WEEKLY FEATURE 5: KAROO NATIONAL PARKPosted on the 2nd February 2015
The KAROO NATIONAL PARK (S32º 36’34.4” E22º 54’10.7”) is without doubt the flagship birding destination of the Karoo and most birders travelling through the region use this as their first port of call. Situated just off the N1 outside Beaufort West, it is an ideal destination to overnight at when travelling between Gauteng and Cape Town. The facilities are well maintained and the staff friendly and helpful. The Park has scenery of solemn grandeur, with gaunt mountains and koppies rearing above arid plains. In spring the veld is covered with flowering plants.
REST CAMP BIRDING (S32º 33’07.0” E22º 33’30.7”) here can be very rewarding. Cape Bunting, Familiar Chat, Grey-winged Francolin, Rock Martin and Mountain Wheatear are regularly found. Raptors include Rock Kestrel, Martial Eagle and Black-chested Snake-Eagle, but the area is best known for its many Verreaux’s Eagles. At night the calls of nightjars and owls may be heard, and night drives have produced Cape Eagle-Owl. Do not miss the wheelchair-friendly Fossil Trail which depicts the geology and palaeontology of the Great Karoo. At the bird hide near the restcamp one can expect to find Lesser Swamp-Warbler, African Reed-Warbler (summer) and a selection of waterfowl. Little Bittern and Purple Heron have occasionally been seen. And do not underestimate the swimming pool area. One lucky visitor even had a group of Ground Woodpeckers on the roof of his chalet.
It is generally accepted that the Park’s best birding occurs at the very attractive CAMPING AREA ( S32º 33’30.7” E22º 49’25.5”) and boardwalk leading to the OU SCHUUR INTERPRETATIVE CENTRE. The acacia thickets are of particular interest as these often produce thicket dwellers such as Acacia Pied Barbet, Pririt Batis, Long-billed Crombec, Fairy Flycatcher, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Dusky Sunbird and Cardinal Woodpecker. Most of the local Canaries are present and this makes for interesting identification challenges. Common species such as Bokmakierie, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape Robin-Chat, Karoo Scrub-Robin and Karoo Thrush, and the bulbuls, doves, mousebirds, sparrows and weavers to be found in this region are particularly plentiful. Ensure that enough time is spent in this general area.
|Verreaux's Eagle pair mating (Image: Jessie Walton)|
The Park offers brilliant circular routes and two excellent picnic spots. The lookout point along the cliffs at ROOIVALLE along KLIPSPRINGER PASS (S32º 32’55.4” E22º 46’95.3”) is best known for the Verreaux’s Eagles preening on the cliff faces early in the morning. Lucky birders marvel as they take to the skies and circle upwards as the temperature rises. Booted Eagle (in summer), Rock Kestrel and Black-shouldered Kite are often present and Ground Woodpeckers are common. Further along the POTLEKKERTJIE LOOP ROAD (S32º 33’41.0” E22º 49’27.7”) the birds to look out for are Short-toed Rock-Thrush and African Rock Pipit at the southernmost limit of its distribution, as well as Cinnamon-breasted Warbler.
This is LBJ country - expect to find Karoo, Sickle-winged and Tractrac Chats and Eastern Clapper, Karoo, Karoo Long-billed and Large-billed Larks. Look out for Double-banded Courser, Grey-winged Francolin and Karoo Korhaan, while Southern Pale Chanting Goshawks are particularly numerous. Add to this Cinnamon-breasted and Larklike Buntings and one can begin to understand why this Park is so highly regarded in birding circles.
Stop at the DOORNHOEK PICNIC SITE (S32º 27’07.5” E22º 38’68.7”) and keep a keen lookout for most of the specials associated with Acacia thickets. Once the plains have been reached, the turnoffs to the AFSAAL, (S32º 27’50.5” E22º 37’21.7”) and later on, the NUWEVELD 4X4 TRAILS, (S32º 27’50.5” E22º 37’21.7”) can be found beyond Doornhoek. These two trails run through spectacular landscapes and many more Karoo specials can be found here. The Nuweveld Eco-Trail is 90 km in extent, with the option to overnight in the Embizweni Cottage. Enjoy the stunning views from this fully equipped cottage, which accommodates up to six people. Reservations for the Embizweni Cottage should be made at the Park Reception. The rest of the Potlekkertjie loop that eventually ends up at the base of Klipspringer Pass and the camp site. Travel slowly as there are many exciting species to discover. On a recent drive along this stretch of road we found, among other delights, Double-banded Courser, Martial Eagle, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Black-chested Snake-Eagle and Short-toed Rock-Thrush. There are some thickets towards the end of this loop, where birding can be outstanding.
The LAMMERTJIESLEEGTE LOOP ROAD (S32º 33’69.0” E22º 51’90.8”) in the Karoo National Park should also be investigated. It is very popular with day visitors as many of the special birds of the Karoo, especially those associated with the Karoo plains, may be found here. Ludwig’s Bustard, Ant-eating and Sickle-winged Chats and Spike-heeled Larks are regulars. Most birders travelling along this road are however looking for Chat Flycatcher, Karoo Korhaan, Short-toed Rock-Thrush, Secretarybird and Rufous-eared Warbler. A visit to the BULKRAAL PICNIC SITE, ( S32º 29’56.9” E22º 56’17.0”) blessed with a swimming pool, is highly recommended, as most of the species associated with Acacia thickets in the Karoo can be present. Smaller birds found here recently (and not mentioned in the description of the Park before) include Bar-throated Apalis, Karoo Prinia, and Black-headed, Black-throated, Cape, White-throated and Yellow Canaries!
Good numbers of waterfowl may be found here if conditions are suitable. Expect to find species such as SA Shelduck, Little Grebe, Grey Heron and a variety of other ducks and geese.
A number of species have recently been described in the Park for the first time. These include breeding Scaly-feathered Finch, African Firefinch, Village Indigobird and Buffy Pipit. Other special species in the Park include Greater Kestrel, Cape Penduline Tit, Long-billed Pipit, Southern Tchagra and Namaqua Warbler. The Karoo National Park comes highly recommended as a top birding destination. Spend a few days here to study the numerous ‘Karoo specials’ that it has to offer.
The Park’s bird checklist can be found at:
Reservations at Karoo National Park:
+27 023-415 2828
SANPARKS CENTRAL RESERVATIONS
+27 012-428 9111
|Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk|
|Yellow Canary female|