Birding trip report western South Africa 1-17 December 2015   
John van der Woude   -
Map, site photos & species list are below.    Photos of birds, plants and more scenery in a separate section.
For this December trip Nollie and I chose western South Africa as it would be one of the few regions in the tropics and southern hemisphere with little influence of the prevalent severe El Niņo. Also, we like the Karoo region very much, and the Western and Northern Cape in general. Needless to say, any trip to South Africa is a sheer pleasure, even though we would see only very few lifer bird species. I had guessed that we might see five lifers, and was content with the four we got. This was our fourth trip to South Africa, although the last one was quite some time ago, in 2006.

At Cape Town airport, we rented a car at Sixt, the company we prefer these days as it is crystal-clear what you are going to pay when you make the reservation at home. No hidden or unclear costs. We used the app to find accommodation while travelling. For the first two nights I had pre-booked a B&B in Paarl, and for the subsequent nights in Karoo NP I had also booked a park bungalow in advance. 

After that the itinerary was to be decided upon depending on the weather etc. Actually, the days after Karoo NP would become so hot that we decided to go to the cooler south coast instead of driving deeper into the Karoo region. After the pleasant stay at Garden Route NP on the south coast, we crossed the Karoo nevertheless, and ended up at the west coast. So we covered four very different habitats (fynbos, Karoo, south coast, west coast), and in between crossed fantastic mountain passes as a bonus.

The Southern African Birdfinder book by Callan Cohen c.s. was again very useful. Therefore I do not give many details about the birding sites, as the book is much better for this. In general, this report is not so much about logistics and is mainly meant to show the scenery and the annotated bird list, plus Nollie's bird and other photos. We did not go too much after bird species that we had seen in previous trips. All in all, it was a bit of a relaxed trip, although I think that many general tourists would not agree with that, given the distances and early hours.

December may be a bit late to find some song bird species, but the activity of many birds with young partly compensates this. For larks however, this was clearly rather late indeed, and we 'only' saw seven species.

On this trip, new areas for us were mainly the Karoo national park, the Karoo road R353 and the surroundings of Nieuwoudtville. All three were very interesting birdwise, in a great scenery.

1. Paarl mountain
2. Karoo NP
3. Garden Route NP - Wilderness section
4. Garden Route NP - Storm's river mouth
5. Garden Route NP - Nature's Valley
6. Swartberg pass
7. road R353 (all Karoo)
8. Calvinia - Akerendam
9. Nieuwoudtville surroundings
10. Lambert's Bay
11. Kransvleipoort
12. West Coast NP
13. Tulbagh

Paarl mountain.

Klipspringer in Karoo national park. Next four photos also Karoo NP.

Wilderness section of Garden Route NP. Start of the Half-collared Kingfisher trail along the river.

Along the river in Wilderness. At this spot we had Half-collared Kingfisher.

Same river further upstream.

View from the hide at Rondevlei lake in Wilderness section.

Big Tree area in Wilderness section.

Above Storm's River camp of Garden Route NP.

The dense vegetation of Nature's Valley section of Garden Route NP. Rhebok?

Swartberg Pass.

Folded rock layers on the way down from Swartberg Pass north.

Along the R353 in the middle of the Karoo. Many Lark-like Bunting at spots like this, and once also sparrowlarks.

The country motel at Fraserburg. The only place to stay in a radius of 100 km or so, so we had called them before, in order to be in the late and early hours in this part of the immense Karoo.

The deep gorge north of Nieuwoudtville.

The grassy plains around Nieuwoudtville.

The Knersvlakte alluvial plain below Nieuwoudtville.

Lambert's Bay gannet colony. The seals at the back seem to gradually push the gannets out. A warden regularly chases the seals back towards the sea.

Kransvleipoort SW of Clanwilliam.

West Coast national park.

At our lodge in Tulbagh.

Last evening. Dinner at Rijk's wine farm near our lodge.

Photos of birds, plants and more scenery in a separate section.
Species list

The list is practically complete for the sites PM, KN and Ni. For other sites the more common species are often not mentioned.

O = anywhere (along the road, or common)
PM = Paarl mountain
KN = Karoo NP
Wi = Garden Route NP - Wilderness section
SR = Garden Route NP - Storm's river camp
NV = Garden Route NP - Nature's Valley
SP = Swartberg pass
KR = road R353 (all Karoo)
Ak = Calvinia - Akerendam
Ni = Nieuwoudtville surroundings
LB = Lambert's Bay
KV = Kransvleipoort
WC = West Coast NP
Tu = Tulbagh
* = lifer

                             PM KN Wi SR NV SP KR Ak Ni LB KV WC Tu
                    Common Ostrich      KN
               Helmeted Guineafowl O    KN Wi                Ni
                    Cape Francolin O PM                      Ni       WC
                 White-backed Duck O       Wi
                       Maccoa Duck                        Ak
                    Egyptian Goose O PM KN Wi             Ak
            South African Shelduck                        Ak
                 Spur-winged Goose                           Ni
                  Southern Pochard         Wi             Ak
                     Cape Shoveler         Wi
                Yellow-billed Duck         Wi             Ak
                         Cape Teal                           Ni
                      Little Grebe         Wi             Ak Ni       WC
               Great Crested Grebe         Wi
                Black-necked Grebe                        Ak Ni
                  Greater Flamingo                        Ak          WC
                   Speckled Pigeon      KN Wi                Ni    KV
              African Olive-pigeon         Wi
    Ring-necked (Cape Turtle) Dove O
                     Laughing Dove O
                      Namaqua Dove O    KN             KR    Ni
                Namaqua Sandgrouse                     KR    Ni
                      Alpine Swift O PM                      Ni
                      Little Swift O PM KN Wi                Ni
             African (Black) Swift   PM KN
            African Emerald Cuckoo         Wi
                   Diederik Cuckoo O    KN Wi
                Red-chested Cuckoo         Wi
                       Black Crake         Wi
                    Common Moorhen O    KN
                  Red-knobbed Coot O    KN Wi             Ak Ni       WC
                        Blue Crane O                         Ni
                  Ludwig's Bustard                           Ni
                     Karoo Bustard      KN             KR
            Southern Black Bustard                                    WC
                     Knysna Turaco         Wi    NV
                 African Spoonbill                           Ni
               African Sacred Ibis O                         Ni       WC
                Southern Bald Ibis O PM KN Wi
             Common Little Bittern      KN Wi
                      Cattle Egret O       Wi
                Black-headed Heron O                                     Tu
                      Purple Heron         Wi
                      Little Egret                                    WC
                     pelican spec.                                    WC
                       Cape Gannet            SR                LB
        Long-tailed/Reed Cormorant O       Wi
    Great/White-breasted Cormorant O
                    Cape Cormorant            SR                LB
             African Oystercatcher O             NV                   WC
                Black-winged Stilt O                   KR    Ni       WC
                       Grey Plover                                    WC
              Common Ringed Plover                                    WC
                 Kittlitz’s Plover                                    WC
       African Three-banded Plover      KN             KR    Ni
              White-fronted Plover                              LB    WC
                Blacksmith Lapwing                     KR    Ni
                          Whimbrel                                    WC
                 Bar-tailed Godwit                                    WC
                  Curlew Sandpiper                                    WC
                        Sanderling                                    WC
                      Little Stint                     KR             WC
                  Common Sandpiper                     KR
                 Common Greenshank                     KR             WC
                   Marsh Sandpiper                                    WC
                   Hartlaub's Gull                              LB    WC
                         Kelp Gull         Wi SR                LB    WC
                       Little Tern                                    WC
                      Caspian Tern                                    WC
                       Common Tern                              LB    WC
                     Sandwich Tern            SR                LB    WC
        Greater Crested/Swift Tern            SR                LB
                   eagle-owl spec.                                    WC    in Langebaan town
                 Black-winged Kite O                                  WC
              African Harrier-hawk   PM
                     Martial Eagle                     KR
                  Verreaux's Eagle      KN                   Ni    KV
                      Booted Eagle                  SP KR    Ni    KV
             Pale Chanting-goshawk O    KN             KR
             African Marsh-harrier                                    WC
                     Black Harrier                                    WC
                        Black Kite O
                    Jackal Buzzard O PM                KR
                  Forest Buzzard *         Wi
                    Lesser Kestrel         Wi
                      Rock Kestrel   PM KN             KR
                  Peregrine Falcon      KN
                Speckled Mousebird                                       Tu
            White-backed Mousebird O PM KN                   Ni
                     Narina Trogon         Wi
                     Common Hoopoe                                          Oudtshoorn B&B
                  Green Woodhoopoe         Wi
                European Bee-eater      KN                   Ni          Tu
              Malachite Kingfisher         Wi
          Half-collared Kingfisher         Wi
                  Giant Kingfisher         Wi SR
                   Pied Kingfisher         Wi
           Brown-hooded Kingfisher         Wi
                Acacia Pied Barbet      KN
         Scaly-throated Honeyguide         Wi
                 Ground Woodpecker      KN          SP
               Cardinal Woodpecker                           Ni
                  Olive Woodpecker         Wi
                        Karoo Lark      KN
                 Spike-heeled Lark                     KR
            Karoo Long-billed Lark      KN             KR
          Black-eared Sparrow-lark                     KR
          Grey-backed Sparrow-lark                           Ni
                   Red-capped Lark                           Ni
                 Large-billed Lark      KN                   Ni
                    Black Saw-wing   PM    Wi SR
                      Barn Swallow O    KN Wi
            White-throated Swallow         Wi          KR    Ni       WC
                       Rock Martin O PM KN Wi          KR    Ni       WC
           Greater Striped Swallow O PM KN Wi                Ni       WC
     South African (Cliff) Swallow                     KR
           African/Grassveld Pipit      KN                   Ni       WC
African Rock/Yellow-tufted Pipit *      KN
                     Cape Longclaw                                          Tinie Versfeld reserve
                      Cape Wagtail O    KN Wi
                Grey Cuckoo-shrike         Wi
                       Cape Bulbul O PM KN Wi                Ni
                   Sombre Greenbul         Wi    NV
              Terrestrial Brownbul         Wi    NV
                      Olive Thrush         Wi                               Stellenbosch
                      Karoo Thrush      KN
                  Cape Rock-thrush                                 KV
            Short-toed Rock-thrush      KN
            Southern Anteater-chat      KN             KR    Ni
               White-starred Robin               NV
                   Cape Robin-chat O PM KN Wi    NV
              Chorister Robin-chat         Wi    NV
                 Karoo Scrub-robin      KN             KR    Ni       WC
                  Common Stonechat                  SP       Ni       WC
                Sickle-winged Chat      KN
                        Karoo Chat      KN
                     Familiar Chat O    KN                   Ni
                 Mountain Wheatear O    KN          SP KR
                   Capped Wheatear                           Ni
             Brown Chat-flycatcher      KN
                 Fiscal Flycatcher O    KN Wi          KR                Tu
                Spotted Flycatcher         Wi
          African Dusky Flycatcher         Wi
                  Fairy Flycatcher      KN
                        Cape Batis   PM    Wi SR    SP
                      Pririt Batis      KN
       African Paradise-flycatcher         Wi    NV
                      Karoo Prinia      KN             KR          KV
             Grey-backed Cisticola      KN             KR    Ni
            Levaillant's Cisticola         Wi                         WC
                          Neddicky   PM             SP                      PM: Bains Kloof
              Rufous-eared Warbler      KN
               Bar-throated Apalis   PM    Wi SR                            Wi: white form
                   Namaqua Warbler                           Ni
               Little Rush-warbler         Wi
      Cape Grass-warbler/Grassbird                     KR
          Green-backed Camaroptera         Wi
              African Reed-warbler      KN             KR    Ni       WC Tu
  Yellow-throated Woodland-warbler         Wi
          Yellow-bellied Eremomela                     KR
     Chestnut-vented (Tit-)Warbler      KN                   Ni       WC Tu
            Layard's (Tit-)Warbler                           Ni
                   Cape Rockjumper                  SP
                          Grey Tit      KN             KR
                Cape Penduline-tit                                    WC
                  Collared Sunbird               NV
           Orange-breasted Sunbird   PM             SP
                  Amethyst Sunbird            SR
                 Malachite Sunbird                                    WC Tu
  Southern Double-collared Sunbird O PM                               WC
   Greater Double-collared Sunbird         Wi
                     Dusky Sunbird      KN
                    Cape White-eye O PM    Wi                Ni
                    Cape Sugarbird   PM             SP             KV       KV: lodge highway
                     Common Fiscal O PM KN Wi          KR    Ni       WC
                  Southern Tchagra      KN
             Black-backed Puffback         Wi                               Wi: Big Tree
                   Southern Boubou         Wi       SP                      Wi: Big Tree
                       Bokmakierie      KN                   Ni
                Fork-tailed Drongo O       Wi    NV
                         Cape Crow O       Wi                Ni
                         Pied Crow O    KN
                White-necked Raven O
                   Common Starling O                         Ni
              Pale-winged Starling      KN
               Red-winged Starling O    KN Wi       SP
             African Pied Starling      KN             KR    Ni
                     House Sparrow O                         Ni
                      Cape Sparrow O PM                KR    Ni
               Southern Red Bishop O    KN                               Tu
                     Yellow Bishop      KN          SP       Ni
                       Cape Weaver O                         Ni
            Southern Masked Weaver O PM KN                   Ni
                 Pin-tailed Whydah O    KN
                    Common Waxbill                     KR    Ni          Tu
                       Cape Canary O
                     Yellow Canary                     KR          KV WC
             White-throated Canary                     KR
        Streaky-headed Seedeater *                                 KV
                       Cape Siskin                  SP
             Black-headed Canary *      KN
                 Lark-like Bunting      KN             KR    Ni             KR: abundant
                      Cape Bunting      KN             KR    Ni    KV

Photos of birds, plants and more scenery in a separate section.