Having spent a week birding the usual and well-covered sites around Capetown in early October 2008, we decided to head east and spend some time in the Addo National Park area of the Eastern Cape, primarily to see some big game but also to check out the area’s birding potential. We flew from Capetown to Port Elizabeth and hired a car from the airport. Addo is an easy drive north from Port Elizabeth passing through ranched scrub. This route offered little birding other than road-side stops for Blue Cranes and widespread species such as African Pied Starling, African Rock Martin, Fiscal Flycatcher etc. We spent 7 nights just outside the National Park at Valley View Guest-house in Addo. This guest-house overlooks the Sundays River plus adjacent riverine scrub and offered a surprisingly large range of bush and riverine birds (107 species), many of which we saw nowhere else. We took daily trips into the nearby Addo National Park. These included several visits to the Addo Main Camp area for game viewing and birding in the sub-tropical thicket biome, including one organised night drive, two walks in the Zuurberg mountain section for fynbos and forest specialities plus a longer day-drive out through the Nama Karoo taking in and adjacent to the western Darlington section of the park. We didn’t visit the coastal sections of the park as these offered very few new species for us, plus for some reason you can’t drive south through the southern Colchester section of the Park from Addo and would thus need to drive quite a long south way round the park in order to enter this section at Colchester. Game viewing was not easy in the dense habitats and it took repeated visits at different times of day (and night) to see most of the expected species: Elephant, Buffalo, Black-backed Jackal, Burchell’s Zebra and a range of antelopes including Gemsbok and Springbok are relatively easy to see, Spotted Hyena, Black Rhino, Cape Mountain Zebra and Lion require much more work (or luck). Leopard is nigh-on impossible to see here but might be easier in adjacent private concessions. It was also unusually dry, with the grasslands in the park mostly drought-ridden and denuded, whilst the Zuurberg area had been recently burnt over by a large fire – damaging many of the buildings there (including the Inn), although the fynbos/grassland vegetation was bouncing back and the forested valleys were untouched. Birding was very productive at all sites and we saw a total of 208 species in the area.
• 18 Oct: drive to Addo from Port Elizabeth – birded Valley View
• 19 Oct: dawn birding at Valley View, day-trip around Addo Main Camp
• 20 Oct: dawn birding at Valley View, day-trip to Zuurberg including fynbos and valley forest
• 21 Oct: dawn birding at Valley View, day-drive around Addo Main Camp
• 22 Oct: day-drive through Darlington Lake section via Patterson, Anne’s Villa and Nama Karoo habitat
• 23 Oct: early morning birding at Valley View, afternoon drive around Addo Main Camp followed by organised night drive there
• 24 Oct: dawn birding at Valley View, day-tip to Zuurberg including walk along ridge-top road
• 25 Oct: final dawn birding at Valley View, drive back to Port Elizabeth
The main birding sites we visited are listed below.
1) Valley View Guest-house area:
a) Valley View grounds: the mature gardens and valley-edge scrub in the grounds of the guest-house were full of birds (107 species logged), with the species composition changing constantly as birds moved up and down the valley during the day. We found the area rewarded repeated visits at different times of the day. Many of the birds were common African bush birds but surprises here included Cape Eagle Owl (seen twice emerging from its river-edge roost-site at dusk) plus species such as Tambourine Dove, Brown-throated Martin, Chinspot Batis and Wailing Cisticola which we saw nowhere else in the area. A large mixed flock of hirundines, swifts and European Bee-eaters regularly fed over the swimming pool in the afternoon. Large numbers of ibis, herons, darters, cormorants, starlings (including Wattled Starling) and weavers flew in to roost in the river-edge vegetation around dusk creating a fine sun-downer spectacle. Fiery-necked Nightjars were regular along the entrance track at dusk.
b) Sundays River: the river and associated reed-beds and trees are easily viewable from the guest-house grounds and again were surprisingly rich in birds. Riverine trees opposite the guest-house held an active mixed herony including Goliath Heron and African Darter, plus a noisy roost of Hadeda and Sacred Ibis, whilst the river regularly held Giant Kingfisher andAfrican Black Duck amongst a range of other species such as Black Crake, Hamerkop and Lesser Swamp-warbler. A Great Reed Warbler was a surprise find here on 23rd.
c) Lenmore: we ate most nights in the neighbouring village of Lenmore. The grounds of the restaurant were good for close up comparative views of weavers (Village, Cape and Southern Masked) plus Southern Red Bishops jostling for grain with captive ducks and chickens. We saw both Barn Owl and African Wood Owl in the vicinity just after dusk.
2) Addo Main Camp area:
a) The main entrance to Addo National Park is a very short drive north from Valley View. The roadside poles and scrub on this route were good for Black-shouldered Kites and we saw our only Lanner Falcon here too.
b) The Main Camp area of Addo National Park has a complex set of roads for safari game-viewing (and birding). During hot days, much of the action was focussed at the various waterholes, which were also good for wetland birds such as Blue Crane, Three-banded Plover and South African Shelduck. Walking is limited to the areas immediately around designated car-parks/hides and the main camp itself. Birdlife was very restricted in the dense scrub on hot sunny days but was far more conspicuous on cooler cloudy days. Raptors were oddly scarce but the ridges south of the Botanical reserve proved the best for these including Forest Buzzard and Booted Eagle. The drought-ridden grassy areas were sadly devoid of the expected bustards but near-daily trips to all parts of this area produced some 100 species including goodies such as African Quailfinch, Swee Waxbill, Red-billed Oxpecker (find the buffalo for this one!), Red-throated Wryneck and Brown-backed Honeybird. The walk to the horse-riding centre was also good and produced the only Olive Bush-shrike of the trip.
c) Night-drives. There are organised night-drives most nights from the Main Camp and for a small fee, these are well worth attending, for close-up nocturnal encounters with game including Spotted Hyena, Black-backed Jackal etc as well as spot-lamped Spotted Eagle-owl, Fiery-necked Nightjar and Spotted Thick-knee.
a) The Zuurberg hills (peak at 673m) rise north of Addo and are reached by a pleasant drive north passed the Addo Main camp entrance and then north along a well-graded track. We stopped to check scrub birds and game along the first section of this track and the forested gullies on the lower slopes are also worth checking for birds like Collared Sunbird and African Dusky Flycatcher, which we didn’t see higher up. Also keep an eye on the raptors as you head up, we had a Verraux’s Eagle here in amongst the Jackal Buzzards.
b) The loop trail. From the park centre, this heads across montane fynbos to a rocky crag and then drops down into a spectacular forested valley. You can also return from the valley via the far side of the rocky crags. The open fynbos held Cape Grassbird and Cloud Cisticola, whilst Lazy Cisticola was common at the woodland edge with Cape Rock-thrushes amongst the rocks.Knynsa Turaco was common and relatively easy to see, often using isolated bushes at the forest edge, whilst we also picked up a perched Forest Buzzard here. The forested valley yielded Knynsa Woodpecker (listen for its calls), Grey Cuckoo-shrike, Dark-backed Weaver, Chorister Robin, Forest Canary and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher.
c) Ridge road. A very easy walk leads through the fynbos and forested gullies of the Zuurberg range on the dirt track beyond the former Zuurberg Inn. Birds such as Greater Striped Swallow, African Rock Martin, Dark-capped Bulbul, Crowned Hornbill, Knysna Touraco Streaky-headed Seed-eater and Lazy Cisticola are easily seen, plus we had bonus Black Saw-wing and Yellow Canary (by a reed-fringed pool). Check forested gullies for Terrestrial Brownbul and Narina Trogon.
4) Darlington Lake section via Paterson and Ann’s Villa
a) We drove NE along the R342 past Addo Main Camp to reach Paterson and then north up the N2 before turning off west into the Nama Karoo north of Ann’s Villa. The R400 follows the northern boundary of the eastern section of Addo National Park and we then headed SW through the park past Darlington Lake. It was not clear if the Darlington Lake section was actually of general access but the access gate was open and we had no problems driving through, although we did get lost in the maze of tracks west of the lake before eventually hitting the R75 north of Wolwefontein and returning to Addo via Kirkwood.
b) Paterson. The fields along the R342 towards Paterson held big feeding flocks of pipits, wagtails and a few Blue Cranes whilst a roadside dam held Spur-winged Goose. North of Paterson, we found a Mountain Chat on roadside cliffs plus Rock Kestrel.
c) Namaa Karoo. The karoo habitat north of Ann’s Villa was full of birds. Roadside stops in likely habitat yielded a good selection of birds, with numerous larks (including Rufous-naped, Sabota, Large-billed and Eastern Clapper), chats (including Familiar, Karoo, Sickle-winged and Southern Ant-eating), buntings (including Golden-breasted and Cape) and canaries (including White-throated and one group of Black-throated) in amongst more widespread and now familiar bush birds from Addo. Dense scrubby gullies were good for Rufous-eared and Namaqua Warblers as well as ubiquitous Karoo Prinias, whilst we also picked up Chat Flycatcher, Southern Black Tit, Dusky Sunbird and Pirit Batis in roadside scrub. Most bulbuls seen in karoo habitat were African Red-eyed and a pair of roadside Namaqua Doves were the only ones of the trip. A displaying Southern Black Korhaan was a bonus, having dipped on this species near Capetown. Springbok were common along this section.
d) Darlington Lake section. A mix of Karoo vegetation and more open sub-tropical thicket. We flushed a fine Kori Bustard from the track-edge close to the northern gate and found a nice flock of Scaly-feathered Finch towards the lake. The lake was almost birdless but held a lone Grey-headed Gull, Little Egret and Kittlitz’s Plovers. We spotted 6 Gemsbok grazing high on a ridge near the lake.
e) Wolewefontein. A roadside culvert near this town held a small colony of South African Cliff Swallows, but other roadside birds between here and Addo (via Kirkwood) were more widespread species already seen elsewhere in the area.
Great White Egret
South African Shelduck
White-faced Whistling Duck
African Black Duck
Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk
Grey Crowned Crane
Southern Black Korhaan
Cape Turtle Dove
African Black Swift
Acacia Pied Barbet
Eastern Clapper Lark
South African Cliff-swallow
Greater Striped Swallow
Lesser Striped Swallow
Common House Martin
African Rock Martin
Eastern Black-headed Oriole
Southern Black Tit
African Red-eyed Bulbul
Southern Ant-eating Chat
African Dusky Flycatcher
Southern Black Flycatcher
Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher
Cape Glossy Starling
African Pied Starling
Geater Double-collared Sunbird
Southern Double-collared Sunbird
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow
Southern Masked Weaver
Southern Red Bishop