Birding trip South Africa 2-20 nov. 2006
trip report by John van der Woude - www.jvanderw.nl
Cape peninsula, Overberg, Tsitsikamma, Swartberg, Tanqua Karoo, Kalahari
See also:
- Photos of birding sites
- Photos of birds from Cape to Karoo
- Photos of birds and mammals in Kalahari NP
- Species list

See also our previous two trips to South Africa: 
2005
(East) 
2003
(West + Namibia)


Sometimes the best bird of the day is a mammal.
Cheetas at their kill (Ostrich) in Kalahari NP


This time we (me and my wife Nollie who is a keen birder) chose the region between our two former trips more west and more east. We started in Cape Town again, in order to join a pelagic trip. However, due to the weather this was postponed until more than a week later. No problem for us, because after the Cape Peninsula we did the Overberg region, the Garden Route (Tsitsikamma NP) and the Swartberg Pass, and after that a return drive to Cape Town was easy. It mainly meant that we would do the Tanqua Karoo in stead of the Karoo national park, but we don't regret this at all! The Tanqua Karoo, with its 250 km long untarred road without any settlement is an experience in itself. After the Karoo we did the Kalahari-Gemsbok NP and we were very impressed by that enormous gem as well. After the Kalahari we had planned to go further NE, to the region west of Pretoria and then up all the way to the northern frontier, where a new NP looks very promising. However, at the end of our stay in the Kalahari NP we got a sad message from Holland and we had to return there immediately. Here, South Africa proved again to be a modern country: the return trip was arranged very efficiently, in no time.
We relied heavily on the 'SABF', the very recently published Southern African Birdfinder (Cohen c.s.,2006; published by Struik and widely sold outside South Africa too). In fact, also when writing this report I assume that you already have this book, or you know the birding regions of SA from other sources. So this report is just an addition to that outstanding book.
The trip was devised as much as possible and reasonable to get lifers that we had missed on our two former trips. And we got no less than about 30 of them, definitely thanks to the SABF.

Some logistical tips:
- Via the internet we had ordered a prolongation of our Wild card, which gives free access to all national parks. The Wild card can also be purchased at the entrance of any NP. For info about the national parks, including detailed info about the bungalows, do visit www.sanparks.org.
- On Google Earth, more and more parts of SA are visible on high resolution. Use it when preparing your trip, esp. for areas where maps (also those in the SABF) are too general for your purpose.
- For car rental, do have a look at the rental company's web site in South Africa itself. E.g. at www.avis.co.za we found a very good offer that we did not see at the worldwide Avis web site.
- Rent a mobile phone at the Voda shop in the airport terminal or (cheaper) at the counter of the car rental company (or, what we did: buy a sim card for your own mobile phone, provided that it has been made sim-lock free). Having a phone is good for making reservations etc. and for calling the rental car company in case of a car problem, although the coverage in empty regions like the Karoo is still poor, but otherwise good (see e.g. at www.vodacom.co.za > Packages > Coverage map).
- We had no hotels but only B&B (bed and breakfast), and bungalows at the national parks. And we loved it, mostly. The best B&B of this trip (and in fact of all our three trips in South Africa) was the one in Simonstown on the Cape peninsula: Port of Call (www.portofcall.co.za) with splendid rooms with a lovely 180 degrees view across the bay, a very good breakfast, and, above all, very friendly owners. Simonstown is the place where the pelagic trips depart, and being so close to that harbour was reasssuring. Moreover, Simonstown has a good location both with respect to the southern parts of Cape Town (Kirstenbosch, Tokai) and with respect to the lovely Cape of Good Hope national park (the south tip of the peninsula). And very close to the penguin colony of Boulders. Also, as we drove so often along the sea shore of Simonstown, we got splendid views of whales.
- For other accommodation and general info, we used the Footprint guide of South Africa this time, in stead of the Lonely Planet. Not only because it was the most recent guide, but also because Footprint just gives more detailed information about the accommodation of their choice. A good choice was the Wykeham Lodge in Worcester and also the Hantam house in Calvinia.

Birding sites (numbers refer to the SABF; these remarks are just supplementary to the SABF):
0. Pelagic trip
Due to windy conditions at sea, the pelagic excursion was postponed again and again, from Saturday 4 all the way until Monday 13 November. We kept in contact with the excursion leader (see www.birding-africa.com) nearly every other day and kept our trip schedule a bit flexible, so at the end we were lucky to join the excursion. We did find a trawler and got our pelagic lifers, although the trawler had just finished its work at that spot and moved on after about 20 minutes. Alas we didn't follow the trawler then, because the skipper, right at that moment, had gotten a message that an unfavourable wind was starting to blow again, so we had to return to Simonstown.
We were not seasick at all, probably thanks to the pills we had taken (Stugeron).
1. Kirstenbosch
The two Spotted Eagle-Owls had left their trees behind the visitor centre, and were now in the trees along the main footpath running NE-SW along the northern end of the Dell/Cycad Garden, before you enter the protea gardens.
2. Constantia Greenbelts
We tried the Knysna Warbler at C, but only heard them singing much lower down in that small valley. As we had seen car window glass lying on the ground of the small car park at A, we didn't like to leave our car there too long so we soon gave up (and had a much better chance at Victoria Bay, see 43).
4. Kommetjie
We did see a few Crowned Cormorants on the right-hand side of the car park at the bay.
5. Cape of Good Hope nature reserve
Loads of Grey-backed Cisticola. A good spot for fynbos bird species (including Cape Siskin) was along the loop road described for the buttonquail, but then just before this loop road (when going anti-clockwise) bends back to the main road. This was at 3417'58"S 1825'16"E. From near this point we also saw Cape Clapper Lark displaying at the obvious rocks down near the shore.
Do take the little train up to Cape Point, not only for the view but also for the Cape Cormorant colony at the western cliff face.
6. Boulders penguin colony
For a real quick view of the penguins go to the southern car park. For a walk amidst the penguins, go to the northern car park and enter the reserve (main entrance here). Late afternoon is best, they say.
7. Strandfontein sewage works
Three years ago we didn't like to go here because of its proximity to the Cape Flats, but we now had understood that it's safe to go there. Still, we went there now with two cars (together with two other birders staying in the same great B&B at Simonstown, see above). It was a lovely ride indeed between all those reed-fringed ponds, full of birds. The best part was the drive between C and D.
14. Paarl mountain
When driving back to Cape Town for the postponed pelagic, we did the small but nice botanical garden (B) at midday and saw more Cape Sugarbirds then anywhere else.
26. Karoopoort
A wonderful scenery, but we decided to drive on to the next two sites in order to be there early enough. Namaqua Warbler was easy (Hans, thanks!) at the first bridge along the R46 towards the N1, at 0,6 km from the Ceres-Calvinia road.
27. Eierkop
It took some time to find Karoo Eremomela but then we saw it several times, in a quickly moving group. This was more or less in the fork of tracks in front of the Eierkop (where you have to choose for either the more obvious right-hand car park or the less obvious left-hand car park; anyway, in front of the Eierkop).
28. Skitterykloof
We had the Cinnamon-breasted Warbler right at the entrance of the kloof (gorge) and didn't even try the classical (picnic) site after that. More than one was singing at the rocky right-hand side only 50 m or so after the start of the kloof, when coming from the East.
30. P2250 road
A great scenery, but probably too late already (c. 12.00 h) to see many birds. Still, got Ludwig's Bustard here.
36. Agulhas plains
We had Denhams Bustard c. 14 km East of Bredasdorp along the road to De Hoop NR, and just 1,5 km W of the Van der Stelskraal farm, on the south side of the road, at 3425'33.50"S 2013'31.94"E.
We got Knysna Woodpecker at the campsite of De Hoop NR indeed.
Both 'Agulhas larks' did we see when driving up straight North towards Swellendam from the Malgas hand ferry: the clapper lark at
3420'1.00"S 2032'48.00"E and the long-billed lark at 3414'24.37"S 2036'0.42"E.
A nice B&B with a very friendly landlady (Matty) is at the Verfheuwel farm 5 km West of the Potberg part of De Hoop NR; phone 028 542 1038. She also made us dinner.
43. Wilderness
Despite the touristy village nearby, the rest camp's bungalows at A are very nice and very good value for money too. The walk along the river towards B was a bit disappointing, esp. because we never reached the taller forest, as we got fed up with the trail that goes steeply up and down the whole time. However, the forest at E, at the Big Tree, was impressive indeed. At the very last fork to the Big Tree there was no sign: go left here.
At Victoria Bay we heard Knysna Warbler for about 30 minutes, but never saw it. Still, this is a good site to try I think, as you have a good view on the bushes.
47. Nature's Valley
The walk along the NE side of the Grootrivier river was great, right from the start at the bridge. Half-collared Kingfisher was at the creek at 3358'13.01"S 2333'57.89"E.
The forest huts, although with communal toilets etc., have a very good location, with the turaco and the Chorister Robin-Chat right at the balcony.
48. Swartberg pass
This gravel road was in a very good condition, no problem at all for our normal car. Protea Seedeater was present at one of the first streams (coming from Oudtshoorn). Victorin's Warbler and Cape Rockjumper were seen at about 200 m before the pass.
50/51. Calvinia, Brandvlei
In this whole Karoo region (up to Kennhardt), we had Black-eared Sparrowlarks 3 or 4  times. Red Lark was 1 km East of D indeed.
59. Kalahari-Gemsbok NP (Kgalagadi Transfrontier park)
This was a superb experience, and not only because of the many Lions and the Cheetas we saw (see photo section). The park is full of raptors indeed (many Lanner, Secretarybird, Tawny Eagle). Burchell's Sandgrouse was present at the water holes (and indeed especially 2-4 hours after sunrise) of Rooiputs and Kwang.
Have your tyres deflated (to c. 1.7 bar) before entering the sand roads. As long as the last part of the road to the NP has not been tarred, this should be at the Molopo lodge (see below), and otherwise at Twee Rivieren itself.
60/61. Upington to the Kgalagadi
Orange-river White-eye was at the entrance of the Affinity guest house (at 2827'23.37"S 2114'59.94"E). For stocking up for the trip North, visit the Pick 'n Pay along Hill street (at 2827'12.12"S 2114'46.11"E).
The Spitskop reserve (enter at 2822'40.07"S 21 9'31.29"E, 12 km NW of the centre of Upington) was good for Chat Flycatcher, and we had a few Eastern Clapper Lark at 1.6 km NE of the Spitskop hill itself.
At 1.5 km after the Molopo lodge (where you can have your tyres inflated or deflated at the gas station) we picknicked at a large shady tree and had several good birds around (like Violet-eared Waxbill). This is about 60 km before you enter the NP at Twee Rivieren. Neglect the 'Gemsbok' road sign 1.7 km further on as this will not bring you to the Kalahari-Gemsbok NP but into Botswana.