South Africa - Western Cape Birding and Wildlife Tour - September 2008

Published by Lawson's Birding (leon AT


Photos with this report (click to enlarge)

Shy Albatross
Shy Albatross

Tour Summary

Tour Participants:
Margaret Alderson Mark Bell
John Brown Jean Buckshaw
Claire Joures Amy Leadbetter
Brian Lythgoe Christine Oldfield
Tony O’ Neil Donald Ross
Brenda Webb

Specialist Tour Leaders: Leon Marais and Ian Mileham

Ground Operators:
Lawson’s Birding and Wildlife Tours
Nelspruit, South Africa
Ph: +27 (0)13 741 2458
Fax: +27 (0)13 741 3689

Photo Acknowledgments: Leon Marais

Total Distance Travelled: 1716 km

Temperature Range: 9°C - 27°C

Total Number of Birds Seen: 214

Total Number of Mammals Seen: 18

Trip Report Compiled By:
Leon Marais on behalf of Naturetrek

The species mentioned in the report are only some of the species seen at each locality. Please refer to detailed checklists at end of report as to all species seen on this specific tour.

Trip Breakdown

Day 1: Friday, 26th September 2008 ~ Cape Peninsula
Route: CT International Airport to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
Distance: 50 km
Weather: cool and breezy, heavy cloud but no rain
Temperature range: 9 – 18 ºC

Day 2: Saturday, 27th September 2008 ~ Afton Grove, Simons Town
Route: Simon’s Town, Boulder’s Beach and Cape Point Nature Reserve (part of Table Mountain National Park).
Distance: 89km
Weather: sunny and cool
Temperature range: 10 – 19 ºC

Day 3: Sunday, 28th September 2008 ~ Cape Peninsula
Route: pelagic trip in the morning; Kommetjie in the afternoon.
Distance: 40km
Weather: sunny and warm
Temperature range: 12 – 22 ºC

Day 4: Monday, 29th September 2008 ~ Cape Peninsula
Route: Noordhoek to Koeberg Nature Reserve; Durbanville Hills back to Noordhoek
Distance: 176.5 km
Weather: cool and windy with rain
Temperature range: 10 – 15 ºC

Day 5: Tuesday, 30th September 2008 ~ Hermanus
Route: Strandfontein Sewage Works; Rooi Els, Harold Porter Botanical Gardens, Hermanus.
Distance: 180 km
Weather: cool and cloudy to start, clearing in the afternoon
Temperature range: 10 – 22 ºC

Day 6: Wednesday, 1st October 2008 ~ Hermanus
Route: cliff path walk before breakfast; drive to Caledon via Hemel-en-Aarde Valley
Distance: 136 km
Weather: partly cloudy and cool
Temperature range: 10 – 19 ºC

Day 7: Thursday, 2nd October 2008 ~ Swellendam
Route: Hermanus to Swellendam to Bontebok National Park
Distance: 178 km
Weather: cold and windy with rain, some sun in the afternoon.
Temperature range: 9 – 14 ºC

Day 8: Friday, 3rd October 2008 ~ Swellendam
Route: Swellendam to De Hoop Nature Reserve
Distance: 190 km
Weather: partly cloudy and cool
Temperature range: 10 – 20 ºC

Day 9: Saturday, 4th October 2008 ~ Ceres
Route: Swellendam to Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve; Ceres via Robertson.
Distance: 293 km
Weather: clear and warm
Temperature range: 12 – 23 ºC

Day 10: Sunday, 5th October 2008 ~ Ceres
Route: Ceres to Skitterykloof in the Tankwa Karoo
Distance: 198 km
Weather: sunny and clear, with a cool breeze
Temperature range: 9 – 22 ºC

Day 11: Monday, 6th October 2008 ~ Departure
Route: Ceres to Cape Town International Airport via Bainskloof Pass and Paarl Bird Sanctuary.
Distance: 185 km
Weather: warm and clear
Temperature range: 13 – 26 ºC


Day 1: Friday, 26th September 2008 ~ Afton Grove

The group arrived early on Friday morning and soon we were on our way out of the airport, heading towards the iconic chunk of granite and sandstone known as Table Mountain. We skirted around the eastern side of the mountain and made our way to the famous Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. Here we got ourselves organised and ready for our first taste of Western Cape birding and forged on into the expansive gardens. The weather was mediocre; quite cool and cloudy but at least not raining! Making our way uphill we were dazzled by the variety of plants, and recorded the first birds such as Cape Turtle Dove, Cape Francolin, Helmeted Guineafowl, Cape Bulbul, Olive Thrush, Cape Robin-Chat, Karoo Prinia, Dusky Flycatcher, Southern Boubou, Forest Canary and Spotted Eagle Owl (not a bad start!). Higher up in the Protea / Leucodendron section we had some dazzling sunbird sightings, which included close-up views of Malachite Sunbird as well as the endemic Orange-Breasted and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds. We then had a wonderful lunch at the restaurant and some time in the shop before heading on to the village of Noordhoek where our guest house for the next four nights awaited. Surprisingly there was still energy to spare and as a last activity for the day we took a stroll around the wetlands across the road from the guesthouse, where we recorded Cape and Hartlaub’s Gulls, Red-knobbed Coot, Common Fiscal, Speckled Pigeon and a few other species for the day. Later we met to fill in the first day’s log and discuss the following day’s plans before enjoying a wonderful dinner and some well-deserved rest.

Daily Total: 41
Trip Total: 41
Bird of the day: Spotted Eagle Owl

Day 2: Saturday, 27th September 2008 ~ Cape Peninsula

Day 2 dawned as fair and mild as it can get in the Cape, heralding two days of absolutely perfect weather. We began with an early breakfast and afterwards boarded the vehicles for a day of touring and birding on the Peninsula. Close to Simon’s Town we had our first views of what would be the most common mammal seen on the trip – the Southern Right Whale, several of which were resting in shallow water less than 100 yards from the shore. Our next stop was at the Boulder’s Beach African Penguin colony (left), the biggest of only two mainland nesting colonies, where of course we had plenty of close-up views of this endemic marine bird. Also visible were Cape and Hartlaub’s Gulls, as well as huge flocks of Cape Cormorants flying across False Bay in the direction of the open sea.

Moving on we drove south towards Cape Point, with wonderful views of False Bay on our left. At Cape Point Nature Reserve we took it slow and began some serious birding, recording Common Ostrich, Yellow Bishop, Cape Sugarbird, Malachite Sunbird, Black-headed Heron, Jackal Buzzard, Rock Kestrel, African Black Oystercatcher, Cape Gannet, Rock Martin, White-necked Raven, Cape Grassbird, Zitting and Grey Backed Cisticolas, Cape Longclaw, Bokmakierie, Red-winged Starling, Common Waxbill, Cape Siskin, Cape Bunting and others as birds for the day. At Cape Point itself we had lunch in the Two Oceans Restaurant and then took a trip up the funicular to the lighthouse right on the point. From here we had stunning views of False Bay and the Atlantic Ocean to the south, and spotted a Southern Right Whale and an Ocean Sunfish (probably Mola mola, a species which currently holds the record weight for bony fish). We then headed back down to the cars and drove on to the Cape of Good Hope, which forms the most south-western point on the African continent. Here we set up the scopes and spent some time searching for marine birds before heading back to Noordhoek for some relaxation after a superb day. In the early evening we then met up for drinks and the day’s list before a wonderful dinner at the guest house.

Daily Total: 45
New Birds: 24
Trip Total: 65
Bird of the day: Cape Sugarbird.

Day 3: Sunday, 28th September 2008 ~ Cape Peninsula

We awoke primed for our big day: the pelagic birding trip. Thankfully the weather played along and it was as good a day as one can get in the Cape. We met the boat, the Blue Pointer, at Simon’s Town and were soon heading out past the navy ships into the waters of False Bay. We passed several Southern Right Whales and managed to spot Bank Cormorants in flight before the throttles were pushed forward and we made for the open seas. As we passed through the mouth of False Bay the swells became much larger and soon Cape Point was retreating into the distance behind us (right). The trick to a successful pelagic trip is to find a trawler, which is where one will find the birds. We received news over the radio that some trawlers had been found and shortly thereafter we caught sight of one, with a veritable haze in the wake which, upon getting closer, one realises is actually a swarm of birds.

As we pulled in behind the trawler we began to identify them: White-chinned Petrel (by far the most common pelagic sea bird here); Wilson’s and European Storm Petrels, Pintado Petrel, Shy and Black-browed Albatrosses; Great and Sooty Shearwaters; Subantarctic Skua and Sabine’s Gull. Although there were only 10 species or so to be seen, the numbers of birds were absolutely staggering and it was incredibly thrilling to have a huge albatross glide by effortlessly only meters away. Also thrilling were the marine mammals, such as a huge pod of 100+ Common Dolphins swimming right by us, a smaller pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphins and plenty of Cape Fur Seals. After a couple of hours we then turned and headed back to Simon’s Town, with a few stops to view the Cape, Bank, Crowned and White-breasted Cormorant nesting sites on small off-shore islands in False Bay. We docked at lunchtime and had some time in Simon’s Town for strolling around and finding a bite to eat before heading back to Afton Grove. Some elected to disembark there while the rest drove down to the small village of Kommetjie for some more birding. There’s a large tern roost there, and despite studying each individual closely for slight differences we could only find three species among the hundreds: Swift, Common and Sandwich Terns. Other birds recorded included Common Sandpiper, White-fronted Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Whimbrel, Little Egret, Sacred Ibis and the usual aggregations of cormorants. Soon the afternoon was drawing to a close and we headed back to the comfort of our guest house and later headed down to The Nag’s Head for dinner.

Daily Total: 52
New Birds: 22
Trip Total: 87
Bird of the day: Shy and Black-browed Albatrosses

Day 4: Monday, 29th September 2008 ~ Cape Peninsula

After a weekend of brilliant weather the Cape was back to her old self. We awoke to heavy cloud racing across the sky and plenty of rain, which put paid to our plans of going up Table Mountain. Instead we drove up the West Coast a little way to the Koeberg Nature Reserve, which surrounds the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station. No three-eyed, glowing birds were seen, but we did manage to record some new species such as Great Crested and Little Grebe, Great White Pelican, Reed Cormorant, White-backed Duck, South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveller, Spur-winged Goose, Blue Crane (the first of many), Kittlitz’s Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Water Thick-Knee, White-rumped and Little Swifts, White-backed Mousebird, Pied Kingfisher, Capped Wheatear, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Cape Sparrow, Southern Masked Weaver, Southern Red Bisop, Yellow Canary and others on a morning that was surprisingly productive despite the inclement weather. We stopped for lunch at Hillcrest Winery in the Durbanville Hills area, and during lunch it became apparent that the rain was only getting heavier. We drove back in the direction of Cape town and hoped to be able to visit the Strandfontein Sewage Works on the way back, but the rain was just too heavy and we decided to call it a day.

Daily Total: 74
New Birds: 29
Trip Total: 116
Bird of the day: Southern Red Bishop

Day 5: Tuesday, 30th September 2008 ~ Hermanus

Leaving the peninsula: after breakfast we departed for Hermanus, the next stop on the tour. On the Cape Flats we stopped off at Strandfontein for a good dose of water birds (below), and we weren’t disappointed either.

Highlights included a flock of over a thousand Greater Flamingos in flight and abundant water birds such as Black-necked Grebes by the hundreds, African Darter, Grey, Black-headed and Purple Herons, Black-crowned Night-Heron, many different duck species, African Marsh Harrier, African Purple Swamphen, Spotted Thick-Knee, Grey-headed Gull, White-throated Swallow and others. In the mid-morning we left Strandfontein and drove around False Bay to Rooi Els along one of the top scenic drives in the region, with the Hottentots Holland mountains rising high above us on the left and the ocean crashing onto the rocks below us to the right. At Rooi Els we stopped to look for one of the top birds for the region, the Cape Rockjumper. We found two birds after some patient scanning of the rocky slopes, and also recorded Ground Woodpecker, another fantastic endemic bird. We then headed on to the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens near Betty’s Bay, where we had lunch and did some more fynbos birding. Top bird for the afternoon was the skulking Victorin’s Warbler, although only a few of the group could claim to have had any decent views of it. We then pushed on to Hermanus, a small seaside town on Walker Bay, where we checked into the Windsor Hotel. Southern Right Whales were common in the bay, and as a last afternoon activity we had a short walk along the sea cliffs in front of the town. Later, after going through the bird list at the bar, we drove a short way down to a restaurant at the new harbour for a fantastic dinner.

Daily Total: 98
New Birds: 29
Trip Total: 145
Bird of the day: Cape Rockjumper

Day 6: Wednesday, 1st October 2008 ~ Hermanus

We began our full day in the area with a walk along the sea cliffs before breakfast. After the meal we hit the shops for some lunch goodies and then set off on a long birding drive into the interior, heading up through the scenic Hemel-en-Aarde Valei (Heave and Earth Valley). Birds recorded included African Spoonbill, South African Shelduck, African Fish Eagle, Black Harrier, African Harrier-Hawk, Alpine Swift, Red-capped Lark, Greater Striped Swallow, African Stonechat, African Pipit, Pied Starling, and hundreds of Blue Cranes. We stopped for a wonderful picnic lunch next to a small stream, where we were entertained by the breeding antics of Southern Red Bishops, Southern Masked and Cape Weavers. After getting a bit lost in the farmlands we headed back to Hermanus via the Bot River estuary, where Three-banded Plover was about the only new record, and arrived back in at the hotel (above) to have some free-time before dinner.

Daily Total: 79
New Birds: 14
Trip Total: 159
Bird of the day: Blue Crane

Day 7: Thursday, 2nd October 2008 ~ Swellendam

We awoke to steady rain and low cloud rolling in from the west: the predicted cold front had arrived! We departed after breakfast and drove on to Swellendam, a small agricultural town (dating back to 1745) at the foot of the Langeberg Range. In Swellendam we bought some provisions and headed into Bontebok National Park for the afternoon. This small park was established to conserve the last remaining Bontebok, a sunning antelope that was nearly hunted to extinction by the early settlers. The gravel plains, limestone ridges and Acacia karoo thickets produced birds such as Common Quail, Denham’s Bustard, Southern Black Korhaan, African Hoopoe, Acacia Pied Barbet, Large-billed Lark, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Bar-throated Apalis, Fiscal Flycatcher, White-throated Canary and others, as well as spectacular Bontebok, Red Hartebeest and Cape Mountain Zebra. Amazingly the weather improved drastically and by the afternoon we had full sunshine to end off the day. In the evening we met in the restaurant for drinks and list-duties, and then a wonderful Cape-style dinner at the guest house.

Daily Total: 77
New Birds: 7
Trip Total: 166
Bird of the day: Denham’s Bustard

Day 8: Friday, 3rd October 2008 ~ Swellendam

After a good night’s rest we met early at the vehicles for a day trip to De Hoop Nature Reserve on the coast. However our first recorded bird for the day was a Spotted Eagle Owl, seen in a large oak tree next to the parking area while we were getting ready. Heading on to De Hoop we passed through extensive agricultural regions on the Agulhas Plain, and recoded Agulhas Long-billed Lark, Large-billed Lark (left), Hamerkop, Giant Kingfisher and Wattled Starling on the way there. We spent most of the day in the reserve, exploring the regions along the Breede River, the fynbos, plains and coastal regions. Birds recorded included Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Brimstone Canary, Streaky-headed Seed-eater, Southern Tchagra, Red-faced Mousebird, Greater Honeyguide, Caspian Tern, Grey-winged Francolin, Karoo Korhaan and Cape Vulture as some exciting new species. All in all De Hoop is a fantastic reserve, with a wide variety of habitats and lots to keep one occupied for a full day. We returned to Swellendam in the late afternoon and as usual had time to relax after a full day of birding before completing the list (with the Spotted Eagle Owl flying onto a roof top across the road as the last bird of the day) and enjoying another wonderful meal.

Daily Total: 103
New Birds: 14
Trip Total: 180
Bird of the day: Agulhas Long-billed Lark

Day 9: Saturday, 4th October 2008 ~ Ceres

Once again we left early with a packed breakfast and headed into Groovadersbosch, a nature reserve with 250 hectares of indigenous forest not far from Swellendam. On the edge of the forest, feeding in a horse paddock, we saw a large flock of Swee Waxbills, Forest and Brimstone Canaries. In the forest we saw Olive Bush Shrike, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Cape Batis, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler and Grey Cuckoo-Shrike, making up the predicted five forest species for the morning (South African forests generally hold low numbers of birds, when compared to tropical forests, and one should not expect too much from one morning’s birding, though the species one does see are well worth the effort and frustration). We had our picnic breakfast in a hide deep in the forest and then headed back to the cars to continue the journey on to Ceres, which took us through the most wonderfully scenic flowering desert. After checking in to our guest house and having a bit of rest we took a drive up the Gydo Pass to look for Protea Seed-eater, an uncommon and localised species which is found on Protea covered hillsides. We didn’t manage to locate any however, and after an hour of searching headed back to town for rest, drinks, list-duties and dinner.

Daily Total: 75
New Birds: 8
Trip Total: 188
Bird of the day: Swee Waxbill

Day 10: Sunday, 5th October 2008 ~ Ceres

On our last full day of the tour we left Ceres very early and headed north into the Tankwa Karoo, a dry, desolate region of the interior that provides good Karoo birding and a chance to rack up quite a few new species. We arrived in the area at sunrise and birded our way slowly to Skitterykloof, a well-wooded ravine where we had our breakfast. After spending some time birding in Skitterykloof we drove a bit further into the Tankwa Karoo before turning back and heading home slowly to Ceres. Birding highlights included a pair of Verreaux’s Eagles flying low overhead, a Spotted Eagle Owl roosting among the rocks, several small flocks of the uncommon and highly nomadic Black-eared Finchlark and a host of new birds which included Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Ruff (yes, there are even some water birds out there), Namaqua Dove, European Bee-eater, Karoo and Spike-heeled Larks, Southern Grey Tit, Mountain Wheatear, Tractrac, Karoo and Sickle-winged Chats, Layard’s and Chestnut-vented Tit-Babblers, Long-billed Crombec, Karoo Eremomela, Rufous-eared Warbler, Pririt Batis, Fairy Flycatcher, Dusky Sunbird and Black-headed Canary. Not a bad haul for the last full day of the trip, and a testament to the worth of including this region in the itinerary. We arrived back in the late afternoon and, after an official end to the tour, had a wonderful final dinner of chicken and lamb curry.

Daily Total: 88
New Birds: 23
Trip Total: 211
Bird of the day: Verreaux’s Eagle

Day 11: Sunday, 6th October 2008 ~ Departure

On our final morning about half of the group decided to join in on a last try for the Protea Seed-eater on the Gydo Pass. We left at 7:30 AM and stopped at one of the view sites on the pass high above the Ceres Valley. A quick play of the call brought in a pair from the slope below us, and we were rewarded with good close-up views of one of the birds, making the effort most worthwhile. We then headed back to the guesthouse for a final cooked breakfast before departing for Cape Town and the airport. Our route took us up the spectacular Bainskloof Pass, down through Wellington and Paarl to the Paarl Bird Sanctuary, the fancy name for the town’s sewage treatment plant. There were lots of water birds about, but the only new species recorded were Malachite Kingfisher, Lesser Swamp and African Reed Warblers. For lunch we headed on to Siedelberg Winery for lunch with a fantastic view of the winelands, Franschhoek Valley and Table Mountain in the distance. After lunch it was time to head on to the airport, where we said farewells and ended a most fantastic Western Cape birding and wildlife tour.

Daily Total: 74
New Birds: 4
Trip Total: 214
Bird of the day: Protea Seed-eater

Species Lists

For a full species list refer to the trip report on the Lawson's Birding and Wildlife Tours website (2008-09 Naturetrek / Tony O' Neil Group Western Cape Birding and Wildlife Tour tip report):

Lawson's Birding and Wildlife Tours Trip Reports