Posted on the 16th September 2011

Twenty-two members of BirdLife Overberg spent three nights in the Karoo National Park over the weekend (9 to 12 September 2011). The good recent rains created floral displays of astounding proportions and it was little wonder that several little groups only arrived later on Friday afternoon. Those who traveled via Tradouw Pass, Route 62 and Meiringspoort were particularly impressed with the lush green landscapes of the Little Karoo that were often awash with huge patches of white, yellow, purple and orange flowers. On arrival, most people commented about the staff's friendliness and support, an approach that was experienced throughout the weekend. SANParks should be commended for this. It stands to reason that very little birding was done on Friday afternoon. FAMILIAR CHATS, ROCK MARTINS, MOUNTAIN WHEATEARS and doves, sparrows and weavers did show well around the chalets though. Mike did report hearing FRECKLED NIGHTJARS and BARN OWLS during the night.

Mountain Wheatear


Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk










It was decided that we would explore the loop road leading to the Doornhoek picnic site and the 4X4 routes on Saturday morning and the Lammertjiesleegte loop road in the afternoon. Some vehicle went clockwise and others anti-clockwise. Ferdie and the girls were out first and SMS'ed that there was a pair of VERREAUX'S EAGLES perched on the cliffs at Rooivalle while we were still having breakfast (conveniently included in the price of accommodation if one stays in a chalet). By the time the vehicles driven by Elaine, Dykie and Mike reached Rooivalle at the top of Klipspringer Pass the eagles were already in the sky and we could witness how they gradually circled their way upwards. There were several ROCK KESTRELS and MOUNTAIN WHEATEARS about and we were fortunate to find a pair of GROUND WOODPECKERS – a lifer for many in the group. (For the rest of this report I do so collectively – eg. I take in reports given by the parties traveling in different vehicles).

Rooi Hartebees











We had many target species that we were trying to catch up on as most of the participating members wanted to see some of the 'Karoo specials'. First up along the road to the Doornhoek picnic site were very vocal AFRICAN ROCK PIPITS at the southernmost limits of its distribution range. This is LBJ country and KAROO and TRACTRAC CHATS and EASTERN CLAPPER, LARGE-BILLED and KAROO LONG-BILLED LARKS were seen. The endemics were coming through thick and fast and it became evident that more than just a single 'stopover night' should be spent in this Park when traveling through the Karoo. We spotted KAROO KORHAAN and GREY-WINGED FRANCOLIN close to each other and later on the excitement went through the ceiling when we saw DOUBLE-BANDED COURSER. There were also lots of SOUTHERN PALE CHANTING GOSHAWKS around.

Flying Ostriches?


Rufous-eared Warbler









The picnic site produced ACACIA PIED BARBET, LONG-BILLED CROMBEC, WHITE-BACKED MOUSEBIRD and DUSKY SUNBIRD. Several members also expressed surprise at seeing 'Western species' such as RED-EYED BULBUL and a few COMMON FISCALS with white eyebrows. The prize of the morning though were SHORT-TOED ROCK-THRUSHES that were spotted several times on both sides of the picnic site. Add to this CAPE, CINNAMON-BREASTED and LARK-LIKE BUNTINGS and this morning became like a who's who of Karoo birding. As we eventually approached the rest camp we also picked up a magnificent BLACK-HEADED CANARY and a BOOTED EAGLE that took off with a prey item in its talons.

Later on Saturday afternoon most participants drove slowly along the Lammertjiesleegte loop road where game viewing is really good. The COMMON OSTRICHES were out to entertain and we enjoyed their antics. Mike and his group found a pair of SECRETARYBIRDS with a youngster and he will report this as an incidental sighting to SABAP2. Specials that were added included ANT-EATING CHAT, CHAT FLYCATCHER, SPIKE-HEELED LARK and of course RUFOUS-EARED WARBLER. We again saw SHORT-TOED ROCK-THRUSH being mobbed by MOUNTAIN WHEATEARS along this road.

Ant-eating Chat


Chat Flycatcher









The dense vegetation and acacia thickets along the water courses in the Park can produce a whole range of different species. Here it is recommended that the camping site (where five members camped), the Ou Schuur Interpretive Centre and the Bulkraal picnic site with its swimming pool be investigated. One can still walk around here and do 'slow birding' now that the lions have come. (We will hopefully load an article on the lions that appeared in Die Burger yesterday at a later stage). Dykie and myself spent two hours on the boardwalk leading to the Ou Schuur on Sunday morning and were able to identify birds such as AFRICAN GOSHAWK, BROWN-HOODED KINGFISHER, KAROO THRUSH, RED-BILLED QUELEA and CHESTNUT-VENTED and LAYARD'S TIT-BABBLERS and CARDINAL WOODPECKER, together with several mousebird and sunbird species and loads of more common stuff. The highlight though was FAIRY FLYCATCHER, a bird that is very common in the Park and this turned out to be most people's favorite sighting.

Short-toed Rock-Thrush


View of the chalets










On Sunday morning there was the small matter of that nerve-racking rugby game that we watched in the comfort of the conference facility – no further comment! We all went to Bulkraal for a picnic after this and really took it easy for the rest of the afternoon. Good birding though and we added BAR-THROATED APALIS, KITTLITZ'S and THREE-BANDED PLOVERS, KAROO PRINIA, SA SHELDUCK and SOUTHERN GREY-HEADED SPARROW here. We further saw or heard most of the species associated with Acacia thickets in the Karoo here. Birding at Bulkraal is simply great.

How is that for a genuine name-dropping trip report? In total we identified 105 species in the Park. The Karoo National Park comes highly recommended as a top birding destination and it is evident that at least a few days should be spent here to study the numerous 'Karoo specials' that it has to offer. The facilities are superb (and meticulously clean and neat), the staff friendly and helpful (they produced a huge grill that we could use for communal braais in a flash) and the scenery and landscapes as Karoo as one could get. Add this special Park to your birding wish list now.

Text: Anton

Images: Mike and Anton

(Note: We will load a photo gallery as soon as we have received images from all the members).

Karoo Korhaan

Karoo Thrush












ROSEMARY STAPLETON (posted: 2011-09-16)
Thanks Anton, Your trip report was fascinating to read and makes me want to get there soon instead of mid October. It sounds as if you had a wonderful weekend. Perhaps we should be staying longer. However Im keen to visit Camdeboo again as I really enjoyed it when we were there in 2009. Well be travelling down from Clavinia through Fraserburg so should get a good taste of the Karoo. You mentioned so many interesting birds, Ill be happy to see the common birds as they are all new and unique to me.... although the Secretarybird is something I would like to see. I was also fascinated to hear that the area has had good rain as I have been looking at the Sanparks website occasionally over the last 12 months and read how the water situation was desperate earlier.
Rosemary (From Australia)

ANNATJIE CELLIERS (posted: 2011-09-14)
Congratulations, Anton, on a really excellent trip report! Coming from the Klein Karoo and knowing most of the Karoo specials, I was always wondering should I go, or should I not. Now I know for's time to go and see them all again!
Annatjie Celliers
PIETER LAGRANGE (posted: 2011-09-14)
Thanks for a nice report. I agree with you, I had great birding in the Karoo N Park in July (with my camera). (And on previous visits). Another favourite spot of mine lies to the south west of the Park. Take the gravel road to Fraserburg (on the Leeu Gamka side of the Park entrance). At the fork, take the road to the right to the point where it crosses a stream. Ditto for the road that veers off to the left. Both areas were very productive in July for photography just after sunrise. Japie Claassen mentioned this site in a report some three (?) years ago and I have made more than one visit to this spot and have always been satisfied.
[When I saw the photo of the Chat Flycatcher, I immediately knew that I mis-labelled a photo I took south of Kimberley in June. I labelled it as being a Sicklewinged Chat although it did not have the whitish underside. Thanks! I corrected my mistake]
Pieter la Grange
WANDA STRAUSS (posted: 2011-09-14)
Wow, I can't wait to go there and do some birding.
LESLEY BROOKES (posted: 2011-09-14)
We had a wonderful weekend. Cynthia and I saw lots of birds and managed to identify 16. We had better luck with the buck!! Thanks for a fantastic time.Lesley Brookes