South Africa Western Cape 2006 October


2nd Leg Western Cape

Olive Thrushes, Orange-breasted Sunbirds and Other Cape Specials…

12th to 19th October 2006 – Cape Specials with Marius Wheeler

Cape Leg Itinerary

Day Date Hotel/Lodge/etc
14 Cape Town 12th Oct-06 Afton Grove
15 Cape Town 13th Oct-06 Afton Grove
16 Tanqua Karoo 14th Oct-06 Tanqua Guest House
17 Tanqua Karoo 15th Oct-06 Tanqua Guest House
18 Agulhas Plains 16th Oct-06 Honeywood
19 Agulhas Plains 17th Oct-06 Honeywood
20 Cape Town 18th Oct-06 Afton Grove
21 Fly to Durban 19th Oct-06


Notes: All photographs © copyright to Bo Beolens, Brian Anderson and Sue Sayers. Bold numbers in square brackets indicate the route number in Southern Africa Birdfinder. Names highlighted in yellow are eponymous names of birds explained in the addendum.

This leg was led by Marius Wheeler and the participants were Brian & Joanna Anderson, Bo & Maggie Crombet-Beolens and Sue Sayers. Andy Senior had parted company with the rest of the group in Walvis Bay to fly to Johannesburg to meet up with John McAllister. Andy had visited South Africa before so had arranged a much shorter stay with John to try to fill in the gaps of the southern African specials and endemics that he had missed first time around.

Cape Town is an impressive Garden City and the Karoo an amazing arid plain, Agulhas is fecund and wet agricultural land and De Hoop an amazing Fynbos maritime area – the Cape is a remarkable place of great contrasts.

The people are also as varied in this, the Rainbow Nation. We found many people trying to make the new South Africa attain its true potential but also found a number of better off white South Africans whose attitudes towards their fellow citizens of other hues can be a great shock to those of us who find racism frankly obscene. In this and the Eastern leg of our tour we were very saddened that this should still prevail when such magnanimity has been shown by the new power holders.

Marius Wheeler – our Guide

Detailed Daily Diary

Day 14, 12 Oct: Our flight arrived in Cape Town and we transferred to Afton Grove B&B, Noordhoek, on the Cape Peninsula – en route we saw the first feral House Crow as well as all the common birds of the area such as Egyptian Goose, Hadada and Sacred Ibis, Cape Gulls, etc

Afton Grove Guesthouse

After settling in we spent a couple of hours birding along the coast and the Constantia Greenbelt [2] to begin to pick up some of the Cape specials and get our collective ‘eye in’. In the grounds we had already spotted Cape Bulbul and Cape White-eye, Cape Wagtail, Cape Robin, Cape Canary and Pin-tailed Whydah. As we left the guesthouse spotted a Spotted Dikkop [Thicknee] in the grounds of a small workshop a few doors down the road.

We soon picked up Cape Cormorant and Cape Gannet and were lucky to see a Black Sparrowhawk soaring over the seaside cliffs where there were also African Black Swifts and Greater-striped Swallows. Cape Francolins were easy to spot and on the shoreline rocks African Black Oystercatchers probed and above were Hartlaub’s & Cape Gulls and Swift [Greater Crested] Terns. In the scrub areas we found Karoo Prinia and our first stunning Bokmakierie, fleeting glimpse of Malachite, Orange-breasted and Lesser Double-collared Sunbirds.

Afton Grove is a very comfortable guesthouse with spacious rooms [one newly adapted for accessibility] comprising bedroom, bathroom and sitting room/kitchen enabling one to have hot drinks or chilled at any time and to update one’s bird lists in comfort. The dining room [no ramp yet] is also spacious and the food at a very high standard with generous well prepared breakfasts and particularly enjoyable dinners. The gardens are not huge but are bird rich for urban gardens.

Overnight: Afton Grove B&B, Noordhoek, Cape Peninsula

Wheelchair access comments:

This accommodation was of a high standard. Our room – No 11 – was spacious throughout, especially the bathroom, which was well adapted for disabled use. The toilet was slightly high for the level of my wheelchair, but it was generally ok with adequate grab rails. The shower had level access so it was easy to get the wheelchair close to the poolside chair provided for easy transfer. Once again adequate grab rails were provided. The wash basin was at a ‘wheelchair friendly’ height.

The bedroom was a little tight for front-on wheelchair access but quite manageable. The lounge area was very large and main door access was good. The way to the dining room – a short distance – was across grass and down three large steps. The property owners have indicated that they will construct a suitable ramp for use when they have wheelchair guests in the future.

Day 15, 13th Oct: Marius fetched us from Afton Grove at first light and we spent the day visiting some of the Peninsula’s top birding sites. We started with a visit to the Penguin colony at False Bay then moved on to the Botanical Gardens where we took lunch.

The penguin colony must be one of the easiest places to see an endemic in any world city. With the backdrop of the ocean one can also see a variety of passing terns, gulls and other seabirds too.

At ‘Boulders’ one can get up close and personal with these African Penguins and we saw them at every stage of plumage and maturity.

The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens [1] are not only a visual delight for flower lovers but great habitat for many Cape endemics. After walking around near the entrance some of us managed to get one of the tourist golf carts take us to see some of the birds and even managed to persuade the bemused driver to stop so we could see them better.

Here we saw Cape Sugarbirds, Forest Canary, Rameron Pigeon, Sombre Greenbul, Cape Sparrow, and a variety of sunbirds including very good views of Malachite – some of us heard but did not see Knysna Warbler.

Over the mountains were Jackal Buzzard and African Goshawk.

After lunch we did the tourist thing and rode the cable car up to the summit of Table Top to experience the stunning views.

Whilst this was the only time on the entire trip that we did not concentrate on birding we can report that the top of the rock is excellent for close views of Orange-breasted Sunbird; the only other bird we saw at the top was Red-winged Starling. Other taxa were represented by lots of Rock Agamas.

The afternoon was spent at Strandfontein Wastewater Disposal Works – Bird Sanctuary [7]where we caught up with a lot of wildfowl species and waders and a number of waterside passerines. Our guide happens to be very fond of waterfowl and has been responsible for their counts as he works for the Avian Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town.

We spent several hours at this large complex of pools. The reedy margins and tall weedy banks held Levaillant’s Cisticola, Karoo Prinia and Cape Reed Warblers [now Lesser Swamp Warbler] and Cape Turtle Doves. The big attraction here though is the incredible variety of waterfowl but we also saw Black-necked, Little and Great-crested Grebes, African Darter, Grey, Black-headed and Purple Heron, Great, Yellow-billed and Little Egret, and Black-crowned Night Heron, Sacred, Glossy & Hadada Ibis and Greater Flamingo, Great White Pelican, African Purple Swamphen, Red-knobbed Coot and Common Moorhen as well as African Marsh Harrier, the ubiquitous Yellow-billed Kite, African Fish Eagle and Black-shouldered Kite. The waterfowl included South African Shelduck, Yellow-billed Duck, Cape and Red-billed Teal, Cape Shoveler, Southern Pochard, Maccoa Duck, and Spur-winged Goose. Waders were mostly familiar species or ones seen in Namibia.

Overnight: Afton Grove B&B, Noordhoek, Cape Peninsula.

Day 16, 14th Oct: We started out early leaving the Cape Peninsula towards Ceres, the gateway to the Karoo [33-35]. Incidentally, the Karoo happens to be one of the greatest endemic hotspots on the entire African continent.

Our route to Ceres took us through the Bains’ Kloof Pass an exciting drive gaining altitude with each kilometre and affording some wonderful views of the southern part of the Western Cape Province. We stopped wherever we could to look for birds the pick of the bunch being Malachite and Collared Sunbirds, Cape Sugarbirds, Canaries and our first Neddicky and Cape Grassbirds. The wooded slopes also held Cape & Yellow Canaries and Cape White-eyes.

Maggie just manages to scramble back to safety…

A great spot for Grassbird, Neddicky, Sugarbird, Malachite Sunbird and Yellow Canary

The pass marks a real change in flora and climate with it being much drier on the northern side and agricultural land makes way for rock areas of Fynbos. Here the avifauna changed too and we started to look for some of the very special birds of the area. A number of stops produced our first Ground Woodpecker, and Cape Rockthrush and Cape Buntings.

We stopped in Ceres for a comfort break before moving on again into the dry plains of the Karoo. Just outside of Ceres was a small wetland and lake with plenty of waterfowl but also nesting Southern Red Bishops with Cape and Masked Weavers many displaying their breeding finery as well as seeing our first Pied Starlings nearby.

As we entered the Karoo we stopped at a picnic site to eat our packed lunch which had been supplied by Afton Grove – worth a mention as it was extremely tasty! Beneath a concrete bench was one of the biggest moths seen on the entire southern African sojourn! Apart from the Cape and House Sparrows our lunch was enhanced by Grey-backed Cisticolas and Fiscal Flycatchers.

We spent the whole afternoon slowly driving across the Karoo towards Tanqua Guesthouse where we stayed the night… literally miles from anywhere being 140km from Ceres – the nearest town! In the dry landscape we were ever watchful for Bustards and Coursers, Sandgrouse and Larks, Pipits and Chats although birds of prey were thin on the ground with Pale Chanting Goshawk being the commonest. We were not disappointed! Soon we had our first Ludwig’s Bustard and, eventually, Burchell’s Courser – a much coveted tick!.

Tanqua Karoo Guesthouse is 140km from Ceres

Before long we had not only seen Namaqua Doves but also Namaqua Sandgrouse too.

Driving and stopping frequently to quiz cryptic larks needs a lot of concentration and the heat was sapping of one’s energy too as it rose into the mid forties centigrade. Nevertheless, before we reached our accommodation, we had clocked up Spike-heeled, Red-capped and Thick-billed Larks as well as both Grey-backed and Black-eared Finchlarks. Furthermore, we had also added Capped Wheatear and Familiar, Tractrac, Sickle-winged and Karoo Chats as well as Grey-backed Cisticola and Fiscal Flycatcher.

Overnight: Tanqua Guesthouse

Wheelchair access comments:

This was a separate building situated about a 100-yards from the main one. It provided for a self-catering environment and had three bedrooms. Our bedroom had a double bed and a single one. For me the doubled bed was too high and the single one was too low. I opted for the single bed. This proved to be soft and difficult to move in but I managed to sleep through the night even though it was very hot

The bathroom had no door so discreet toileting was difficult. The toilet itself was approachable for me only sideways on and was, thereby, very difficult to get on and off; there were no grab rails. The wash basin was ok but a little high and did not allow a close approach because it had a boxed cupboard underneath. There was also a bath which was very deep. This was a problem for me as I could have got in it, but I would have been unable to climb out.

The door to the shower had been removed for me, but I still felt unsure about using it because of the need to transfer over a wide gap, so I didn’t. It was not adapted in any way for disabled use

Corn Crickets

Tanqua Guesthouse was a very interesting mixture. The building itself is very imposing in its isolation and virtually windowless exterior – it is built around a large inner courtyard with a small swimming pool and bar-b-q area with a huge, high-ceilinged living/dining room where the owner cooks extraordinary meals. She says her hobby and pleasure is in cooking and it is certainly first rate despite the fact that it must be a nightmare to get fresh ingredients so far from the nearest store. Having one’s own airstrip may help with this as does the frequent lunch time visits by the local flying club members.

The outlying accommodation is well appointed [and pretty accessible] but has one huge drawback – the power is turned off from 2100 hours until 0600 hours daily. The problem for guests is that they must either broil in the immense heat the building accumulates or open all the windows to allow the desert breezes through but then suffer the company of whatever such breezes bring.

Our stay coincided on the first night with a corn cricket hatch – these beasties are around three or four inches long and rather prehistoric in appearance. Our second night coincided with a moth hatch and we watched hundreds of moths suicide around Tanqua’s lighting. Two of the party [me being the principle one] simply could not cope with the heat and were, fortunately, moved into a room in the main house where the power stayed on all night and the mosquito nets allowed through all the breeze from two fans and no moths or other bugs.

Day 17, 15th Oct: Some of us went out before breakfast to the dam on the property to look for some of the special birds which take advantage of the year round water and lush growth. The area was alive with newly arrived European Bee-eaters as we drove through the small area of fertile land near the dam. We drove along the dam wall to see South African Shelduck and grebes in the dam as well as Pied Kingfisher and, in the small wetland below the dam wall other waterfowl and reed-loving species such as weavers and bishops. We searched the area in pursuit of the elusive Namaqua Warbler which we did manage to see in the wetland scrub – rare and elusive it may be but was perhaps the least colourful bird of the tour! Here too were Grassveld Pipit, Fiscal Shrike and Bokmakerie and Streaky-headed Canary. On our way back to breakfast we stopped to watch a Puff Adder slowly make its way across the road – fascinating and beautiful but a personal fear of mine.

After breakfast we took the later risers for a quick turn around the same area so that they could catch up with us and we added a few other species such as African Hoopoe and both Kittlitz’s and Three-banded Plover.

We spent the entire rest of the day birding the Karoo going as far as the new HQ of the Tankwa Karoo National Park [31]. Even those of us normally immune to deviating from the birding quest acknowledged that the totally unique flora was strange and fascinating.

As we headed onto the vast flat plains in search of Karoo Korhaan, we once again saw may chat and lark species including Tractrac Chat, Sickle-winged Chat, Karoo Chat, and our first Karoo Robin. Larks included Karoo, Cape Clapper, Spike-heeled, Red-capped and Thick-billed Lark, Karoo Long-billed Lark, Southern Large-billed Lark, Spike-heeled Lark and Lark-like Bunting as well as both Black-eared and Grey-backed Finchlarks. Small water tanks proved particularly good and several such vicinities held breeding birds as we were occasionally thrown by immature birds such as Southern Boubou. One river bed which was not quite dry attracted Pearl-breasted Swallows and White-backed Mousebirds.

We were lucky enough to eventually locate Karoo Korhaan. During the drive we also connected with our first Booted Eagle in South Africa.

At Tankwa Karoo HQ we ate our [very impressive] packed lunch having used the brand new ‘facilities’. Whilst we did so a Lesser Honeyguide called constantly from a tree overhead and we eventually managed to locate it and get reasonable views. Here too another Hoopoe called all the time and some of us managed a glimpse. Around the new buildings were Cape, House and Southern Grey-headed Sparrows.

We spent the afternoon working our way back to base in search of more specials and managed, eventually, to get a glimpse or two of Karoo Eremomela and very good views of Rufous-eared Warbler and Layard’s Tit-babbler.

Overnight: Tanqua Guesthouse

Day 18, 16th Oct: A look at a map of South Africa might lead you to believe that the Agulhas plain [or Overberg Region] is only a short distance from the Karoo – in fact it is a long drive which took us all day, albeit a drive often interrupted by stops to look at birds.

We had to retrace our steps to Ceres [where we lunched in the main shopping area] before taking a different pass to the coastal plains.

The Karoo still held good birds for us including a group of no less than 6 Ludwig’s Bustards. We also saw lots of Ostriches – although it was not always clear whether they were farmed, wild or feral birds. We also saw our first Steppe Buzzard of the trip and these became familiar sights throughout South Africa.

Halfway between Tanqua Karoo and Ceres we stopped at Skitterykloof Pass and followed a small tarmac road to a pull off where there were bushes and, in the background a hidden pool. This was an excellent place for birds and we saw Mountain Chat, Long-billed Crombec, Pririt Batis, Fairy Flycatcher, Brimstone Canary & Pied Barbet as well as a Grey Heron and some Cattle Egrets and other common species.

En route after we passed back into the lusher agricultural lands we began to come upon small parties of Blue Cranes – very beautiful if rather oddly shaped.

We arrived at Honeywood in fine penetrating rain and unloaded. There was enough light to look for birds from the veranda although there were not very many about and most were heard but we did clock up a Black Sparrowhawk that drifted over the trees behind the Lodge. We also heard the plaintive and frankly annoying call of the Red-chested Cuckoo saying “it will rain’ over and over again for the next two days… by the time we left there were three birds calling.

Honeywood Farm was a strange mixture. The setting gives great views over the valley but one has to appreciate that the lush vegetation needs rain to grow and boy did it show us it could rain. We were put in what had been the main house years before which had a kitchen and large sitting room with an open fire with a poorly constructed flue so that smoke invaded the room. The bedrooms were a mixture, one had an en suite toilet but no bathroom. Opposite the other rooms at the other end of the house were a bathroom and a shower room but the lack of locks meant we had to have a convention of closed doors in occupation, open ones when free… a feature we coped with OK but one that will be off putting, particularly for some mixed sex groups.

The rooms were comfortable and the kitchen made it easy to make tea and coffee etc. However, one either had to brave a slippery grassy slope to enter through the French doors or somehow get a wheelchair down a steep flight of 7 or 8 steps!

The grounds were difficult to traverse in the wet and would not have been easy even when dry. It was necessary to drive to the dining room in the main owners’ residence.

Sumptuous meals were had with breakfast being particularly appreciated with the freshest honey from the thousand hives kept in the area! Wine and other drinks could be had with meals for a ‘donation’ – an artifice to get around not being licensed and actually making the process a bit embarrassing. As a vegetarian I was pretty unimpressed with the dinners.

Laundry was done by members of the staff which is always handy for travellers and this too was for a donation ‘to the girls’ meaning the adult black staff members – the suggested [by the owners] donation was so paltry that we immediately quadrupled it and still felt we had the best of the deal.

It is worth mentioning here that a patronising or even downright hostile attitude from whites to blacks is still something we came across a lot in South Africa. For someone whose student days were often spent on Anti-Apartheid marches this does not sit well. I was pleased to see that most young people seemed not to retain this attitude but it did at times make one uncomfortable. Lucky for us our guide Marius Wheeler was of a generation that has transcended this nonsense as had Chris Lotz who guided the first leg of the tour.

Another aspect of the trip worth a mention is the habit of B&B and Guesthouse owners to join guests for meals. Many people really enjoy this whilst others find it intrusive. Our group was split with some feeling this was part of getting to know the country and others feeling that they would like to just spend the time with other members of the group, especially when there was very little time to relax on the trip. I was one of those who much preferred not to be ‘en famille’ but later in the trip I much enjoyed meeting some other guests so can see both points of view.

Overnight: Honeywood Farm, Grootvadersbosch, Agulhas Plains.

Wheelchair access comments:

The farm accommodation was spacious and our bedroom was large with plenty of room to get round the large double bed. In our part of the building there was a bathroom without a toilet, a shower room with a toilet both of which were used communally. This worked out ok but the bathroom with the toilet could not be locked. The wash basin and toilet were manageable. The toilet had no grab rails. Once again the bath was too deep for me.

The accommodation had a log fire and a large kitchen area for making tea/coffee. To get in and out of the building I had to be lifted up seven large steps, and Joanna had to have a little help because of no banister rail. So access in and out of the building was very difficult. It was possibly to be pushed along a grass area to the rear of the building, but this proved to be unsuitable because on the day it was very wet and the wheels of the chair got very muddy, so the option of being carried up and down the stairs was easier.

Day 19, 17th Oct: The entire day was spent birding the Agulhas Plains [36] culminating in a visit to De Hoop nature reserve for lunch then following the loop back to base. Being the stronghold of the world’s Blue Crane (South Africa’s national bird) population and we saw many of this species.

Early on just after turning on to the Buffelsjag to Malagas road, we stopped to look for larks. We were lucky that many were displaying and we saw numerous species of larks including two extremely localized lark species Aghulas Long-billed & Aghulas Clapper Lark, as well as Red-capped and Large-billed Lark. Here we also saw Cloud and Grey-backed Cisticola and Bar-throated Apalis for the first time and our guide flushed Common Quail; a brave move considering the other local fauna.

We saw a pair of Southern Black Korhaan on the road between Buffelsjag and Malagas; it was pouring with rain and they were in a field hiding behind small bushes. We then made our way to Malagas where we crossed the Breede River via the hand drawn pontoon ferry.

Between Malagas and De Hoop we travelled across the agricultural landscape and were very lucky that a Cape Vulture flew low right across the road in front of us and we could stop and get great views. [This area is just next to the Potberg Mountain, where the Cape Vulture Colony is situated].

We reached De Hoop in time to enjoy our packed lunch which we shared with Weavers, Francolins and a Southern Boubou and were entertained by other birds around us including Hoopoe, Bokmakarie, Water Dikkop [Thicknee] and others. On our way on to the reserve we saw a variety of mammals such as Bontebok, Springbok and Cape Mountain Zebra. Overhead we saw our first White-throated Swallows. We searched the cliff top for other species and scoped the lagoon where Pelicans, Spoonbill, Herons, Egrets and many waterfowl fed. Here we also saw Long-billed Pipit.

The de Hoop Nature Reserve [37] is one of the best places to see the stunning, endangered, endemic Black Harrier, which quarters low over the coastal Fynbos. We were extremely lucky to see two different birds.

The main target for the drive home was Denham’s Bustard which we got decent views of too, then took the road from the reserve back to Swellendam. Here too we saw Grey-winged Francolins.

In the late afternoon the weather got much worse as we climbed back from sea-level to the hills surrounding Honeywood farm and, not far from base we had to take a three quarter of an hour detour all the way to Heidelberg to avoid two washed-out roads but managed to arrive safe and sound.

De Hoop Nature Reserve & Marine Protected Area

Overnight: Honeywood Farm, Grootvadersbosch, Agulhas Plains.

Day 20, 18th Oct: Today we embarked on yet another spectacularly scenic drive back to Cape Town, but we started by looking in on the Groodvadersbosch Nature Reserve close to Honeywood Farm. Despite wet weather and not being able to walk into the reserve we did manage some very special species including Knysna Warbler, [down to four feet making this otherwise unremarkable warbler very special] Dusky Flycatcher, Chorister Robin, Swee Waxbill as well as more familiar species like Olive Thrush and Cape Robin. We dipped on Cape Batis as we had the previous day although it was heard on both occasions by our guide.

Our main target on the return journey was to try and see Cape Rockjumper so we took the main road (N2) back towards Cape Town, but we turned off at a small town called Botrivier and went towards Kleinmond / Rooi Els [12]. Here we searched in vain at a number of sites for Cape Rockjumper but did hear Victorin’s Warbler singing from the side of the stream – but we did not manage a view of this notorious skulker. While looking for the rockjumper, we also found Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Rock-thrush and Ground Woodpecker. We had lunch in Rooi Els.

We ended the day with further spectacular driving along the False Bay coast, until we reached Afton Grove B&B again. We managed to spot Southern Right Whale at Gordon’s Bay and pull over to get excellent views of three whales and a number of Cape Fur Seals.

Overnight: Afton Grove B&B, Noordhoek, Cape Peninsula.

Day 21, 19th Oct: Early morning we transferred to Cape Town airport for our flight to Durban via a very enjoyable scenic drive.

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