I have just returned from a 2 week trip with clients to the Eastern Cape. That was my first trip into that area after a long time and I was really surprise by the birds and environment. It was pretty dry with very little rain that has fallen and some migrants were substantially absent. We managed to record 295 species of birds and 34 mammal species.
We sat off from Beaufort West early morning with a chilly southwesterly wind blowing. Not far out of Beaufort West we picked up our first Ludwig’s Bustard and Namaqua Sandgrouse which gave excellent views.
A quick detour through Aberdeen to look at the historic buildings delivered Eur Bee-eater, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Willow Warbler and Grey-headed Sparrow. We continued to Addo and picked up along the way Jackal Buzzard, Sth Black Korhaan and Mountain Wheatear.
We stayed at Avoca River Cabins which is beautiful situated on the banks of the Sundays River. It is about 20 km from Addo Nat Park and as it is on a working farm, the lodge itself hosts a variety of birds. The accommodation is very good and comfortable. Contact www.avocariver.co.za; e-mail: email@example.com; tel +27(0)42 - 234 0421 ; Fax: 086-6961-865
We stayed for 3 nights and recorded inter alia Afr Palm Swift, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Green Woodhoopoe, Willow Warbler, Burchell’s Coucal, Lesser Honeyguide, Afr Black Duck and Terrestrial Brownbul on the premises.
The 2nd day was spent in Addo Nat Park where the best birding place was the rest camp. Outside birds were scarce and we saw more elephants and kudu’s than birds. Birds around the rest camp were Southern Tchagra, Brimstone Canary, Lesser Striped Swallows, Pearl-breasted Swallows, Green-spotted Dove and Greater Double-collared Sunbird. Towards the Hapoor Dam we saw Black Cuckooshrike, Black-crowned Tchagra, Booted Eagle and Cardinal Woodpecker.
The 3rd day was spent in the Port Elizabeth area with Paul Martin, local guide, (www.birdtours.co.za.; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel: 041 4665698; Cell: 073 2524111) and we had a marvelous amount of birds. We first went to the Tankatara Salt Pans and adjacent area. Spectacled Weaver, Horus Swift, Chestnut-banded Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Black-necked Grebe and Greater Flamingo were around the pans. Into the grassveld area we added Cloud Cisticola, Blue Crane, Sth Black Korhaan, a displaying Denham’s Bustard, a Greater Honeyguide sitting on a fence, Rufous-naped Lark, Red-throated Wryneck and Eur Bee-eater to name a few. A visit to the old bridge over the Sundays River produced more Horus Swift, Cardinal Woodpecker, Black Sawwing, Common Sandpiper and Diderick Cuckoo.
From here we went to the Island Forest. The drizzle cleared by now and we could spot Black-bellied Starling, Blue-mantled Flycatcher, Cinnamon Dove, Forest Buzzard, Collared Sunbird, Dark-backed Weaver, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Olive Bush Shrike and Emerald Cuckoo. A visit to Cape Recife gave Sandwich, Common, Swift and a couple of Roseate Tern, a Sooty Shearwater diving behind the waves and Black Oystercatcher.
Our last stop for the day was the Swartkops Salt Works where we saw a variety of waders like Bar-tailed Godwit, Greater Sand Plover, Lesser Flamingo, Little & Common Tern and Eur Curlew. An excellent day around PE with Paul!
Next morning we headed north to East London and close to Addo a black morph Jacobin Cuckoo was sitting on the telephone line. Close to Graham’s Town a pair of Black Eagles was soaring overhead. We decided to visit the Great Fish River NR, but birds were not that great, may be due to the drought. The roads in the reserve are also not tourism friendly and we had to turn back at the Great Fish River. Good birds in the reserve were Buffy Pipit, Red-necked Francolin, Red-billed Oxpecker, Black Cuckoo, Spectacled Weaver, Water Thick-knee, Afr Pied Wagtail and Dark-backed Weaver.
In East London we stayed at Vincent Valley Lodge which is situated next to a beautiful gorge with indigenous vegetation. The accommodation is very good but probably not for elderly people as it have a lot of steps to climb up and down. Contact www.vvl.co.za.;e-mail: email@example.com; tel 043 726 3131; Fax: 043 727 0379.
Yellow Weavers are nesting in the garden, while you often see Trumpeter Hornbill flying across the gorge. Black-headed Oriole, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Sombre Greenbul and Southern Boubou were all heard calling out of the forest, while during the night Afr Scops Owl called.
Next morning we went to the Nahoon NR in company with local birders, Ken & Gertie Griffith. We had an excellent time during the few hours that the weather allowed us to bird. We started off with Bronze manikin, Amethyst Sunbird, Black Cuckoo, Olive Thrush, Grey Sunbird, Brown Scrub-robin, Cape Baits, Red-capped Robin-chat and Orange-breasted Bush Shrike to name a few. At the bird hide we had good views of Pintailed Whydah, Village Weaver, Dusky Indigobird, while a Barratt’s Warbler was calling in the nearby thickets. Unfortunately it started raining before we could get it out. We also had excellent views of a Knysna Woodpecker in the reserve.
A visit to Quenera lagoon didn’t deliver most birds except some waders like Grey Plover, Common Ringed Plover and Great White Egret. We went to Ken’s garden where we had excellent views of the Magpie Mannikins at his feeder, a lifer for all of us and a long sought bird for me. There was also Bronze Mannikin, Black Flycatcher, Thick-billed Weaver and Bronze Mannikin. The rest of the day was taken up by the rain.
Day 6 we headed up north to Rhodes. It was still raining and we hope for a bit clear skies. We traveled with the N2 towards Butterworth and turned off to Tsomo, Engcobo and Elliot. This road is a good tar road and really quiet with beautiful scenery. Close to Tsomo the rain stopped and we started picking up birds again which includes Ground Woodpecker, Mountain Wheatear, Steppe Buzzard, Long-tailed Widowbird and Cape Longclaw. Close to Elliot we had close up views off 2 Tawny Eagles, Steppe Buzzard and Yellow-billed Kite feeding at newly hatch termites. We found some Denham’s Bustard patrolling the fields, an Afr Fish Eagle perching on a tree and Piet-my-Vrou’s calling every where in the thickets.
North of Elliot we had good views of Cape Griffons soaring overhead with Alpine Swift and a Jackal Buzzard. A stop at a dam along the road produced Cape Canary, Secretarybird walking in a distance, Yellow-billed Duck, Red-billed Teal, Southern Pochard and Red-collared Widowbird. On top of Barkly Pass we found our first Grey Crowned Cranes. Between Barkly East and Rhodes we had more Mahems, 12 Cape Griffons feeding on a sheep carcass Grey-winged Francolin and lots of Yellow Bishops.
Rhodes is a very quiet town surrounded by beautiful mountains. Within an hour you can walk all the streets in town in safety. We stayed in self-catering units of Rhodes Hotel which is comfortable although it needs a bit of maintenance. (Contact www.rhodeshotel.co.za; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; tel 045 974 9305 ; Fax : 045 974 9308.) Birds in town are Red-eyed Dove, Olive Thrush, Streaky-headed Seed-eater, Red-winged Starling, Cape Weaver, Grey-headed Sparrow, Piet-my-Vrou and Southern Boubou. We saw a couple of times Black Eagles soaring overhead.
The next morning we headed out towards Naudesnek Pass for the big specials. We quickly picked up Drakensberg Prinia, Afr Pipit and an Afr Black Duck in a little stream. The first part of the pass was quiet as the mist was lifting, but when the sun break through we picked them up: Sentinel Rock Thrush feeding chicks, Sickle-winged Chat, Wailing Cisticola, Drakensberg Siskin, the big one – a couple of Mountain Pipits, and the people could clearly see the difference with the Afr Pipit of earlier, Long-billed Pipit, Large-billed Lark, a good view of a flying Bearded Vulture and then a couple of pairs of performing Drakensberg Rockjumpers. At one stage there were 4 males competing with each other for the females. What a spectacular sighting!! On the way back we saw some Banded Martins.
We spend the afternoon going north towards Tiffendell (for the record - that resort has closed down and that has a huge influence on Rhodes tourism) and found i.e. more Black Eagles, Afr Black Swift, Malachite Sunbird to name a few.
Next morning we took the road to Queenstown and along the road had excellent views of more Mahems, Eastern Longbilled Lark, Blue Korhaan and Cape Griffons. Just north of Elliott we saw some White-winged Terns over a dam and Spur-winged Geese. We decided to go to Gatbergsvlei to look for the Wattled Cranes and were not disappointed. We had brilliant scope views of 3 of these magnificent birds, but the vlei also teemed with Mahems, ducks, Sacred Ibis and other water birds. Cloud Cisticola and Common Quail were calling all over and a Purple Heron shared the vlei with Grey & Black-headed Heron.
Just east of Indwe we picked up our first SA Cliff Swallows and between Dordrecht and Queenstown we saw 6 more Blue Korhaans very close to the road. In Queenstown we stayed at Imvani Country Lodge about 25 km south of town. It is a good lodge with excellent food and very comfortable. (Contact www.wheretostay.co.za/imvani; e-mail: email@example.com;) If you have time you are free to explore the whole game farm on foot or bicycle. Suddenly the birds have changed and around the lodge we saw Afr Harrier-Hawk, Black-headed Oriole, Black sawing, Amethyst Sunbird, Great Spotted Cuckoo, Grey-backed Cisticola, Cardinal Woodpecker, Jacobin Cuckoo and Rufous-naped Lark.
Next morning we went to the Lawrence de Lange NR outside Queenstown. It seems to be a much underrated birding place, even by the local birds, but as I went to lots of reserves, this looks as one of the best run Municipality or provincial run nature reserves. I had to compliment the manager. Facilities are neat and clean, roads are in excellent condition, even better as some national parks’ roads and birding is also excellent. We started off with the regulars as we went up Madeira’s Mountain and then added Ground Woodpecker, Chestnut-vented Titbabbler, Cape Rock Thrush and then on top of the mountain the surprise, 2 Mountain Pipits. Knowing that it is far out of its known range, we carefully went through the possible pipits. At the end we first thought it may be just a strange looking Long-billed Pipit, so I played the call with no reaction. I then played the call of the Mountain Pipit and immediately it jumped out and started calling back. Probably the most worthwhile record of the trip! Down at the plains area of the reserve, we saw Plain-backed Pipit and Spotted Thick-knee. At the picnic site we added Black Cuckooshrike and Lesser Honeyguide.
The next day we joined Kate Webster on birding along the Black Kei River and what an experience! Although the river had only a couple of pools, birding was excellent with Pearl-breasted Swallow, Giant Kingfisher, Crowned Hornbill, Mocking Cliff-chat, Knysna Woodpecker, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Afr Fish Eagle, Cape Griffon, calling Lazy Cisticola, Afr Quailfinch, Chinspot Batis, Golden-breasted Bunting, Black Cuckoo and a large breeding colony of Cattle Egrets, Red Cormorants, Afr Spoonbill and Sacred Ibis.
Hereafter we headed for Hogsback which was totally covered in fog as we arrived. We stayed at Never Daunted Self Catering which has a variety of units situated inside the forest with the forest birds around you (if it is not raining) Contact http://www.hogsbackinfo.co.za/daunted; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; tel 0459621026 / 0824104241 ; Fax: 0865022877. The Knysna Turacoes were not very happy with the weather either and the Piet-my-Vrou was looking for his wife. We hoped for better weather the next day and I was really surprise as I woke up the next morning at 5am and saw that the mist have lifted. We went birding and marked Olive Bushshrike, Swee Waxbill, Dusky Flycatcher, Puffback and Rameron Pigeon to name a few. After only 3 hours the mist moved in again and made birding very difficult. We had glimpses in the mist of flying Cape Parrots and a Orange Ground-thrush was calling, but invisible as the mist allowed only about 2 meters sight. Then it started raining and we had to call it a day.
It was still raining the next morning as we traveled from Hogsback to Mountain Zebra Nat Park. We were very disappointed with Hogsback’s weather but will hopefully have better weather next time. It was cloudy and rains on and off all the way to almost Cradock. A little dam below Hogsback’s mountain produced Afr Spoonbill, White-winged Terns and Yellow-billed Duck. In Adelaide we saw Afr Paradise Flycatcher and Dusky Indigobird. The sewage works outside Bedford had a couple of water birds and at the Daggaboer Farm Stall a Greater Honeyguide was calling.
When we entered Mountain Zebra Nat Park we found Eastern Clapper Lark and many Chat Flycatchers. The smaller scrub hosted Rufous-eared Warbler, Sickle-winged Chat and Scaly-feathered Finch. A drive to the Rooiplaat area produced Long-billed & Buffy Pipit, Eastern Longbilled & Spike-heeled Lark, Blue Crane and many Zitting Cisticolas. The facilities in Mountain Zebra are excellent with very friendly people. Contact www.sanparks.org/mountainzebra.
The next morning Grey-winged Francolin was breaking the dawn chorus and also found Golden-breasted Bunting, Streaky-headed Seed-eater, Short-toed Rock Thrush which was a bit of surprise, Grey Tit, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Fairy Flycatcher, Pririt Batis, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Cloud Cisticola and Large-billed Lark. A juvenile Martial Eagle sat at the Doornhoek Dam and we found a beautiful Puff adder drinking and bathing in a small puddle in the road.
The next morning when we left we had a flock of African Firefinches next to the road. On the way to Nieu Bethesda we saw tens of Blue Cranes, a couple of Ludwig’s Bustards, Karoo Korhaans, Ground Woodpecker, Black-headed Canaries, Secretarybird and Eur Bee-eater. At Graaff Reinet we paid a visit to the Valley of Desolation and will stay an impressive sighting. The thunder clouds were building up and we had only time to have a quick look at the dam. Birds included Namaqua Warbler, Willow Warbler, Cardinal Woodpecker, SA Shellduck, Southern Tchagra and Common Sandpiper.
This wonderful trip ended with lovely thunder clouds and rain over the Karoo.