Posted on the 10th November 2014

We spent the last week of October 2014 at KaggaKamma, a comfortable resort about 100 kms north of Ceres. I enjoy the research part of preparing for a trip and the internet did not yield much. What little I did find was not encouraging citing lack of diversity and a limited species count. Skitterykloof in the Tankwa Karoo is less than 30 kms away and I comforted myself with the thought that I would spend time in the Tankwa. The Swartruggens is probably 250 m higher than the Tankwa Karoo with good covering of Karoo scrub. There are no acacia trees in the river courses so the birds of this habitat were not present.
I suppose I judge the success of my birding trips on the photo opportunities and to a lesser extent, new species seen. On both counts KaggaKamma was excellent and I was more than happy with the diversity and density of species seen. When we arrived we put out bird baths with water and wild bird seed and in the immediate vicinity of the chalet Cape Bunting, House and Cape Sparrow, White-throated Canary and Cape weavers were always present. These in turn attracted occasional visitors such as Grey Tit, Black-headed Canary, Long-billed Crombec, Karoo Prinia, Yellow Canary, Bokmakerie, Familiar Chat and Layard’s Warbler which were all picked up close to the chalet. Most were feeding young and most were very obliging in posing for the camera.

Black-headed Canary
Grey Tit











Mountain Wheatear were common at both the chalet and the Reception and Pub area, the latter which are set amongst fascinating rock formations. I have seen Mountain Wheatear before but never photographed them –which I mention because I maintain a Photo List and not a Life List. All the variations of this bird were on display and with the colour differences it is sometimes difficult to believe they are the same species. Other birds that frequented the pub and swimming pool area were Cape White-eye, Common Waxbill, Cape Robin Chat, Cape Bulbul, Southern Double-collared Sunbird (very drab colouration compared to our birds even though displaying the yellow shoulder breeding patch) and the ubiquitous Cape Buntings and Karoo Prinias.

Karoo Prinia
Cape Bunting










There are a number of 4 X 4 drives in the reserve around the resort and these were also rewarding. Dearly Beloved has a Terios, a very soft 4 X 4 but she managed the roads. We felt sometimes though, that perhaps they should rate the roads (like they do for 4 X 4 routes depending on difficulty), as we did not feel comfortable in the Terios on some of the roads. There is game about (gemsbok, eland, bontebok, zebra, duiker, springbok etc.) but we were there for the birds. We had good sightings of Southern Black Korhaan, White-backed Mousebird, Karoo Scrub Robin and at least Karoo, Familiar and Tractrac Chat (I am not good enough yet to say whether Sickle-winged Chat was amongst the many we saw). One of my bogey birds has been the Cape Penduline Tit and I have been to both the Koeberg Nature Reserve and West Coast National Park with this bird as top of list and failed to find it. KaggaKamma rectified that and we had 2 groups that showed well – being so tiny, they are difficult to photograph and they do not sit still for long but their photos are recognizable. In the sky above we saw lots of Booted Eagle and Rock Kestrel, as well as Rock Martin, Greater Striped Swallow and Little Swift.

Karoo Scrub-Robin
Grey-backed Cisticola










The scrub is generally above waist high and there are sandy areas covered by restio type grasses. The ground-dwellers are therefore difficult to see and the larks are probably more common than what we saw. This is borne out by the Cape Clapper Larks that announce themselves with their beautiful display flight and call. They were abundant and in full display mode. We saw many Karoo Larks (you only pick them up when they are in the road or flush) so they are common. We saw one each of Spike-heeled Lark and Karoo Long-billed Lark.

Karoo Lark
Cape Clapper Lark










I spent the Monday morning in the Tankwa Karoo, concentrating on Skitterykloof. Unfortunately it was a bit disappointing as nomadic sheep and goat farmers have set up temporary home (at least I hope temporary, as they have set up goat pens and caravan and tent) at the shaded top end of the picnic site. There were very few birds in the picnic site itself – a few Pied Starlings and Karoo Prinia. The objective was Cinnamon-breasted Warbler and I followed the suggestions in “The Birdfinder” to the letter and tried tape playback sparingly at the red cliffs and 2 other sites, but no response from the warblers.  There were Rock Kestrels, Rock Martins and White-necked Ravens nesting in the cliff face. Plenty of Dusky and Double-collared Sunbirds as some aloes were still in flower. My other objective was Pririt Batis which I had not yet photographed. This time, “The Birdfinder” was spot on and I located the Batis, as suggested, in the acacia lined watercourse just beyond the TankwaPadstal (Unfortunately recently burn down). On the return trip to KaggaKamma, I was rewarded with my second sighting ever of Ground Woodpecker. They were far off, and when reviewing the photographs, the rock formations brought to mind oxpeckers sitting on a dehorned rhino. I had originally planned to spend a second full day in the Tankwa, but with the cost of fuel and excellent birding on our doorstep, decided to defer this until our outward journey – and to leave an excuse to join the Birding Bonanza in April next year when the professionals can show us how to find and sort out these sometimes difficult birds.
Mentioned above is playback, and this is the first time I have used it to attract birds. I do not yet have an app on my cell-phone but Dearly Beloved presented me with the Roberts app for laptop for my birthday in September this year. The playback results were truly remarkable. On our early morning drives we set ourselves up with daughter Sara, spotter, in the passenger seat, myself driving and Dearly Beloved in the back seat with laptop set up to the Karooport bird-site with speaker affixed. When we spotted a bird, I would call out “try Karoo Lark … or Layards Tit-Babbler, etc.” and Dearly Beloved would produce the call from the back seat. In most cases, I was stunned by the bird’s reactions. The Karoo and Cape Clapper Larks came right up to the car, ditto with Karoo Prinia, Rufous-cheeked Warbler, Grey-backed Cisticola and Layard’s Tit-Babbler. The Cape Penduline Tit, Fairy Flycatcher and Grey Tit were more circumspect, but reacted and came within 10 metres whilst still circling the car. The Ground Woodpecker and Black Korhaan reacted to their call but did not come any closer. The Tractrac Chat seemed interested but otherwise the chats did not react. We only used the playback on our drives so did not test the calls on all the birds seen.
And then, the holy grail of the week. Late on the Wednesday afternoon, Dearly Beloved and I decided to do the 4 km hike. On the resort maps provided, the trail is marked in blue, but don’t let the colour lull you into the false sense this will be a stroll in the rocks. As above for the 4 X 4 roads, halfway through the hike we were suggesting that perhaps the resort should put out warnings that this is not designed for the over 60’s or the occasional walker. I am reasonably endowed amidships, but had I another 6 inches I would not have fitted through some of the crevices. The course designer obviously went by the motto of why go round a rock when you can go through it – we clambered through tiny caves and openings. But it was all worth it with rock art and breathtaking scenery. Near the halfway mark, as we climbed through a rocky gorge with rocks piled steeply on either side, we were aware of movement above us. Silently, a Cape Eagle-Owl settled on the boulders not 20 metres away. It was unperturbed and eyed us with that disdainful, superior and slightly irritated angry look that only a raptor can achieve. My camera was in overdrive and we watched the owl in wonder for about 10 minutes before deciding we had better move on to get home before dark. What an experience and a memory that frame by frame will be forever etched on my brain. Speaking to the staff there it appears you have a pretty good chance of seeing the owls on the sundowner and night drives.

Cape Eagle-Owl
Ground Woodpeckers











Later on that evening I had a philosophical talk, mostly with myself, but with Dearly Beloved, musing on what it is about birding that can give some individuals such pleasure and contentment. There is excitement in seeing new birds but not to the stage where the body begins to twitch. I think I can watch young House Sparrows begging and being fed by whichever adult is passing for as long as I can watch the eagle owls, but I agree there would be slightly higher levels of adrenaline for the latter. Whatever, it is fortunate that nature, and birds in particular, can inspire wonder and awe in such a consuming manner as birds have given me in the past decade.

Pririt Batis











On the day of our departure we left reasonably early, calling in at Skitterykloof where picked up Fairy Flycatcher, prinias and Pied Starling, on the R355 we had chats, larks, Pale Chanting Goshawk and Rufous-cheeked Warbler and at Karoopoort,good views of Layard’s Tit-Babbler, Long-billed Crombec and fleeting sightings of Namaqua Warbler. We tried Eierkop for the Eremolas but we only found martins and swifts at this site. Our final bird before the tar was a European Bee-eater in one of the fig trees at Karoopoort which was a fitting swansong to a relaxing holiday and a very good birding week.



Rufous-eared Warbler
Mountain Wheatear











European Bee-Eater











CHRIS CHEETHAM (posted: 2014-11-11 06:39:26)
Thanks for a great report...