Duration: 12 days
Group Size: 8 (rarely 9)
Date Start: February 14, 2020
Date End: February 25, 2020
Tour Start: Cape Town
Tour End: George
We often get feedback that the accommodation on this ‘Birding Tour South Africa’ adventure is great! Indeed, South Africa is one of the best value destinations on the entire continent. The excellent infrastructure, superb accommodation, great food, wonderful South African hospitality, spectacular and varied scenery, and the presence of Africa’s big and small mammals makes it one of the most pleasant countries in the world to bird in.
We begin this Birding Tour South Africa excursion in one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Cape Town, looking for a host of avian endemics found nowhere else but in the Cape Floral Kingdom (the richest place on earth for plants), and also doing a pelagic trip. Cape pelagics are among the best in the world. We then head northwards from Cape Town up the west coast, and then across the beautiful and rugged Cederberg range into the Karoo, another one of Africa’s greatest endemic hotspots. We then visit the Agulhas Plains, which are the stronghold of South Africa’s national bird, the Blue Crane, and also are inhabited by localized endemics such as the Agulhas Long-billed Lark. We then continue to the picturesque Garden Route, where we have time to sample some of the birds more typical of Eastern South Africa, including Knysna Turaco, Knysna Woodpecker, Half-collared Kingfisher, and a host of others.
All in all, our 12-day featured Cape tour in February this year is full of localized endemics, spectacular scenery, and so much more. This is where Birding Ecotours started as a company in 2002, and nowhere else do we have as much experience as in the Cape.
This Birding Tour South Africa adventure can be combined with our Subtropical South Africa 18-day Birding Adventure March 2020 tour.
Itinerary (12 days/11nights)
Day 1. Arrival in Cape Town
This is the day you need to arrive in Cape Town – any time during the day. You will be met at Cape Town International Airport and transferred to our B&B. Time-permitting, we may already start some birding today – we can bird one of the Cape Peninsula’s fine wetlands (Intaka Island, Rietvlei or Rondevlei). Here we will look for Great White Pelican, Greater Flamingo, a host of shorebirds, Cape Teal and Maccoa Duck among many other waterfowl, Little Bittern, and many other herons, three grebe species, Greater Painted-snipe, African Snipe, four species of reed-associated Warblers, and other waterbirds. While looking for waterbirds (or even while driving to our B&B) we should also find good numbers of terrestrial endemics, including Karoo Prinia, Cape Bulbul, and Jackal Buzzard.
Overnight: Mariner Guest House, Simon’s Town
Day 2. Pelagic Trip (or Cape Peninsula and False Bay Birding)
After an early breakfast, we embark on a pelagic trip (weather-permitting, otherwise Cape Peninsula and False Bay birding), departing from Simonstown, where we will find African Penguin, and from here we’ll be going 30-50 km out to sea. En route, we pass the magnificent Cape Point – really spectacular when seen from the sea. Our first pelagic species are usually Sooty Shearwater and White-chinned Petrel (with the occasional Spectacled Petrel), followed soon by sometimes both species of Giant Petrel, Northern and Southern. Further out, a minimum of four Albatross species, Pintado and other Petrels, several Storm Petrels (two species are usually common), shearwaters, and many others are observed. We almost always find at least one trawler, and it is around these fishing boats that huge congregations of albatrosses and other seabirds create an amazing spectacle. We also often encounter marine mammals, such as Bryde’s whale, on these pelagics.
Overnight: Mariner Guest House, Simon’s Town
Day 3. Birding the Cape Peninsula and False Bay (or Pelagic Trip)
Today, we plan to visit excellent sites such as the Strandfontein Bird Sanctuary, one of the best waterbird sites, and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, one of the most beautiful places anywhere and full of birds. At Kirstenbosch, it is quite easy to find some important fynbos endemics such as Orange-breasted Sunbird and Cape Sugarbird, while Cape Spurfowl, Southern Boubou, Cape Canary, Brimstone Canary, Cape Robin-Chat, Swee Waxbill (with luck), and a whole host of other quality birds entertain us. Many raptors are possible here and at other sites we will visit – including Verreaux’s (Black) Eagle, several exciting accipiters, Jackal Buzzard (endemic), Forest Buzzard (endemic), Peregrine Falcon, Rock Kestrel, and others. After birding these beautiful gardens, we depart for Rooiels (although sometimes we reverse the order and bird Rooiels first). To get to this village, we have to traverse one of the most scenic drives in South Africa along the False Bay coast. First we drive parallel to an extremely long white beach bordering the “Cape Flats” that separate the mountainous Cape Peninsula from the inland Cape Fold mountain ranges. Then we reach an area where impressive mountains meet the sea, to begin a truly stunning marine drive. The main target bird at Rooiels is the charismatic and localized Cape Rockjumper. But we should also find Cape Siskin, Cape Rock Thrush, and many more. On our return to the Cape Peninsula, time-permitting (else later in the itinerary), we can bird the superb Strandfontein Bird Sanctuary for a plethora of herons, reed-associated warblers, waterfowl, shorebirds, African Black Oystercatcher, Purple Swamphen, Great White Pelican, Greater Flamingo, African Marsh Harrier, and (as usual) many others.
Overnight: Mariner Guest House, Simon’s Town
Day 4. West Coast Birding
Today we begin an exciting birding journey northwards from Cape Town. We hope to find Black Harrier, Chestnut-banded Plover, Cape Penduline Tit, Cape Clapper Lark, Cape Long-billed Lark, Grey-winged Francolin, Southern Black Korhaan, and other specials in addition to a tremendous shorebird spectacle. Langebaan Lagoon is one of Africa’s most important shorebird stopover sites, and there are good hides (blinds) from which to observe the spectacle. We may also find Osprey, African Fish Eagle, and many others.
Overnight: Le Mahi Guest House, Langebaan
Day 5. Transfer to the Karoo
Today we head inland past some spectacular mountains. On the way we may stop to try for Protea Canary and many other species. But we have to get to the eastern (rain-shadow) side of the mountains to get to the famed (amongst birders) Karoo. Here, almost every species encountered is endemic, so it makes for spectacularly exciting birding for any serious birder who has never visited this particular semi-desert.
Overnight: Village B&B, Ceres, or Tanqua B&B, Route 355
Day 6. Birding the Karoo
A full day of Karoo birding. The pickings here include the likes of Cinnamon-breasted Warbler (a truly bizarre rock crevice skulker), Namaqua Warbler, the lovely Rufous-eared Warbler, Black-headed Canary, White-throated Canary, Fairy Flycatcher, Southern Grey Tit, Karoo Chat, Sickle-winged Chat, Tractrac Chat, Karoo Lark, Karoo Long-billed Lark, Spike-heeled Lark, Large-billed Lark, Karoo Eremomela, Pririt Batis, Burchell’s Courser, Double-banded Courser, Ludwig’s Bustard, Karoo Korhaan, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Namaqua Dove, and many others.
Overnight: Village B&B, Ceres
Day 7. Transfer to Cape Town
We will drive back to Cape Town, birding at Paarl en route for fynbos species and those waterbirds we are still missing. A night back on the Cape Peninsula will give us time to find some of the Cape’s more difficult species.
Overnight: Avian Leisure B&B, Simonstown, South Peninsula
Day 8. Birding the Overberg and the Agulhas Plains
Today, we drive eastwards to Africa’s southernmost point, where we begin birding the superb Agulhas Plains and the Overberg. Here, flat plains and gently rolling hills separate the southernmost tip of the African continent, where two oceans meet, from the Cape Fold Mountains further inland. These plains are one of the few areas where Secretarybird and Denham’s Bustard are still common. They are also the most important stronghold for South Africa’s magnificent national bird, the Blue Crane. White Stork is common in late summer. Extremely localized endemics such as Agulhas Clapper Lark, Agulhas Long-billed Lark, and others lurk here. We will also visit the De Hoop Nature Reserve, which protects a large tract of highly threatened lowland (as opposed to mountain) fynbos. Here we will see lots of waterbirds and Southern Tchagra, plus we may encounter Cape mountain zebra, bontebok, and other mammal specials of the Cape. Time permitting, we can visit the De Mond Nature Reserve, an excellent site for the rare, localized, diminutive Damara Tern.
Overnight: Pride of Africa B&B, Agulhas
Day 9. Birding the Agulhas Plains and the fringes of the Langeberg Mountains
We will spend the morning birding the Agulhas Plains. In the afternoon, we will head to our B&B adjacent to a lovely temperate forest at the base of the Langeberg Mountains. This forest is inhabited by such sought-after birds as Knysna Woodpecker, Olive Woodpecker, Olive Bushshrike, Narina Trogon, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, and of course many more. The forest fringes host the localized Victorin’s Warbler (it is great fun trying to outsmart this vocal but skulking species), Forest Canary, Cape Siskin, Swee Waxbill, and more. A night trip to the edge of the forest usually yields African Wood Owl and Fiery-necked Nightjar.
Overnight: Honeywood Farm, Heidelberg
Day 10. Birding the Garden Route
We drive eastwards for three hours to the beautiful Garden Route, where a large diversity of birds can be found in idyllic surroundings. We’ll start looking for some birds that are quite widespread through large tracts of Africa, but which are nevertheless sought-after because they are so elusive – things like African Finfoot and Red-chested Flufftail (we often get great views of this skulker around here). Other star birds we look for in the Garden Route include Knysna Turaco (endemic), Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Chorister Robin-Chat (endemic), White-starred Robin-Chat, and a host of others. And the Garden Route is the only place in South Africa where certain species – such as the endemic Forest Buzzard and Half-collared Kingfisher – are common.
Overnight: Wilderness Ebb & Flow Rest Camp, GardenRouteNational Park
Day 11. Birding the Garden Route
A full day looking for the rich diversity of species the Garden Route has to offer.
Overnight: Wilderness Ebb & Flow Rest Camp, Garden Route National Park
Day 12. Transfer to George and flight to Durban, or departure
We drive to George (half an hour’s drive) to catch our 2-hour flight to Durban to begin the Subtropical leg of the tour,
for those ending their trip here, you fly (or drive) back to Cape Town.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors.
Diane and I participated in an amazing 12 day Western Cape Bird watching tour through Birding Ecotours in the fall of 2011 with Mark Harrington as our driver/guide. Mark was a very pleasant, good humoured, knowledgeable guide whose knowledge of the flora and fauna of the Western Cape area was outstanding. He was able to identify all of the birds we saw very quickly and took the time to make sure that all of our group was able to clearly see and identify each new bird or animal. As well his knowledge of the cultural history of
South Africa made the trip an excellent learning experience for both of us. He was able to smooth over any rough patches in the tour and made all of us feel special. We hope that in the future that he can be our guide again.
Otto Peter — Canada
Important explanation about the default vehicles we use on our southern African tours:
Whereas the standard birding-tour vehicle in East Africa is the popup-roof stretch Land Cruiser, in southern Africa these are extremely rare and not usually legal except within some parks. Open safari vehicles, on the other hand, are commonly seen in southern African parks but can’t be used outside the parks, and they are extremely unpleasant to be in when the weather is bad even inside the parks. The only tried-and-tested tour vehicle available in southern Africa that allows us to cover the ground we need so we can find the greatest diversity of birds (and other wildlife), and which is comfortable in all weather, is legal, has proper air conditioning, and does not make the overall tour price exorbitant, is the 13-seater Toyota Quantum when we have 6-8 (rarely 9) tour participants (or similar 7-10-seater vans when we have smaller group sizes). In areas where we are not restricted to the vehicle during the tour (such as in the Cape) we usually use unmodified standard Quantum vans – everyone gets out of the vehicle when we see a good bird or animal. In areas in which we are at times restricted to the vehicle because of the presence of dangerous megafauna including lions, elephants, and more (such as the Kruger National Park) we typically use a Quantum van with modified windows for better viewing of birds and other wildlife. In Kruger (and sometimes in Etosha) National Parks we usually do include a day or two in open safari vehicles as part of the tour price. Optional night drives (at nominal cost) in open safari vehicles are available at most southern African parks (including Kruger) for those who have less of a focused interest in birds (as these are operated by the park’s guides, who usually focus mainly on the “Big 5”). You can speak to the tour leader about joining these night drives, but in our experience some tour participants prefer not to join them, and hence we leave them as an optional extra for those willing to pay a (small/nominal) extra fee.
Even the tried-and-tested Toyota Quantum (or similar) vans we use fall far short of being ideal (small windows that are quite low, etc.), and we truly wish there were something better available without breaking the bank. But we use the best available vehicles, and we ensure that everyone has a fair turn in and near the front of the vehicle – we typically swap seating positions daily, but in the parks we can swap positions four times a day as necessary. The vehicles we use are by far the best vehicles available at a reasonable price. All the birding tour companies use the same vans unless their tours have a narrow focus just around Kruger/nearby or another park. It’s a big problem in South Africa that the East African style safari vehicles are, simply, unavailable, except for a handful of very old, shaky ones (and usually in East Africa they don’t have air conditioning anyway, are extremely slow between sites, and, in short, have a different suite of disadvantages). We use the very best vehicles we can without making our trips much more expensive than anyone else’s, but we also feel we have to be clear about what to expect before the tour, hence this note. If you are worried about the vehicle then please:
While we generally allow a window seat for every passenger and like to have at least a couple of free seats available for birding gear etc., it’s better to ask us about the specific tour to be sure what is the case. For photography trips the per-person price is higher because we leave more empty seats available as more tour participants have bulky camera gear!
It is our philosophy only to have one vehicle per tour as it invariably gets very frustrating when one vehicle sees a bird or animal and the other vehicle misses it! And our group sizes are small – maximum of eight (rarely nine). The tour prices would be very high and uncompetitive if we had a second vehicle and driver-guide with twice the guide’s accommodation, food, fuel and toll costs, considering the small group sizes on our tours. Again, if you request a private tour, we can take two or even three vehicles or absolutely whatever you request – a private tour is different. (It is illegal for us to have any person without a local driver’s license and professional driving permit to drive passengers who are paying to be on a tour, so we can’t even suggest that a tour participant drives a second vehicle to allow more space and window seats).