7 – 14 OCTOBER 2018
By Dominic Rollinson
This Birding Ecotours 8-day Western Cape birding tour was a whistle-stop trip around the south-western Cape, aiming to find as many of the area’s endemics as possible while also enjoying the wildlife and spectacular scenery the Cape has to offer. This trip took us from the open ocean to the biologically-rich mountain fynbos to the desolate plains of the Tankwa Karoo.
Due to the diversity of habitats we were able to accumulate a good trip list of 205 species seen, including African Penguin, Bank, Cape, and Crowned Cormorants, Grey-winged Francolin, Cape Spurfowl, Blue Crane, Southern Black and Karoo Korhaans, Large-billed, Cape Long-billed, and Karoo Larks, Cape and Sentinel Rock Thrushes, Karoo, Sickle-winged, Tractrac, and Ant-eating Chats, Cape Rockjumper, Ground Woodpecker, Victorin’s Warbler, Cape Grassbird, Cape Penduline Tit, Karoo Eremomela, Namaqua and Rufous-eared Warblers, Fairy Flycatcher, Pririt Batis, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, Swee Waxbill, Protea and Forest Canaries, and Cape Siskin.
While traveling through the Western Cape we also found a few interesting mammal and reptile species, including Bontebok, Gemsbok, Marsh Mongoose, Hippopotamus, Humpback Whale, and Black Spitting Cobra.
Day 1, 7th October 2018. Arrival in Simonstown
Today was mostly an arrival day, with most people only arriving late in the afternoon. Jessica and I, however, did spend most of the afternoon at Strandfontein Sewage Works, which is one of Cape Town’s best birding spots. As usual there were birds everywhere around the ponds, and we soon found Black-necked Grebe, Cape Teal, Cape Shoveler, Maccoa Duck, Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Black Sparrowhawk, Black-winged Kite, and some smaller species in the surrounding scrub, including Karoo Prinia, Cape Bulbul, and Cape Robin-Chat.
Back in Simonstown we met the rest of the group and enjoyed a tasty meal while discussing the trip and what birds we might expect over the next week.
Day 2, 8th October 2018. Day trip to Betty’s Bay
The first full day of birding promised to be an exciting one! With our packed breakfast we headed out early to the eastern side of False Bay. Our first short stop in some proper mountain fynbos quickly saw us add Orange-breasted and Malachite Sunbirds, Cape Sugarbird, Cape Bunting, and Cape Robin-Chat.
Our first birding destination was Rooi-Els, where Cape Rockjumper was the big target. While enjoying our breakfast packs on the edge of the village we found Cape Rock Thrush, Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Prinia, Cape Bulbul, Speckled Mousebird, and African Black Swifts overhead. Further down the road it did not take too long before a pair of Cape Rockjumpers showed themselves, along with Ground Woodpecker, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Neddicky, and Cape Siskin.
We then strolled around the picturesque Harold Porter National Botanical Garden in Betty’s Bay, where we added Cape Grassbird, Cape Batis, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Sombre Greenbul, Cape Spurfowl, Swee Waxbill (Johanne only), and Pin-tailed Whydah before we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the restaurant.
We left Betty’s Bay in the early afternoon and managed an hour’s birding at Strandfontein, where the group caught up on most of the species we had seen the afternoon before, with Glossy Ibis, African Marsh Harrier, and Lesser Swamp Warbler being new birds.
That afternoon we received the good news that the pelagic trip would be going out the next day, with good weather predicted.
Day 3, 9th October 2018. Pelagic trip from Hout Bay
We left Simonstown before sunrise and enjoyed the spectacular views from Chapman’s Peak on our way to Hout Bay, from where our boat was departing. While waiting for the boat to launch we were treated to a flyby of a young African Harrier-Hawk (well spotted, Johanne!), which proved to be our only sighting of this species of the trip.
The morning was a great one for a trip out to sea: a bit of cloud cover, almost no wind, and a relatively small swell. We made good time heading out into the deep, and it wasn’t long before we had our first true pelagic bird in the form of White-chinned Petrel as well as many Cape Cormorants and small flocks of Cape Gannets. We also had close views of a single Humpback Whale before it dived, never to be seen again. Soon after this the exciting news came in from the skipper that there was a trawler on the horizon and we should catch up to it in the next 30 minutes! As we got closer to the trawler bird numbers picked up dramatically, and we quickly found Shy Albatross, Great Shearwater, Cape Petrel, and Wilson’s Storm Petrel.
We stayed with the trawler for a few hours and were surrounded by thousands of seabirds. Among the flocks of White-chinned Petrels and Shy Albatrosses we picked out Black-browed, Atlantic Yellow-nosed, and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Sooty Shearwater, European Storm Petrel, Brown Skua, and a single Manx Shearwater that showed really well.
We then left the trawling grounds, and before getting back into Hout Bay harbor we stopped at Seal Island, where we saw large numbers of Cape Fur Seals as well as Cape, Crowned, and Bank Cormorants.
Before dinner we visited the Boulder’s Beach penguin colony, where we saw many breeding African Penguins as well as our first African Oystercatchers.
Day 4, 10th October 2018. West Coast birding
Today we had breakfast at our accommodation in Simonstown, which was interrupted by a flyover Peregrine Falcon. After breakfast we made our way north along the West Coast, where we would spend the day birding.
Our first stop was the farmlands along the Darling Hills Road, which quickly yielded Pearl-breasted Swallow, Banded Martin, Jackal Buzzard, Rock Kestrel, Grey-winged Francolin, Blue Crane, Namaqua Dove, Capped Wheatear, Pied Starling, White-backed Mousebird, African Hoopoe, and Cape Weaver, as well as a colony of beautifully-colored European Bee-eaters that posed nicely for the cameras.
At a small wetland along this road we had brief views of Southern Red and Yellow Bishops as well as African Paradise Flycatcher, Bar-throated Apalis, and African Marsh Harrier.
After a quick roadside lunch we entered the West Coast National Park and headed straight to the Abrahamskraal waterhole, where we enjoyed a pleasurable hour or so photographing birds coming in to drink. Waterbirds here included African Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Duck, and Cape Shoveler, while smaller birds seen in the nearby scrub included Yellow Canary, Karoo Scrub Robin, and Cape Sparrow. Good numbers of Common Ostriches were also seen in the general area as well as great views of a single Bontebok.
Checking the various bird hides for waders gave us better views of African Oystercatcher along with a suite of new waders such as Grey, Kittlitz’s, White-fronted, and Common Ringed Plovers as well as Little Stint and Curlew Sandpiper. A pair of South African Shelducks gave us a good but brief flyby too. On our walk to the Seeberg Hide Jen got the surprise of her life when she discovered a nice big Mole Snake, while we also saw Cape Penduline Tit, Bokmakierie, and Chestnut-vented Warbler in the general area.
We checked into our accommodation at the West Coast town of Langebaan and then went for a very pleasant dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 5, 11th October 2018. West Coast to Tankwa Karoo
After an early breakfast we headed into the farmlands around Vredenburg to look for a few more endemics. The morning’s birding proved to be extremely productive, and we managed good views of Cape Long-billed and Large-billed Larks, Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark, Sickle-winged and Ant-eating Chats, and much-improved views of a number of Blue Cranes.
We stopped briefly at the nearby Velddrif Salt Works, where we added Chestnut-banded Plover, Red-necked Phalarope (now in full breeding dress!), and Caspian Terns, as well as a small group of Pied Kingfishers.
We had a good drive ahead of us for the afternoon to get over the escarpment and into the plains of the Tankwa Karoo. Unfortunately not too much was seen on the drive except Mountain Wheatear, Karoo Chat, and White-throated Canary. We did also stop briefly to enjoy some Khoisan cave paintings en route.
In the evening we headed out to look for some nocturnal animals; however, we did not find anything of interest. Despite this the stars were spectacular, and it was an enjoyable experience.
Day 6, 12th October 2018. Tankwa Karoo birding
Today we had the whole day to enjoy the stark beauty of the Tankwa Karoo and its many endemic bird species. We started with an early-morning drive to Eierkop before breakfast, where we found Karoo Eremomela, and in the surrounding plains we saw Karoo Korhaan, Spike-heeled and Karoo Larks, and Rufous-eared Warbler.
After a delicious breakfast we headed to Skitterykloof to look for Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. Upon arriving at Skitterykloof Jen spotted a large snake crossing the road. But as the group was jumping out of the vehicle to have a closer look we realized, when it started to raise its hood, that this was not a harmless Mole Snake but rather an extremely dangerous Black Spitting Cobra. This quickly sent us back into the safety of the vehicle!
The birding appeared tame after this, but we did add Fairy Flycatcher, Layard’s Warbler, White-throated Canary, and Cape Bunting. Unfortunately Cinnamon-breasted Warbler eluded us, despite hearing its distant call.
After Skitterykloof we headed north toward Tankwa Karoo National Park. By this stage the winds had really picked up, creating mini sand storms across the semi-desert landscape. We did, however, manage to find Tractrac Chat, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Greater Kestrel, Pririt Batis, and Southern Masked Weaver. Just as we entered the park we saw a distant group of Gemsboks before discovering a closer pair just over the next rise, which posed nicely for the group.
Day 7, 13th October 2018. Tankwa Karoo to Cape Town
After one last failed attempt at finding Cinnamon-breasted Warbler (but finding African Reed Warbler and Booted Eagle as consolation prizes) we headed out of the plains of the Tankwa Karoo and back into the mountain fynbos near Paarl. Before leaving the Tankwa Karoo we had a quick stop at Karooport, where we eventually managed decent views of Namaqua Warbler, and Streaky-headed Seedeater was also new.
In the mountain fynbos we found our next big targets in Protea Canary and Victorin’s Warbler while also enjoying Orange-breasted Sunbird, Jackal Buzzard, and Cape Siskin.
We arrived in the afternoon at our accommodation on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain and headed out for some birding in the forested areas around Constantia. The few hours birding here were extremely productive, and we added a number of new birds such as African Olive Pigeon, Swee Waxbill, Forest Canary, African Paradise and African Dusky Flycatchers, Common Chaffinch, and Cape Batis.
After dinner we did a quick night-time excursion and managed to find an obliging African Wood Owl (impressive pics, Doug!), which capped off a great day’s birding.
Day 8, 14th October 2018. Cape Peninsula birding
Today was the last day of the tour, and we were to have the full day’s birding on the Cape Peninsula to try to find any species we had missed thus far on the trip. We started around the Constantia greenbelts again, where we had even better views of most of yesterday’s species as well as Amethyst Sunbird, Olive Woodpecker, and Little Rush Warbler in a nearby wetland.
Next we headed to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden for the rest of the morning, where we spent time photographing Orange-breasted and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds. We tried for the Spotted Eagle-Owls at their nest site; however, all we could find was an abandoned egg, which was very worrying.
After lunch at Kirstenbosch we started our final afternoon’s birding on the peninsula. We first stopped at Rondevlei Nature Reserve, where we had a great couple of hours and saw Malachite Kingfisher, Yellow Bishop, Red-faced Mousebird, Fiscal Flycatcher, Great Crested Grebe, White-faced Whistling Duck, and Hottentot Teal. We were also treated to two non-avian highlights in the form of Hippopotamus and Marsh Mongoose.
For the last hour of light we went back to Strandfontein Sewage Works, where we found a few new birds such as African Fish Eagle, Grey-headed Gull, African Swamphen, Ruff, and Black-crowned Night Heron.
This final afternoon’s birding ended a great week around the Cape with many lifers for the group, including a number of Cape endemics.
Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included.