There has always been much debate over whether the meeting point of the cold Atlantic Ocean with the warm Indian Ocean is at Cape Point or at Cape Agulhas. One thing is for certain though; the entire southern tip of Africa is rightfully one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots!
Given that it houses in excess of over 9000 plant species in the world’s smallest floral kingdom, it is unsurprising that the birdlife is also vastly different from the rest of the country. From a twitchers perspective the fynbos is a must-do in order to pick up several endemic bird species. Fortunately most of these birds are easy to see in some fantastic birding locations.
1 of 9: Male Cape Rockjumper.
At the tip of the Cape Peninsula and south of the city of Cape Town lies the Cape of Good Hope within the Table Mountain National Park. Vast tracts of fynbos run down to meet the coastline in a mix of rugged cliffs and sandy beaches. During the summer months, mixed flocks of terns flitter like confetti in the wind as they wheel and dive whilst feeding in the bay. At Boordjiesdrif there is a regular large roost site of Swift and Sandwich Terns who are often joined by the smaller Common and Arctic Terns and all rest up together on the rough boulder strewn coast. A pair of resident Egyptian Geese maintains order at the tidal pool, loudly scolding any intruder and warning the Hartlaubs Gulls, White-Fronted Plovers and resting White-Breasted Cormorants that trouble is on the way.
2 of 9: Swift Tern colony.
Amongst the Protea and Leucospermum stands, Cape Sugarbird males proclaim their territories by flitting high and dragging their long tails in display. Orange-Breasted and Southern Double-Collared Sunbird males provide flashes of color amongst the flower heads. Amongst the restio and Erica fields, Karoo Prinia, Neddicky and Grey-Backed Cisticola constantly search for insects amongst the shrubbery whilst in the wetter areas Levalliant’s Cisticola and Yellow Bishop may be found. At Cape Point itself, a search far out to sea is worthwhile as pelagic species may be seen effortlessly gliding over the rolling oceans. White-Chinned Petrel and Sooty Shearwater are the most commonly seen together with Subantarctic Skua. Black-Browed and Shy Albatross may also show themselves flying alongside Pomarine and Parasitic Jaeger who often chase after terns and gulls in the hope of robbing them of their hard earned food.
3 of 9: Cape Sugarbird femlae.
An hour’s drive west from Cape Town, along what has to be one of the most scenically beautiful coastal drives of the country, lies the small towns of Rooi Els, Betty’s Bay and Kleinmond, which all form part of the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve - considered by many to be the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom! The mountain behind Pringle Bay is one the best-kept secrets for endemic fynbos birding and offers pristine coastal fynbos, mixed with marshes, boulder scree and coastal bays. The area is renowned for Cape Rockjumper and during my first visit I was astonished to find how easy it was to locate these particularly confiding birds. What I was not expecting, was the delight of additional specials such as Cape Siskin, Protea Seed-Eater, Cape Grassbird and numerous Cape Sugarbird and Orange-Breasted Sunbirds. Neddicky, Grey-Backed Cisticola, Karoo Prinia and Cape Bunting were all breeding and most were flying backwards and forwards with insect laden beaks to feed ravenous young. Up on the mountain slope families of Ground Woodpeckers called while both Cape and Sentinel Rock Thrushes perched silhouetted on top of the larger boulders. A pair of Verreaux’s Eagles cut the skyline being aggressively chased by a pair of White-Necked Ravens and a dive-bombing Rock Kestrel, while a Jackal Buzzard added its abuse with loud calls.
4 of 9: Common Fiscal.
Stony Point at Betty’s Bay is only one of two mainland breeding sites for the endangered African Penguin and these charismatic birds can be easily viewed from the boardwalk that has been erected to pass through the colony. Vast flocks of Cape Cormorants also roost here together with the occasional Crowned and Bank Cormorant. Within the town, is the Harold Porter Botanical Garden whose well-maintained gardens host a huge array of bird species. Olive Thrush and Cape Bulbul are usually the first to greet, whilst in the treetops Sombre Greenbuls call continuously and Spotted Flycatchers launch after flying insects. In the forested kloof’s Cape White-eye, Cape Batis, African Paradise Flycatcher and African Olive-Pigeon feed and in the streams below African Black Duck can be viewed. Blue-Mantled Crested Flycatcher and Cape-Eagle Owl are rare specials together with Victorin’s Warbler. The Kogelberg Nature Reserve managed by CapeNature provides comfortable accommodation from which to wander and explore the numerous trails that lead along the Palmiet River and up into the mountains. At Kleinmond, the small estuary next to the main bathing beach is always a hive of activity, often being used as a bathing and resting point for Kelp, Hartlaubs and the infrequent Grey-Headed Gulls. African Spoonbills and Little Egrets have taken to hunting together in the shallows alongside inquisitive African Sacred Ibis and regal looking Grey Heron. During the summer months the banks of the estuary are lined with migrant waders including Common Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstone, Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper and Common Ringed Plover.
5 of 9: Pin-cushion flower.
Of the well known birding destinations in the southern Cape, De Hoop Nature Reserve has to feature high on the list, with its range of habitats from the 16 kilometer vlei through to thicket vegetation, limestone fynbos and a diverse coastline providing a haven for over 180 bird species. Birding starts well before entering the reserve as the farmlands provide sightings of Blue Crane, Denham’s Bustard, Karoo Korhaan, African Pipit and Agulhas Long-Billed Lark whilst the reserve itself is a place where interesting behavioral interactions can be expected.
6 of 9: Male Orange-Breasted Sunbird.
During years of heavy rain, influxes of Grey-Headed Gull, Whiskered and White-Winged Tern appeared overnight and I watched as a Great White Pelican made the most of the situation of all the birds huddling away from the storm and snatched out to grab an adult Red-knobbed Coot. The hapless bird struggled for several minutes in the massive throat pouch before finally disappearing down the gullet. On another occasion a pair of Capped Wheatears aggressively mobbed and struck at an adult Puff-Adder who was obviously slithering too close to their underground nest.
7 of 9: Male Cape Shoveller.
Boomslang are plentiful in the Milkwood trees and these create a great opportunity to view several bird species in one go as the birds aggressively scold and mob the predator amongst their midst. Southern Tchagra, Cape Robin-Chat, Fiscal Flycatcher, Southern Boubou, Speckled Mousebird and Bar-Throated Apalis are regular antagonists of the snake and occasionally Knysna Woodpecker and Greater Honeyguide are also brought into the noisy gatherings. Fiscal Shrikes are particularly bold on the reserve and frequently tackle Three-Striped Mouse and small snakes such as the rarely encountered Southern Adder as food items. In and around the Opstal African Hoopoe, Bokmakierie, Spotted Thick-knee, Speckled Pigeon and nesting Greater-Striped and White-Throated Swallows occur alongside confiding Cape Francolin and Crowned Lapwings. A drive down to Koppie Alleen in the late afternoon not only brings encounters with Black Harrier and Grey-Winged Francolin, but for the lucky, chance encounters with Caracal and Honey Badger can be expected. On the inter-tidal sandstone platforms some of the highest densities of African Black Oystercatchers can be expected and there is no better way to round off a day’s enjoyable birding than to watch the sunset from high on the sand-dunes, where in winter countless Southern-Right Whales can also be viewed in their breeding bay.
8 of 9: Lesser-Double Collared Sunbird male singing.
There is little doubt that the southern Cape with its unique floral kingdom and resultant biodiversity together with picturesque landscapes and areas steeped in history must remain one of the best locations to spend relaxing times.
9 of 9: Helmeted Guineafolw.
Season and weather: The climate is Mediterranean with warm summers and mild winters. Wind is present throughout the year with rain falling mainly in the winter months. Always be prepared for sudden changes in the weather. The summers are the dry and dusty months, whilst winter is the time when the fynbos is lush, green and in flower. The best months to visit are April and September.
Habitats: This route is extremely diverse with its habitats, covering mountain, limestone and coastal fynbos, whilst numerous wetlands and vleis are surrounded by thicket vegetation. The marine habitats range from rugged cliffs to long sandy beaches.
Specials: Black Harrier, Cape Vulture, African Black Oystercatcher, African Penguin, Cape Rockjumper, Denham’s Bustard, Blue Crane, Southern Tchagra, Agulhas Long-billed Lark, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird
Recommended Viewing Points:
Cape of Good Hope & Cape Point (As part of Table Mountain National Park): Boulders Beach Penguin Colony, Smitswinkle Bay, Cape Point
Betty’s Bay & Pringle Bay: Rockjumper trail behind Pringle Bay, Stony Point Penguin Colony, Harold Porter Botanical Garden, Kogelberg Nature Reserve
De Hoop Nature Reserve: Koppie Alleen, The Opstal, The Vlei Trail, The Klipspringer Trail at Potberg, Farmlands on the drive into De Hoop Nature Reserve.
Accommodation & Activities: Numerous accommodation options are available in and around Cape Town and in Betty’s Bay and Pringle Bay. It is suggested that Birdlife South Africa is contacted to assist in recommending Birder Friendly Establishments. De Hoop Nature Reserve has a range of accommodation from basic camping through to luxury beach houses. The great thing with all the locations in the Western Cape is the ability to be able to walk anywhere and in most cases mountain biking is also possible.
Getting There: Cape of Good Hope: Follow the M4 past Fish Hoek and Simonstown through to the reserve entrance. An alternative approach can be via Kommetjie and Scarborough along the M65. Betty’ Bay & Rooi Els: From Gordon’s Bay follow the R44 coastal road towards Betty’s Bay. To reach the Rooi Els site, cross the Rooi Els estuary and take the second turn off to the right and proceed along a gravel road until you reach the parking circle. The coastal road passes through Betty’s bay and continues to Kleinmond and Hermanus. The Stony Point penguin colony is well signposted. De Hoop Nature Reserve: From Cape Town take the N2 to Caledon. Travel through Caledon to Bredarsdorp via Napier and then take the R319 to Swellendam. A few kilometers out of Bredarsdorp there is a turn to the right towards De Hoop/Infanta & Malgas (this is a dirt road). Follow this gravel road for about 60km’s and follow the signs to the reserve. The journey from Cape Town takes approximately three unhurried hours to cover the 230 kilometers.
Birdlife South Africa: (Western Cape) www.westerncapebirding.co.za
South African National Parks central reservations: 012 343 1991 Web: www.sanparks.org CapeNature Central Reservations: 021 6593500 www.capenature.co.za