Birds and birding in the central Karoo region Show details
The Central Karoo district municipal region is generally regarded as an arid wasteland to be driven through extremely fast when travelling between Cape Town and Gauteng. There is though a growing awareness of the vast tourism potential of the region. Think of the spectacular landscapes and sunsets, unique guest farms, Karoo mutton – the list goes on. One of the region’s little known assets is the diversity of species found here. Conservation International has proclaimed just two botanical Biodiversity Hotspots in Southern Africa, the Cape Floral Kingdom and the Succulent Karoo. Both of these unique plant kingdoms are well represented in the region. The Succulent Karoo region boasts several unique bird species, such as Cinnamon-breasted and Rufous-eared Warblers, Karoo and Tractrac Chats, Karoo and Karoo Long-billed Larks and Karoo and Yellow-bellied Eremomelas. The Cape Floral Kingdom, found along the Swartberg Mountains, hosts a diverse range of sought-after endemic bird species such as Cape Sugarbird, Protea Seedeater, Cape Rock-jumper, Orange-breasted Sunbird and Victorin’s Warbler. There is a wonderful variety of birds of prey and after good rains exciting water birds can also be found.
This birding brochure, developed by Anton Odendal on behalf of BirdLife Overberg, and sponsored by the Cape Town Routes Unlimited, introduces visitors to some of the special birds of the region, and describes locations where they can be found. The reference numbers on the map are reflected in both the text and index. Both GPS reference points and the contact details of tourism offices are provided. More comprehensive descriptions are regularly updated on the Birding Routes section of the Karoo Birding Route web pages (www.westerncapebirding.co.za). The brochure places strong emphasis on the Karoo National Park as the ‘flagship birding destination’ of the Karoo but also describes birding along the N1 freeway. Several other entry points into the Karoo are described to assist visitors to gain easier access to the region in order to experience the unique birds of the Karoo.
NOTE: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the contents of this brochure, the members of BirdLife Overberg, Cape Town Routes Unlimited and/or the Central Karoo District Municipality can not be held responsible for any omissions or errors, or any misfortune, injury or damages that may arise there from.
- KAROO TRIP REPORT - 2012
- HOW TO FIND INFORMATION ON PARTICULAR BIRDING HOTSPOTS
- 10 GREAT DAYS BIRDING IN THE WESTERN CAPE
- KAROO BIRDING IN DECEMBER
- KAROO BIRDING IN OCTOBER
- GREAT SIGHTINGS IN THE WESTERN CAPE DURING 2012
- THE KAROO AFTER RAINS
- GREAT SIGHTINGS FROM THE KAROO
- THE DEMAND FOR BIRDING IN THE WESTERN CAPE
Endemic and other special birds of the Karoo Show details
The popularity of the Karoo as a top birding destination is growing, and birders are spending more time here in search of its many special species. Karoo birds usually, but not always, occur in specific habitat types. Species that were found everywhere on a recent tour when six destinations throughout the central Karoo were visited include Acacia Pied Barbet, Ant-eating, Familiar and Karoo Chat, Verreaux’s Eagle, Karoo Prinia, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Pale-winged and Red-winged Starlings and Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, together with the usual doves, mousebirds and sparrows. Along Acacia clad water courses and drainage lines throughout the Karoo, we may find White-throated Canary, Fairy Flycatcher, Streaky-headed Seed-Eater, Southern Tchagra and Namaqua Warbler. Birds of prey include Jackal Buzzard, Booted and Martial Eagles, African Fish-Eagle and Black Harrier. In summer migratory Steppe Buzzard and Lesser Kestrel are present. The typical Karoo plains are host to larger birds such as Kori and Ludwig’s Bustards, Double-banded and Burchell’s Coursers, Karoo Korhaan and Namaqua Sandgrouse. Smaller species include Black-headed Canary, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Grey-backed and Black-eared Sparrowlarks and Rufous-eared Warbler. The elusive and nondescript ‘Little Brown Jobs’ (LBJ’s) are out in force on the plains. These include Sickle-winged and Tractrac Chats, Chat Flycatcher, Eastern Clapper Lark, Karoo, and Spike-heeled Larks and Cape Penduline Tit. Birds associated with rocky slopes and mountainous areas include Karoo Eremomela, Grey-winged Francolin, Layard’s Tit-Babbler, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Mountain Wheatear and Ground Woodpecker.
This list is by no means comprehensive - we have not even mentioned waterfowl - but it does illustrate the vast birding potential of the region. Furthermore, several species have only recently been found in the Karoo, and the Murraysburg area seems to be home to many of these ‘new species’. One can safely predict that more species will be added as more birders visit this remarkable region. Birding tourism can contribute significantly to the regional economy.
The Karoo National Park Show details
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.
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:
Cape Town to Beaufort West Show details
The N1 highway from Cape Town ascends gradually from the Hexriver Valley and eventually reaches the semi-arid plains of the Great Karoo. Typical birds to be seen on telegraph poles can include Southern Pale Chanting Goshawks, Greater and Rock Kestrels, Black-shouldered Kite and many crows. The identification of LBJ’s now also becomes challenging. Serious birding along the N1 is, however, not advised as the road is usually very busy and conditions are not favourable for sudden stops to watch birds. For this reason a few interesting turnoffs from the N1 are described in this panel.
MATJIESFONTEIN (S33º 13’28.62” E20º 34’54.47”) and the LORD MILNER HOTEL is certainly worth a visit. The museum illustrates wonderful stories of bygone days and the pub lunch is recommended - a worthwhile break from the tedium of the N1. The R354 to Sutherland is also found at this intersection and described elsewhere. A visit to the Flood Museum at the Tourism Office in LAINGSBURG (S33º 10’55.79” E20º 42’18.40”) is always rewarding. The turnoff to the Little Karoo and the R62 is clearly signposted in town and takes one to either Seweweekspoort or the Anysberg Nature Reserve.
Farther along the N1, the TURNOFF TO MERWEVILLE (S33º 05’51.61” E21º 29’41.09”) should also be considered seriously. Most of this road is in fairly good condition. The road gives access to the typical birds associated with both the Karoo plains and Acacia woodland along the Karoo’s water courses and drainage lines. This road is particularly good for birds of prey. A visit to Merweville, and maybe even an overnight stay, is recommended.
From Prince Albert Road (32º 59’03.57” E21º 41’14.60”) the tarred R407 can be taken to Prince Albert. The R407 is again very good for Karoo birding and time should be spent at the bridge over the Gamka River as this often produces a good selection of waterfowl particularly during wetter cycles. Birding at Prince Albert is described later on. The R353 from LEEU-GAMKA (S32º 45’50.05” E21º 58’06.89”) to Fraserburg should also not be underestimated. There are a number of private nature reserves and farm lodges along the N1 offering excellent birding.
Birding at Beaufort West and surroundings Show details
Most people simply pass through BEAUFORT WEST, (S32º 20’56.45” E22º 34’58.50”) or use it as a refuelling station. Birding here could be very rewarding as species such as Karoo Long-billed Lark, Cape Penduline Tit, Black-eared Sparrowlark, Southern Tchagra, Namaqua Warbler and many more interesting birds are known to occur in and around the town. Astonishingly, Yellow-crowned Bishop and Green Wood-Hoopoe have been recorded here. The local water treatment works (S32º 22’44.12” E22º 35’17.82”) should not be ignored as it provides the only open water in the area during dry spells. The majority of ducks and herons of the region have been identified here, and flamingos move through the area nomadically. Good numbers of migratory waders are found during summer months. White-winged Terns visit regularly and Whiskered Terns less often. Pied Avocet, Grey-headed Gull and Black-winged Stilt are often found in large numbers. Follow Bird Street to the south out of town - the treatment works is on the right hand side of the road after it has become gravel. The Springfontein Dam could equally support good numbers of waterfowl when conditions are favourable. Visitors should also keep in mind that the Karoo National Park is just outside town and even a casual day visit could produce exciting birding and sightings of some of the special Karoo birds - see description elsewhere.
The birding potential of the area is well illustrated by the fact that ‘THE KAROO KORHAANS’, under the leadership of Karoo birding expert Japie Claassen, often record more than 150 species within the 24 hours allowed during BirdLife South Africa’s Birding Big Day. They usually win the so-called ‘handicap competition’ as they normally achieve the highest percentage of species to be found in a restricted area. This major achievement shows that birding at Beaufort West and surroundings should not be underestimated.
An added bonus is that there are several private game and nature reserves in close proximity to Beaufort West, many if them offering outstanding birding opportunities. Some of these destinations are improving their birding infrastructure at present.
From Beaufort West to the North Show details
The MOLTENO PASS (S32º 12’49.88” E22º 32’52.22”) is on the R381 approximately 18kms north-east on Beaufort West and target species here are Karoo Eremomela, African Rock Pipit, Cape Penduline Tit and Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. Birds of Prey include Jackal Buzzard and Verreaux’s Eagles. In summer expect to find Steppe Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Lesser Kestrel and sometimes even Amur Falcon. The rocky areas often produce Pale-winged Starling, Dusky Sunbird, Layard’s Tit-Babbler, Short-toed Rock-Thrush and Ground Woodpecker. More common species to be found include Long-billed Crombec, Fairy Flycatcher, Long-billed Pipit and Rufous-eared Warbler. Both Orange-breasted and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds have been recorded here recently. There are unfortunately very few safe places to stop along this pass - extreme caution is advised. The R381 continues to Loxton and interesting species have also been described along this road.
The N1 to the north may look tedious, but should not be underestimated as there is a wide selection of private game reserves and farm lodges along the way, many of them offering mind-blowing birding. We stayed at TAAIBOSCHFONTEIN (S32º 03’32.17” E23º 00’07.37”) for two days. The farm nestles against the Nuweveld mountain range and the habitat is dominated by Karoo grassland and massive stands of mature riverine thickets - this is different from the typical Karoo scrub to be found further to the south. The woodland around the homestead produced, among other excitements, Acacia Pied Barbet roosting in a tree outside the lounge, Black-throated and White-throated Canaries, Fairy Flycatcher, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Namaqua Warbler, Cardinal Woodpecker and many more. Birds of prey include Marshall and Verreaux’s Eagles, African Fish-Eagle, Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Gabar Goshawk, Secretarybird and what locals call ‘the Christmas Falcon’ (Lesser Kestrel). The plains are largely grassland, and on it we found Karoo and Sickle-winged Chat, Spike-heeled Larks, Karoo Korhaan and Ground Woodpecker. We recorded more than 75 species in a day’s casual birding - an ideal spot for birders passing through the Karoo.
Tanqua National Park Show details
KAROOPOORT (S33º 13’06.39” E19º 42’14.16”) is about 45 km east of Ceres on the R46. A stop at THERONSBERG PASS (S33º 17’17.76” E19º 27’25”) is recommended, as species such as Black Harrier, Grey-winged Francolin, Cape Clapper Lark and Cape Rock-Thrush can be spotted. Karoopoort can also be reached from the N1, along the R46. At Karoopoort, time should be spent along the dry river bed, where Namaqua Warbler, African Reed-Warbler (summer), several species of canaries and even Cinnamon-breasted Warbler may be found. Inspect the acacia thickets along the drainage lines and look for Fairy and Fiscal Flycatchers and both Chestnut-vented and Layard’sTit-Babblers. Mountain Wheatears are common along the rocky slopes and raptors such as Jackal Buzzard, Booted and Verreaux’s Eagles and Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk may be spotted. Spend some time at the PICNIC SPOT about 200 metres beyond the turnoff to Sutherland. (S33º 48’11.7” E19º 53’01.9”) The road to Sutherland is discussed later. From here drive slowly along the R355 looking for several Karoo specials. About 5 km along the road you will find small dams on the right hand side and, farther on, the INVERDOORN DAM. (S33º 06’43.42” E19º 46’06.69”) Spotting scopes are useful at this site. Look out for a variety of waterbirds including SA Shelduck and African Rail, as well as raptors such as Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk and Greater Kestrel. A little farther on, two tillite hills are located where the base of EIERKOP (S33º 03’29.84” E19º 46’22.46”) (on the right) can be searched for Karoo Eremomela, Rufous-eared Warbler, Karoo Lark and Tractrac Chat. Turn left to Kagga Kamma and Op-die-Berg 21 km after Eierkop. The ‘KATBAKKIES’ (S33º 45’51.51” E19º 52’08.48”) picnic spot is a short distance up this road and is the most reliable spot for Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. Also look for Pririt Batis, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Ground Woodpecker, Long-billed Crombec and some interesting waterfowl. The best time of year to visit the Tanqua is between August and October when the spring flowers provide a breathtaking display and the majority of birds make the area come alive with their breeding displays and antics. A word of caution: the roads in this remote area are often in poor condition – take enough fuel, fresh water and spare tyres.
KATBAKKIES PASS (S32º 53’58.26” E19º 33’29.12”) and the SWARTRUGGENS road (S33º 48’10.91” E20º 05’44.98”) takes one from the village Op-die-Berg due east to the Tanqua Karoo. It must certainly rate as one of the most scenic drives in the Western Cape Province and is best known for sightings of Cape Siskin and Cape Eagle-Owl. The previously mentioned ‘Katbakkies picnic site’ is reached just before the intersection with the R355. 25km after this the P2250 (S32º 40’53.81” E19º 42’28.20”) is reached. This road represents the best of Tanqua birding, and slow birding is advised. Specials to look out for include nomadic Ludwig’s Bustard and Black-eared Sparrowlark, as well as Tractrac Chat, Burchell’s and Double-banded Coursers, Karoo Eremomela and Karoo Korhaan. Raptors include Booted and Martial Eagles, Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Black Harrier, Greater and Rock Kestrels and Black-breasted Snake-Eagle. Observant birders may also come across Lark-like Bunting, Black-headed Canary, Namaqua Sandgrouse and Rufous-eared Warbler. Also look out for Karoo, Large-billed, Red-capped and Spike-heeled Larks and Grey-backed Sparrowlark. Turn left to the TANQUA GUEST HOUSE (S32º 22’09.04” E19º 50’52.58”) that now forms part of the Tanqua Karoo National Park. Alternative accommodation is now also available in the Park – visit www.sanparks.org.za or make reservations at 021-428 9111. The immediate area around the Tanqua Guest House affords wonderful birding opportunities. The dense reeds and acacia thickets along the Tanqua River should produce Pririt Batis, Long-billed Crombec, Fairy Flycatcher, Dusky Sunbird, Namaqua Warbler and many more. The stunning OUDEBAASKRAAL DAM (S32º 23’19.14” E19º 53’20.90”) is a gem of a water mass in this arid landscape and one can expect to find large numbers of waterbird, that include nomadic Greater Flamingo. Expect to find all three grebes, both cormorants and most of the ducks and herons of the region. A birding visit to the TANQUA KAROO NATIONAL PARK (S32º 10’42.36” E19º 44’02.64”) is highly recommended: the Park has a species list of 174 birds, and 18 endemics are wholly restricted to this area. It is recommended that the park be used as a stopover when travelling between Cape Town and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
The Tanqua Karoo to Sutherland and beyond Show details
There are two important passes when travelling eastwards from the Tanqua Karoo onto the Roggeveld escarpment. The GANNAGA PASS (S32º 02’02.53” E20º 07’50.97”) takes one to Middelpos and the OUBERG PASS (S32º 26’15.64” E20º 37’28.34”) connects Karoopoort to Sutherland. Both passes offer spectacular vistas over the Tanqua Karoo and the Ceres Karoo Mountains in the distance, but should be travelled with caution as this is a remote area. Several hairpin bends occur and the roads are often not well maintained. Birds found on the Gannaga Pass and beyond include European Bee-eaters (summer), Verreaux’s Eagle, Karoo Eremomela, Grey-winged Francolin, Karoo Korhaan and Karoo and Large-billed Larks. The Ouberg Pass road can produce Sickle-winged Chat, Booted Eagle, Cape Eagle-Owl, African Rock Pipit, Pale-winged Starling and Ground Woodpecker.
The town of SUTHERLAND (S32º 23’46.84” E20º 39’39.06”) is probably best known for its extremely low temperatures and the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) just to the east of the town. A visit to the South African Astronomical Observatory must be included during a visit to Sutherland - both day and night tours are on offer and stargazing is also presented in the town. (Visit www.sutherlandinfo.co.za). Sutherland can also be reached via the tarred R354 from Matjiesfontein along which the Verlatenkloof Pass often produces good birding. From Sutherland one can also travel back to the N1 and eventually Beaufort West or via either Fraserburg or Merweville. Birding along the R356 between Sutherland and Fraserburg should not be underestimated as Pririt Batis, Black-headed and Black-throated Canaries, Chat Flycatcher, Black-eared Sparrowlark, Grey Tit, Cape Penduline Tit and Rufous-eared Warbler can be anticipated. Larger species can include Ludwig’s Bustard, Martial Eagle, Karoo Korhaan and Black-chested Snake-Eagle. Birds seen on the road to Merweville can produce species such as Namaqua Dove, Greater Flamingo, Dusky Sunbird and Namaqua Warbler. The road that runs between Merweville and the N1 can be particularly rewarding as large numbers of birds of prey are regularly found here.
Seweweeksport to Laingsburg Show details
One of the most underrated entry points into the Karoo takes one via SEWEWEEKSPOORT (S33º 23’36.23” E21º 24’06.55”) to LAINGSBURG (S33º 10’55.79” E20º 42’18.40”). The turnoff is just outside Zoar on the R62 between Ladismith and Calitzdorp. The scenery through Seweweekspoort must be experienced and birders are in with a very real chance of finding specials such as Booted and Verreaux’s Eagle, Cape Rock-Thrush, Cape Siskin, Cape Sugarbird and Ground Woodpecker. Allow at least two hours to travel through this gorge to experience one of nature’s true marvels. Once the intersection is reached, there are two options - one can travel east to Bosch Luys Kloof Private Nature Reserve and the western shores of Gamkapoort Dam, or one can travel west towards Laingsburg. Travelling by 4x4 is advised when going east from here. Huge numbers of Cape Siskins can seasonally be found along the first five km along this road.
The gravel road towards Laingsburg is usually in very good condition, but caution is advised. Ensure that the many dams along this road are checked as African Darter, African Black Duck, SA Shelduck, Cape Shoveler, Cape Teal and many more waterfowl are common. Both the Vleiland and Rouxpos detours are also of interest. The scenery along this road is often described as a geologist’s wonderland - a supreme area for landscape photography. The turnoff to Anysberg Nature Reserve (S33º 30’58.27” E20º 28’26.11”) is just before Laingsburg. The Flood Museum in Laingsburg is certainly worth a visit. There is a variety of self-catering establishments available along this road.
We selected WAGENDRIFT LODGE (S33º 22’45.34” E20º 56’33.50”) and were very impressed- an ideal destination for birders and bird clubs. This is big sky country in incredible blues. The silence is magical, the night sky glitters with millions of stars. Wagendrift Lodge is a magnificent example of the peace and tranquility of so many farm-based destinations in the Great Karoo. We found no less than 60 species in 6 hours of birding on the farm, including Acacia Pied Barbet, Familiar and Karoo Chat, African Fish-Eagle, Fairy Flycatcher, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler and Karoo Scrub-Robin.
The Swartberg Pass Show details
The SWARBERG PASS, connecting Oudtshoorn with Prince Albert, is yet another great entry point into the Karoo. The Swartberg, (S33º 21’37.46” E22º 03’15.61”) Gamkaspoort (S33º 21’01.26” E21º 45’15.79”) and Towerkop (S33º 22’58.70” E21º 24’56.20”) Nature Reserves are managed as a single unit by CapeNature and forms a natural barrier between the Great and Little Karoo. This conservation area (180,00ha in extent) is critical to the management of catchments and water yields, and biodiversity conservation in the region. Deep gorges and steep cliffs are formed by the Buffels-, Gamka-, Seweweekspoort- and Meiringspoort Rivers in the western portion of the range. Water from these rivers ends up in the Olifants-, Touws-, Groot- and eventually in the Gourits Rivers. The Swartberg is recognised as an Important Bird Area (IBA SA112) and proclaimed as a World Heritage Site. The Seweweekspoort, Swartberg and Meiringspoort passes connect the Great and Little Karoo through the reserve.
The diversity of habitat types along the Swartberg pass gives birders access to species associated with both fynbos and Karoo habitats. The montane fynbos is home to Cape Bulbul, Protea Seedeater, Cape Siskin, Cape Sugarbird and Orange-breasted Sunbird. Cape Rockjumper is common on exposed rocky outcrops at higher altitudes. Booted and Verreaux’s Eagles, Cape Eagle-Owl, Peregrine Falcon and Black Stork can be found along the cliffs and African Rock Pipit, Pale-winged Starling and Ground Woodpecker along kloofs and rocky gorges. Other notable species include Cape and Sentinel Rock-Thrushes, Cape Spurfowl and Victorin’s Warbler.
A further attraction is the remote and isolated GAMKASKLOOF VALLEY. (S33º 22’20.13” E21º 37’27.02”) Travelling by 4x4 is essential. Birding can be exceptional as Cape Batis, Southern Boubou, African Fish-Eagle, Martial Eagle, Giant and Pied Kingfisher and Southern Tchagra can be found. A variety of accommodation options is available, and reservations can be made through CapeNature - details elsewhere in this brochure.
A circular route that takes in both Seweweekspoort and the Swartberg Passes can give access to the majority of fynbos and Karoo specials and many of the Little Karoo’s top tourism attractions.
From Meiringsport to Prince Albert Show details
Another entry point into the Karoo is MEIRINGSPOORT (S33º 27’16.09” E22º 33’35.54”) along the N12 from Oudtshoorn. A stop at the picnic spot at the waterfall is highly recommended. The scenery is breath-taking and species such as Cape Bunting, Familiar Chat, Cape and Sentinel Rock-Thrushes, Protea Seedeater, Red-winged Starling and Southern Double-collared and Malachite Sunbirds are often found here. This is a great place to take a (birding) break! There are many safe places to stop in the gorge and birding is outstanding. Take your time through this pass. Now turn off to PRINCE ALBERT along the tarred R407 beyond KLAARSTROOM. (S33º 19’50.76” E22º 32’04.22”) After passing through typical Karoo scrub, the R407 arrives at several stands of poplar trees. This area is particularly good for birds of prey and swallows in summer.
The scenery from the top of the KREDOUW PASS (S33º 15’59.94” E22º 19’10.02”) over the Prince Albert Valley (’Die Gang’) is breath-taking and several dams through the valley support good numbers of waterfowl. Listen for several species of cuckoos during summer. The beautiful hamlet of PRINCE ALBERT (S33º 13’31.50” E22º 01’47.70”) is by Karoo standards lush and green and supports rich birdlife. Expect to find most species associated with the Karoo, many of whom having adapted to ‘city life’. Spend enough time here to sample the many charms of this village. ‘Must do’s’ include the golf course where Burchell’s Courser may be found, the Renu-Karoo nursery that drives a fantastic plant restoration project and the ‘Koppie Trail’ that starts at the end of Cosby street. In birding terms the lowland Karoo plains here are probably best known for Ludwig’s Bustard (during wetter spells), Karoo Chat, Karoo and Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Karoo Korhaan, Karoo and Spike-heeled Larks and Rufous-eared Warbler. Birds of prey include Jackal Buzzard, Verreaux’s Eagles, Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Black Harrier and Lesser Kestrel (summer). White-fronted Bee-Eater and African Palm Swift were even recorded a few times. The riverine Acacia Karoo woodland in the area contains Pririt Batis, Fairy Flycatcher, and Namaqua Warbler, while thickets along the slopes support Layard’s Tit-Babbler and Grey Tit.
Prince Albert and surroundings Show details
Birding at Prince Albert and its surroundings can be very rewarding and Japie Claassen’s publication ‘Where to watch birds in Prince Albert’ can be used very effectively to assist birders visiting the area - it is available from most tourism outlets in the region. The book is very detailed and describes a selection of routes that could be taken out of town. The WELTEVREDE ROAD (S33º 15’02.13” E21º 58’22.29”) starts at the cemetery at the southern end of Prince Albert and is 30 km long. Notable places to investigate include the Acacia Karoo thickets along the Treintjies River, the river crossing just before the farm Damascus is reached and the Weltevrede farms. The 35 km long road to the GAMKAPOORT DAM (S33º 16’40.16” E21º 39’30.83”) running westward from Magrieta Prinsloo street is strongly recommended. After passing some koppies, a long flat plain is reached. This is very good for the majority of so-called Karoo specials. Look for Black-headed Canary, Chat Flycatcher, Karoo Eremomela and Booted Eagle in summer. The thickets at the Treintjies River again support the vast majority of species associated with this type of habitat and time should be spent here. Thereafter one finds 10 km worth of typical Karoo plains and which can produce Ludwig’s and Kori Bustard, Karoo Korhaan, Grey-backed and Black-eared Sparrowlarks and a variety of canaries, chats and larks. Also investigate the crossing at the Perdevlei River. The road now gradually descends to the Gamka River and eventually reaches the Gamkapoort dam. Huge numbers of waterfowl can be found here. One has to retrace one’s steps on both the mentioned routes. The Kruidfontein, (S32º 51’04.13” E21º 57’20.06”) Tierkloof (S33º 10’31.13” E22º 32’33.02”) and Seekoegat (S33º 06’48.10” E22º 32’23.41”) roads can all produce exceptional birding and should be considered. It is evident that the Prince Albert area is the prime birding hotspot in the Karoo and that at least a few days need to be spent here. Why not plan a day long round trip over the Swartberg Pass and back through Meiringspoort? The vast majority of Karoo and fynbos specials can be found along here, the scenery is astounding and one can consider sampling the delights Gamkaskloof (’The Hell’), the Cango Caves or even an ostrich farm.
The Karoo plains to the east of Beaufort West Show details
The plains to the east of Beaufort West are brilliant for Karoo birding. Three roads dissect the plains and lead to Beaufort West - the N12 from Meiringspoort (S32º 26’09.67” E22º 29’16.92”), the R306 from Willowmore (S32º 53’35.72” E23º 09’11.44”) and the R61 from Aberdeen and Graaff-Reinet. (S32º 29’11.22” E24º 01’43.56”) (The latter two gravel). The R306 that passes Rietbron is of particular interest and many great bird species are often described along it. This is LBJ country and low speeds and attentiveness is advised. Karoo, Karoo-longbilled, Large-billed and Spike-heeled Larks, as well as Grey-backed Sparrowlark are common, as are Karoo, Sickle-winged and Tractrac Chats. Keep a keen lookout for Karoo and Yellow-bellied Eremomelas in the taller shrubs along the drainage lines and expect to find Black-throated, White-throated and Yellow Canaries. Species that usually contribute to confusion with identification for novice birders include Larklike Bunting, Chat Flycatcher, Cape Penduline Tit, Southern Tchagra, Grey Tit and Rufous-eared and Namaqua Warblers. These plains also have the reputation of producing elusive species that are rare or vagrant in the region. Here one can spot birds such as Temminck’s Courser, Yellow-throated Petronia, Red-backed Shrike (summer), and Black-eared Sparrowlark (after good rains). The first breeding records in the Western Cape for Sclater’s Lark were in fact found here. Larger species include Kori and Ludwig’s Bustards, Blue Crane, Karoo Korhaan and Black Stork. All three these roads feature good sightings of birds of prey - look for Verreaux’s Eagle, Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Greater Kestrel and Secretarybird, together with summer migrants such as Steppe Buzzard and Lesser Kestrel.
Waterfowl abound during wetter cycles and in such conditions the many dams and rivers that are found along these three roads should be investigated carefully. Pied Avocet, Greater and Lesser Flamingos move through the region nomadically and migratory waders can be particularly plentiful in good years. All three grebes can occur and ducks could include Maccoa, White-faced and Yellow-billed Ducks, Southern Pochard, SA Shelduck, Cape Shoveler and Cape and Red-billed Teals.
Murraysburg and surroundings Show details
The MURRAYSBURG area (S31º 57’43.47” E23º 45’42.30”) has in recent years become known for sightings of a variety of species not normally associated with the Western Cape Province. This is largely due to reports by Stefan Theron, a local birder from the farm Vierfontein. Here the Karoo-like landscape in the west gives way to high altitude grasslands reminiscent of the higher reaches of the Eastern Cape and Southern KwaZulu-Natal. These different habitats have brought about the discovery of ‘new’ species for the Western Cape Province and Stefan’s records indicate some real specials that have been found on various farms in the district. The farms Langrug and Vierfontein produced Hottentot Buttonquail, Northern Black Korhaan, Red-headed and Scaly-feathered Finches, Red-billed Firefinch, Village Indigobird, Pink-billed Lark and African Rock Pipit. The farm Doornbosch came up with Yellow-crowned Bishop, Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl and Drakensberg Rock-jumper. The farm Aasvoëlkrans added Cinnamon-breasted and Golden-breasted Buntings, African Firefinch and Yellow-throated Petronia. Other species sighted in the district include Desert Cisticola, Red-headed Finch, Eastern Clapper Lark, Sabota Lark and Amethyst Sunbird. European Bee-Eaters are numerous during summer. It gets even better as Bateleur, European Nightjar and Short-toed Rock-Thrush have all been positively identified in the region. Gabar Goshawk, Cape Eagle-Owl and Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk are also resident in the district and other interesting species include Kori Bustard and Blue Crane.
This list of special species certainly suggests that the Murraysburg region should in future become a real birding hotspot. Note should be taken of the fact that most of these specials occur on privately owned land and active farms and that permission for entry should be obtained from the owners. Stefan Theron has kindly volunteered to assist in this regard and he can be contacted at 082 907 2801 or firstname.lastname@example.org It seems evident that the Murraysburg district is set to become one of the main birding destinations of the Western Cape Province.