The following is the first part of a very belated report on a trip that my
wife and I did last August. In essence it was an exploratory trip often off
the beaten birding track so hopefully it is of some interest to those of you
planning a visit to South Africa.
The trip was partly a holiday for my wife and non-birding sister-in-law, a
busman’s holiday for me and a recce to suss out accommodation for possible
future trips, particularly to the lesser known areas of the fascinating
Northern Cape Province. A secondary aim was to see some old feathered
friends along with the newly described Long-tailed and Kimberley Pipits
along with a few other life birds for Elize and my South African (as opposed
to southern African) lists. The intensity of the birding was very relaxed
and tempered to cater for the non-birding participants.
Participants, all South African residents were Elize and John McAllister and
Elma Murphy from Wakkerstroom. We were joined at Smouskolk Guest Farm near
Vanwyksvlei by Joe and Shirley Johnson from Cape Town.
We used my VW Microbus for the entire trip. It performed excellently and
often behaved like a far more expensive 4x4 vehicle. It was a very sad day
indeed for South African birding when Volkswagen South Africa decided to
discontinue production of this vehicle recently. We travelled at a very
relaxed pace and took a full 30 days to cover the area. The total distance
travelled was 8 064 km and we used 989 litres of fuel at an average cost of
R 4.05/litre. We rarely spent less than two nights at each stop.
With some relatively long-distance driving and more intense birding the trip
could be done in less than half this time. with upwards of 300 birds
species, particularly if the trip was timed to take place a month to six
weeks later. We undertook the trip at this time as it was my quiet period
as far as commercial birding trips are concerned.
South African birders are used to undertaking long trips into sparsely
populated areas. Northern hemisphere birders, particularly those from
Europe, may however find long drives though sparsely populated arid areas
somewhat daunting. You should always remember to ensure that you have
sufficient fuel in your vehicle and it is wise to carry emergency food and
water supplies. While the road infrastructure is generally excellent the
gravel roads in the area can become particularly treacherous after rains.
Even the smallest shower is often capable of causing washaways in these arid
Recommended guide books for the area covered by this trip report are:
SASOL BIRDS OF SOUTHERN AFRICA - THIRD EDITION by Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey
and Warwick Tarboton and published in 2002 by Struik Publishers of Cape
Town, South Africa.
The third edition of “Sasol” shows most of the latest splits, although some
of them, e.g. Bradfield’s/Sabota Lark, are still shown as sub-species. Most
of the “new” bird names are also used with the “old” names in brackets.
ESSENTIAL BIRDING IN WESTERN SOUTH AFRICA by Callan Cohen and Claire
Spottiswoode and published in 2000 by Struik Publishers of Cape Town, South
This site guide is invaluable to birders planning or undertaking a trip into
this area without the services of a guide. The detail on where to find
which birds is nothing short of excellent.
The excellent single sheet “Explorer Map” issued by the Northern Cape’s
Tourism Authority (e-mail proved adequate for
even the most remote areas visited in the Northern Cape. For the rest of
the country we used the AA of South Africa’s NEW SOUTHERN AFRICAN BOOK OF
THE ROAD published by AA Motorist Publications in Johannesburg South Africa,
but similar regional maps are probably published by each Provincial Tourism
Authority in South Africa.
Useful websites for finding accommodation, etc. were Northern Cape Tourism’s
site at http://www.northerncape.org.za (a bit sloppy, but nevertheless very
useful) and Western Cape Tourism’s excellent site at
http://www.capetourism.org (no “za”).
I have divided the trip up into the following major birding areas :-
ARID GRASSLAND - mostly open grassland interspersed with scattered trees and
KALAHARI SANDVELD - a semi desert area with very sandy soils, many
moderately high dunes and with deep rooted acacia trees forming the dominant
BUSHMANLAND AND NAMAQUALAND - arid areas comprising largely gravel semi
desert plains interspersed with low sand dunes and the dominant vegetation
is made up of sparse, low shrubs and taller, less sparse vegetation is
restricted to the dunes (the edges of fossil drainage lines?) and the banks
of the seasonal watercourses;
THE FYNBOS - a semi-arid to moist macchia like area where the major
vegetation group is comprised of aromatic herbaceous plants and rainfall is
largely restricted to the winter months;
THE KAROO - a semi arid area where the vegetation is made up of medium sized
shrubs of varying density and some trees along the mainly seasonal
The above “birding areas” blur into each other in most cases, but here and
there mountainous areas or even the verdant ribbon of the perennial Gariep
(Orange) River form sharp demarcation lines There are many southern African
endemics in the area, some with very restricted ranges. With the exception
of the fynbos in the south and south-west the Gariep and it’s largely
seasonal tributaries together with its fossil drainage lines play a major
role in deciding animal and plant distribution throughout this large area.
Many birds are cryptically marked and sometimes present some interesting
identification challenges. With 27 species (including some splits not
universally recognised) the largest bird family are the larks. 23 of these
are endemic or nearly so to southern Africa and form the most compelling
avian reason for a visit to the area in my opinion. There are of course
many other less cryptically marked endemics in the area covered which simply
add to the region’s desirability as a birding area.
Day 1 - 03/08 Mainly a travelling day with the long drive from Wakkerstroom
to Smithfield in the southern Free State to visit the Engelbrecht ancestral
graves (Elize and Elma were Engelbrechts). Picnic lunch in eastern Free
State overlooking Lesotho’s Maluti Mountains. Overnight Smithfield House.
Daily Bird Tally 37 species all of course new for the trip.
Day 2 - 04/08 After visiting the farm cemetery we drive via Bloemfontein
Kimberley. Overnight Marrick Guest Farm. Daily Bird Tally 37 species again
of which 18 were new for the trip
Day 3 - 05/08 After breakfast we leave Elma at Marrick and proceed to
look for the newly described Long-tailed Pipit. Later we drive to Vaalbos
National Park before returning to Marrick. Overnight Marrick Guest Farm.
Daily Bird Tally 48 species of which 22 were new for the trip.
Day 4 - 06/08 After breakfast and some last minute shopping for supplies in
Kimberley we drive via Douglas, Kuruman and Hotazel to Ruimsig Guest Farm
Vanzylsrus. Overnight Ruimsig Guest Farm. Daily Bird Tally 36 species of
which 14 were new for the trip.
Day 5 - 07/08 Spend the day birding and relaxing in the sand dunes on
Overnight Ruimsig Guest Farm. Daily Bird Tally 26 species of which 6 were
new for the trip.
Day 6 - 08/08 Drive and bird along the river road from Vanzylsrus to
drive on to our overnight stop near Deben (or Dibeng). Overnight Winton
Guest Farm. Daily Bird Tally 48 species of which 14 were new for the trip.
Day 7 - 09/08 Spend the day birding in the area around Winton. Overnight
Winton Guest Farm. Daily Bird Tally 55 of which 8 were new for the trip.
Day 8 - 10/08 Another travelling day with the long drive from Winton to
Vergelegen Guest House near Kakamas on the Gariep (Orange) River. Overnight
Vergelegen Guest House. Daily Bird Tally 8 species of which 1 was new for
Day 9 - 11/08 An extremely windy day which was spent birding on Khamkirri
Private Nature Reserve on the north bank of the Gariep River. Later we paid
a visit to Riemvasmaak. Overnight Vergelegen Guest House. Daily Bird Tally
29 of which 6 were new for the trip.
BUSHMANLAND AND NAMAQUALAND
Day 10 - 12/08 Drive from Kakamas via Kenhardt to Vanwyksvlei birding on
Meet up with Jo and Shirley Johnson at Smouskolk. Overnight Smouskolk Guest
Farm. Daily Bird Tally 36 with 9 new for the trip.
Day 11 - 13/08 Birding around Smouskolk and visit the farm Springbokoog to
view Khoi San petroglyphs. Overnight Smouskolk Guest Farm. Daily Bird Tally
43 of which 7 were new for the trip.
Day 12 - 14/08 Drive from Smouskolk via Brandvlei to Diepvlei Guest Farm
near Aggenys, birding on the way. Overnight Diepvlei Guest Farm. Daily
Bird Tally 38 of which 8 were new for the trip.
Day 13 - 15/08 Birding around Diepvlei and along the road to Pofadder.
Diepvlei Guest Farm. Daily Bird Tally 37 species of which 6 were new for
Day 14 - 16/08 Drive from Diepvlei via Aardvarkkloof and Kamieskroon to
birding on the way. Overnight Sophia Guest House. Daily Bird Tally 40
species of which 6 new for the trip.
Day 15 - 17/08 A.M. visit to Groenriviersmond to view the spectacular
display of wildflowers before driving to Fishhoek. Overnight at the Johnson
’s’ home. Daily Bird Tally 18 species of which 8 were new for the trip.
Day 16 - 18/08 A.M. visit to Tokai and Constantia Green Belt with an
to Boulders penguin colony and the southern peninsula. Overnight at the
Johnson’s’ home. Daily Bird Tally 30 species of which 10 were new for the
Day 17 - 19/08 A.M. shopping at Noordhoek before going on to Mountain Mist
Chalets near Aurora. We stopped off briefly at the Tienie Versveld Nature
near Darling on the way. Overnight Mountain Mist Chalets. Daily Bird Tally
42 species of which 8 were new for the trip.
Day 18 - 20/08 Spend the day birding and relaxing at Mountain Mist Chalets.
Overnight Mountain Mist Chalets. Daily Bird Tally 15 species of which 2
were new for the trip.
Day 19 - 21/08 Spend the day birding and relaxing at Mountain Mist Chalets.
Velddrif and Britannia Bay. Overnight Mountain Mist Chalets. Daily Bird
Tally 58 of which 12 were new for the trip.
Day 20 - 22/08 Drive via Porterville, Ceres and Robertson to Swellendam.
Overnight Hermitage Huisie. Daily Bird Tally 43 species of which 5 were
new for the trip.
Day 21 - 23/08 Birding in the wheat lands between Swellendam and De Hoop
Nature Reserve. Overnight De Hoop Nature Reserve. Daily Bird Tally 73
species of which 14 were new for the trip.
Day 22 - 24/08 Birding and relaxing in De Hoop Nature Reserve. Drive to
Bredasdorp. Overnight De Hoop Nature Reserve. Daily Bird Tally 69 of which
7 were new for the trip.
Day 23 - 25/08 Birding and relaxing in De Hoop Nature Reserve. Drive to
Overnight De Hoop Nature Reserve. Daily Bird Tally 78 of which 9 were new
for the trip.
Day 24 - 26/08 Birding on the way from De Hoop to Grootvadersbosch Nature
Reserve. Overnight Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve. Daily Bird Tally 51
species of which 5 were new for the trip.
Day 25 - 27/08 A.M. birding at Grootvadersbosch before driving to Prince
Calitzdorp and the Swartberg Pass. Overnight Granny’s House. Daily Bird
Tally 43 species of which 6 were new for the trip.
Day 26 - 28/08 Birding on the way to Gamkaskloof (The Hell) and back to
Prince Albert. Overnight Granny’s House. Daily Bird Tally 44 species of
which 2 were new for the trip.
Day 27 - 29/08 Driving from Prince Albert to Three Sisters with limited
birding on the
way. Overnight Three Sisters Guest Farm. Daily Bird Tally 44 species of
which 3 were new for the trip.
BACK TO THE ARID GRASSLAND
Day 28 - 30/08 Driving from Three Sisters to Jagersfontein stopping off at
Garingboom Guest Farm for a brief visit. Overnight Vendutiekop Guest Farm.
Daily Bird Tally 34 of which 1 was new for the trip.
Day 29 - 31/08 Birding in the Jagersfontein area. Overnight Vendutiekop
Guest Farm. Daily Bird Tally 95 species of which 13 were new for the trip.
Day 30 - 01/09 Driving from Jagersfontein to Wakkerstroom with no birding
Part 2 will follow soon.
Regards to all
Beautiful Just Birding
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