ENDEMIC BIRDS OF THE WESTERN CAPE PROVINCEPosted on the 1st June 2011
When one refers to the term an endemic species, it means a species that is restricted to a certain region and that can be found nowhere else in the world. Southern Africa is fortunate to have a high level of endemism in all forms of life and in fact South Africa, as a country, is considered by some to be the third most biologically diverse country in the world.
The Southern African subregion, which is taken to be the portion of land south of the Cunene and Zambezi Rivers, hosts more breeding bird species than the United States of America and Canada combined.
Of the just over 960 bird species recorded in the subregion, 177 are endemics or near-endemics, ie, species only marginally shared with neighbouring countries. In other words, almost 20% of Southern Africa's birds can be found nowhere else in the world! This high level of endemism is due to the huge and diverse range of habitats present in the region as well as the climate which ranges from the cool winter rainfall areas of the south west to the hot summer rainfall subtropical areas of the north and east.
Cape Town, on the south western corner of Africa, is situated far from the species rich areas of Southern Africa, and consequently doesn't boast a vast bird list. It more than makes up for this, however, in the quality of the birding opportunities within easy reach of the city. 57 of the Southern Africa's endemic species and 32 of the near endemic species are available on day trips from Cape Town, and most of these can be found reasonably easily with appropriate local knowledge. This amounts to a staggering 89 species, far greater than the endemic bird totals of most countries.
Attempting to find these endemic birds takes one into a wide variety of spectacular habitats ranging from sparse semi-desert through coastal strandveld and mountain fynbos to damp montane forests and the routes less travelled offer some amazing scenery to compliment the brilliant birding opportunities.
So, where does one go to find the endemic and near-endemic birds in the Western Cape whilst staying within relatively close proximity to Cape Town?
|African Black Oystercatcher|
With its stunning scenic beauty, extensive beaches, wine estates and pleasant climate, the Cape Peninsula is already a Western Cape gem and whilst enjoying the natural splendour of the Peninsula, one also has the opportunity to pick out the endemic and spectacular bird species that are available in the vicinity, namely, the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, which offers both fynbos and marine bird species, Boulders Beach for the African Penguins, Kommetjie for a few more marine species, the Silvermine Reserve and Tokai Forest which offer other fynbos specials as well as species adapted to the plantations. Then, of course, there's the extensive Strandfontein Waste Water Treatment Works, which offers a large number of marine and fresh water species, and the nearby Rondevlei Nature Reserve gives you the opportunity to view a variety of marine, fresh water and bush bird species from a number of hides and look-out towers and offers wheelchair-friendly pathways between the hides. The vast manicured fynbos gardens at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and walks through the damp forests on the precipitous slopes of Table Mountain, which form a spectacular backdrop to the gardens, offer a generous attendance of endemic species.
Endemics and near Endemics of the Peninsula include: African Penguin, Cape Gannet, Bank, Cape & Crowned Cormorants, South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveller, Forest & Jackal Buzzard, Grey-winged Francolin & Cape Spurfowl, African Black Oystercatcher, Hartlaub's Gull, Burchell's Coucal, Ground Woodpecker, Cape Clapper Lark, Greater Striped Swallow, Cape Bulbul, Cape Rock Thrush, Knysna Warbler, Cape Grassbird, Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Prinia, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape Batis, Cape Longclaw, Southern Boubou, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted and Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Cape White-eye, Cape Sparrow, Cape Weaver, Swee Waxbill, Cape Siskin and Protea Canary.
HOTTENTOTS HOLLAND TO PAARL
The Hottentots Holland Mountains and their surrounds on the eastern side of the Cape Flats provide relatively easy access to a number of species that are difficult to find on, or are entirely absent from the Cape Peninsula. Places to visit in this region include the mountain fynbos and gorges of the beautiful Harold Porter Botanical Gardens, the beautiful Rooiels area, the lofty ridges of the summit of Sir Lowry's Pass, the popular Helderberg Nature Reserve with it's sprawling mature fynbos as well as the Paarl Mountain Reserve, the Paarl Bird Sanctuary and some of the best wine estates which not only offer well matured nectar from the vines, but also attract many good bird species to the natural bush corridors on their estates.
Endemics and near Endemics from this area include: Jackal Buzzard, Black Harrier, Grey-winged Francolin, Cape Spurfowl, Hartlaub’s Gull, Greater Striped Swallow, Cape Bulbul, Cape & Sentinel Rock Thrush, Cape Rock-jumper, Victorin's Warbler, Cape Grassbird, Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Prinia, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape Batis, Cape Longclaw, Southern Boubou, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted and Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Cape White-eye, Cape Sparrow, Cape Weaver, Swee Waxbill, Cape Siskin and Protea Canary.
SOUTH COAST SPECIALS
The south coast of the Western Cape brings one into the range of many species not available closer to Cape Town, in particular in the indigenous forests and coastal scrub forests of the area. Birding spots to visit in this area include the Grootvadersbosch indigenous forest east of Swellendam, the farming areas on the approaches to this marvellous nature reserve and the Bontebok National Park. The De Hoop Nature Reserve, which offers exclusive species such as Southern Tchagra and Knysna Woodpecker and a visit to the nearby Potberg Nature Reserve should provide views of the endangered Cape Vulture at its southernmost breeding colony. In summer, a visit to the De Mond Nature Reserve is also well worth a visit to look for the Damara Tern at its breeding site in the coastal dunes.
Endemics and near Endemics in this region include: South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveller, Cape Vulture, Forest Buzzard, Jackal Buzzard, Grey-winged Francolin, Cape Spurfowl, Blue Crane, Karoo Korhaan, Southern Black Korhaan, African Black Oystercatcher, Hartlaub's Gull, Damara Tern, White-backed Mousebird, Acacia Pied Barbet, Knysna Woodpecker, Cape Clapper, Agulhas Long-billed & Large-billed Larks, Grey-backed Sparrowlark, Greater Striped Swallow, Cape Bulbul, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Knysna Warbler, Victorin's Warbler, Cape Grassbird, Karoo Prinia, Grey-backed Cisticola, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape Batis, Cape Longclaw, Southern Boubou, Southern Tchagra, Bokmakierie, Olive Bush-Shrike, Pied Starling, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted, Southern & Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Cape White-eye, Cape Sparrow, Cape Weaver, Swee Waxbill, Forest Canary, Cape Siskin, Yellow Canary and White-throated Canary.
Other Specials: Crowned Eagle, Red-necked Spurfowl, Denham's Bustard, Olive Woodpecker, Grey Cuckooshrike, Narina Trogon, African Paradise Flycatcher, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher and Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler.
|Southern Black Korhaan|
STRANDVELD AND SALT MARSH
A trip up the West Coast exposes one to the many species available in the short scrubby strandveld vegetation and the mudflats, pans and salt marsh of the West Coast National Park and its environs. A visit to strandveld vegetation at Silverstroomstrand, some 40 km north of Cape Town, and the Tienie Versveld Nature Reserve, located on the road to Darling, offers a number of species typical of the West Coast farmlands. The West Coast National Park offers further strandveld birding as well as wader watching from hides overlooking large expanses of salt marsh. A visit to the vast mudflats (tide permitting) and salt pans at the mouth of the Berg River at Velddrif is another spot to enjoy and the drive down to Paternoster, just north of Saldanha Bay, should produce larks, chats and other 'little brown jobs' characteristic of the area.
Endemics and near Endemics in this region include: Cape Gannet, Cape & Crowned Cormorant, South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveller, Jackal Buzzard, Black Harrier, Grey-winged Francolin & Cape Spurfowl, Blue Crane, Southern Black Korhaan, African Black Oystercatcher, Hartlaub's Gull, White-backed Mousebird, Acacia Pied Barbet, Karoo, Large-billed & Cape Long-billed Lark, Grey -backed Sparrowlark, Greater Striped Swallow, Grey Tit, Cape Penduline Tit, Cape Bulbul, Sickle-winged & Ant-eating Chat, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Layard's & Chestnut-vented Tit Babbler, Cape Grassbird, Karoo Prinia, Grey-backed Cisticola, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape Longclaw, Bokmakierie, Pied Starling, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Cape White-eye, Cape Sparrow, Cape Weaver, Yellow Canary and White-throated Canary.
Other Specials: Greater & Lesser Flamingo, African Marsh Harrier, Chestnut-banded Plover, Migrant waders, African Rail and Cloud Cisticola.
|Southern Grey Tit|
The Tanqua Karoo flats, some way beyond Ceres, provide the closest access for Capetonians to the many endemic species and specials characteristic of the drier regions of Western South Africa. Starting at Karoo Poort, the south western extremity of the Tanqua Karoo, at sunrise, one gets one's first taste of the Karoo specials. Then as you move northwards, make time for short stops in the surrounding scrub, as it becomes ever sparser, whilst focussing on finding the species typical of this region. An excellent place to stop is the Skitterykloof valley, where the acacia lined river course and steep rocky slopes hold a number of juicy endemic birds. On the way back to Cape Town, through spectacular mountain passes and species rich farming areas, take time to make a number of stops in the narrow and precipitous Bain's Kloof Pass in search of endemic birds found in the mountain fynbos.
Endemics and near Endemics of this region include: South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveller, Jackal Buzzard, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Southern Black & Karoo Korhaan, Namaqua Sandgrouse, White-backed Mousebird, Acacia Pied Barbet, Ground Woodpecker, Cape Clapper, Karoo, Large-billed, Karoo Long-billed & Spike heeled Lark, Grey-backed & Black-eared Sparrowlark, Greater Striped Swallow, Grey Tit, Cape Penduline Tit, Cape Bulbul, Mountain Wheatear, Tractrac, Karoo & Ant-eating Chat, Cape Rockjumper, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Layard's & Chestnut-vented Tit Babbler, Victorin's Warbler, Karoo Eremomela, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Cape Grassbird, Spotted & Namaqua Prinia, Grey-backed Cisticola, Rufous-eared Warbler, Pririt Batis, Fairy Flycatcher, Bokmakierie, Pied Starling, Pale-winged Starling, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted & Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Cape White-eye, Cape Sparrow, Cape Weaver, Yellow Canary, White-throated Canary and Black-headed Canary.
Article by Trevor Hardaker & John Graham - Zest for Birds
Images: Anton Odendal