Elaine and myself were fortunate to spend a few days along the northern Cape West Coast region by first presenting a Flight for Birders course in Clanwilliam and then visiting a farm on the edge of the Knersvlakte.
Moonrise over the Cederberg
Half of the participants who attended the F4B course work for CapeNature and the rest were birders from as far afield as Jacobsbaai , Nieuwoudsville and Calvinia. It is evident that there is huge birding potential in this area and the enthusiasm of the participants was very impressive. A group of girls spontaneously started networking and appointed Anton Ferreira to coordinate the formation of a birding group in the region. Their first get together is in fact scheduled for 28 July. They also want the SABAP2 crew to come and do a training session. The practical outing took us to a farm outside the village and besides the expected species we were delighted to find species such as ACACIA PIED BARBET, VERREAUX'S EAGLE, ROCK KESTREL and ALPINE SWIFT. We completed a SABAP2 card and were able to rack up an impressive 50+ species in the little time we had for birding during the two days that we spent there. Tolla van der Merwe's old stomping ground certainly has far more to offer than lekker people and spring flowers.
Jackal Buzzard taking off
Gymnogene & Raven dogfight
Another upshot of all of this was that participants from Vanrhynsdorp, Nieuwoudtsville and Calvinia decided that we should attempt to present a F4b course for that region, probably at Nieuwoudtsville. There is vast potential for the development of an infrastructure for the conservation of birds and their habitats, as well as many people who are interested in birding tourism in these outlying 'platteland' areas. Watch this space!
Grey Tit on patio
Ghecko in room
We were rather anxious to get out of Clanwilliam in the end as we received an invitation to visit a farm on the edge of the Knersvlakte between Vanrhynsdorp and Nieuwoudsville. Mark Sutton and Steve Language run this marvelous guest farm and one really gets the chance to experience this part of the Karoo first hand. The self-catering cottages are very well appointed and these come with its own huge geckos, together with ROCK MARTINS and GREY TITS breeding on the stoep and FRECKLED NIGHTJARS calling at night. We experienced VERY warm weather for this time of year and this probably caused this massive 'breeding explosion' where-ever we went. There were mossies, doves, KAROO PRINIAS, BOKMAKIERIES, NEDDICKY'S and others flying around with nesting material all over the show. The GREATER KESTRELS have already started taking over at the nests of the crows.
This however is CHAT country and we rapidly picked up ANT-EATING, KAROO, SICKLE-WINGED and TRACTRAC CHATS, together with CAPPED and MOUNTAIN WHEATEARS. It was also fairly easy to get most of the LARKS of the area and we were able to show Mark the CAPE CLAPPER, LARGE-BILLED, RED-CAPPED and SPIKE-HEALED variations. We were unable to find Long-billed Lark and I am still wondering whether they would have Cape or Karoo Long-billed Lark (or both) on their property. Really interesting is a pair of GREY-BACKED SPARROW-LARKS that had taken to building a nest (plus the little stones that they arrange around it for camouflage purposes) in a drawer at the toolshed. They had done so for two seasons now.
Cottage with 'Vuurberg'
Overlooking Matzikama massive
The best of Karoo birding however is to be had along the usually dry water courses. Here one finds lots of trees affording completely different habitats. I spent a lot of time to get photographs of FAIRY FLYCATCHERS, but to no avail – it seems as if I will never get pics of this species. There were good numbers of TIT-BABBLERS, LONG-BILLED CROMBECS, BOKMAKIERIES and many sunbirds around. We were surprised to find all three MOUSEBIRDS and two BULBULS on the farm. Both SPECKLED MOUSEBIRD and RED-EYED BULBUL appear to be out of range according to the distribution maps.
We twice encountered a group of five LUDWIG'S BUSTARDS on the plains, but these were unfortunately very skittish and took off before we got within about three hundred yards from them. One wonders whether there is hunting going on in the area.
SA Shelduck and flowers
As yet unidentified lizard
The veld is coming alive at this point and it promises to be a great flower year. We can truly recommend a few day's birding in this region, regardless of it being flower season or not. We will also use this as a half-way stopover when traveling to the Kalahari or back. An advertorial will be posted on this website soon and we have developed a projected bird checklist for them.