South Africa: 3-Day Tankwa Karoo Birding Tour Report, January 2022

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18 – 20 JANUARY 2022

By Dominic Rollinson

Tankwa Karoo ReportRufous-eared Warbler is relatively common in the plains of the Tankwa Karoo.


The semi-desert of the Tankwa Karoo hosts a number of South African endemics and near-endemics which form the focus of birding trips to the area. A Tankwa Karoo birding trip is unlikely to produce a large species list, however what few species are encountered are mostly specialists which are adapted to living in the harsh semi-desert conditions. Some of the important species we saw on this particular tour included Cinnamon-breasted, Rufous-eared, Namaqua and Layard’s Warblers, Karoo Eremomela, Karoo Korhaan, Karoo, Large-billed, Spike-heeled and Karoo Long-billed Larks, Namaqua Sandgrouse and Black-headed Canary. After the three days of birding, we had a decent list of 95 species which included many of the dry-country specials that we were after.

Tankwa Karoo ReportA small group of the cute Karoo Eremomela was seen well.

Detailed Report

Day 1, 18th January 2022. Cape Town to the Tankwa Karoo

We left the bright lights of Cape Town before dawn and were met by some very unseasonal weather in the form of low clouds and spots of rain as we drove along the Dutoitskloof Pass and arrived at our first scheduled birding stop. We would be targeting a few mountain fynbos specials here and managed birds such as Jackal Buzzard, Cape Siskin, Cape Bulbul, calling Cape Grassbird, Neddicky, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape Sugarbird and the prize for the morning, a (relatively) showy Victorin’s Warbler. Unfortunately, our major target, Protea Canary, would not show for us.

From here, we made our way into the drier habitat of the Karoo where a roadside stop to scan a dam produced Lesser Flamingo, Cape Shoveler and a few other common waterbirds. Next, we scanned the dry scrub and acacia stands at Karooport, which yielded Namaqua Warbler, Namaqua Dove, White-backed Mousebird, Pied Starling and White-throated Canary. A large Black Spitting Cobra was seen in some nearby bushes which was a good reminder to watch where we stepped.

Making our way into the Tankwa Karoo proper, we birded the semi-desert plains which proved really worthwhile, and bagged us Pale Chanting Goshawk, Karoo Korhaan, Spike-heeled Lark, Karoo and Tractrac Chats, Karoo Scrub Robin, Rufous-eared Warbler, and a group of three Namaqua Sandgrouse as they slowly walked across the road. After birding the plains we enjoyed our lunch in the shade of some acacia trees at Skitterykloof gorge which had a feeding Fairy Flycatcher giving us great views as it went about its business. We worked the nearby bushes and scrub and managed to find Mountain Wheatear, Long-billed Crombec, Dusky Sunbird, White-throated Canary and some of the group managed brief views of the big target of the area, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler.

We finished off the day with Nicholson’s Pipit close to our accommodation and a scrumptious dinner as we enjoyed a beautiful Tankwa Karoo sunset and a drink. Unfortunately, the wind had picked up which meant our night drive did not produce much of interest besides a couple Scrub Hares.

Tankwa Karoo ReportTractrac Chat was one of the many chat species seen in the Tankwa Karoo.

Day 2, 19th January 2022. Tankwa Karoo birding

We woke early with the exciting prospect of the whole day to bird the Tankwa Karoo. Almost immediately we improved our views of Rufous-eared Warbler and Karoo Lark, while a Grey Tit put in a brief appearance. In a dry rocky gorge, we all got onto the skulking Cinnamon-breasted Warbler and also found Grey-backed Cisticola and Layard’s Warbler nearby. Further up the gorge we managed to find a single Pale-winged Starling. Birding the open plains gave us great views of a small feeding flock of Karoo Eremomelas while the calling Southern Black Korhaan would not show itself. Our last birding stop before breakfast saw us working some palm trees, which yielded large numbers of Yellow and White-throated Canaries and a single Black-headed Canary.

After a lovely sit-down breakfast at our accommodation, we headed north towards the Tankwa Karoo National Park to try and track down a few remaining target birds. As we went further north, we started to see a few more Tractrac Chats, Pale Chanting Goshawks and other common Karoo species such as Karoo Chat, Large-billed and Red-capped Larks and Karoo Scrub Robin. A pair of South African Shelducks were also seen at a small farm dam near to the road. Once in the park we came across a large group of Common Ostriches, with a leucistic bird being a particularly bizarre sight. New birds for the trip included Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark, Lark-like Bunting, Greater Kestrel, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Pririt Batis, Karoo Long-billed Lark and we had good views of a flyover Booted Eagle. We searched the plains for Burchell’s Courser but despite our best efforts we couldn’t find any of these rare nomads.

Tankwa Karoo ReportA leucistic Common Ostrich was an unexpected sight!

After the long drive back south, we finished the day off by enjoying some birding around our accommodation which produced further sightings of Layard’s Warbler, Bokmakierie, Cape Bunting and Red-faced Mousebird.

Day 3, 20th January 2022. Tankwa Karoo birding and return to Cape Town

Today was our last day in the Tankwa Karoo and we enjoyed the birding around our accommodation and Skitterykloof gorge which produced further sightings of South African Shelduck, Fairy Flycatcher, Grey Tit, Booted Eagle, Karoo Lark, Mountain Wheatear, Rufous-eared Warbler and Yellow Canary.

Tankwa Karoo ReportGrey morph Mountain Wheatears were common in the rocky areas of the Tankwa Karoo.

After another excellent sit-down breakfast, we made our way out of the Tankwa Karoo which did not produce much of interest and then we made another stop at Dutoitskloof area to have a further crack at Protea Canary. Unfortunately, despite another good search, the canaries would not show for us, and we had to eventually give up on this tough mountain fynbos endemic. Good birds seen here did however include Cape Rock Thrush, Neddicky and Bokmakierie. We eventually made it back into Cape Town late in the afternoon after a thoroughly enjoyable three days in the dry and dusty plains of the Tankwa Karoo.


Bird ListFollowing IOC (12.1)

 Birds ‘heard only’ are marked with (H) after the common name, all other species were seen.

The following notation after species names is used to show conservation status following BirdLife International: VU = Vulnerable.


Common Name Scientific Name
Ostriches (Struthionidae)
Common Ostrich Struthio camelus
Ducks, Geese, Swans (Anatidae)
Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca
South African Shelduck Tadorna cana
Cape Shoveler Spatula smithii
Yellow-billed Duck Anas undulata
Pheasants & Allies (Phasianidae)
Cape Spurfowl (H) Pternistis capensis
Bustards (Otididae)
Karoo Korhaan Eupodotis vigorsii
Southern Black Korhaan – VU (H) Afrotis afra
Sandgrouse (Pteroclidae)
Namaqua Sandgrouse Pterocles namaqua
Pigeons, Doves (Columbidae)
Speckled Pigeon Columba guinea
Ring-necked Dove (H) Streptopelia capicola
Laughing Dove Spilopelia senegalensis
Namaqua Dove Oena capensis
Cranes (Gruidae)
Blue Crane – VU Grus paradisea
Flamingos (Phoenicopteridae)
Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor
Plovers (Charadriidae)
Three-banded Plover Charadrius tricollaris
Sandpipers, Snipes (Scolopacidae)
Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola
Cormorants, Shags (Phalacrocoracidae)
Reed Cormorant Microcarbo africanus
Ibises, Spoonbills (Threskiornithidae)
African Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus
Hadada Ibis (H) Bostrychia hagedash
Herons, Bitterns (Ardeidae)
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Kites, Hawks, Eagles (Accipitridae)
Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus
Pale Chanting Goshawk Melierax canorus
Jackal Buzzard Buteo rufofuscus
Mousebirds (Coliidae)
White-backed Mousebird Colius colius
Red-faced Mousebird Urocolius indicus
Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)
Rock Kestrel Falco rupicolus
Greater Kestrel Falco rupicoloides
Wattle-eyes, Batises (Platysteiridae)
Pririt Batis Batis pririt
Bushshrikes (Malaconotidae)
Bokmakierie Telophorus zeylonus
Southern Boubou Laniarius ferrugineus
Shrikes (Laniidae)
Southern Fiscal Lanius collaris
Drongos (Dicruridae)
Fork-tailed Drongo (H) Dicrurus adsimilis
Crows, Jays (Corvidae)
Pied Crow Corvus albus
White-necked Raven Corvus albicollis
Fairy Flycatchers (Stenostiridae)
Fairy Flycatcher Stenostira scita
Tits, Chickadees (Paridae)
Grey Tit Melaniparus afer
Larks (Alaudidae)
Spike-heeled Lark Chersomanes albofasciata
Karoo Long-billed Lark Certhilauda subcoronata
Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark Eremopterix verticalis
Karoo Lark Calendulauda albescens
Large-billed Lark Galerida magnirostris
Red-capped Lark Calandrella cinerea
Bulbuls (Pycnonotidae)
Cape Bulbul Pycnonotus capensis
Swallows, Martins (Hirundinidae)
Rock Martin Ptyonoprogne fuligula
Pearl-breasted Swallow Hirundo dimidiata
Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica
Greater Striped Swallow Cecropis cucullata
Crombecs, African Warblers (Macrosphenidae)
Cape Grassbird Sphenoeacus afer
Long-billed Crombec Sylvietta rufescens
Cisticolas & Allies (Cisticolidae)
Grey-backed Cisticola Cisticola subruficapilla
Levaillant’s Cisticola Cisticola tinniens
Neddicky Cisticola fulvicapilla
Karoo Prinia Prinia maculosa
Namaqua Warbler Phragmacia substriata
Rufous-eared Warbler Malcorus pectoralis
Cinnamon-breasted Warbler Euryptila subcinnamomea
Karoo Eremomela Eremomela gregalis
Sylviid Babblers (Sylviidae)
Layard’s Warbler Curruca layardi
Chestnut-vented Warbler Curruca subcoerulea
White-eyes (Zosteropidae)
Cape White-eye Zosterops virens
Sugarbirds (Promeropidae)
Cape Sugarbird Promerops cafer
Starlings, Rhabdornis (Sturnidae)
Pied Starling Lamprotornis bicolor
Red-winged Starling Onychognathus morio
Pale-winged Starling Onychognathus nabouroup
Thrushes (Turdidae)
Karoo Thrush Turdus smithi
Chats, Old World Flycatchers (Muscicapidae)
Karoo Scrub Robin Cercotrichas coryphoeus
Fiscal Flycatcher Melaenornis silens
Spotted Flycatcher Muscicapa striata
African Dusky Flycatcher (H) Muscicapa adusta
Cape Robin-Chat (H) Cossypha caffra
Cape Rock Thrush Monticola rupestris
Karoo Chat Emarginata schlegelii
Tractrac Chat Emarginata tractrac
Mountain Wheatear Myrmecocichla monticola
Familiar Chat Oenanthe familiaris
Sunbirds (Nectariniidae)
Orange-breasted Sunbird Anthobaphes violacea
Southern Double-collared Sunbird Cinnyris chalybeus
Dusky Sunbird Cinnyris fuscus
Old World Sparrows, Snowfinches (Passeridae)
Cape Sparrow Passer melanurus
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow Passer diffusus
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Weavers, Widowbirds (Ploceidae)
Cape Weaver Ploceus capensis
Southern Masked Weaver Ploceus velatus
Yellow Bishop Euplectes capensis
Waxbills, Munias & Allies (Estrildidae)
Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild
Wagtails, Pipits (Motacillidae)
Cape Wagtail Motacilla capensis
African Pipit Anthus cinnamomeus
Nicholson’s Pipit Anthus nicholsoni
Finches, Euphonias (Fringillidae)
Cape Siskin Crithagra totta
Yellow Canary Crithagra flaviventris
White-throated Canary Crithagra albogularis
Black-headed Canary Serinus alario
Buntings (Emberizidae)
Lark-like Bunting Emberiza impetuani
Cape Bunting Emberiza capensis


Total seen 88
Total heard only 7
Total recorded 95



This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.

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