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South Africa must surely rank as one of the best value destinations on the entire African continent. The combination of superb accommodation, excellent infrastructure, great food, wonderful South African hospitality, impressive and varied scenery, and the presence of Africa’s big and small mammals makes it one of the most popular countries in the world to bird in. The tour begins in one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Cape Town, where we will search for a host of avian endemics found nowhere else but in the fynbos of the Cape Floral Kingdom (the richest place on earth for plants). While in Cape Town we will also do a pelagic trip, enjoying the great numbers and diversity of seabirds which visit the southern tip of Africa. After a few days birding around Cape Town we then head northward up the west coast and finally head inland through rugged mountain ranges into the Tankwa Karoo, another of Africa’s great endemic hotspots.
We begin this tour with a Cape pelagic trip, where we invariably find four albatross species and always hope for an additional rarer one like Wandering Albatross. Then we hope to encounter some very enigmatic birds: Watch a weird little warbler, a desert bird that skulks, disappear into a rock crevice, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, one of the Cape’s strangest endemics and one of the toughest of the many Karoo endemics to see well. Cape Rockjumper has a beautiful call, striking colors, a boisterous personality and a terribly limited distribution around Cape Town. A terrestrial woodpecker, Ground Woodpecker, and African Penguin are also found on the spectacular Cape Peninsula. What more can you possibly ask for?
But his trip is not only full of localized avian endemics but also of spectacularly famous scenery, such as the Cape of Good Hope, Cape Point, and Table Mountain. All in all, our 8-day Cape tour 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.
The Western Cape is the most important endemic bird area on the entire African continent. It is a truly essential area for any serious birder because of its sheer number of endemics. Pelagic trips off Cape Town also rank as among the finest in the world (with at least four albatross species, Cape Petrel [seasonal], and many more on the rich trawling grounds near where two oceans meet). The Cape is also a spectacularly scenic area, with the rugged Cape Fold Mountains that come right down to the sea, white sand beaches, sea cliffs on the Cape Peninsula, and beautiful vineyards. Close inshore Southern Right Whales (seasonal) plus a lot of other mammals, spectacular carpets of flowers (seasonal), and the most plant-diverse biome on earth (even richer than the Amazon!) are major attractions that are easily seen incidentally, while not jeopardizing our chances of finding all the birds. We recommend at least a week in the Western Cape. The aim of our standard (set departure) 8-day tour (but we can custom-make a trip of any length) is to find a majority of the endemics of this province, with many other species as an unavoidable byproduct (plus, as always, an amazing overall experience), and of course a lot of pelagic and other seabirds. To find the endemics we budget adequate time in each strategic ecosystem – the fynbos, Langebaan Lagoon, and the Karoo.
This tour can be combined with our preceding Kruger National Park and Escarpment Birding Safari October tour and then with our following 18-day Subtropical South Africa Birding Adventure October for a 38-day South African adventure, and, following this, our Namibia, Okavango and Victoria Falls 18-day Birding Adventure for a stunning 46-day Southern African mega tour.
Itinerary (8 days/7 nights)
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 in Simonstown. We should hopefully have some time to start with some local birding – probably birding one of the many impressive wetlands nearby. Species to look out for include Great White Pelican, Greater and Lesser Flamingo, Cape Teal, Cape Shoveler, Southern Pochard, and Maccoa Duck among many other waterfowl species. Some of the more elusive species we will search for are Little Bittern, African Snipe, African Marsh Harrier, Malachite Kingfisher, four species of reed-associated warblers, and other waterbirds. In the neighboring fynbos we should come across the first of many South African endemics, such as Cape Bulbul, Karoo Prinia, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and Cape White-eye.
Overnight: Mariner Guest House, Simonstown, South Peninsula
Day 2. Pelagic trip (or Cape Peninsula and False Bay birding)
Today is an early start as we head down to Simonstown where we embark on a Cape pelagic trip (weather-permitting, otherwise we will spend the day around the Cape Peninsula and False Bay). Soon after leaving the harbor we normally come across African Penguins (from the nearby Boulders Beach colony), which are heading out for the day’s fishing, along with large flocks of Cape Cormorants and Cape Gannets. As we leave False Bay we pass the magnificent Cape Point, which, enjoyed from sea, offers an entirely different perspective! Once rounding Cape Point the serious pelagic birding soon begins as we start seeing good numbers of Sooty, Great, and Cory’s Shearwaters, White-chinned Petrels, and the odd Storm Petrel (Wilson’s and European being most common). As we head further out we will be on the lookout for trawlers which attract huge numbers of seabirds. If we do find a trawler it normally has a cloud of seabirds behind it, particularly when the nets are being hauled. Here we can expect to find Shy, Black-browed, Indian Yellow-nosed and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Cape Petrel, Brown Skua, and occasionally Great-winged Petrel. We will always be on the lookout for Spectacled Petrel, Northern and Southern Royal Albatrosses and Wandering Albatross which, although considered rare, are seen with some frequency off the Cape.
Other marine life to search for include Humpback and Bryde’s Whales as well as Long-beaked Common Dolphin and, if we are extremely lucky, Killer Whale! If possible/already decided, please let us know if you do not want to join the pelagic.
Overnight: Mariner Guest House, Simonstown, South Peninsula
Day 3. Birding the Cape Peninsula and False Bay (or pelagic trip)
Today we plan to visit excellent sites such as the beautiful Hottentot Holland mountain range and Strandfontein Bird Sanctuary, one of Cape Town’s best waterbird sites. We start the day with an early departure (we’ll take breakfast packs along to enjoy later) heading east toward the Hottentot Holland mountains and particularly the small village of Rooi Els. To get to this picturesque 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. Our primary target for the day is Cape Rockjumper, which only occurs in the fold mountains of the Cape. Rooi Els is perhaps the easiest and most accessible spot to see the rockjumper, and our success rates are high. Other species to find here and nearby include Ground Woodpecker, Cape and Sentinel Rock Thrushes, Victorin’s Warbler, Cape Siskin, Cape Grassbird, Cape Sugarbird, and many others. We may be lucky with a flyover of the pair of Verreaux’s Eagles that breeds in the area.
We then head around the corner to the small town of Betty’s Bay, where we visit the picturesque Harold Porter National Botanical Garden and enjoy lunch after a walk around the gardens. In the gardens we should find African Dusky and African Paradise Flycatchers, Black Saw-wing, Swee Waxbill, Yellow Bishop, and Brimstone, Cape, and Forest Canaries.
If we still need better views of Cape, Crowned, and Bank Cormorants we may pop over to the African Penguin colony at Stony Point, where these cormorants breed.
On our way back to Cape Town we will visit Strandfontein Bird Sanctuary, which offers Cape Town’s best wetland birding. Species to look for here include South African Shelduck, Hottentot, Red-billed, and Cape Teals, Maccoa Duck, Cape Shoveler, Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes, African Swamphen, and a number of other waterbird species.
Overnight: Mariner Guest House, Simonstown, South Peninsula
Day 4. West Coast Birding
Today we head north of Cape Town and travel along the west coast. The strandveld vegetation is subtly different and, with the habitat change, results in a different mix of bird species. We will stop off in some farmlands en route to look for Blue Crane, Pied Starling, Cape Clapper Lark, Capped Wheatear, Cape Longclaw, Pearl-breasted Swallow, and the endemic Cape subspecies of Cloud Cisticola. Birding the strandveld habitat around the West Coast National Park and its surrounding areas will hopefully produce Cape Penduline Tit, Grey Tit, White-backed Mousebird, Bokmakierie, Karoo Scrub Robin, Yellow and White-throated Canaries, Grey-winged Francolin, Southern Black Korhaan, and the striking Black Harrier. We will also spend time at a few of the strategically positioned bird hides along Langebaan Lagoon, which is one of Africa’s most important shorebird stopover sites. Here we hope to find an assortment of Palearctic shorebirds as well as resident shorebirds, such as Chestnut-banded, White-fronted, and Kittlitz’s Plovers, with the possibility of Western Osprey and African Fish Eagle overhead.
We may have time to look for Langebaan’s resident pair of Verreaux’s Eagles this afternoon; if we run out of time we will look for them tomorrow morning.
Overnight: Le Mahi Guest House, Langebaan
Day 5. Transfer to the Karoo
We often start this day by birding some of the farmlands north of Langebaan for a few more endemics that are unlikely to be found elsewhere on the trip. Our primary targets this morning will be Cape Long-billed Lark and Sickle-winged Chat; however, we should also find Large-billed Lark, Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark, Blue Crane, Ant-eating Chat, and perhaps Namaqua Sandgrouse. After our early-morning birding we head inland through some spectacular mountain scenery. But we have to get to the eastern (rain-shadow) side of the mountains to get to the famed (among birders) Karoo. The Karoo exhibits an amazing level of endemism, as the species need to adapt to the incredibly harsh conditions. This makes for spectacularly exciting birding for any serious birder who has never visited this particular semi-desert.
Overnight: Tanqua B&B, Route 355
Day 6. Birding the Karoo
Today we will have a full day of Karoo birding. Dry, rocky gorges will be explored for Cinnamon-breasted Warbler (a truly bizarre rock crevice skulker) as well as Layard’s Warbler, Grey Tit, Fairy Flycatcher, and Booted Eagle overhead. In the riverbed vegetation we will look for another endemic, Namaqua Warbler. The dry plains will be birded extensively for a number of exciting endemics such as Rufous-eared Warbler, Black-headed Canary, White-throated Canary, Karoo and Tractrac Chats, Karoo, Karoo Long-billed, Spike-heeled, and Large-billed Larks, Karoo Eremomela, Pririt Batis, Burchell’s Courser, Ludwig’s Bustard, Karoo Korhaan, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Namaqua Dove, and many others.
We will head out this evening to search for Freckled and Rufous-cheeked Nightjars and any other exciting nightlife we may encounter.
Overnight: Tanqua B&B, Route 355
Day 7. Transfer to Cape Town
After some early-morning Karoo birding, searching for anything we have missed over the last couple of days, we head out of the Karoo and back toward Cape Town. On our way back we will stop on a beautiful mountain pass to search for Protea Canary and Victorin’s Warbler and may get lucky with a flyover Verreaux’s Eagle.
Once back in Cape Town we will have part of the afternoon to bird at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. The gardens here are incredibly beautiful, complete with Table Mountain as a backdrop. In the beautifully maintained gardens we will look for Orange-breasted Sunbird and Cape Sugarbird feeding on Protea flowers, while Cape Spurfowl, Southern Boubou, Cape Canary, Brimstone Canary, Swee Waxbill and Lemon Dove should all be seen while walking around the gardens.
Overnight: Fernwood Manor, Kirstenbosch
Day 8. Departure
We may have time to do some final birding along the eastern slopes of Table Mountain before you catch your flight to Durban to begin the Subtropical leg of the tour or your international flight to leave Cape Town.
Please note that the detailed itinerary below 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).