Posted on the 30th November 2020

Members of BirdLife Overberg and several friends participated in BirdLife South Africa’s annual Birding Big Day on Saturday 28 November 2020. The aim was to see whether we could record 200 species in the Overberg on a single day. The count was also incorporated into BirdLife Overberg’s monthly bird count for November. Teams of birdwatchers birding in their “home patches” contributed from several areas of the Overberg and interest grew as people started giving feedback and forwarding their lists. Keep in mind that the birds reported on here are done in chronological order as reports and lists were received.

Johan van der Westhuizen travelled with me with Gary Baumgarten, his seven-year old granddaughter and Paul Minnaar following us in another vehicle. We communicated with two-way radios. Our beat took us along the Vermont and Onrus coastlines, the Vermont salt pan, the Hawston sewage works, Meer-en-See, the Botvlei area along Fisherhaven and the Karwyderskraal and Swartrivier roads and a section of the Vanderstel Pass.

I started with coffee on a cloudy and windy morning and birded around the house at Onrus and was able to quickly pick up on the usual suspects such as the CAPE SUGARBIRD, OLIVE THRUST and the common doves and sparrows. I also heard the SPOTTED EAGLE-OWL and SPOTTED THICK-KNEE calling earlier. The weather did not look too promising with 100% cloud cover and a south-easterly wing beginning to pick up seriously.

Greater Striped Swallow - Duncan Butchart
White-throated Swallow - Sharon Brink








We got together at 06:00 with a slight drizzle and we therefore decided to do the Onrus and Vermont coastline from the vehicles. We recorded the gulls, two of the terns, AFRICAN BLACK OYSTERCATCHER and CAPE and CROWNED CORMORANTS. Terrestrial species of interest seen at this early stage of the day included JACKAL BUZZARD, AFRICAN GOSHAWK, CAPE SPURFOWL, CAPE BUNTING and SOUTHERN TCHAGRA. The VERMONT SALT PAN is currently full to the brim with thick vegetation right up to the water’s edge – very little space for waders to forage. The pan produced good numbers of PIED AVOCETS, BLACK-WINGED STILTS, REED and WHITE-BREASTED CORMORANTS and GREY HERONS. Both flamingo species were on view and several BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERONS caused a stir. Around the edges of the pan species such as the LEVAILLANT'S CISTICOLA, FISCAL FLYCATCHER, KAROO PRINIA, COMMON WAXBILL and MALACHITE SUNBIRD were seen. The calls of the BAR-THROATED APALIS and LESSER SWAMP-WARBLER added to our growing list. This left us on 66 species logged by the time we left Onrus! Birding is actually excellent in Onrus and Vermont.

The Hawston sewage works is now very well manicured and clean. Well done to the contractors, even though it does not offer much safe habitats for birds anymore. The highlights here were several BLUE-BILLED (aka HOTTENTOT) TEALS and a PEREGRINE FALCON high up in the sky – we were only able to confirm the latter’s identification later on with photographs taken by Johan. There were vast numbers of BARN SWALLOWS and excitingly a NAMAQUA DOVE and we heard KLAAS’S CUCKOO calling along the access road to Meer-en-See. We express our sincere appreciation to Nida Potgieter for organising entrance for us. The water levels are extremely low along the Botvlei at the moment after the breaching of the mouth with the result that birding was slow. We were however able to add KITTLITZ’S and WHITE-FRONTED PLOVERS, AFRICAN PIPIT and several swifts. CAPE BATIS and SOMBRE GREENBULL were heard in the milkwood thickets. We were able to wave to Carin and her team battling against the wind on the opposite side of the vlei.

Huge Kelp Gull breeding colony Rooisand
African Black Duck & ducklings - Carin Malan (2)








The slipway at Fisherhaven was fairly productive as we were able to confirm sightings of GREATER CRESTED GREBE, COMMON GREENSHANK, PIED KINGFISHER, LITTLE EGRET, CASPIAN TERN and so on. We also saw the AFRICAN HARRIER-HAWK slowly working its way past the houses. This left us on 89 species by the time we left for the KARWYDERSKRAAL ROAD.

The Karwyderskraal road again did not disappoint with BLUE CRANES, AFRICAN STONECHATS, COMMON BUZZARDS, ALPINE SWIFTS, BLACK SAWWINGS and WESTERN CATTLE EGRETS being present, the highlight undoubtedly being a displaying CAPE CLAPPER LARK. We had something to eat at the area around the metal bridge where we saw Almari Robbertse who was birding on her own. Species added here included CAPE CROW, AFRICAN BLACK SWIFT, SOUTHERN MASKED WEAVER, MALACHITE KINGFISHER and CARDINAL WOODPECKER.

The best was yet to come as the SWARTRIVIER ROAD once again produced the goods. As can be expected this road delivered on the common LBJs such as all four of the region’s cisticolas, RED-CAPPED LARK, AFRICAN and PLAIN-BACKED PIPIT and CAPPED WHEATEAR, but surprisingly no Black-winged Kites. We also added GLOSSY IBIS, RED-BILLED TEAL, WHITE-FACED WHISTLING DUCK, SPUR-WINGED GOOSE and AFRICAN SPOONBILL at the dams at the initial phase of the road. The highlight was undoubtedly witnessing the brilliant displaying behaviour of the LARGE-BILLED LARKS with Johan getting excellent images of this must-see phenomenon. We were very excited to see both the BOOTED EAGLE and SECRETARYBIRD in flight towards the end of the Swartrivier road.

Displaying larks - Cape Clapper Lark
Large-billed Lark - Johan van der Westhuizen (2)










We also drove some distance up the Vanderstel Pass, but now it was towards the middle of the day and birding slowed down considerably. We found the drongo, but had two real grand finales: The call of the BROWN-BACKED HONEYBIRD was heard on the outskirts of Botrivier village and a magnificent DENHAM’S BUSTARD was strutting its stuff along the Karwyderskraal road. In the end we managed to log 125 species in seven hours which I thought was not too shabby – once again great Overberg birding!

The reports of other teams and individuals started trickling in by the time we reached home. Here are brief additions from people who could only bird for a short period: The first report in was that of Craig Midgley of the Lower Breede River Conservation Trust who’s team did a CWAC count along the Breede River. They added two crackers – the BAR-TAILED GODWIT and TEREK SANDPIPER. Their counts also added COMMON RINGED and GREY PLOVERS, CURLEW SANDPIPER, SANDERLING and SOUTH AFRICAN SHELDUCK. David Mourant popped into the Stony Point site briefly and was able to add BANK CORMORANT and AFRICAN PENGUIN, as well as CAPE SISKIN later. It was not a day to go out to sea, but the staff of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust scored CAPE GANNET and WHITE-CHINNED PETREL. These few, but impressive contributions took our total for the day to 136 species.

Riaan Jacobs spent his morning driving his usual circle route around the rural roads around Danger Point, Witkrans, Avoca, Papiesvlei, Elim, Wolvengat, Ratelrivier and back to Gansbaai via the Uilenkraals River estuary and recorded 103 species. Just a few of the specials logged by Riaan included BLACK CRAKE, BURCHELL’S COUCAL, TAMBOURINE DOVE, WHITE-BACKED DUCK, AGULHAS LONG-BILLED LARK, COMMON QUAIL, WHISKERED TERN and RUDDY TURNSTONE. Kobus and Tarina du Pisanie took a round trip to the De Mond Nature Reserve and Napier and also forwarded an equally impressive list of 103 species. Brilliant species contributed to our list by them included GREY-WINGED FRANCOLIN, SOUTHERN PALE CHANTING GOSHAWK, BLACK HARRIER, SOUTHERN BLACK KORHAAN and waders at De Mond such as RUFF, CURLEW and MARSH SANDPIPER and LITTLE STINT. Riaan, Kobus and Tarina took our cumulative total for the day to an impressive 160 species.

As could be expected Steve Peck again produced the goods and logged 113 species from the Napier district. Keep in mind that many species were already scored from reports received earlier. Still, here are just a few of the great birds that Steve added: ACACIA PIED BARBET, DIDERICK and RED-CHESTED CUCOOS, AFRICAN FISH EAGLE, VERREAUX’S EAGLE, AFRICAN MARSH HARRIER, KAROO SCRUB-ROBIN and BLACK SPARROWHAWK. Our total was now up to 172 species.

Black-winged Kite family
Blue Crane family - Steve Peck (2)








Richard Masson (72 species) and Peter Hochfelden (31 species) of the Stanford Bird Club further chipped in with impressive birds despite not being able to devote too much time to the effort. Richard worked Witkrans and the village and added LITTLE BITTERN, AFRICAN BLACK DUCK, BUFF-SPOTTED FLUFFTAIL, PURPLE HERON and SWEE WAXBILL. Peter skippered and guided a few cruises on the Lady Stanford on the Klein River and waded in with AFRICAN DARTER, GIANT KINGFISHER, WESTERN OSPREY and AFRICAN PURPLE SWAMPHEN. Similarly Ross Soller at Swellendam had guests for the weekend and could only contribute four species to our list – for three of these were the BLUE-MANTLED CRESTED FLYCATCHER, VICTORIN’S WARBLER and OLIVE WOODPECKER and this must certainly be the highest percentage of genuine rippers ever recorded in our region.

Several reports were received later on Sunday and the majority of these teams saw long lists of birds that contributed some excellent species to our over-all list. Keep in mind that the birds mentioned herewith are merely additions to our list of species already recorded and described. Lester and Sheryl van Groeningen travelled to various areas and their lists contributed INTERMEDIATE (YELLOW-BILLED) EGRET, CAPE GRASSBIRD, HAMERKOP, GREATER and LESSER HONEYGUIDES, ORANGE-BREASTED SUNBIRD and KNYSNA WOODPECKER. Pieter Verster also travelled widely and he added EURASIAN CURLEW, RED-CHESTED FLUFFTAIL and WATTLED STARLING. Jessie Walton recorded a WESTERN BARN OWL at her farm in the Elgin Valley.

Carin Malan, Carl Swart and his daughter and guest Coerie Badenhorst birded between the Rooisand Nature Reserve and Rooiels. They logged an astonishing 139 species between 06h00 and 14h00. Their report was unfortunately received late with the result that the few species mentioned here do not really reflect an excellent day’s birding. They found several CAPE ROCK-JUMPERS at Rooiels – an early celebration of this threatened and endemic species being selected as the BirdLife South Africa Bird of the Year for 2021. This is BirdLife Overberg’s logo bird and we will arrange several special events during the next year. Other great species that were added to our growing list included GREY-HEADED GULL, FIERY-NECKED NIGHTJAR, CAPE ROCK-THRUSH and RUFOUS-CHESTED SPARROWHAWK. 

Cape Rock-jumpers at Rooiels
Stony Point - Carin Malan (2)









A special all-day birding event was organised in and around the Agulhas National Park and four teams participated. The 163 species recorded once again illustrated how underrated this region is as a top bird-watching destination. Sharon Brink and Wim de Klerk forwarded extensive lists and species that were added to the Overberg list were BROWN-HOODED KINGFISHER, CHESTNUT-BANDED PLOVER, AFRICAN RAIL, WOOD SANDPIPER, AFRICAN SNIPE, WHITE STORK, DAMARA TERN and WATER THICK-KNEE. 

Finally, Hamish Hofmeyer and Alfrenzo Laing from De Hoop Collections also chipped in with some impressive lists even though they were only able to bird for a part of the day due to work commitments. Species that were added to our list were GREAT WHITE PELICAN, PROTEA SEEDEATER, LESSER STRIPED SWALLOW and HORUS SWIFT. Surprisingly they also reported RED-FACED MOUSEBIRDS, the first team to report this very common species on the day.

Chestnut-banded Plover
End of a platanna - Sharon Brink (2)








We then studied some BBD lists submitted through BirdLasser and no species were added to our list from this. This took us to 223 species, with our monthly Overberg bird count reaching a record score of 242 species. The full list of species seen is available on our website, or upon request from There are still a few lists outstanding and these will be reported on later. Kindly forward reports on other birds seen in the Overberg on Saturday to us.

So what’s the big deal? Why draft such an extensive report on 223 species seen when there were some teams in other parts of the country that recorded well over 300 species? Well, firstly a rough count of species recorded indicates that 51 of the 223 species recorded are endemic or near-endemic to southern Africa. This high level of endemism certainly confirms the Overberg region’s vast potential as a top bird-watching destination, particularly as far as overseas birders are concerned.

It should also be noted that the weather was not optimal for good birding with full cloud cover and very strong winds making birding fairly difficult for most parts of the day. The staff of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust could therefore not go out to sea with the result that several pelagic species could not be recorded.

African Spoonbill - Steve Peck
Appropriate social distancing - Riaan Jacobs







Also note that there were several members and other birders who were unable to participate on Saturday and these include people from the towns of Elgin/ Grabouw, Villiersdorp, Greyton, Caledon and Swellendam, as well as central Hermanus. We will keep on trying to involve people from these areas in future. To this should be added that we were unable to get birders or staff members to participate in the Bontebok National Park and the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserves. This despite us sending out requests in this regard – this is such a pity as these reserves stand to benefit most from increased numbers of bird-watchers visiting their reserves. Species that might have been recorded had these areas been involved could conservatively include the following: Maccoa Duck, Spotted Flycatcher and Sentinel Rock-Thrush. One might even have dreamt of finding rippers such as Forest Canary, African Crowned Eagle, Karoo Korhaan, Narina Trogon, Cape Vulture and Ground Woodpecker.

This exercise once again illustrates the vast bird-watching potential of the Overberg region. We would like to invite all birders who could not participate on Saturday to participate in the monthly bird counts being undertaken by members and friends of BirdLife Overberg. Our appreciation goes to everyone who had contributed to the success of Saturday’s counts, as well as for the reports, images, fun and lots of laughs.

Send all queries about birding in the Overberg or BirdLife Overberg membership to
30 November 2020.

Denham's Bustard - Young Aiden van Heerden
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow - Steve Peck











African Fish Eagle- Steve Peck
Very white Jackal Buzzard - Sharon Brink




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