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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

South Africa: Kalahari to the Cape

2016 Narrative

IN DETAIL: There is always some trepidation as we approach the Kalahari as we never know just what we are going to find there.  Having heard that much of the Cape had suffered from a dry winter I was expecting the worst, but as it turned out the place did us proud. The ‘sandgrouse show’ was as good as ever with large numbers of Burchell’s Sandgrouse joining the Namaqua Sandgrouse –  a constant nervous coming and going, especially when a lone Lanner Falcon buzzed the place then sat in a nearby tree preening. There were lots of Red-headed Finches joining the other waterhole visitors which included numerous Namaqua Doves, Lark-like Buntings, and Cape Sparrows.  We had some superb close encounters with Secretary Birds, which appear to be thriving in this Park, and a few Kori Bustards were also seen. Kalahari Scrub Robins showed well, as did Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters, many Fawn-coloured and Sabota Larks, and Marico Flycatchers, while the skies were patrolled by African White-backed Vultures and a family group of Bateleurs. We also found a perched Martial Eagle, as well as a roosting Verreaux’s Eagle Owl. Outside the Park there were numerous Northern Black Korhaans, Golden-tailed Woodpeckers, vivid Crimson-breasted Shrikes, another roosting Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Red-billed Buffalo Weavers, Ashy Tit, and smart Southern Pied Babblers.

On the journey back south we were amazed at the insect-like swarm of Grey-backed Finchlarks along the road, and managed to find some displaying Eastern Clapper Larks and enjoyed a fly over from Lappet-faced Vultures.  Birding on the Orange River gave us African Fish Eagle, nesting South African Cliff Swallows, Orange River White-eyes, dainty Black-throated Canary, and some Red-faced Mousebirds and later we called in at Augrabies National Park to admire the Falls and to look at Alpine Swifts, Pale-winged Starlings, African Reed Warblers, and nesting Southern Masked Weavers.  The open countryside surrounding the remote town of Pofadder was where we got to grips with some of the regions larks.  The sought-after Sclater’s Lark performed beautifully with a pair performing some courtship display. Along with more Fawn-coloured and Sabota Larks we also found Spike-heeled, Karoo Long-billed, and Large-billed Larks, before spending some time with the fabled Red Lark which eventually showed really well.  Several Karoo Korhaan’s where some distraction from all the larks!

Leaving Pofadder we embarked on a long drive that took us through some wonderful countryside as we cut across country to reach the coast road. The Red Larks showed again and we bumped into a small party of Black-eared Finchlarks, a pair of Greater Kestrels and a couple of Spotted Thick-knees along the way.  The lack of winter rain had impacted on the spring wildflowers but we still managed to find some stunning displays before dropping down to the coast and making our way to Lambert’s Bay, where the rain decided to put in an appearance. However, this did not manage to dampen our enjoyment of a seafood extravaganza at the famous beach restaurant.

The coastal fynbos at Lambert’s Bay gave us displaying Cape Clapper Larks, along with many other typical fynbos birds such as Cape Francolin, Bokmakarie, Karoo Scrub Robin, Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Prinia, and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, to be followed by the spectacle of Bird Island and the nesting Cape Gannets. There were lots of other birds present besides the Gannets such as Crowned Cormorants and flocks of roosting Hartlaubs’s Gulls and Swift Terns, plus some dainty White-fronted Plovers.  Following the coast we called in at Eland’s bay where we watched Goliath Heron and Lesser Swamp Warbler in the reeds whilst African Marsh Harriers floated overhead. Then came Rocher Pan with point-blank views of Little Rush Warbler, along with colourful nesting Southern Red Bishops and Cape Weavers, and Maccoa Ducks out on the open water.  We enjoyed more fynbos birding in the West Coast Nature Reserve, although the stunning wild flowers were probably the star of the show here. Birds included Southern Black Korhaan and some nice views of Black Harrier quartering the fynbos, while we saw our only snake of the tour here when a dark Mole Snake crossed the road. Outside the Park we found Night Herons at our Lodge and finally managed to locate a singing Cape Long-billed Lark as we headed inland to the Karoo. 

From our remote base in the heart of the Cederburg mountains we ventured out into the vast open space of the Karoo. We were treated to fantastic views of Cinnamon-breasted Warbler with a pair feeding well-grown young and the same rocky area gave us a majestic Verreaux’s Eagle being mobbed by Pied Crows, and Layard’s Tit Babbler.  It must be said that the Karoo plains were fairly quiet and certainly not disturbed (despite a lot of searching) by Coursers running all over the place. But we had fantastic views of Karoo Eremomela, Namaqa Warbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Pririt Batis, Rufous-eared Warbler, Red-capped and Karoo Larks, and Tractrac Chats before heading south for the last part of the tour.

A wander around Bontebok National Park gave us some good views of the eponymous antelope, as well as several Stanley’s Bustards (including one in full display after leaving the reserve), Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Cape Longclaw, Cape Grassbird, Cape Batis, African Stonechat, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, lots of Fiscal Flycatchers, and Southern Boubou. The drive south from there took us through acres of large open fields, some of which were favoured by flocks of Blue Cranes. We also had great looks at Agulhas Long-billed Lark along the roadside, our 16th lark species for the tour, these joined by many Large-billed Larks and African Pipits perching on the roadside posts. Several Jackal Buzzards, Black Harriers, Common Quail, and African Pipit were some of the other species on the journey. Crossing the quirky Malgas ferry we came to Potberg where we watched Cape Vultures circling overhead and where a couple of Klaas’s Cuckoos joined us for lunch. From there we took the coast road into Cape Town which gave us wonderful views across False Bay as we passed Betty’s Bay, to arrive at our comfortable hotel and base for the next 5 days.

Our pelagic took us some 30 miles past Cape Point in search of seabirds - and we were not to be disappointed as we joined literally thousands of seabirds behind a trawler as it pulled in its nets.  Shy and Black-browed Albatrosses were there in profusion, and we had good views of up to 3 Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses. These were in amongst thousands of White-chinned Petrels, and Cape Gannets, with lesser numbers of Pintado Petrels, Subantartic Skuas, Great and Sooty Shearwaters, and a lone Wilson’s Storm Petrel joining the throng. There were also lots of Cape Fur Seals and one pod of up to 100 Common Dolphins.

We then spent a few days exploring the Cape. We watched Water Thick-knees and Cape Rock Thrush at Klienmond, African Penguins and Bank Cormorants at Stony Point, Cape Rockjumpers jumping around the rocks at Roiels, and Cape Siskins feeding on the ground at Harold Porter Gardens.  We braved the rain to tour Strandfontein Sewage Farm and were treated to hundreds of bright pink Greater Flamingos, flocks of Southern Pochard, Cape Teal, Cape Shovelers, and a pair of Hottentot Teal. Our final morning was spent amidst the splendour of Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens where, as well as a profusion of flowers, we had wonderfully close views of Cape Sugarbirds, Orange-breasted Sunbirds, Forest Canary, Cape Batis, and Sombre Greenbul. Overhead there was Forest Buzzard and Black Sparrowhawk and the weather improved to make this last morning a fitting end to the tour. – Steve Rooke

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