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WEEKLY FEATURE 32: TOWARDS THE TANKWA KAROO - FROM CERES TO THE TANKWA FARM STALL

Posted on the 7th August 2015

The R46 from Ceres to Karoopoort merits dedicated slow birding. The TWEELING DAM is found roughly 10 km east of Ceres (S33° 19'39.95” E19° 24'13.76”). Bird-watching here can be extremely rewarding, particularly during spring and early summer when plenty of waterbirds and waders may be present. Note that the dam is often very dry during late summer and autumn. The dam lies on both sides of the road and parking under the opportune blue-gum trees to the western side is advised. The BLACK-NECKED, GREAT CRESTED and LITTLE GREBES all occur, along with the PIED AVOCET, AFRICAN SPOONBILL, BLACK-WINGED STILT and most of the duck species to be found in the region. The SOUTH AFRICAN SHELDUCK appears in worthy numbers. Migratory waders in summer regularly include the COMMON GREENSHANK, COMMON RINGED PLOVER, RUFF, COMMON, CURLEW, MARSH and WOOD SANDPIPERS and LITTLE STINT. The vegetation along the water's edge hold the SOUTHERN RED and YELLOW BISHOPS, LEVAILLANT'S CISTICOLA, KAROO PRINIA, LITTLE RUSH-WARBLER, LESSER SWAMP-WARBLER and AFRICAN REED-WARBLER in summer, as well as most of the region's doves and sparrows. Be especially wary for the more secretive and often inconspicuous species such as the LITTLE BITTERN, BURCHELL'S COUCAL and BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON. The AFRICAN FISH-EAGLE and WESTERN OSPREY have been recorded occasionally.
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Tweeling Dam (Image by Anton)
African Reed-Warbler (Image by Anton)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pied Avocet  (Image by Jessie Walton)
Purple Heron  (Image by Anton)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Further along the R46, towards Karoopoort, the THERONSBERG PASS warrants attention. The recommended spot for bird-watching is at the parking area and viewpoint (S33° 17'17.76” E19° 27.25”). Species that are commonly found include the SOUTHERN RED BISHOP, PIED STARLING, GREY-WINGED FRANCOLIN, CAPE CLAPPER, LARGE-BILLED and RED-CAPPED LARKS, WHITE-NECKED RAVEN and CAPE ROCK-THRUSH. It is remarkable that one can expect to find the sheer majority of so-called 'fynbos specials' such as the PROTEA SEEDEATER, CAPE SISKIN, CAPE SUGARBIRD, ORANGE-BREASTED SUNBIRD and VICTORIN'S WARBLER in the fynbos habitats. Observe the stands of mature Proteas and 'wabome' along here with particular care. Raptors include the JACKAL BUZZARD, LANNER FALCON, BLACK-SHOULDERED KITE, and occasionally the BLACK HARRIER, and STEPPE BUZZARD and YELLOW-BILLED KITE occur in summer.
The next suggested stop is at KAROOPOORT, about 45 km east of Ceres. Frequently spotted species in the area around the historic farmhouse include the FAMILIAR CHAT, CAPE ROBIN-CHAT, CAPE SPARROW, PIED STARLING, MALACHITE SUNBIRD, OLIVE THRUSH and CAPE WEAVER, with the KAROO SCRUB-ROBIN and NAMAQUA WARBLER being more mysterious . The JACKAL BUZZARD, BOOTED and VERREAUX'S EAGLES and ROCK KESTREL often embrace the skies and look out for the AFRICAN BLACK, ALPINE, LITTLE and WHITE-RUMPED SWIFTS during summer months. Be on the lookout for the rare RUFOUS-CHESTED SPARROWHAWK. Travel slowly along the river bed, where the BLACK-HEADED, WHITE-THROATED and YELLOW CANARIES, GREY-BACKED CISTICOLA, AFRICAN REED-WARBLER and STREAKY-HEADED SEEDEATER may be found. The acacia thickets may produce the ACACIA PIED BARBET, FAIRY and FISCAL FLYCATCHERS, WHITE-BACKED MOUSEBIRD, WATTLED STARLING and CHESTNUT-VENTED and LAYARD'S TIT-BABBLERS. The CAPE BUNTING, GREY-WINGED FRANCOLIN and MOUNTAIN WHEATEAR are common along the rocky slopes. Interestingly, both the PALE-WINGED and RED-WINGED STARLINGS occur and EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS are plentiful in summer. Ensure that ample time is spent at the famous and delightful KAROOPOORT PICNIC SITE, just beyond the turn-off of the R356 to Sutherland (33° 13'06.39”S 19° 42'14.16”E). The LONG-BILLED CROMBEC, FAIRY FLYCATCHER, both CHESTNUT-VENTED and LAYARD'S TIT-BABBLERS, NAMAQUA WARBLER and MOUNTAIN WHEATEAR are regularly found. Pleasingly common species include the CAPE and WHITE-THROATED CANARIES, GREY-BACKED CISTICOLA and WHITE-BACKED MOUSEBIRD. The LESSER DOUBLE-COLLARED and MALACHITE SUNBIRDS appear in copious numbers after it has rained. Karoopoort is, however, known as one of the prime sites for the highly elusive CINNAMON-BREASTED WARBLER and this is certainly the main target species at the picnic site. It is best to acquaint oneself with its call, as it is otherwise almost impossible to find.

Tankwa sunrise  (Image by Anton)
European Bee-eater (Image by Richard Masson)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lanner Falcon  (Image by Anton)
Pririt Batis male (Image by Anton)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


From Karoopoort, the R355 extends for more than 200 km through the enchanting semi-desert landscape of the Tankwa Karoo to eventually end at Calvinia. The area is isolated and remote, therefore visitors are advised to take sufficient provisions, fuel and spare tyres along. The road's surface consists mostly of fair quality gravel, but take note that very sharp gravel is encountered, often resulting in the innumerable flat tyres that the Tankwa Karoo has developed a notorious reputation for. Caution and meticulous planning is highly recommended. Slow driving is suggested for yet another reason as birding along these arid plains is simply outstanding.
The CAPE BUNTING, WHITE-THROATED CANARY, KAROO CHAT and KAROO PRINIA are particularly numerous and the YELLOW CANARY and KAROO and LARGE-BILLED LARKS are very common. The LARK-LIKE BUNTING, BLACK-HEADED CANARY, YELLOW-BELLIED EREMOMELA, CHAT FLYCATCHER and LAYARD'S TIT-BABBLER are recorded occasionally. The SICKLE-WINGED CHAT and SOUTHERN BLACK KORHAAN are less common and may be tricky to locate. Several acacia-clad, mostly dry water courses, often host exciting species such as the PRIRIT BATIS, LONG-BILLED CROMBEC, FAIRY FLYCATCHER, WHITE-BACKED MOUSEBIRD, CHESTNUT-VENTED TIT-BABBLER and RUFOUS-EARED WARBLER. Watch out for the ANT-EATING CHATS at sandy areas. Myriad numbers of EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS occur in summer. Unmistakably, the JACKAL BUZZARD, GREATER KESTRELS and SOUTHERN PALE CHANTING GOSHAWKS are often prominently perched on telephone poles along the road.
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Southern Black Korhaan
Large-billed Lark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Karoo Chat
Ant-eating Chat (Images by Anton)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


There are some charming small dams to the right, some 5 km from Karoopoort, and these, as well as the large dam on the Inverdoorn Private Game Reserve, should be scanned by spotting scope for an interesting array of waterbirds. (S33° 06'43.42 E19° 46'06.69”). The water levels of these dams are often very low, but it is, however, worthwhile to walk down to the fence to scan the water's edge. The AFRICAN FISH-EAGLES often nest in a tree and birds found regularly are the PIED AVOCET, RED-KNOBBED COOT, YELLOW-BILLED DUCK, GREATER FLAMINGO, LITTLE GREBE, SOUTH AFRICAN SHELDUCK, BLACK-WINGED STILT and CAPE SHOVELER. The BLACK-NECKED GREBE and GLOSSY IBIS appear in small numbers. Surprisingly, the AFRICAN RAIL has also been recorded here. Sizeable numbers of NAMAQUA SANDGROUSE are frequently seen at the water.
The riveting INVERDOORN GAME RESERVE is located along the R356 between Karoopoort and Sutherland. (33° 11'06.80”S 19° 81'24.94'E). This 10 000 ha game reserve hosts an abundance of diverse mammals and features a bird list exceeding 165 species. Game drives in open 4X4 safari vehicles end with enthralling sunsets from a look-out point and “the clear skies with myriads of stars are absolutely breathtaking”. The reserve offers a lodge with ten luxurious chalets and two family houses. The restaurant serves modern French Cuisine with a unique South African touch. There are many other enjoyable recreational facilities at this upmarket venue and many bird-watchers, both domestic and international, use it as a base to explore the birding delights of the Ceres Karoo and beyond. Visit their website at the dropdown menu below or contact them at info@inverdoorn.com
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Red-knobbed Coot  (Image by Anton)
Cape Shovelers  (Image by Richard Masson)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The EIERKOP AREA is reached roughly 14 km beyond the Karoopoort picnic site along the R355 (S33° 03'29.84” E19° 46'22.46”). Two tillite hills straddle the road and the one on the right hand side is popularly known as Eierkop. The main target species here is the KAROO EREMOMELA and the base of the hill should be searched for small parties of these very active birds moving rapidly through the bushes. Other birds in this general area, or along the track leading to the hill, are the LARKLIKE BUNTING, FAMILIAR and KAROO CHATS, GREY-BACKED CISTICOLA, KAROO LARK, GREY TIT and RUFOUS-EARED WARBLER. The NAMAQUA SANDGROUSE and TRACTRAC CHAT are surprisingly uncommon here. The endless plains around Eierkop hold the BLACK-HEADED and WHITE-THROATED CANARY, DOUBLE-BANDED COURSER, KAROO KORHAAN, LARGE-BILLED and RED-CAPPED LARKS, CAPE PENDULINE-TIT and MALACHITE and SOUTHERN DOUBLE-COLLARED SUNBIRDS. The SOUTHERN PALE CHANTING GOSHAWK and SECRETARYBIRD feature regularly. In late winter and spring, LUDWIG'S BUSTARD is moderately common on the plains.
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At Eierkop  (Image by Anton)
Karoo Eremomela (Image by Japie Claassen)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grey Tit  (Image by Anton)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The barren landscape becomes increasingly more arid as one travels north from Eierkop towards the Tankwa Farm Stall. The target species along this stretch of road are the TRACTRAC CHAT, KAROO KORHAAN and CAPE PENDULINE TIT. The TRACTRAC CHAT often swoops around near the road – watch out for their pure white rumps as they fly short distances to the next perch. The enigmatically camouflaged KAROO KORHAAN often hides in the shade of the sparse bushes along here towards midday. The more dense vegetation along the drainage lines host species such as the PRIRIT BATIS, FAIRY FLYCATCHER, WHITE-BACKED MOUSEBIRD, CHESTNUT-VENTED TIT-BABBLER and RUFOUS-EARED WARBLER. This is the type of habitat where small groups of very energetic CAPE PENDULINE TITS are most often found. Other species to look for include the KAROO CHAT, KAROO EREMOMELA, LARGE-BILLED, RED-CAPPED and SPIKE-HEELED LARKS and MOUNTAIN WHEATEAR.

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Karoo Korhane with chick  (Image by Louis Alberts)
Rufous-eared Warbler  (Image by Anton)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A visit to the TANKWA FARM STALL that is found a short distance past the turn-off to the Katbakkies picnic site is strongly recommended (32° 52'14.42”S 19° 46'32.49”E). Birders should ensure that at least an hour is added to their itinerary to investigate this unique watering hole and sample their divine meal of the day. The following text was provided by the owner: “The R355 is the longest dirt road between two South African towns – 280 kilometres of bliss with only one stop to make: The Tankwa Farm Stall. This farm stall is a shop to the local farmers and workers of this community that stocks everything from new bicycles to pregnancy tests. For those visiting one of the many overnight destinations, this is a last stop to stock up on wood, food, tyre repair kits and information on the best places to visit and the right roads to take. Visitors can choose from a variety of locally manufactured produce such as preserves, hand-made goodies and hand craft works. It serves delicious home-made meals and a drink can be enjoyed at the bar, or try their famous homemade ginger beer. The kids can enjoy the splash pool and jungle gym, and if they are lucky the locals will take them on a donkey-cart ride. A visit to this haven will change your view on farm stalls forever. Come for the day. Come for the weekend. Come for a long weekend. Come for a serious break-away. Some people come once and never leave this beautiful place in the Karoo." The stall is closed on Wednesdays. There is also no cell phone or landline. Contact co-owner Hein Lange at: hlange@breede.co.za 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Tankwa Farn Stall images provided by the owners)

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