2008 South Africa

A trip with Paul Holmes.  I didn't take my SLR, a mistake!

25 July

After a long journey, we arrived in Cape Town just in time for the morning rush hour.  Our first destination was Constantia Greenbelt for a successful search for the elusive Kysna warbler.  It did live up to its reputation giving rather dark views, half hidden, in a bush.

Kirstenbosch Botantical Gardens

Here we got to see some of the species that were to become very familiar such as the very common Karoo prinia, 
the superb orange-breasted sunbird;

Cape robin-chat ;
southern-double-collared sunbird;
southern boubou; and others.

Boulders Beach gave me chance to see only my second species of penguin ever: African penguin.

as well as other species such as the very common, but endemic, Hartlaub's gull.

There was also some mammal interest.  Unfortunately this is the best picture I could manage of the striped mouse.

Cape of Good Hope

Our main target was Cape sugarbird, which proved to be surprisingly hard to locate.  Eventually we were successful.

Other endemic birds seen were Cape grassbird, Cape siskin and the very common Cape bunting.

Mammal interest was provided by two eland, a small grey mongoose and a bontebok.  Although the latter did have a neck collar.

The bad news was tomorrow's pelagic trip had been cancelled, due to weather worries. Hopefully it'd be going the day after. I found this particularly  alarming as, on my previous trip to South Africa, my pelagic had been completely cancelled.

We decided to make the most of it, and to ignore the fact that'd we'd just done an overnight flight, and to do a pub crawl!  It was rather uncanny being so far from home and visiting pubs so similar to English ones, although they were much cheaper.  

26 July

Cape of Good Hope

Our first malachite sunbirds: they turned out to be a common species, but the first one was a serious highlight!

Other birds seen included grey-backed cisticola and Cape longclaw.

A quick visit to boulders beach produced lots of Cape cormorants, African black oystercatchers and crested terns.

Strandfontein Sewage Works

A birding site near the notorious Cape Flats.

Birds included white pelican;

blacksmith plovers;

greater flamingos;

sacred ibis - a bird common here and every other wetland site we visited;

African purple gallinule; little rush warbler; and a wide range of other Southern African wetland birds.  The biggest surprise was an Allen's gallinule- a local rarity - sadly not our own find, a local birder gave us the gen.

27 July

Pelagic from Cape Town

We woke up to pouring rain, we went down in the dark and met up with the others. We still weren't sure it’d be on but they thought so.  Then there was a scare that the boat had been holed as it crashed into the side!  But all was well and off we set in high swell and pouring rain and all was feeling rather grim.  Luckily the weather did improve.   The bad weather was probably the reason this was such an outstanding trip, even by the high standards of South African pelagics. A truly ‘life birding highlight’.  The largest numbers of birds were following a trawler.  Numbers are very approximate!

shy albatross

black-browded albatross – 1000+

northern royal albatross– 2

grey-headed albatross

wandering albatross – 3

atlantic yellow-nosed albatross– 3

Indian yellow-nosed albatross – 1

southern giant petrel – c.5 identified ones. Northern was seen but I didn’t feel I clinched the identification features and many were unidentified

pintado petrel – c.1500

great-winged petrel – 1

soft-plumaged petrel – 2 seen but UTVs

Antarctic prion - c.500

white-chinned petrel – c.1000

sooty shearwater – c. 750

Wilson’s petrel – c.150

sub-antarctic skua – c.50

crested tern – c.20

arctic tern – 15

African penguin – some seen swimming, near Boulders Beach

Cape fur seal – c.20

Simon's Town

We saw speckled pigeon, crowned cormorants and, after dark, two spotted eagle owls.

28 July

Darling area

Cape clapper lark was the rather under-whelming target species here, which we managed to see along with cloud cisticola.  Rather more impressive was a superb view of southern black korhaan.

West Coast National Park

Our first Kittlitz's plover of the trip.

Also Karoo scrub-robins, white-faced plovers, antarctic terns, grey-winged francolins.  An angulate tortoise was soon almost as soon as we'd seen a warning road sign.

29 July


The target species here was the, slightly uninspiring protea canary.  It took some finding as well.

Lambert's Bay

Much of the trip was spent 'collecting' larks.  This site was for Cape long-billed lark - which took some finding - we also saw more Cape clapper larks and large-billed lark.

Other birds seen included southern pale chanting goshawk - a common and widespread species.

A springbok provided the mammal interest.

30 July


Southern ant-eating chats were common.

Karoo lark

Other birds included black-chested snake-eagle, Karoo chat, grey-backed sparrow-lark.

About ten meercats and rock hyraxes were also seen.

Port Nolloth

Another place another lark search.  I was glad I hadn't done this as a family trip.  We managed to add Cape long-billed lark and Barrow's lark to our lark list.  Other birds included greater kestrel,

 tractac chat, rufous-eared warbler and lanner falcon.  Brants's whistling rat was mainly identified on range.

A well 'lubricated' night in Springbok.

31 July

The road to Pofadder gave us our fist views of the impressive communal nests of sociable weavers.

Koa Dunes

The highlight here for me was my first ever gemsbok - and the only one of the trip - sadly it didn't hang around long enough to be photographed. 

Several groups of Namaqua sandgrouse were seen.

It wouldn't have be right if there hadn't been some larks to look for.  Here the main species were Karoo long-billed lark and red lark, both of which we managed to see.  Ludwig's bustard and northern black korhaan were rather more exciting.  Another very smart bird was double-banded courser.  Other species included pygmy falcon and black-headed canary.


Acacia pied barbet, African red-eyed barbet, Orange river white-eye 

and pale-winged startling were seen in the town.


On the border with Namibia. Birds included more orange river white-eyes and African palms swifts.

1 August

Pofadder/Orange River/Brandvilei area

Birds included Ludwig's bustard; two displaying northern black korhaan; martial eagle; Namaqua sandgrouse; and  'Bradfields' sabota lark.  A few mammals were seen: vervet monkey, steenbok and meercat.

We were rather alarmed to find the Brandvlei hotel was surrounded by bars- of the metal kind, rather than the drinking kind.  We did wonder what kind of scary area we had come to, but we eventually found a restaurant, without being mugged or murdered.

2 August


 White-throated canary, Ludwig’s bustard, martial eagle, lark-like bunting – common, karoo long-billed lark – common, spike-heeled lark, bokmakierie, Cape buntings,large-billed lark, red lark, c.20 Namaqua sandgrouse, chat flycatcher, cape sparrow, long-billed crombek, black-chested prinia, little swift, common waxbill.



 Road to Tanqua Karoo

 Two bat-eared foxes were seen by the road, they gave reasonable views but certainly didn't hang around.

We also saw alpine swifts, springbok and quail.

 Getting to Tanqua Karoo was an experience. The directions were unclear and we seemed to be going up worse and worse tracks without a sign. Eventually we saw someone who told us we were on the correct route.  Eventually we could see it but the road had been washed away!  We drove up tracks and eventually into a field, before accepting we could go no further.  It was getting dark and we were rather worried about petrol, we’d topped up at the last moment but we were so far from civilisation that it was a real issue.  Paul stumbled off, eventually returning, having crossed the river, with directions.  Not surprisingly, especially as it turned out the bloke was new to the area, these didn't make sense.  We got more and more lost and weren't even sure how to get back where we were.  I was ready to sleep in the car and guzzle the wine we had.  Eventually we got back to where we were, abandoned the car, waded the river and arrived that way.

 3 August

Tanqua Karoo

The top birds of the day were Karoo korhan

and Namaqua warber.

In the evening we tried a little spotlighting.  The only thing seen was a quail literally at our feet; Paul stroked it!

Non-wildlife interest was a steam engine, made in Ipswich.

4 August

Tanqua Karoo

We got good views of two bat-eared foxes, in the middle of the day

Of the key birds we saw Karoo Eremomala and Jerdon's courser, although the latter was seen, just as we were about to give up, and then only in flight.

Rather alarmingly, our water was coming out brown.  As a result we had to drive to the park headquarters to get more.   This seemed a right pain at the time but proved to be rather productive.  We saw, presumably, the same bat-eared foxes as earlier; Cape fox; a spotted eagle owl; and, best of all, an African Wildcat!

5 August


It took about two hours, but eventually we saw the target species: Cinnamon-breasted warbler.  Another highlight was two black harriers 'sharing an intimate' moment.

On the journey to Karoo NP we saw about 20 Chacma baboons.

5 and 6 August

Karoo National Park

A Verraux's eagle was nesting near the HQ.

Mountain wheatears were common.

The birding was actually rather dull. 




rock hyrax

and red hartebeest were seen, although the latter would appear to have been well out of its natural range.

The highlight was the night drive.  An aardwolf was seen almost immediately.  A bit distant, but reasonably prolonged views - superb! We also saw Cape hare, black-backed jackal, grey rhebok and Cape mountain zebra. 

7 August

Swartberg Pass

A slightly barmy day out to Swartberg, which turned out to be much further than I thought it would be.

We did see Cape rockjumper, but I got very disappointing, brief views.  Nedicky, greater double-collared sunbird and southern tchgara was among the other birds seen.

8 August


An African harrier hawk was seen before we departed

A stop at a remarkably plush roadside picnic and toilet area had a selection of rather tame wildlife.

Cape rock thrush male

Cape rock thrush female

small grey mongoose

We also saw booted and martial eagles on the drive.


Back in the wetlands with anhinga

excellent view of black crake - though no photos - and malachite and pied kingfishers.  Other birds included red-necked francolin and fiery-necked nightjar.

Wilderness turned out to be rather inappropriately named; our evening meal was in a rather posh Italian restaurant.

9 August


The highlight was repeated views of a gorgeous red-chested flufftail - my first ever flufftail.  One of the real highlights of the trip, unfortunately far too fast to photograph. Other birds included forest canary, yellow-throated woodland warbler, Kynsna turaco, Chorister robin and forest buzzard.

10 August

Woodville Forest

Blue-mantled crested flycatcher, the superb white-starred robin and chorister robin.

Plenty of wine and my first ever ostrich steak - definitely recommended - in the evening.

Grootvadersbosh NR

I quickly saw the target bird Victorin's warbler. It then proved very elusive; Paul took about an hour and a half to see it.

11 August

Grootvadersbosh NR

Rather disappointing birding, little was seen but birds included grey cuckooshrike and blue-mantled crested flycatcher.

12 August

Agulhas Plain

Blue cranes were a fairly common sight.

We also saw two endemic larks: Agulha's mlong-billed lark and agulhas clapper lark.

Other birds included 7 Karoo korhaans and Dedham's bustard.  Pearl breasted swallow provided a taste of spring.

En route to De Hoop we got another taste of spring, in the form of a white-throated swallow, and more Dedham's bustards.

De Hoop

The highlights here were mammalian:

bontebok were common

southern right whale - about 20 were seen

and eland.

We stayed at the rather past-its-best Victoria Hotel, in Bredadorp.  We did find a reasonable place to eat, but attempts to find some night-life failed and we ended up propping up the bar in the hotel, the barman being the only other occupant.

De Hoop

The target species today was Kysna woodpecker.  We'd almost given up when I followed up a tapping to be pleasantly surprised.

spotted dikkop

A surprisingly successful day: black cuckooshrike, lesser honeyguide, Klass's cuckoo and cardinal woodpecker were new birds for me.

An angulate tortoise was also seen.

We took time out to visit the southern most point of Africa:Cape Agulhas.

14 August

Sir Lowry's Pass

I was desperate to get better views of Cape rock-jumper.  They took some finding, but eventually we got excellent views.

We also saw sentinal rock-thrush

Roos Eels

Three more Cape rock-jumpers were seen, as well as 2 ground woodpeckers; 

Cape sugarbird; Cape siskin; and Cape grassbird.


A good selection of water birds including Maccoa duck

15 August


The highlight here was the superb site of about 600 lesser flamingos.

There were also a fair few greater flamingos, great white pelicans and four chestnut-banded plover.

Vredenburg to Paternoster

sickle-winged chat

West Coast National Park

Three grey-winged francolins gave excellent views.

As did a couple of southern black korhaans.

Ostriches this far south are apparently not 'truly wild'.

We also lots of both flamingo species.

16 August

West Coast NP/Koeberg NR/Rondvlei

Our last day, and we had some motivation problems.  The highlight was probably a group of 50 white pelicans.

We stayed in Strand, where we found an excellent bar.  Sadly a three O'clock start - to get our flight - meant we were unable to enjoy it fully!