We spent this last weekend (31 October and 1 November 2009) in an area called the Swartruggens. To describe where this is it is easiest to say that it is on the southern end of the Cedarberg about 70kms northeast of Ceres. For those that know the Tanqua Karoo it is about 20kms north-west of Skitterykloof.
When planning for the weekend I imagined that it would offer similar birds to the Tanqua Karoo. To a certain extent this was true however it offered a far lower diversity than the Tanqua plains. We stayed at a place called Kagga Kamma which is situated on a plateau about 200m higher altitude than the Tanqua plain. The vegetation is mostly the same dry scrub seen down on the plain but there did not seem to be any acacia lined watercourses which had a significant impact on the diversity of species.
The most rewarding aspect of the weekend was that I managed to atlas three virgin pentads from the area including 3240_1930, 3245_1935 and 3250_1935. The least rewarding aspect was the paltry species count for each of the pentads. I listed 34, 29 and 22 species respectively for 2 hour protocol cards. Despite the poor species counts there were some good birds on show. With such low numbers it is probably possible to list all species but I won’t do that. Significantly we saw five lark species including Karoo, Karoo Long-billed, Large-billed, Red-capped and an obscene concentration of Cape Clappers. The Clappers seemed to be everywhere. I think the Clappers were number one or two in list count on all three lists.
We never clapped eyes on any sparrow-larks but I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Black-eared up there. Aside from the lark bonanza we also had a chat bonanza. We saw 5 species (if you count Mountain Wheatear as a chat species). It included very good numbers of Mountain Wheatear as well as Tractrac, Sickle-winged, Familiar and a single Karoo Chat (this was very interesting to me as the habitat was not particularly barren and so I would have expected the Karoo Chat to far outnumber Tractrac but this was not the case – there were some areas where there were 5 or 6 Tractrac Chats all in very close proximity).
Sticking with the Chat theme there were also fairly large numbers of Chat Flycatcher. I don’t recall seeing that many on the Tanqua plains.
Aside from the birds listed above, other highlights included extremely obliging Rufous-eared Warblers, dozens of Black-headed Canaries (with two Damara Canaries mixed in the one flock), Grey Tit, Dusky Sunbird, Booted Eagle and Long-billed Pipit.
The misses were more notable than the ticks. We missed all the acacia species. Not one Pririt Batis, White-backed Mousebird or Acacia Pied Barbet. We had very fleeting glances of Layard’s Titbabbler and Long-billed Crombec. We also did not see or hear any Korhaans or Bustards. Although not entirely unexpected I also did not see any Coursers – the habitat is certainly wrong. I had also hoped that some of the rocky ridges would deliver Cinnamon-breasted Warbler or possibly even an errant African Rock Pipit but never heard either of them call.
The most disappointing misses for me, however, were Cape Eagle Owl and Freckled Nightjar. Speaking to the people at Kagga Kamma there is a resident pair of CEO’s that they see almost every evening. We managed to miss them. We also did not see or hear any Freckled Nightjars.
It was an enjoyable weekend and for the endemic birder there was plenty to be happy about. It was just a little disappointing that the diversity was as low as it was.