A detailed trip itinerary was specifically tailored in response to a target-related species list for a group of four highly enthusiastic Norwegian birders comprising of Rune Botnermyr, Arild Hansen, Birger Olsen and Rune Wiggen.
278 sightings were recorded, with most species photographed along the way for the digital record, out of a potential of 316 (note 1). Ratio of achievement represented an 88% success rate in spite of adverse windy weather on two days of the 14 day trip.
ROUTING AND DAILY HIGHLIGHT SUMMARY
DAY 1 (2ND October) Simon’s Town and the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve
A mini-bus as the vehicle of choice was collected on arrival at Cape Town International Airport ahead of the link-up at ‘Avian Leisure’ in Simon’s Town early in the afternoon following a midday domestic flight from Johannesburg.
Birding commenced immediately in the indigenous garden of this ‘dedicated birding base’ situated directly above the Boulder’s Coastal Park, home to the endangered African Penguin, and 10mins drive away from the scenically impressive Cape of Good Hope National Park located on the south western tip of the African continent.
Key species within the endemic mix recorded that afternoon included Cape Sugarbird, Cape Bulbul, Cape White-eye, Southern Boubou, Cape Canary, Cape Spurfowl, Hartlaub’s Gull, Cape Cormorant, Cape Siskin, Karoo (Spotted) Prinia, Southern Double-collared and Orange-breasted Sunbird.
DAY 2 & 3 (3rd & 4th October) Atlantic West Coast and Langebaan Lagoon
Route for the two day West Coast excursion, following an early start to avoid the heavy inflow of rush hour traffic into Cape Town, followed the Atlantic seaboard northwards to the West Coast National Park, with birding stops along the way for certain localised species. Weather conditions and tide tables for the Langebaan Lagoon proved ideal for the two day trip, with over 150 species recorded, including several key endemics such as Crowned Cormorant, Grey-winged Francolin, Southern Black Korhaan, Blue Crane, Black Harrier, Ant-eating and Sickle-winged Chat, Cape Long-billed and Large-billed Lark, Cape Longclaw, White-backed Mousebird, Pied Starling, Grey Tit, Karoo Scrub Robin and Jackal Buzzard.
Near-endemics recorded were equally impressive with Chestnut-banded Plover, Acacia Pied Barbet, Cape Bunting, Yellow and White-throated Canary, Cloud and Grey-backed Cisticola, African Snipe, African Black Oystercatcher, Cape Sparrow, Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark and Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler added to the list along with a highly representative selection of the in-bound summer migrant list of shorebirds and hundreds of Lesser and Greater Flamingos strutting about on the tidal salt-flats. A single Antarctic Tern within a mixed tern roost was also recorded along with a pair of Secretarybirds striding purposely across a recently harvested wheat land.
DAY 4 ( 5TH October) Pelagic Trip (1)
A pelagic trip out of Hout Bay on ‘Obsession’generated a near record of seven albatross species, including three ‘white-backs’, in the form of Northern and Southern Royal and a Wandering Albatross, as the unquestionable mega-highlight experience for all on the day. Time of year coincided perfectly with the northbound migration of Black-bellied Storm Petrels, with over 100 individuals recorded, along with occasional sightings of Soft-plumaged Petrel and Great-winged Petrel careening past in towering flight. The pin-wheeling mix of pelagic seabirds orbiting the boat included Shy and Black-browed Albatross, Northern and Southern Giant Petrel, Indian and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, White-chinned and Pintado Petrel, Sooty and Great Shearwater along with numerous sightings of Wilson’s Storm Petrel weaving and fluttering about energetically above the wake.
DAY 5 ( 6TH October) Greater Cape Peninsula and Paarl Bird Sanctuary
As a backup pelagic weather day the programme embraced a number of local birding sites in the Cape Peninsula and further afield in the Paarl area to provide for maximum variety in spite of a rapid overnight deterioration in the weekend weather pattern. Highlight species on the day included Black and Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk, African Black Duck, Three-banded Plover, Cape Batis, Malachite Sunbird, Grey-headed Gull, Pin-tailed Whydah, Black Saw-wing and a surprise sighting of a well out-of-range pair of Fulvous Tree Ducks on a settling pond at the Paarl Bird Sanctuary.
DAY 6 ( 7th October) South Coast and De Hoop Nature Reserve
Another early start was called for to make the best of the day in spite of the gale force south easterly wind now blowing aggressively across False Bay. Downdrafts and gusting winds in the Rooi Els area put paid to the Cape Rockjumper quest, as our birding objective for the day, and we headed further east in the hope of calmer weather, having secured Ground Woodpecker as a ‘lucky’ sighting in the lee of a cliff face. Good sightings of Bank Cormorant in comparative association with Cape Cormorant followed at Betty’s Bay, before heading off to the De Hoop Nature Reserve as our overnight stop. As predicted the wind moderated later in the day much to our birding relief. Agulhas Long-billed Lark was successfully located at a reliable site along with a male Denham’s Bustard in full display mode.
Increasing numbers of Blue Crane, South Africa’s national bird, were encountered on the way to the reserve. Other highlights included a Jackal Buzzard on a nest in a tree and several Cape Vultures spiralling lazily above us and later in the day two Martial Eagles interacting in pseudo-courtship display flight low overhead. A female Black Cuckoo Shrike foraging for caterpillars in a roadside bush was a surprise sighting well west of its normal range. At dusk Fiery-necked Nightjar and Western Barn Owl were heard calling and seen on the wing in the vicinity of the old farmhouse to bring another great birding day to a close.
DAY 7 (8th Oct) Agulhas Plain to Grootvadersbosch Forest Reserve
A pre-breakfast bird walk produced repetitive sightings of the normally secretive Southern Tchagra, attending to recently fledged young, as an excellent start to the day. This was followed with good views of Olive Woodpecker, Cape Siskin, Black and Klaas’s Cuckoo, Brimstone Canary, African Hoopoe, Bokmakierie, Grey-headed Sparrow and Swee Waxbill at De Hoop before heading across the barren coastal plain to the Grootvadersbosch Forest Reserve situated on the flanks of the Langeberg Mountains.
This is an area of higher than average rainfall, making for an extremely lush habitat, rich in some of the country’s most sought after forest birds. In this regard we were not to be disappointed with crimson flowering coral trees ( Erythrina) attracting Amethyst and Greater Double-collared Sunbird. Flocks of Olive Pigeon were foraging actively in fruiting stands of bug-weed ( Solanum) along the forest edge. Olive Bush Shrike and Southern Boubou competed for vocal attention with Bar-throated Apalis along the forest fringe. Other sightings during the two day stay included prolonged views of a magnificent Crowned Eagle, circling leisurely above the indigenous forest and a brief but lucky sighting of a single and ultra-shy Tambourine Dove as it flushed from a castor oil bush on the roadside verge. Other sightings included Hamerkop, Secretarybird, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Red-chested Cuckoo, Terrestrial Brownbul, Olive and repetitive views of highly sought after Knysna Woodpecker, Forest and Streaky-headed Canary, Cape Batis, Paradise Flycatcher, Fork-tailed Drongo, Neddicky and best of all – the often vocal but seldom seen Knysna Scrub Warbler as it foraged about with rodent-like intent in the gloom of the streamside undergrowth.
DAY 8 & 9 (9th & 10th October) Tankwa Karoo
After breakfast the route for the day took us along the scenic Cape Folded Mountain range and into the semi-arid Tanqua Karoo that lies in the rain shadow of the Cedarberg Mountain range. This unique area of mixed succulent and scrub habitat criss-crossed by dry acacia choked drainage lines supports a wide variety of endemic ‘dry country’ birds making it a ‘must do’ destination for any serious birder visiting the Cape. In spite of its apparent uniformity the target birds are widely dispersed throughout a matrix of micro-habitats within a seemingly endless and daunting expanse of open plains and flat- topped hills that seem to stretch to infinity. Furthermore many of the resident species are cryptically coloured making ease of location difficult within the seemingly vast array of beige and sepia shades associated with the soil type and varied foliage within the vegetation mix. Nevertheless, due diligence and a systematic search produced excellent sightings of nearly all the species resident in the southern sector of the Tanqua Karoo. These included a number of sought after endemics including Ludwig’s Bustard, Karoo Korhaan, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Greater Kestrel, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Karoo and Trac Trac Chat, Large-billed and Karoo Lark, Black-eared and Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark, Spike-heeled and Red-capped Lark, Yellow and White-throated Canary, Rufous-eared Warbler and Karoo Green Eremomela. Acacia thickets along the non-perennial drainage lines produced Namaqua and African Reed Warbler, Karoo Thrush and Pririt Batis while rocky outcrops along the foothills of the Cedarberg Mountains provided views of Fairy Flycatcher, Layard’s Tit-babbler, Black-headed Canary, Southern Double-collared and Malachite Sunbird, Cape Bunting, Long-billed Pipit and Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. Raptors were well represented in the form of Black and Booted Eagle, African Fish Eagle, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Jackal Buzzard, Greater and Rock (Common) Kestrel, Black Harrier and Lanner Falcon. Rufous-cheeked Nightjar (heard), Spotted Eagle Owl, Spotted Thick-knee and Western Barn Owl were also recorded along the dry acacia drainage lines of the open plain at dusk.
DAY 10 (11TH October) Ceres to Simon’s Town
An early start produced Protea Canary in the Protea belt above Ceres, as well as good views of Booted and Black Eagle above Bain’s Kloof on the way to Wellington, followed by a brief stop at the Paarl Bird Sanctuary for Malachite Kingfisher and Lesser Swamp Warbler before heading back to ‘Avian Leisure’ in Simon’s Town for the night.
DAY 11 ( 12TH October) Simon’s Town and Tokai Forest
Adverse weather conditions and rough seas off Cape Point resulted in the planned pelagic trip out of Simon’s Town being postponed to the following day. Due to high winds and driving rain in the South Peninsula the more sheltered Tokai Forest was visited in the afternoon where repetitive views of Forest Buzzard in association with Booted Eagle and Yellow-billed Kites were obtained as they circled above the forest canopy. For the rest Cape Sugarbirds and Orange-breasted Sunbirds in association with Speckled Mousebirds and Cape Bulbuls provided close-up photographic opportunities in the indigenous garden at ‘Avian Leisure’, along with a ‘bonus’ sighting of African Porcupine at dusk below the viewing deck.
DAY 12 (13TH October) Pelagic Trip (2)
This second pelagic trip off Cape Point was on ‘Zest’ and proved to be another memorable day at sea with several ‘white-backed’ albatross sightings once again as a bonus, including Northern and Southern Royal Albatross, as well as Wandering Albatross. Additions to the previous pelagic trip out of Hout Bay were Arctic Tern, Pomarine Jaeger, Manx Shearwater and European Storm Petrel as well as Southern Right Whale sightings in False Bay along with Cape Fur Seals on the way back to port.
DAY 13 (14th October) Hottentots Holland Mountains
With the weather having settled somewhat it was time to return to the east side of False Bay to recommence our search for Cape Rockjumper, as the prime target, that was missed on the previous occasion due to high winds. This time the search was successful with Cape Rock Thrush being added to the list, as well as the highly sought after Hottentot Button Quail later in the morning. Good sightings of Victorin’s Warbler and Denham’s Bustard rounded off the day with Yellow-billed (Intermediate) Egret the last new bird for the trip.
DAY 14 ( 15th October) Simon’s Town to Cape Town International Airport
Day of departure at midday after a final morning of garden bird photography and an unsuccessful attempt to add House Crow to the list in the wake of the successful eradication programme in the airport industrial area.
Note 1. This figure was arrived at after deducting mid-summer migrants still due to arrive in the Western Cape and erroneous input data relating to distribution maps and ‘vagrant’ species of rarity category worth.
COMMENTS from the group leader, Rune Botnermyr:
Definitive the best Birding trip I ever been to. Better than Spain, Turkey, Israel, Kazakstan, Russian Far East, Oman, China, India, Malaysia, Australia, California, Eastern USA, Mexico, Marocco, Gambia/Senegal…. and definitely a place I would like to come back to.
What contributed to this tour exceeding your expectations? The overall experience. The fact that everything exceeded our expectations. Lucky pelagic trips. Friendly people. Fine nature. Loads of good birds., mammals reptiles etc. Great company in Patrick on our out of town trips. Good food and drinks and much more….
Marie-Louise and Patrick had organized a great tour witch took us to all the sites and habitats we wanted to visit. The planning was perfect, and the accommodations were great. Especially the Shearwater apartment. The birding was a success with a total of 278 species. All the birds in our target list (that was accessible) and an impressive 60 out of 61 true endemics in the Western Cape! “Dreambirds” like Wandering Albatross, Secretarybird, Crowned Eagle, Black Harrier and Cape Rockjumper were all seen well.
Patrick provided us with excellent guiding, safe driving (in the “wrong” side of the road), and great company. His enthusiasm and knowledge of nature is priceless, and he knows exactly where to search for the hard species.
Thank you for booking us on a spectacular pelagic trip, and for all the personal extra service. This birding tour in the Western Cape exceeded our expectations. In fact, this was the best birding tour we ever took part in.
Your company will be highly recommended, and we will be happy to return to explore other parts of South Africa with Avian Leisure.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
All in all a combination of diverse habitat types, supporting a unique suite of highly localised bird species, including all of the local endemics found in the South Western Cape, collectively added up to a highly engaging and rewarding birding experience of the most memorable birding kind with 277 species seen and many photographed as the final count for the trip.
Details of the comprehensive sightings list is available on request from Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org
This trip was led by Patrick Cardwell of Avian Leisure.