sighting of this sought after Namibian special!


With the onset of the winter rains ‘braying’ activity within the resident penguin population has begun in earnest as bachelors stake out new nesting sites in the hope of a mate, while pair bonded couples reinforce existing marital ties within the resident community of several hundred birds directly below our ‘birder friendly’ guest house.

Originally known as the Black-footed Penguin, it was converted to the less flattering descriptive of Jackass Penguin some time back. This change in the descriptive in audio recognition of the incessant donkey-like braying that takes place throughout the breeding season. More recently the local descriptive underwent further change and the Jackass Penguin was upgraded to African Penguin. This descriptive review was conducted by the ornithological committee appointed to standardise on the list of common names for all bird species occurring within the sub-region and further to the north in Africa.

Wandering down at day’s end with one’s camera in hand to the well-established rookery that stretches south along boulder strewn shore below the guest house, when rafts of penguins return after a day’s fishing in False Bay, is a visually delightful and highly entertaining experience to be savoured and enjoyed at leisure.

Once ashore and well  beyond predator and wave reach preening commences in a meticulous manner before individual birds waddle about in dwarf-like fashion in search of existing partners or potential mates for the forthcoming breeding season.

Such activity, involving head bowing, mutual grooming and the presentation of nesting material to incubating partners, accompanied by vigorous bouts of flipper waving and braying activity, adds to the comical and endearing nature of these totally unassuming and accommodating members of our neighbourhood.

Sadly, the future prognosis for the African Penguin population off the Southern African coastline is looking increasingly bleak due to a major shift in the migratory patterns of pelagic fish species targeted by African Penguins.

Although the precise reason behind the prevailing migratory trend in the principal prey forms of anchovy and sardine to switch direction from the west to the east coast is largely unknown and is believed to be associated with climate change. The net result is that the African Penguins have been forced to follow the pelagic shoals up the warm Agulhas current in order to survive but have nowhere to breed beyond two land based sites and two islands compared to a wide selection of suitable offshore islands along the West Coast. Expressed in stark statistical terms the breeding population in South Africa has declined dramatically from 56 000 pairs in 2001 to 21 000 in 2009 and this highly disturbing trend is continuing much to the concern of the scientific community and local conservationists.

This extremely disconcerting situation has resulted in stepped up research efforts utilising satellite transmitters attached to young penguins to ascertain where they go during the four years between leaving the nest and returning to breed.

As such the recent initiative will hopefully cast new light on what needs to be done to re-kindle declining coastal populations before it’s too late to save what is unquestionable South Africa’s most endearing seabird species. Such a loss will indeed be a sad one to not only the ornithological world but to the residents of Simon’s Town who have co-existed in delightful harmony with the endearing penguin community since the breeding colony established itself at Boulder’s Beach over 30 years ago.


Spring has not exactly sprung as yet but the first winter rains, in the form of several striding fronts sweeping up from the South Atlantic, have greened up the local environment immeasurably following the long dry summer.

 All around the resident bird mix is now overtly engaged in setting up breeding territories in eager anticipation of the warmer weather to come with the austral spring now round the corner.

Out front with bags of attitude as they flit about in a flurry of conspicuous exuberance in full breeding dress are all three of our resident sunbirds in the form of Malachite, Southern Double-collared and the highly flamboyant Orange-breasted Sunbird.

Southern Double-collared Sunbird   Orange-breasted Sunbird             Malachite Sunbird                                        Aloes at Cape Point

Stands of various aloe species supporting a wide range of flower heads, ranging from primrose yellow through to post-box red, are central to Malachite Sunbird territorial behaviour, with males in emerald green interacting almost constantly with one another throughout the day. One only has only to pick a stand of flowering aloes and within minutes a male is bound to arrive to take up a dominant position within the canopy of candelabra-like flower heads.

Lower down within the mix of many ‘fynbos ‘species are the Southern Double-collared Sunbirds energetically working their way through the mix of flowering heaths and pincushions between bouts of aerial engagement with intruding males from adjacent territories.

Without doubt the stars of the local sunbird show, and almost a colourful floral attraction in their own right, are the ever so endearing and hyper-active male Orange-breasted Sunbirds as they flit about frenetically in constant pursuit of females while simultaneously challenging intruders as part of the territorial imperative. So engrossed are the males in such behaviour that is possible to get really close to their regular call-sites for those magical moments when both bird and flower merge in a blaze of primary colours.

Right now as I type the cold weather has boosted sunbird attendance around the nectar feeder in our indigenous garden providing up close and sumptuous views of all three sunbird species, as well as a variety of other regular garden birds such as Cape Bulbul, Speckled Mousebird, Cape Sugarbird and ubiquitous flocks of Cape White-eye to add to the visual excitement on a warm sunny day. All in all a great time to be in Cape Town in spite of the odd cold and overcast day…  


There is a very special river at the south western end of the Great Rift Valley that flows steadily eastwards through a vast floodplain of quiet backwaters and oxbow lakes and lily covered lagoons to converge with the mighty Zambezi as it surges through a series of turbulent rapids to the spray fringed lip and roar of the magnificent Victoria Falls - so aptly described as the ‘smoke that thunders’ by the local tribe.

This unique river is the tranquil and beguiling Chobe that represents one of the last remaining and relatively unspoilt wilderness destinations left in Africa.

Here vast herds of elephant and buffalo still follow the ancient game trails in the surrounding woodland and migrate in season across the sprawling flood-plains as they have done for generations.

Few sights in Africa can surpass the scenic spectacle of hundreds and sometimes more than a thousand large mammals converging in thirst inspired haste along the dusty river bank to drink and sport about in the shallows at dusk as the sunset steadily unfolds in a vibrant array of colourful splendour so unique to Africa ...

Click here to read the full article by Patrick Cardwell


In late December last year I was afforded the opportunity of re-connecting with this highly nomadic summer visitor of seasonal occurrence by way of a kind invitation from Shaun McGillewie of Kroondal near Rustenburg. Canary-yellow in colour with a dark conical bill the Cuckoo Finch, previously known as Parasitic Weaver, was originally assigned to canaries then weavers and is now more closely associated with indigobirds and whydahs. It is brood-parasitic favouring Cisticolas and Prinias to incubate its eggs and look after its young as the two preferred host families in our area. Patterns of appearance throughout its known sub-equatorial summer range are highly erratic. Numbers relate particularly to high seasonal rainfall and the abundance of seeding grasses in marshy areas and damp open meadows. Normally shy and unapproachable the Kroondal birds in full breeding plumage allowed a close approach by vehicle enabling me to secure a couple of acceptable record shots for our photo gallery.  


Many a trip report to the north of Namibia and along the Caprivi Strip has been written without a record of Sharp-tailed Starling having been ’ticked’ in this otherwise starling-rich area. Come summer, Violet-backed Starling are common while Cape Glossy and Greater Blue-eared Starling are resident along with Burchell’s and Meve’s Starling at various points within this area of mixed woodland and patches of riparian forest along the Kavango river. Sharp-tailed Starling were first recorded by myself way back in 1987 when a feeding flock of adults and immature birds were located in a Wild Fig Ficus sycomorus on the banks of the Kavongo River at Katere some 80kms east of Rundu. Sharp-tailed Starlings appear to be closely associated with well-developed woodland and are reminiscent of a Red-winged Starling in profile with a wedge-shaped as opposed to rounded tail. Overall colouration is iridescent and appears green rather than blue when compared to the other ‘blue’ starlings found in the area. Breeding details are still sketchy but confirm that holes in trees in Baikea-Pterocarpus woodland are utilised during the rainy season with Dec/Jan being the peak period. The bird photographed for the record was feeding fledged young at the time in typical broad-leafed habitat.


Melodious Lark Monotonous Lark

At first glance and certainly in most field guides the Monotonous Lark closely resembles the endemic Melodious Lark in size and overall upper colouration apart from white below compared to warm buff on the belly. At this point the similarity stops with habitat preferences differing markedly with no overlap. Monotonous Larks favour sparsely vegetated woodland and savanna while Melodious Larks are found within a restricted range of climax grassland generally free of livestock interference. Both species favour prominent call sites in the breeding season. While Monotonous, as the name implies has a repetitive highly audible multi-note call likened to ‘purple jeep…’ that can drive you nuts night and day, the Melodious has a range of over 50 different bird calls within a jumble of signature notes. These include guineafowl, francolin, cuckoos, bee-eaters, swallows, chats, pipits, longclaws and other typical grassveld species. Aside from making use of a convenient fence post, termite mound or shrub as a call site from which to deliver the medley of jumbled notes, the bird takes to the wing in ‘bumble bee’ like flight, with its feathers puffed out for added visual effect.
On attaining cruising altitude the bird ranges back in forth across its territory in singing competition with its fellow congeners in the area. This can last for up to 20 minutes or longer before plummeting down to earth to disappear in the long grass or to once again return to the regular call site for a further burst of song. Out of season both are highly unobtrusive, and extremely difficult to flush, making observation and positive identification inconclusive were it not for the distinct difference in habitat preference. Breeding seasons overlap one another with the start of the summer months making Nov and Dec the best time to mount a search for these two highly localised and interesting lark species.


Our birding trip to Namibia can best be described as an ‘educational’ aimed at exploring new areas and checking out a number of lodges in the more remote parts for comfort and suitability from a birding point of view. As such it was compressed into a nine day trip and concentrated on the mid-section and north eastern corner of the country.

Conditions for birding proved to be ideal on arrival in Windhoek with the countryside green and lush following good rains towards the back-end of last year. Black Kites on the wing and spiralling ‘kettles’ of Abdim’s Stork were very much in evidence on the way to the Erongo Mountains north of Usakos.

If you have a map you will be able to trace our circular route westwards to the Brandberg, Namibia’s highest mountain range and a paradise for rock art lovers of which the ‘White Lady’ panel is by far the most famous.

Here too springbuck and oryx roam freely over the surrounding plains while family groups of desert elephant favour the shady Anaboom Faidherbia albida lined banks of the non-perennial Ugab river as it wends its sandy way westwards across the Namib Desert to the infamous Skeleton Coast ...

Click here to read the full report


Kirstenbosch Botanical  Gardens

The rewards for visiting the Gardens at first light before the crowds arrive are that you get the chance to see two of the most secretive residents of the more well wooded area.

One such morning yielded great views of an African Goshawk enjoying the early morning sunshine, in a totally exposed position, while a little later a slow stroll through the cycad dell produced up-close views of an exceptionally tame pair of Lemon Doves. These were previously known as Cinnamon Dove prior to the common name change in Robert’s VII.


Crimson-breasted Shrike 

As a schoolboy over 50 years ago I found a pair of Crimson-breasted Shrikes breeding in open woodland on the outskirts of Johannesburg. It caused quite a stir at the time as the species had always been classified as a typical bushveld bird favouring acacia thickets and dense tangles in the dry west of the sub-region. Since then I have seen hundreds of these striking birds and ‘spished’ many a bird in for the visual enjoyment they continue to provide. Not at any stage did I ever expect to see the extremely rare yellow-breasted form of the species and, indeed, reports of such sightings were few and far between. Imagine my surprise earlier this year when in the Kimberley area a full-blown adult in custard yellow plumage responded with alacrity to provide me with not only a great sighting but a stunning photographic opportunity as well…


Pelagic Expectations… 

So often a pelagic  trip off Cape Point focuses on the albatross mix as the overriding priority to the extent that one fails to pick out some of the other key sightings that may be wheeling about within the melee of hundreds of seabird squabbling over scraps along the trawlers wake. One such mega species is the rare and only occasionally sighted Spectacled Petrel such as this unusually confiding bird photographed alongside the boat on a recent pelagic trip.


Aardvark Antics  

While driving along one of the back roads of the Tanqua Karoo in search of Karoo Korhaan in the late afternoon we came across this Aardvark enthusiastically digging a new burrow for itself in a drainage line. This is only the third time I have ever seen one of these shy and extraordinarily looking nocturnal mammals out and about in broad daylight. It was so engrossed in the task that it afforded a relatively close approach and the chance to capture the moment on camera before it shuffled off into the distance



Day 1: Karoo Prinia foster parent

Day 1: Southern Double-collared Sunbird foster parent

Day 2: Karoo Prinia foster parent

Day 2: Southern Double-collared Sunbird foster parent

On the 27th Oct, Dave Woods, a fellow birder in Simon’s Town, phoned to say he had a fledged Klaas’s Cuckoo in his garden being actively hosted by a pair of Karoo Prinias.

Camera in hand I popped round to record proceedings and found a fully-fledged and highly vocal Klaas’s Cuckoo chick on an exposed perch in a Cape Honeysuckle bush.

Soon enough, after the initial disturbance caused by my arrival, the feeding cycle was again underway with Cape Zebra Cockroaches the main identifiable prey item.

Food transfers were quick and efficient and usually ended with the hard working foster parent receiving a sharp peck for its trouble from the cuckoo on departure!

Periods in between feeding cycles were punctuated by plaintive calling and active preening sessions along with a minor shift in position by the young cuckoo.

This had been going on for a short while when a female Southern Double Collared Sunbird arrived on the scene. At first I thought the few remaining flowers were the attraction until it flew directly to the feeding station to transfer whatever it had in its bill.

Initially it seemed to be a spontaneous ‘one off’ reaction in response to the young cuckoo’s begging behaviour and persistent calling.

What followed was clear evidence of a regular feeding cycle split between the foster species until the cuckoo switched position to the far side of the bush and out of sight.

When I returned the next day, around the same time, the cuckoo had moved to another feeding station in the garden and, once again, the feeding cycle by the two foster species repeated itself a non-conflicting interval.

According to related literature at my disposal neither species has been recorded as a host within the 16 species listed nor had an incidence of dual parental responsibility been recorded locally.

All goes to show that there is still much to learn about bird behaviour and why birding is such a fascinating recreational interest even if it’s in one’s own neighbourhood!

PJC/Avian Leisure/31/10/10


There is a long and winding country road that meanders steadily eastwards and upwards along the southern flanks of the Drakensberg Mountain range. Naude’s Nek at its apex represents the highest navigable pass in South Africa for a standard saloon car, and then only in fair weather conditions, with heavy snowfalls a constant threat to mountain travel in the winter months.

For many it is simply a lost and forgotten corner of South Africa, well off the main tourist routes, holding little of interest for the general tourist seeking the surf zone and the glitz of the many colorful coastal resorts to the south ...

Click here to read the full report


The gap in news items on our website is a factor of how busy we have been with birding and wildlife tours, a mixture of private, tailored self drive and guided tours!

Amongst these were safaris for single travelers, mixed tours for family groups and couples and a few dedicated birding tours in search of specific target birds. Click here for feedback on these tours.

Our self catering Guest House continues to have a high occupancy and we are delighted that there are many repeat guests and referrals! Click here for latest Guest comments.


Patrick has guided several pelagic trips over the past few months.

One of his quests when at sea has been to photograph Wilson’s Storm Petrel – the bird we use for our logo – and after more years than we can remember, not to mention expense in terms of film (in the ‘old’ days!) and pelagic charter fees, he finally got the shot he was after on a pelagic trip on 11th September – a diminutive Wilson's Storm Petrel pattering across the wave crests, which replicates our Avian Leisure logo perfectly!  

Click here for a report of a typical Cape Town pelagic trip


Patrick recently spent two nights on guano-filled Malgas Island off Saldanha on the West Coast of South Africa to see an Australian Gannet  - a rare bird of note on the Southern African coast.

Note the white outer tail feathers, relatively dark eye and white outer tail feathers. The call was also quite distinctive and very different to the ‘gewone ou Kaapse Malgas’ (the common Cape Gannet).


On a photographic trip to De Hoop Nature Reserve in August the quest was to photograph the ‘special’ birds that occur there, Knysna Woodpecker and Southern Tchagra topping the list.

Knysna WoodpeckerSouthern Tchagra

We were fortunate to find a pair of Knysna Woodpeckers in a cluster of milkwood trees and Patrick got some beautiful photographs. Southern Tchagras were also easy to see and photograph and this one was right in front of our beautiful Vlei cottage.

De Hoop really is a wonderful destination especially in July – September when the whales are plentiful along the coast. From a sand dune high above the shore at Koppie Alleen we counted 65 whales, mainly in small groups and mother-and-child couples.

SAUNTERING UP SANI PASS-One of the birding highlights in South Africa

Flight has always fascinated man through the ages. Indeed marveling at the aerodynamic capabilities of Cape Vultures soaring in effortless flight on the thermals above their roosting cliffs of the Sani Valley holds an enduring and awe-inspiring fascination for most visitors to the Drakensberg.

Add to this the grandeur of the towering basalt ramparts set against an azure sky on a clear day and you have the perfect setting for another memorable four-wheel drive excursion up Sani Pass and beyond to the Highlands of Lesotho.

Yet, the experience is not all about birding, even though sightings are many and varied, that collectively make a private birding day tour on the Sani Pass one of the birding highlights in South Africa, a ‘must-do’ …

Click here to read the full trip report by Patrick Cardwell


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.

Click here to read the full trip report by Patrick Cardwell


The run up to the pelagic was characterized by gale force conditions through to Friday evening when the south easterly finally abated leaving behind a flat and fog shrouded sea in its wake. A southerly wind of around 20kms failed to materialize as forecast and we set off for the trawling grounds from Simon’s Town on board ‘Destiny’ skippered by Alan Blacklaw at 07.30 with six on board.

Apart from a Bryde’s Whale appearing unexpectedly for a brief moment only the usual list of coastal birds were in evidence inside of False Bay along with the ever present pod of Cape Fur Seals off Partridge Point. From a photographic point of view our brief stop to radio in our destination intentions to the radio officer on duty at Cape Point proved disappointing as the south peninsula was still shrouded in fog. This was no doubt largely due to the water temperature having dropped to 11 degrees as a result of the upwelling induced by the prevailing south easterly weather pattern.

Our bearing was set at 250 degrees south west of the point with the canyon area as our destination objective - this with a working trawler foremost in mind. On heading out to Bellow’s Rock a single Dusky Dolphin joined us for a brief moment of half-hearted surfing in the wake. Given the lack of sun and limited visibility due to the fog it was very much a case of ‘silhouette shooting’ as pelagic seabirds appeared at intermittent intervals out of the gloom for a subliminal glimpse before disappearing almost immediately.

Click here to read the full trip report by Patrick Cardwell


The African Openbill (Anastomus lamelligerus) irruption appears to be an ongoing affair with sightings progressing steadily westwards from KZN through Eastern Cape and now along the Atlantic seaboard north of Cape Town as I type.

What caused this unprecedented influx by this high gregarious, medium sized stork of aquatic habitat preference to vacate its known sites within tropical Africa for a deep south migratory flight is still something of a mystery at this stage.

Normally associated with wetlands, swamps, rice paddies, lake edges, large perennial rivers this unmistakable stork, with its highly specialized bill adapted for the skillful extraction of fresh water snails and mussels from their protective shells, is confined in the main to trans-equatorial movement in tropical regions.

Within this sphere of movement migratory behavior appears to be dictated by the availability and abundance of preferred food types and is closely linked to rainfall and breeding site selection.

Numbers within favoured feeding and breeding areas range from abundant to very abundant and the population as a whole appears to be stable and not under threat within its recorded range.

So why did a break away collective embark on a journey southwards to the Western Cape?

Could it possibly have had something to do with an aberration in the weather pattern associated with the intra-tropical convergence zone moving further south than normal and apparently settling in over Gauteng…

Or could it in some way be associated with an equally unexpected irruption of Namaqua Doves and Lark-like Buntings that arrived in number along the west coast in November in response to adverse conditions in the central interior.

Although the regular pattern of African Openbill migratory movement is not clearly understood it is known that the majority of birds breed slightly south of the equator in tropical areas close to their main food supply of fresh water mussels and snails.

So why the influx? Is it simply a case of a breakaway group of young radicals taking a gap year or a wayward flock of stragglers suffering from reverse migration and heading south and not north as is usual at this time of year.

Perhaps it was simply a ‘kettle’, an American birding term for hundreds if not thousands of birds, spiraling on thermals to gain altitude before gliding as a collective in a set direction that collapsed in a state of geographic confusion due to jet stream interference.

Maybe it was simply ‘pure wanderlust’ as so succinctly stated by Iain Sinclair on radio many years ago when asked what explanation was behind a mega ‘tick’ in the form of a Herring Gull finding its way all the way to Durban from Europe to the delight of the local ‘twitching’ community.

As of the time of writing reports of recent sightings are still coming through with the latest from Intaka Island on the northern outskirts of Cape Town.

Who knows whether the latest arrivals are the remnants of the original flock or an independent contingent of seriously lost birds soon to return from whence they came leaving the question as to what caused the unexpected irruption open for general and scientific debate…

PJC/Avian Leisure/06/02/10

DESERT DUELLERS OF NAMIBIA - Patrick Cardwell February 2010

The sands of the Namib Desert are made up of a scenic mix of crescent shaped barchan dunes rising to 100m in height above the sandy coastline and rocky outcrops that flank the cold, nutrient-rich Benguela current which flows northwards from Antarctica along the southwestern coast of Africa.

Prevailing on shore winds carry moisture laden air in the form of coastal fog inland under the influence of a high pressure cell which prevents the inter-tropical convergence zone from reaching the Atlantic from the east. This combination gives the Namib Desert its extremely arid climate with less than ten rain days a year!

Within this sprawling sea of constantly shifting sand a fascinating variety of plants and animals have evolved to co-exist within what at first appears to be a totally inhospitable environment.

First impressions are misleading and on closer investigation the many signs in the sand point towards a vibrant community of ants, beetles, lizards, geckos, snakes, rodents, mammals and, of course, birds.

Of the latter the species mix is limited to a few hardy species that have successfully adapted to a life in the dune fields. Black-breasted Snake Eagles, Pale Chanting Goshawks, Dusky Sunbirds, Cape Sparrows, Common Waxbills, TracTrac Chats and Dune Larks constitute the suite of potential sightings on offer.

Setting off in search of Dune Larks in the low vegetated hummock dunes within the fossilized mouth of the Kuiseb River delta is a very special and different birding experience to the normal bird walk.

As one trudges along in heavy sand so one becomes attuned to the different tracks around one as lizards scamper off in all directions and tenebrionid beetles power their way up a slip face to escape the potential threat of predation.

Vegetation is sparse with isolated clumps of dollar bush and wild tamarisk here and there while the hummock dunes support a highly specialized melon like plant much favoured by humans and animals alike within this desiccated environment.

This habitat is home to the much sought after Dune Lark – one of Namibia’s prized sightings and top endemic birds.

 Its presence in close proximity is usually disclosed by an increase in bird tracks about one. This is usually followed by a rodent like movement catching the eye within the spikey grass tufts or around the edges of the leafless, thorny branches that protect the life sustaining melons within the centre.

On first contact one is struck by how well matched the plumage is to the surrounding dune colour and how rodent like the bird is with its quick erratic movements as it chases about after ants and insects between quite spells of focused feeding around the base of a grass tuft.

Perseverance and a quiet approach are likely to reward with close up views of a foraging pair or even a bird in flight as it hovers skylark like in full song over its territory within this seemingly desolate yet rewarding environment of many exquisite interests for the visiting naturalist to enjoy.

For more information on birding tours and wildlife safaris with Avian Leisure for birders,
wildlife enthusiastsand photographers,
Contact Avian Leisure


The Namib Desert plains north of the popular fishing hamlet of Henties Bay impart a sense of lunar dimension and timelessness caught up in infinity as one gazes across a landscape said to be the oldest desert in the world.

Fog banks roll in across the quartz studded gravel plains that seemingly stretch forever in what appears to be a lifeless and scenically sterile environment that has withstood the rigors of geological change in its present form since the emergence of time itself.

Unlike the ever active and restless sand dune system to the south of Walvis Bay the gravel plains of the north are shrouded by a grey gypsum veil supporting a wide variety of highly specialized plant and animal forms. These have adapted successfully to a life within this desolate and wind swept coastal habitat.

Aptly named the Skeleton Coast this timeless environment with its collection of many ship wrecks over the centuries and mausoleum of whale and fur seal bones stretching along its inhospitable and rugged coastline holds a fascination for visiting geologists and naturalists caught up in the scenic tapestry of pastel shades that stretch away to purple and pink horizons in the shimmering heat haze.

All around there is little for the ear beyond the crashing surf as it rolls across the offshore shoals or the sound of heavy duty tyres crunching along the salt impregnated road heading north to Cape Cross. This point of historical significance is where Diego Cao, a knight of the Portuguese court, landed in 1485 during his pioneering voyage to find a route around Africa to the Far East. It also happens to be a Cape Fur Seal rookery of expanding proportions which will be covered in a separate account.

Yet it is not all desolation, for inland from the coast within the pale grey and rose quartz gravel plains of the fog belt another of Namibia’s very special endemic bird species is to be found in the form of Gray’s Lark.

Usually encountered in highly communicative flocks, this pale grey lark of nomadic disposition, ghosts along energetically across the gypsum crust of the desert plain in a frenetic search for seeds and insects. Here it presents as an almost invisible presence against the pale backdrop of its preferred habitat and as such makes for a challenging sighting as the lunar-like landscape scrolls endlessly by…. Challenge aside Gray’s Lark constitutes the very essence of survival in this harsh and desolate landscape of scattered rocks and lichen fields making it unquestionably a highly specialized species well worth searching for with a sense of dedication. This challenge as part of any visit to the Namib Desert and the evocative Skeleton Coast, with its legendary tales of ship wrecks and lost treasure dating back through the ages, constitute a further good reason to visit this ancient land fossilized by time.

For more information on birding tours and wildlife safaris with Avian Leisure for birders,
wildlife enthusiasts and photographers,
Contact Avian Leisure


No birding tour or photographic tour up the West Coast of the Atlantic (South Africa) would be complete without a couple of hours at dawn or dusk to view and photograph the Cape Gannets flighting in and out of the roost on Bird Island.

As a setting the island is scenically well placed with evenly spaced Atlantic swells rolling in to crash in spectacular fashion against the outer most bastions of Cape Fur Seal encrusted boulders shielding the central interior as they have effectively done through the ages. This sanctuary in the heart of Lambert's Bay is both roost and breeding ground to thousands of seabirds seeking shelter and security from the worst of the northerly gales and winter storms sweeping up from the Antarctic.

Click here to read full article on the Cape Gannets


As part of Avian Leisure’s aim to support local bird guides in South Africa, Patrick gave a 2 day training workshop to a group of trainee field guides in September:

The 28 September 2009 proved to be a highly enlightening day for a group of trainee field guides participating in a Field Guides of South Africa sponsored training programme leading to the attainment of a formal nature guiding qualification as a career opportunity.

Within the mix of many field related subjects the bird guiding course was viewed as the highlight event due to the growing public interest in birding as a recreational activity. Bird guiding is viewed increasingly as a highly desirable skill in the tourism guide workplace in South Africa.

The objective was to give the students a practical insight into what is involved in bird guiding as opposed to field guiding, and how to become a credible bird guide: The workshop content included planning requirements before and on the day, descriptive terminology for birding and birders (for example leisure birders compared with twitchers!), a discussion of how to rank sightings within SA’s mix of over 900 species, do’s and don’ts in the field, birding ethics in detail and 10 key tips to improve one’s birding skills as the grand finale.

The workshop was followed by a practical ‘walk & talk’ and demo of the various items of equipment in general use, and ended on a Q&A session over dinner that evening.

All in all a very satisfying training experience that embraced a cross section of SA society drawn from all walks of life and communities as far afield as the Garden Route in the east and along the Atlantic coastline in the West.

We wish them all success with their exams and a long and rewarding career as the field guides of tomorrow!

Patrick Cardwell
Avian Leisure

Contact Avian Leisure for more information on Avian Leisure’s Responsible Tourism pledge.


This month we want to highlight some new books we have come across… an excellent photographic field guide by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan, an innovative Quick Reference Field Guide by Warwick and Philip Tarboton, and on the lighter side, a delightful novel, about birding set in East Africa.

The Complete Photographic Guide: Birds of Southern Africa by Ian Sinclair & Peter Ryan
ISBN CODE 978 1 77007 388 3

The Complete Photographic Guide: Birds of Southern Africa is a large-format photographic field guide to southern African birds. It comprises the biggest and most comprehensive collection of photographs of the region's birds. It describes and illustrates all 958 bird species found in southern Africa, and an additional 17 species recorded from the Southern Ocean and associated islands, including Antarctica . There are over 2 500 images showing age and sex plumage variations!

This comprehensive guide follows traditional species sequence. It brings a new dimension to bird identification in southern Africa and will prove indispensable in the field.

Kruger Park Birds – A Quick Reference Field Guide , by Philip and Warwick Tarboton

This is a clever fold-out bird guide covering over 220 bird species most likely to be seen in the Kruger Park . We like it because of its unique folding design and the fact that it is light and small enough to fit into a side pocket, and covers just enough about each bird to be able to make an ID.

Most of the photos of Warwick 's (more of which can be seen on his website www.warwicktarboton.co.za ). An inexpensive, handy aid for visitors to the Kruger Park and surrounding reserves. Retail price R70.

It can be ordered directly through Avian Leisure

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa (A novel)
by Nicholas Drayson, ISBN code 978-0-670-91758-7

For birding folk looking for a light hearted break from bird reference material and field guides the above is a must read.

A copy was given to me by a birding friend and proved to be a delightful read with all the characters and idiosyncrasies well portrayed, revolving around birding in Kenya . Comes highly recommended...

Available at most bookshops in paperback.


Patrick Cardwell: July 2009

Limpopo River

Fish Eagle


African Hawk Eagle

White Helmet-Shrike

Retz's Helmet-Shrike

Lilac-breasted Roller

Red-headed Weaver non-breeding

 Luvuvhu River , Pafuri

Each and every dedicated birder has his or her birding ‘patch' of special significance for whatever personal or emotional reason. Perhaps it was an original introduction to ‘birding' that triggered it or an experience of particular significance that indelibly reinforced a warm and lasting association.

Either way such a ‘patch' is a special place we look forward to returning to time and again for sheer birding pleasure and the sense of eager anticipation warmly associated with renewing past birding acquaintances. One such place that has held me emotionally captive is Pafuri in the remote north eastern corner of the Kruger National Park.

Here over 40 years ago I experienced my first ‘Peter's Finfoot' sighting as the African Finfoot was known locally at the time. It was an almost ethereal experience as the finfoot drifted down stream on the hardly perceptible current in search of dragonflies in the overhanging vegetation. For a moment time stood still as I soaked up the scene of this very special and much sought after sighting culminating in a visual display of day-glow orange feet, as the bird clambered clumsily up and over a partly submerged log, before disappearing around the bend. Still today I can visualize the tranquil scene with perfect clarity that etched Pafuri into my brain as one of my favorite birding sites.

Today, as the 21st century kicks into gear little has changed at Pafuri since my first visit thanks to conservation policies in place. Still the ‘lazy,grey green Limpopo river all set about with fever trees', as so eloquently described by Rudyard Kipling, meanders through the sandbanks with relentless determination on its way to the Indian Ocean; and still the African Fish Eagle heralds the dawn at the crocodile studded convergence with the Luvuvhu river.

It is a timeless place graced by towering Nyala, Jackalberry, Natal Mahogany, Leadwood and sprawling Sycamore Fig trees that collectively make up the riverine corridor of magnificent trees that are home to a wide diversity of mammals and birds. No where else I know is the grunt of hippo as they porpoise about and the wailing of Trumpeter Hornbills more appropriate as an audio backdrop to a mornings' birding in this unique setting with its point of convergence of the two rivers at a derelict bush camp once known as Crook's Corner.

Here during the good old ivory poaching days and many a dubious transaction associated with illicit gold and diamond trading that elephant poachers and prospectors hiding from the law would converge in the knowledge that political immunity was but one step away across the ‘international' border be the official authority South African, Rhodesian or Mozambican. Tales abound of an era long past best encapsulated by T.V.Bulpin in his classic review of goings on at the time along the ‘Ivory Trail'.

Today the bounders, cads, poachers and social misfits have departed the scene leaving pure serenity in their wake with only the sights and sounds of nature remaining as a timeless legacy of an Africa that has undergone so much change elsewhere on the continent.

This very special corner can be reached as a day trip out of either Punda Maria camp some 70kms to the south or Pafuri River Camp situated just west of the Park boundary. For those with an overnight inclination and holiday budget the wilderness safari camp situated on the north bank of the Luvuvhu river in the Makuleki conservancy is the way to go with a three night stay in mind.

Either way the surrounding area of mopani woodland and rocky ridges studded with ancient baobab trees that flank the heavily wooded riverine corridor collectively supports a wide variety of magnificent mammals including elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard along with an assortment of antelope including impala, greater kudu, waterbuck and the magnificent and highly localized and plentiful nyala.

Yet it is the birdlife that brings me back time and again in search of repeat sightings of resident species such as African Finfoot, White-crowned Plover, Trumpeter Hornbill, Saddle-billed Stork, Hooded, White-headed and Lappet-faced Vulture, African Fish and Verreaux's Eagle, African Hawk Eagle, Dickinson's Kestrel, Grey-headed and Brown-headed Parrot, Giant Kingfisher, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Ashy Flycatcher, Tropical Boubou, Purple-crested Turaco, African Green Pigeon, Crested Guineafowl, Bohm's and Mottled Spinetail, Mosque Swallow, Green-capped Eremomela, Yellow White-eye and for those staying overnight Bat Hawk at dusk and Bronze-winged and Three-banded Courser on a night drive through Wilderness Safaris plus the lucky chance of a Pel's Fishing Owl on its favorite hunting perch near the Luvuvhu bridge.

A list of mid-winter sightings totalling 167 resident species along the road from Punda Maria to Pafuri itself is available for those who are interested. A mid-summer list would be significantly higher with a good spread of intra-Africa and Palearctic migrant's present in the surrounding woodland. Need I say more to justify my passion for Pafuri!

For more info on the area and where to stay contact Patrick at Avian Leisure.

PJC/Avian Leisure/ 12/07/09.


For me finally leaving the bustling international border post with its plethora of pedantic paperwork and other time consuming control requirements marks the definitive start to an exciting birding holiday exploring the relatively uninhibited hinterland of central Mozambique along roads less traveled ...

Strategically situated close to the meandering Crocodile river, which scythes its way lethargically through the boulder strewn and euphorbia dotted Lebombo mountains at the southern end of the Kruger National Park, this outpost of a Colonial era long ago has seen travelers come and go in their quest for a new life as mining opportunity opened up the promise of good fortune in the 19th Century.

Mahindra in Water Feature!

Olive-headed Weaver

African Broadbill

Chestnut-fronted Helmet Shrike

Racket-tailed Roller

Saddle-billed Stork

ancient baobab trees

Mount Gorongosa


While this sense of economic opportunity can no longer be said to strictly apply to the modern day traveler, there is nevertheless for me an air of eager anticipation that envelops my senses as I gaze in awe and wonder across a largely uninhabited landscape dotted about with baobab trees and a myriad of lily covered pans, surrounded by yellow fever trees, so characteristic of the coastal plain of Mozambique.

As such this unique African setting holds the potential for me of a host of new bird and mammal sightings of a localized and, in some instances, extremely isolated nature in the central interior. Most are likely to be found along roads less traveled in the remote lowland forests of this vast and relatively uninhabited land that extends for over 2500kms from South Africa to the Tanzanian border.

It is GPS country where ‘Tracks for Africa’ count for more than conventional road maps in a world devoid of signage once what little in the way of the tarred arterial EN1 is left far behind as one journeys north east. Here in the heartland one discovers the wonders of 4X4 capability as the varying state of the network of logging tracks and capillary like roads within the mix of rural towns and villages test the spectrum of vehicle and driver capability. Sandy tracks, gouged out drainage lines, rustic bridges and saturated wetlands are all part of the recurring medley of off road experiences that scroll past as each day of adventure unfolds.

Yet it is the diversity of habitats themselves and the vast vistas that open up and stretch out across the pan studded flood plain with not a soul in sight that hold me in awe under pollution free African skies.

All around bird song emanates from the depths of pristine stands of miombo woodland as bird parties forage in active harmony through the connecting canopy of autumn shades and dappled sunlit glades flanked by wisps of ‘old mans beard’ trailing enchantingly from the larger trees within this fascinating biome of deciduous broad-leaf woodland. This unique habitat is also home to the much sought after and geographically restricted Olive-headed Weaver that has been high on my ‘target’ list of desirable sightings. In this regard I was not to come away disappointed with several sumptuous views enjoyed in near perfect viewing conditions!

Yet it is the lowland forests and stands of Lebombo ironwood that for me hold the greatest birding appeal in terms of quality sightings. For here in the dark recesses of tangled roots, sunlight and shadow that search in earnest for memorable views of East Coast Akalat, African Pitta, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, African Broadbill, Red-throated Twinspot and White-breasted Alethe commences in earnest.

These highly localized species form the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the under storey while higher up the overhead canopy supports such birding delights as the charismatic Black and White Flycatcher, Chestnut-fronted Helmet Shrike, Black-headed Apalis, Stierling’s Wren-Warbler, Pale Batis, Red-faced Crombec, Plain-backed and Western Violet-backed Sunbird, Livingstone’s Flycatcher, Southern Hyliota, Speckle-throated and Green-backed Woodpecker, Green Malkoha, Broad-tailed Whydah and the stunning Racket-tailed Roller to mention but a few of the more regular resident species ...

Add to this the not unheard of possibility of a clear sighting of Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Dark Chanting Goshawk, African Cuckoo Hawk, Thick-billed Cuckoo, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Dickinson’s Kestrel or chance of an Ayres Hawk Eagle or even Mascarine Martin and Eastern Saw-wing circling overhead and you have a clearer picture of what is potentially available to the avid birder such as myself.

Yet it is not all about the climax forests and sprawling miombo woodland that make up the tapestry of scenic delights. Ephemeral and permanent lily covered pans of varying size and composition surrounded by tall palms and leadwood trees support African Pygmy-Goose, African and Lesser Jacana, Rufous-bellied Heron , White-backed Duck and the possibility in the winter months of ‘ticking’ off Malagasy Pond Heron hold perennial appeal for me as a wetland enthusiast.

Areas of flooded grassland are good too for Saddle-billed Stork, African Openbill, Great and Yellow-billed Egret along with Squacco Heron and a ‘lucky’ Eurasian Bittern sighting - a cryptically plumaged bird more often heard ‘booming’ but seldom seen unless on the wing as it switches location within a sprawling marsh.

Lush grassland in the surrounding floodplain of the larger rivers is good for Short-tailed Pipit in winter along with other desirable specials such Black-bellied Bustard, Black-rumped Button Quail, Locust and Quail Finch and in summer so much more as migrants in the form of Blue Quail, Pallid and Montague’s Harrier flow into the system.

Equally impressive are the isolated stands of ancient baobab trees, some of which are in excess of 2000 years of age, that support the enigmatic Bohm’s Spinetail, Lizard Buzzard and Grey-headed Parrot amongst a host of other species roosting and nesting within the crown of root like branches. This inverted appearance certainly supports the Bushman view that God in a fit of rage tore up the original belligerent baobab and plunged it head first into the ground so that forever afterwards its roots would reach up to the skies in an act of total submission!

Yet for me it is Mount Gorongosa rising out of the coastal plain to over 1800m that exudes an allure that has attracted birders with a strong sense of enthusiastic determination and exploratory commitment to its forested flanks. All like me are in search of one striking bird in particular that has been isolated by geological time from populations to the north in Malawi and Tanzania. Here we are talking about the Green-headed Oriole – an absolute ‘cracker’ of a bird found only on this mountain and no where else in Southern Africa.

Add to the thrill of the sighting such delights as Anchieta’s Tchagra and the striking Variable Sunbird on the long trek across the lower slopes of sprawling grassland and glimpses of Swynnerton’s Robin foraging in the leaf litter in deep shade, along with the White-tailed Crested Flycatcher flitting through the canopy in a state of continual agitation and you have some idea of what to expect and why I keep returning to this enchanted land ...

Mozambique is not only about birding but indeed a country rich in scenic contrast and delightful in habitat composition as one mentally blends the coastal tranquility of a inbound dhow under lateen sail in soft evening light with the full grandeur of a spectacular African sunset over the Gorongosa floodplain with the mountain itself set sentinel like in silhouette in the distance.

All in all Mozambique adds up to a truly unforgettable holistic experience of many parts to be retained and never forgotten...

Such are the delights of Mozambique and the guide best placed to lead the way has got to be Etienne Marais of Indicator Birding who has conducted regular 4X4 trips in both summer and winter to sites of particular birding interest throughout Central Mozambique.

Should you require more information on Mozambique contact Patrick at Avian Leisure or email Etienne Marais direct at etienne@birding.co.za. for updated trip reports and scheduled tours for late 2009 and 2010.

PJC/Avian Leisure 10/07/09.

VICTORIN'S 'SECRET' - By Patrick Cardwell

One of the most sought after and most difficult to locate of all the ‘fynbos' endemics is Victorin's Warbler (Cryptillas victorini). This is largely due to habitat preference associated with thick tangles of bracken and rank grass in mixed ‘fynbos' along south facing mountain slopes of the Western Cape.

Although vocal for most of the year this highly secretive skulker of note very rarely presents its cryptic plumage combination of tawny underparts and cinnamon back for a full inspection due to its rodent like behavior and frustrating habit of remaining completely concealed from view even within arms reach!

At best the persevering birder comes away with a matrix of piecemeal views as the bird hops and creeps about energetically within its chosen tangle of undergrowth as it goes about a full inspection of those desperately trying to secure a ‘tick able' view. This in itself can take a considerable amount of time and invariably leads to mounting anxiety and dwindling patience as the bird tinkles away in monotonous response to ‘spishing' and stock recordings of the call.

Like trout fishing, and the choice of fly on the day, these techniques engender mixed reactions and are not always reliable if conditions are less than perfect. Yet, like most highly secretive birds, there comes a time when patience and all the elements come together and ‘voila!' you have the ‘5 star' sighting you are after for an extended period of personal enjoyment.

And so it happened one wet and extremely windy day when Peter & Jeppe Bundgaard of Denmark set off enthusiastically for Rooi Els with Cape Rockjumper sightings in mind as our target bird for the day.

On arrival weather conditions were adverse to say the least with the wind speed picking up steadily and cold driving rain from the north west . Undeterred we decided to set off stoically along the mountain track anyway, finding shelter from the intermittent squalls of rain behind boulders and alongside vacant holiday homes as when the need arose.

Even so we were soon sopping wet and on the point of return when suddenly the wind dropped and the sun came out. Almost at once the seemingly barren mountain slope above us came to life with sunbirds, sugarbirds, robin chats, bulbuls, grassbirds, prinias, cisticolas and bishop birds appearing out of nowhere along with Cape Rockjumpers to sing, preen and feed during this brief period of respite within the weather cycle.

It was then in the distance that I picked up on a Victorin's Warbler calling repetitively and enticingly from within a stand of well developed ‘fynbos' on a nearby patch of isolated marshy ground. Its persistent call led us to within a few metres of the then still obscured bird that appeared to be calling from low down in a mixture of rank vegetation.

So loud was the call that I was able to capture a string of repetitive phrases with a simple hand held digital dictaphone used for taking field notes. On playing back the hardly audible recording the response was immediate as the ‘sound source' revealed itself in full by clambering through the shrubbery to an exposed perch in open sunlight.

So close and so preoccupied was the bird in response that binoculars were unnecessary outside of a desire for fine feather detail. Even the pale and quite distinctive orange eye was clearly visible as the highly confiding bird sang away for minutes on end providing wonderful photo opportunities in the process.

Indeed the interlude was the best I have ever had in over twenty years of observing this highly secretive and enigmatic ‘fynbos' warbler, and the stunning shot taken by Jeppe Bundgaard is proof positive of a great engagement triggered by a positive change in the weather on what at first seemed like a near hopeless day for birding in the Western Cape!

CLEANSING OF MIND AND BODY - Yoga Retreat at Avian Leisure

The beautiful views and natural surroundings of our accommodation on the slopes of the mountain above Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town have been appreciated over the years by many of our guests - a combination of nature lovers, birders, and international and local visitors in search of peace and tranquility and a beautiful environment. And a couple of weeks ago we hosted our first Yoga Retreat, run by Taryn Hershelman - www.suryashaktiyoga.co.za. The weather on the first few days was perfect, and we managed to do yoga and meditation at dawn on the beach with just the gentle sound of the ocean surging against the shore. For the rest of the time the yoga sessions were done in Shearwater Apartment looking out across False Bay.

The next Yoga Retreat will be November 2009.
Contact Us for more details.

By Patrick Cardwell - February 2009

Avian Leisure is situated directly above the Boulders Coastal Park that is home to over 1200 pairs of African Penguin. These delightful almost gnome like residents of our coastline are tame and highly confiding providing hours of entertainment as they go about their daily routines in the most endearing manner. In fact sitting on one of the boulders at dusk watching rafts of penguins coming ashore for the night is a delightful experience rich in photographic opportunity.

Over the years I have diligently scanned the collective gathering in the hope of sighting one of the vagrant penguin species recorded infrequently along our coast that may have been enticed into joining the vocal throng of resident species during the latter part of the austral summer. Such vigilance has to date been to no avail leading me to believe I should just get on and pay the price of heading south to Antarctica for sightings of King, Gentoo, Macaroni and Rockhopper Penguin so far recorded as ‘rarities' in South Africa.

Well as it so happens a few weekends back while enjoying a light lunch in one of our local restaurants by the name of ‘Cest la Vie' my cellphone went off in strident mode alerting me to the presence of a 'mega rarity' in the immediate area. Such news is always welcome and immediately triggers the ‘twitcher' within me as my stagnant SA list has recorded only one new listing in the past three years. And so it was: ‘an adult Macaroni Penguin in moult on the shore of a remote bay west of Cape Agulhas some 200kms away' The very encounter I had been waiting for and the chance of an up close and personal sighting but for a host of pressing weekend engagements already agreed to…

Anyway to cut a long story short and after pledging a great deal in return I managed to get a ‘green ticket' and set off the next morning with directions in hand and Marie Louise for company in this latest quest… In this regard we were not to be disappointed and were able to enjoy privileged views of this very special visitor to our shores that represented the ninth documented sighting. As can be seen from the images the annual moult was well underway and the penguin departed the scene in fresh plumage the following week.

So all in all a great weekend around an unexpected arrival and a great
addition to my SA list, which is now 869…

By Patrick Cardwell -January/February 2009

With our intended trip to Gabon dashed by a sudden and totally unexpected escalation in ground operator costs we decided to set off for Northern India in January instead as part of an alternative Rockjumper birding tour offering. To say that the experience exceeded expectation would be something of an understatement as it totally eclipsed everything we had been told about in the way of pleasurable birding activity and a host of other experiences of a cultural and culinary nature.

Organization throughout was of the highest standard and the birding skills exhibited by the Valentine brothers working in conjunction with our local guide left nothing to be desired. Day after day in near perfect weather the ‘goodies' kept coming as we traversed across the semi-arid plains of the west to the foothills of the snow covered Himalayas to the east. Wildlife highlights, beyond the 400 plus bird species recorded for the trip, included several spectacular views of Bengal Tiger set within the sunlight and shadow of the Bandhavgarh reserve along with multiple views of Spotted and Barking Deer, Sambar, Nilgai, Wild Boar, Mongoose, Hanuman Monkey and the ubiquitous Rhesus Macaque found throughout the towns and cities along our route.
A colourful street scene
Painted Stork
Spotted Owlet in hole of tree
Black-necked Stork in flight
Taj Mahal
Bengal Tiger
Sunset on the Chambal River
White-crested Laughingthrush
Elephant ride at dawn
Accommodation and service without exception was excellent and the ‘dreaded' overnight train journeys, of which so much has been written by various travel writers, proved infinitely preferably to traveling by road through crowded settlements and traffic congested villages. Even so such travel provided a visual tapestry of Indian life in its many forms of industrious activity within an array of vibrantly colored saris, overcrowded bazaars, fabrics and carpets, clamoring taxis and rickshaws, scooters, camels and sacred cows mixed in with ornately adorned trucks and jet-propelled buses that collectively contribute to the cacophony of sound so typical of urban India.

Yet it was the birds we came for and in this we were not to be disappointed starting with the Keoladeo National Park near Bahratpur. Unquestionably, this is India 's premier bird watching sanctuary and in a good year of monsoon rains, such as we were lucky to enjoy, constitutes the most amazing spectacle as vast numbers of migrant species flock in from Asia and Europe to over winter alongside a host of resident species. Proclaimed as a national park in 1982 the area of some 30 square kilometers is crisscrossed by a latticework of meandering paths that separate the array of wetlands, each of which carries its own suite of waterbird delights. Access is by way of cycle rickshaw and several days could quite easily be spent studiously observing and photographing the birds, most of which were in close proximity. Aside from the 375 species so far recorded, it is the sheer abundance of birdlife that overwhelms one; as well over two thousand storks converge to breed alongside cormorants, spoonbills and ibis in the flooded woodland.

Mixed species of duck and geese dabble and honk away contentedly in their thousands in widely scattered flocks while birds of prey circle high overhead occasionally stooping unexpectedly with predatory intent causing vast numbers of waterfowl to take immediate flight in panic stricken response before wheeling about and resettling again.

Yet it was not only the waterbirds that captivate ones attention. All along the network of paths the babul trees provided sanctuary to a number of passerine migrants from Asia and daylight roosts for a suite of endearing owls and nightjars.

As such the Northern India tour started on an impressive birding note complemented by various shrikes, robins, babblers, larks, pipits, plovers and the much sought after Indian courser in an adjacent area of heavily grazed farmland.

From here our routing took us past the highly impressive ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri , built in 1569 as the imperial capital of the Mughal emperor Akbar, before heading on to Agra for an afternoon tour of the Taj Mahal, one of the worlds most beautiful and famous buildings. This experience was nothing short of overwhelming as one marveled at the state of perfect symmetry and the intricate detail of the many Islamic inscriptions exquisitely encapsulated in every aspect of the marble mausoleum. Later we visited the impressive red sandstone Agra Fort, set high above the winding Yamuna River , before setting off for Bandhavgarh on the overnight train that in itself provided a colorful and entertaining travel experience that proved far less onerous than first envisaged!

Dawn found us at the Bandhavgarh National Park gate for the first of several days exploring the park and looking for tigers in earnest, along with a host of resident jungle birds frequenting the teak forest canopy and bamboo thickets. Wildlife in one form of another presented itself in a continuous flow of exciting activity of which the Bengal Tiger sightings were the most memorable, as one gazed in awe at the ‘fearsome symmetry', encapsulated in Blake's poem, of a tiger in close proximity peering directly at one from within the sun dappled confines of a bamboo thicket. Add to this numerous sightings of vulture, serpent-eagle, woodpecker, bee-eater, coucal, parakeet, junglefowl, spurfowl, owl, buzzard, kingfisher, barbet, drongo, bulbul and babbler and you have some idea of what's on avian offer along with sightings of several species of mammal frequenting the understory including Jungle Cat, Palm Civet and Golden Jackal.

From here it was north to the Chambal River in the hopes of sighting the now rare and highly endangered Gangetic Dolphin along with a variety of migrant waders, terns, pratincoles and the chance of a rare Indian Skimmer in which regard we were successful. Also present were larks of various species and a mix of wheatears and pipits on the floodplain and francolins, babblers, robins, warblers and shrikes in the surrounding scrub.

A long overland traverse by bus ended in the foothills of the Himalayas and ushered in a spectacular ‘feast' of migrants wintering in the heavily forested slopes below the snowline. Birding on foot through the woodland proved highly rewarding and continuous as a wide variety of warblers, woodpeckers, tits, thrushes, tree creepers, fantails, magpies, partridges, bulbuls and sunbirds presented themselves on a continuous basis for our enjoyment under near perfect viewing conditions. Mammal highlight was Yellow-throated Marten – a shy and infrequently seen forest resident.

Corbett National Park followed as the grand finale of the tour and this indeed proved to be as exciting as the start of the trip. Not only was the scenery along the crocodile and gharial inhabited Ramganga River spectacular but the pristine jungle itself holding wild elephant, tiger, leopard, sambar and spotted deer made for an unforgettable experience before factoring in a suite of birds new for the trip. Highlights included the enigmatic brown dipper and checkered forktails along the river while the eroded banks supported the much sought after wallcreeper with its crimson wings and hoopoe like flight. Resident birds came in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colors of which the woodpeckers, barbets, parakeets, minivets, redstarts, wagtails and kingfishers were the most striking, while the bulbuls, mynas and babblers were the most charismatic. Fishing owls and fish eagles on prominent perches represented the upper end of the avian scale while the highly secretive, but not seen by us, wren-babblers and tesias inhabiting the understory represented the lower end of sighting opportunities available.

Highlight for us was birding the jungle in the misty light of a still moonlit dawn from the back of an Indian elephant on our last day in Corbett National Park with the outside chance of a final sighting of an elusive tiger or leopard before heading back to New Delhi by train for the flight home.

All in all a most memorable trip made up of many parts across the unique tapestry of experiences India has to offer. Each of these is a jewel in its own right with nothing untoward along the way to detract from the enjoyment so lavishly bestowed on us throughout. Our only regret was not enough time to savor the many delights in greater detail in certain parts.

Should you require further detail on the itinerary, bird and mammal sightings or contact information relating to Rockjumper Birding Tours, please Contact Us. It would be a pleasure to assist you in planning such a trip.

By Patrick Cardwell - January 2009
(Photo : Black Harrier by Mike Watson)

Sighting a Black Harrier quartering low over the fynbos must surely rank as one of the most memorable birding experiences one can enjoy in the Western Cape . Having one flying parallel in close proximity for over minute constitutes a rare and very special experience unlikely to be repeated. Such an encounter happened when Mike Watson of the UK headed up the West Coast road with me in January this year…

After reviewing Mike's list of sighting requirement for the day I decided to set off early to give ourselves the best chance of ‘connecting' with a Black Harrier in flight during the early morning hunting period. Objective was to search in earnest for the bird once we had reached the West Coast Park gate.

Although usually successful in my quest for a sighting the odd ‘blank' day has occasionally presented itself and, as a consequence, I like to put in as much scanning time as possible on entering the target area.

Weather on the day was near perfect for photography and on leaving the outskirts of Cape Town, with the classic post card shot of Table Mountain receding into the background, I requested Mike to ‘make ready', just in case we encountered our target hunting along the roadside reserve. This continuous strip of typical fynbos vegetation lies between the fence line and the tarred road and is relatively undisturbed by livestock and as a consequence holds a rich variety of rodents, reptiles and ground dwelling birds.

I had no sooner passed the comment when almost on cue an adult Black Harrier, resplendent in its distinctive black and white plumage, materialized out of nowhere and proceeded to fly in the direction of our line of travel in the soft morning light with the sun in our favor.

In no time Mike had the window down and I had throttled back to 40kms to maintain an even pace with the harrier holding its eye level position no more than 20 yards away for well over a minute and by so doing provided Mike with the photographic sequence of a lifetime.

Throughout the harrier appeared to be totally oblivious of our presence and eventually having spotted a prey form somersaulted into a thicket and disappeared from view. All in all a fantastic start to what proved to be an exceptional days' birding up the West Coast.

On his return home Mike very kindly sent me the pick of the many
images taken and this is attached for your visual enjoyment.

OF WADERS, TERNS, FROGS AND TOADS - a West Coast interlude
By Patrick Cardwell - December 2008

Having decided on a purely self-indulgent birding day I set off early yesterday for Eland's Bay with superior views of the Baird's Sandpiper foremost in mind and the possibility of a Sooty Tern sighting as an added inducement.

My time restricted attempt to secure good views of the Baird's was adversely affected last week by a desperately annoying late afternoon sun angle, coupled to the fact that the bird was not foraging about where it was supposed to be, resulting in a scoped sighting at a distance as opposed to an up front and personal view just across the fence at tunnel two !

In this latter regard yesterday's attempt was most successful and extended views in the soft morning light were enjoyed as the Baird's stitched its way back and forth in close proximity along with a goodly mix of resident sandplovers and migrant waders for comparative evaluation.

Add to this clear views of a male Painted Snipe sunning and preening itself at the northern end of the pan and the day for me was certainly off to a good start with a steady stream of typical Strandveld 'ticks' taken along the way.

Shortly afterwards I arrived at the designated Sooty Tern site with my beach umbrella and deck chair in hand along with a strong sense of self-determination to pick up on the target bird even if the quest took the rest of the day. On arrival around 200 Common Terns in adult and juvenile plumage were present, along with a sprinkling of Swift Terns and the odd Sandwich Tern mixed in with cormorants and oystercatchers on the southern fringe. Clearly the roost was filling up fast as terns streamed back to shore in increasing numbers from the fishing grounds.

On the face of it I felt confident that the anticipated 'hit' was imminent as the light was good and the terns were wheeling about the roost at regular intervals in excellent light making it easy to pick out anything aberrant joining the flock.

As the morning wore on, and refreshment levels in my ice box became depleted, so it started to dawn on me that the hoped for big event was unlikely to happen as the thousand plus terns now clearly in evidence seemed finally settled and relaxed minus the Sooty.... So at this juncture I decided to set off in search of fish & chips and a cold beer in the town as my next priority...

On my return to the tern site I met Barry Street and Pat McGuiness following their successful run up to the salt pan in search of the Baird's. They confirmed a no change tern situation following an earlier scan of the roost and decided to set off for CT - a half day plus away by Landy !

In spite of this uninspiring update, I decided to stick it out until late afternoon, but this was not to be following a sudden change in the weather and the arrival of steady rain from the south and a progressive increase in wind velocity.  Clearly the wet weather was here to stay and I too took to the R27 south stopping between heavy showers for a stretch and cup of coffee alongside an expanse of pristine coastal fynbos to the north of Rocher Pan.

This stop proved to be a most memorable experience that had nothing to do with birding. All around every frog and toad in the immediate area had sprung out of torpor to join the expanding chorus line in response to the sudden change in the weather. The din was pronounced and quite varied as the various species tuned into the occasion in the mistaken belief that spring or whatever had sprung in their testosterone besotted minds... It was like an impromptu orchestra with different forms of musical instruments striking up all round me as one response triggered another within the species mix. Over the years as an amateur frogger I have tracked down the odd amphibian, and enjoy the presence of resident clicking frogs around my pond, but never before have I been treated to an amphibian overture of such magnitude !

It was an absolutely delightful interlude and so unexpected as a wildlife bonus that it more than compensated for the long drive north for the Sooty that simply wasn't meant to be on the day. Even so the less than intensive bird count along the R27 was 124. Not too shabby given the time and attention devoted to the two mega targets at Eland's Bay...

Best wishes for Xmas – regards, Patrick


One of Patrick's Top Birding Sites in the Cape Peninsula is Rooi Els, his favourite place to see one of South Africa 's top endemic birds, the endearing Cape Rockjumper . A trip to Rooi Els makes for a great birding day trip out of Cape Town.

View Patrick's article - Responsible birding in Rooi Els.


We are delighted to report that Avian Leisure has been accredited by the Namibian Tourism Board to operate in Namibia .

Have a look at our Jewel of Namib Safari as an example of a fully guided tour that we can put together for a group of people; alternatively a similar tour can be designed as a self drive trip. We also recommend staying in the Wilderness Safaris camps in Namibia to combine a wildlife experience underpinned by truly luxurious accommodations.

2008 also saw us developing more wildlife safaris into Botswana, Zambia and Namibia than before, and in 2009 we are doing our first safari in Tanzania . Be sure to check our Wildlife Safaris Itineraries from time to time for updates to the lodges and destinations that we cover.

ANTARCTICA - CAPE to CAPE 2009: We are privileged to be able to offer a really unique and particularly exciting wildlife experience through our partners Bird Holidays UK: 24 March - 18 April 2009 with the option to take in the ‘ Fairest Cape to the Garden Route ' as an overland birding extension after arriving in Cape Town.

For more info see Cape to Cape Cruise 2009 : for those who want to
experience what must be the ultimate wildlife adventure, ANTARCTICA !

As always our best endorsement is past trips and we have compiled a selection of Trip Reports from 2007 describing sightings and experiences on our fully guided birding tours as well as our safaris and self drive trips.

Click here to go to the Trip Reports


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