Birding in the Western Cape: Day Trips

The Western Cape covers several habitats including the fynbos floral kingdom, the arid (semi-desert) Karoo, indigenous afro-montane forests and long stretches of pristine coastline, all of which are relatively easily accessible by car from Cape Town. Given this diversity of habitats, it is perhaps no surprise that approximately 80% of South Africa’s endemic bird species are to be found in the Western and Northern Cape (the latter being home to the Kalahari desert / Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park).

Using Cape Town as a base, it is possible to see the majority of the species on offer via the following day trips offered by Indwa Birding:

The Cape Peninsula:
This trip aims to cover many of the fynbos, wetland and coastal specials encountered on the Peninsula (including the African Penguin colony at Boulders) and includes visits to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve (for, amongst others, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Sugarbird, Cape Grassbird, Cape Spurfowl, Cape Bulbul, Cape Siskin and many more), Kommetjie (for the 4 marine cormorants, oystercatchers and terns) and finally Strandfontein Wastewater Treatment Plant (for waders, ducks, pelicans and flamingoes).

If you’re feeling up to a challenge, one also has the opportunity en route to attempt to spot the extremely secretive Knysna Warbler – always an elusive and difficult skulker!

   

False Bay via Sir Lowry's Pass:
This trip provides the best opportunities for seeing Cape Rockjumper, Cape Siskin and Victorin’s Warbler, as well as Ground Woodpecker, Cape Rock Thrush and Verreaux’s Eagle.

In addition to being able to enjoy the superb views of False Bay from the top of Sir Lowry’s Pass, there is also the opportunity to take in many of the same fynbos and coastal specials encountered in The Cape Peninsula trip (see above), including Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Sugarbird, Cape Grassbird and African Penguin. Harold Porter Botanical Gardens in Betty’s Bay is also home to small forest patches offering Cape Batis, Bar-throated Apalis, Dusky-, Paradise- and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatchers.

   

The West Coast and Strandveld birding:
This trip includes some of the best “bird-hide viewing” in the Western Cape and includes Velddrif and the Berg River estuary, the West Coast National Park and Langebaan Lagoon, and depending on how much time is available, can include a detour via the farmlands south and north of Langebaan.

The focus of this trip will be the array of waders that are to be found on the tidal mudflats and saltmarshes of the area, including Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Grey Plover, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Ruddy Turnstone, Kittlitz- and White-fronted Plovers, Knot, Little Stint, Ruff, Black-winged Stilt, Avocet and hundreds of Curlew Sandpipers in summer. African Marsh Harrier usually puts in an appearance too, while Black Harrier can normally be found in the area as well.

The fynbos / strandveld birding in the West Coast National Park is also outstanding with most of the Peninsula species being present, as well as Cape Longclaw, Acacia Pied Barbet, Cape Penduline Tit, Southern Black Korhaan and a small population of Grey-winged Francolin.

   

The Tanqua Karoo:
Just over 2 hours drive outside Cape Town lies the vast and isolated Tanqua Karoo (also referred to as the Tankwa or the Ceres Karoo). This is an area of “wide open spaces” and, almost surprisingly given the barren landscapes, hosts a wide variety of endemic and near-endemic thirstland birds.

Several alternative routes (starting and finishing in Cape Town) are possible depending on the target species for the day. In general though, one could expect to see Pale Chanting Goshawk, Karoo Eremomela, numerous larks (such as Karoo-, Red-capped-, Large-billed- and Spike-heeled), numerous chats (Karoo-, Trac-trac-, Familiar-, Sickle-winged- and Mountain), numerous warblers (Rufous-eared-, Namaqua- and Cinnamon-breasted-), Karoo Korhaan, Lark-like Bunting, Fairy Flycatcher, Pririt Batis, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Greater Kestrel and both Layard’s- and Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler. After good rains Ludwig’s Bustards, Black-eared Sparrowlarks and Grey-backed Sparrowlarks move into the area, while Karoo Long-billed Larks can be heard and seen displaying.

The Tanqua Karoo is also the area closest to Cape Town in which the sought after Burchell’s Courser may be found.

Although quite “do-able” as a day trip, the Tanqua’s wide open spaces are best appreciated in an unhurried fashion with at least a one night stop-over either in the Tanqua itself, or nearby.

   
The Indwa and The Overberg:
Apart from being home to South Africa’s impressive national bird, the Blue Crane, the Overberg also provides your best chance for several other highly localised endemics such as Agulhas Long-billed Lark and Agulhas Clapper Lark. Denham’s Bustard can also be found in the Overberg’s wheatlands, along with Black Harrier.

Southern Tchagra can be found at both De Hoop and De Mond Nature Reserves, while Cape Vulture can be found at the former and Damara Tern at the latter. The area also hosts numerous waders, waterbirds (especially at De Hoop when the vlei has received good rains) and occasionally, Knysna Woodpecker. Further inland, Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve provides amongst other attractions, first-class forest birding including Crowned Eagle, Narina Trogon, Olive Bush Shrike, Knysna Woodpecker and an assortment of forest accipiters.

As with the Tanqua, although certain parts of the Overberg can be properly explored in a day, it remains advisable to spend at least one night in the area in order to fully appreciate the birding on offer.

   

In addition to the abovementioned day trips, Indwa Birding also offers extended trips into other rewarding Western Cape hotspots. Each of these trips (as is the case with Indwa’s day trips) are individually tailor-made according to your personal preferences, taking into account target species, available time, accommodation preferences and budget.

The images on this page are provided courtesy of Musse Bjorklund, Sweden and are reproduced in the Photo Gallery. The images remain © M Bjorklund and have been re-used by kind permission.