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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

South Africa: The West

Kalahari to the Cape

2022 Narrative

IN DETAIL: After everyone gathered in Johannesburg we launched the tour with a flight to Upington in the northwest Cape.  After collecting items for our picnic lunches for the next few days we drove north into the southern reaches of the Kalahari. Our first birds included Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Rock Kestrel, Southern Ant-eating Chat, Pygmy Falcon, Acacia Pied Barbet, Black-chested Prinia, and Pririt Batis while the first of many massive Sociable Weaver nests soon became very obvious.  We had the best part of a full day in Trans Frontier National Park where we saw our first real mammals in the shape of powerful Gemsbok, Springbok, Red Hartebeest, Wildebeest, and a few Silver-backed Jackals.  However it was an endearing party of Meerkats that were perhaps the most appreciated. On the bird front the large numbers of Burchell’s and Namaqua Sandgrouse coming to drink were a highlight but others included Northern Black Korhaan, Violet-eared Waxbill, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Sabota Larks, Grey-backed Sparrow Larks, Pearl-spotted Owlet, White-backed Vultures, and Lanner Falcons. A sighting of Brown-crowned Tchagra was unusual but the Southern Pied Babblers and Red-billed Buffalo Weavers were in their usual haunts.

Retracing our steps we spent a night in Upington where the lodge grounds were particularly fruitful with African Black Duck, African Pied Wagtail, Orange River White-eye, Karoo Thrushes, many thousands of Wattled Starlings, and Crested Barbet to mention a few. Elsewhere on the Orange River we saw South African Cliff Swallows and several Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters. Leaving Upington we headed west and called in at Augrabies National park where the Orange River falls were spectacular, with Alpine Swifts zooming overhead.  The picnic area gave us superb views of Namaqua Warbler which can sometimes be hard to locate, and other birds here included Green-backed Heron.  We then continued our drive to Pofadder, picking up more Lanner Falcons and Greater Kestrel along the way. Here, in the wide-open expanse of Bushmanland, larks were the order of the day and we were treated to good views of the often elusive Sclaters Lark, along with Karoo Long-billed, Starks, Sabota, Large-billed, Spike-heeled, and Grey-backed Sparrowlark. Later in the day the wonderful Red Lark and Fawn-coloured Lark completed the ‘lark fest’.

In this dry habitat any water is an attraction and there were hundreds of Lark-like Buntings drinking at one small water trough. Leaving Bushmanland we drifted into Namaqualand and the focus of our attention shifted to flowers and in the hills above Kamieskroon we were treated to some wonderful displays of spring wildflowers. There were birds as well to distract us including fine Verreaux’s Eagle and great views of a pair of Ground Woodpeckers. The seafood meal on the beach at Lambert’s Bay was well-liked but the coastal fog next day made Bird Island impossible to see. We stopped at Elands Bay on the way south where we had great views of African Marsh Harrier, and again at the Berg River estuary at Veldriff where there were lots of Greenshank and other waders out on the mud flats and smart Chestnut-banded Plovers on the salt pans, where the long-staying Red-necked Phalarope also put in an appearance.  Our lodge at Saldana gave us a few new birds such as Night Heron and our first African Black Oystercatchers but when we finally found how to get into the West Coast National Park we found the coastal fog still with us which made viewing anything difficult although we did manage a fine male Black Harrier and Southern Black Korhaan as well as close views of Little Rush Warbler from a hide overlooking a small pool.

Moving on we climbed into the Cederberg mountains, but not before getting ‘scope views of Cape Longclaw at a small wildflower reserve. The dry and somewhat barren karoo gave us Karoo Eremomela, Fairy Flycatcher, Layard’s Warbler, Tractrac and Karoo Chats, along with more great looks at Verreaux’s Eagle. Reaching Swellendam we spent the night inside the Bontebok National Park which meant we could have an early morning wander around the rest camp area, where there was plenty to see. What seemed to be a family party of Southern Tchagras showed unusually well, and we also found Greater Doubled-collared Sunbird, Greater Striped Swallow, Pearl-breasted Swallow, plenty of swifts including Horus and White-rumped, Fiscal Flycatcher, Neddicky, Brimestone Canary, and a pair of Cape Batis, while out on the open fynbos there were Stanley’s Bustards and more Black Harriers, as well as handsome Bontebok antelope which gives the National Park its name.

From Bontebok we took our last long drive, down to Cape Town. We travelled via the ferry at Malgas finding Cape Clapper Lark (of the south coast form sometimes treated as Agulhas Clapper Lark) and Agulhas Long-billed Lark, along with loads of Red-capped and Large-billed Larks, African Pipits and many, many majestic Blue Cranes. At Potberg we watched Cape Vultures sailing overhead and our journey into Cape Town took us via Betty’s Bay and the coastal road around False Bay to our accommodation at Noordhoek.  We had four nights at the same hotel which was a nice way to end the tour.  On our first day we travelled back to the other side of False Bay where we eventually found a Cape Rockjumper along with Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Rock Thrush, and another very obliging Ground Woodpecker. We also called in to see the African Penguins at Stony Point, which also held around 50 Bank Cormorants. Our trip out to sea from Hout Bay was a great success with Black-browed, Shy, Indian Ocean Yellow-nosed and Northern Royal Albatrosses, plus the attendant Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, White-chinned and Pintado Petrels, Sooty and Great Shearwaters, Subantarctic Skuas, a lone but very welcome Sabines Gull, lots of Cape Gannets, plenty of Cape Fur Seals, and a Humped Back whale which breached close to the boat on the way back in. Elsewhere around the Cape we spent an enjoyable few hours in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens with Cape Sugarbirds on the flowering Proteas, along with good views of Forest Canary, Olive Pigeons, Southern Boubou, Sombre Greenbul, Amethyst Sunbird, and Spotted Eagle Owl while overhead there were Jackal and Forest Buzzards and Booted Eagle. On the wooded slopes in Constantia we saw more Forest Buzzards plus a pair of Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawks. Strandfontein Sewage Farm was alive with waterfowl including a brief Maccoa Duck, lots of Southern Pochard, and a few Fulvous Whistling Ducks. There were also hundreds of Greater and Lesser Flamingoes plus Lesser Swamp Warbler.  A group photo at the Cape of Good Hope sign is obligatory so we shot down to Africa’s most south-westerly point to do that and managed to get some nice looks at Cape Siskin in the process. After enjoying great weather for virtually all of the tour, the last morning dawned wet and windy and was effectively rained off so the tour drew to a somewhat damp close at the airport at midday.

                                                                                                                                                                                -          Steve Rooke

Created: 18 October 2022