Birding Routes

BIRDING IN THE WITZENBERG REGION - INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS Show details

THE ENDEMIC AND OTHER SPECIAL SPECIES OF THE WITZENBERG REGION Show details

THE MOUNTAIN PASSES OF THE WITZENBERG REGION Show details

THE TULBAGH REGION 1 - GENERAL INTRODUCTION Show details

THE TULBAGH REGION 2 - THE TWEE JONGEGEZELLEN ROAD Show details

THE TULBAGH REGION 3 - THE THEUNISKRAAL ROAD Show details

THE TULBAGH REGION 4 - THE ROAD TO WOLSELEY Show details

BAINSKLOOF PASS AND BERGSIG WINE ESTATE Show details

BERGSIG WINE ESTATE TO WOLSELEY - AN ALTERNATIVE ROUTE Show details

WOLSELEY AND MICHELLS PASS Show details

BIRDING IN CERES Show details

CIRCLE ROUTES FROM CERES 1 - CERES TO KAROOPOORT Show details

CIRCLE ROUTES FROM CERES 1 - KAROOPOORT TO TANKWA FARM STALL Show details

CIRCLE ROUTES FROM CERES 1 - KATBAKKIES TO OP-DIE-BERG Show details

CIRCLE ROUTES FROM CERES 1 - OP-DIE-BERG TO CERES Show details

CIRCLE ROUTES FROM CERES 2 - SWAARMOED PASS & BO-SWAARMOED FARMING AREA Show details

CIRCLE ROUTE FROM CERES 2 CONTINUED - THE DROEHOEK ROAD TO GYDO PASS Show details

THE TANKWA-KAROO NATIONAL PARK - THE P2250 GRAVEL ROAD Show details


THE TANKWA-KAROO NATIONAL PARK
INTRODUCTION
A birding visit to the unforgettable TANKWA-KAROO NATIONAL PARK (32° 10'42”S 19° 44'02”E) is highly recommended. The park was established in 1986 and now covers an area of about 146 400 hectares. It is best known by birding enthusiasts for the scores of Karoo endemics on display. The fairly recent inclusion of the Oudebaaskraal Dam further increases the possibility of viewing an assortment of waterfowl species. The park offers stupendous landscapes and Karoo habitats that include desolate semi-desert scrub land, a diversity of succulent plants and acacia thickets along the river and gullies. The best time of year to visit the Tankwa Karoo is between August and October when the spring flowers bloom in breathtaking fashion (maybe even as early as mid-July) and the birds make the area come alive with their breeding displays and antics. The park can further be used as an excellent stopover when travelling between Cape Town and other top bird-watching destinations , such as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park or Namibia.

The park's impressive species list consists of 187 birds – this list can be downloaded from a link in the dropdown menu below. Target species include the TRACTRAC CHAT, BURCHELL'S and DOUBLE-BANDED COURSERS, KAROO EREMOMELA, KAROO KORHAAN and CAPE CLAPPER LARK as well as species that visit the area nomadically such as the LUDWIG'S BUSTARD, BLACK-HEADED CANARY and BLACK-EARED SPARROWLARK. Raptors recorded are the BOOTED, MARTIAL and VERREAUX'S EAGLES, LANNER FALCON, SOUTHERN PALE CHANTING GOSHAWK, BLACK HARRIER and GREATER and ROCK KESTRELS. The AFRICAN MARSH-HARRIER, SECRETARYBIRD and BLACK-CHESTED SNAKE-EAGLE are seen less often. Other key birds recorded rarely include the RED-EYED BULBUL, KORI BUSTARD, DAMARA CANARY, WHITE-BACKED DUCK, GABAR GOSHAWK, GREATER HONEYGUIDE, LESSER KESTREL, AFRICAN SNIPE, CINNAMON-BREASTED WARBLER and ORANGE RIVER WHITE-EYE. However, the tantalising possibility of finding these regional rarities does increase the popularity of the Tankwa Karoo with bird-watchers.

This description will firstly focus on the world renowned P2250, which is a gravel road that runs initially along the southern end of the Tankwa-Karoo National Park before turning north-eastwards towards the Gannaga Pass in the Roggeveld Mountains and eventually reaching the towns of Middelpos and Sutherland. The Tanqua Guesthouse and the Oudebaaskraal Dam will then be discussed. Thereafter, the roads that criss-cross the Park, as well as the various accommodation options, will be highlighted. 
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The Tankwa in spring  (Image by AO)
Flamingos over Oudebaaskraal Dam (AO)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burchell's Courser  (Image by Warwick Tarboton)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE P2250 – FROM THE R355 TO GANNAGA PASS AND BEYOND
This road represents the finest representation of birding in the Tankwa Karoo and may be reached reasonably comfortably on a day trip from Ceres, the Bo-Swaarmoed and Droëhoek regions or the Swartruggens plateau. Arrive at the P2250 by following the R355 (32° 40'53”S 19° 42'28”E), which is twenty-five kilometres north of the Skitterykloof turn-off (32° 53'27”S 19° 46'09”E). Do keep in mind that a visit to the Tankwa Farm Stall along the R335 is advised before the turn-off to the P2250 is reached.
The initial section of this road is fairly well vegetated and popularly known as “LBJ country". The LARGE-BILLED and RED-CAPPED LARKS are exceptionally common, the KAROO and SPIKE-HEELED LARKS less so, but also look out for the KAROO LONG-BILLED LARK on the southernmost limit of its distribution range. The CAPE CLAPPER LARK is always a popular sighting. Novice birders will find the identification problems experienced with LBJs exasperated even further due to the presence of several chat species. Be watchful for the FAMILIAR CHAT with a russet rump, KAROO CHAT with white outer feathers to the tail, SICKLE-WINGED CHAT with the rusty pink rump and the black triangular tip to the tail and a grey rump and TRACTRAC CHAT with a pure white rump. One may come across the LARK-LIKE BUNTING and YELLOW CANARY incredibly often.

Special species to look for are the BURCHELL'S and DOUBLE-BANDED COURSERS and NAMAQUA SANDGROUSE. The BURCHELL'S COURSER represents a major challenge as it not necessarily present every year and tends to forage in barren patches of gravel making it very difficult to spot, but do not be disheartened. It is best to drive very slowly and scan the veld at regular intervals in an attempt to find this hugely sought-after bird. Be vigilant for the RUFOUS-EARED WARBLER in the scrub next to the road that become increasingly scarce as one continues along the P2250.

Common raptors include the JACKAL BUZZARD, BLACK-SHOULDERED KITE and LANNER FALCON, with the STEPPE BUZZARD and YELLOW-BILLED KITE appearing in summer. The SOUTHERN PALE CHANTING GOSHAWK, BLACK HARRIER and GREATER and ROCK KESTRELS are less common and the SECRETARYBIRD and BLACK-CHESTED SNAKE-EAGLE may be found occasionally.

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Tankwa Landscape 1  (Image by AO)
Flowers on a hill  (Image by AO)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greater Kestrel  (Image by CM)
Black-shouldered Kite  (Image by CN)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Double-banded Courser  (Image by RM)
Yellow-bellied Eremomela  (Image by WC)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BRIDGE OVER THE TANKWA RIVER (32° 24'36”S 20° 00'11”E)

Ensure that sufficient time is spent at the bridge over the Tankwa River that is reached further on. Particular attention should be given to the Acacia thickets along the watercourse. The majority of the common species associated with this type of vegetation are usually on display. Target species include the PRIRIT BATIS, BOKMAKIERIE, YELLOW-BELLIED EREMOMELA, FAIRY FLYCATCHER, CAPE PENDULINE-TIT, WHITE-BACKED MOUSEBIRD, KAROO PRINIA, KAROO SCRUB-ROBIN, CAPE SPARROW, DUSKY and SOUTHERN DOUBLE-COLLARED SUNBIRDS and CHESTNUT-VENTED TIT-BABBLER. Look carefully for the KLAAS'S CUCKOO, GREATER and LESSER HONEYGUIDES (both scarce here), NAMAQUA WARBLER and CARDINAL WOODPECKER. Most of the doves, mousebirds, sparrows, starlings and weavers to be found in the region are frequently present in this general area.
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Cape Penduline-Tit  (Image by Neels Jackson)
Fairy Flycatcher  (Image by RM)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Namaqua Warbler  (Image by RM)
Female Pririt Batis  (Image by AO)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Further along the P2250, the PAULSHOEK AREA is popularly associated with sightings of the LUDWIG'S BUSTARD and KAROO KORHAAN. This area is also suitable for the JACKAL BUZZARD, LANNER FALCON, SPIKE-HEELED LARK, SECRETARYBIRD and RUFOUS-EARED WARBLER. Birding around the ROODEWERF OFFICES (32° 14'27”S 20° 05'44”E) will be discussed in greater detail later. It is, however, a decent area for the BLACK-HEADED CANARY and do try catch a glimpse of the MARTIAL EAGLE which is recorded here fairly regularly. Beyond Roodewerf, the P2250 continues towards Gannaga Pass and Middelpos, with the P2267 turning back to the R335 and ultimately Calvinia. The PALE CHANTING GOSHAWK and GREATER KESTREL are moderately common in this area and the BLACK HARRIER is sometimes seen. Other regular species to look out for include the LARKLIKE BUNTING, WHITE-THROATED CANARY, GREY-BACKED CISTICOLA, KAROO LARK, GREY TIT, as well as the PRIRIT BATIS and KAROO LONG-BILLED and SPIKE-HEELED LARKS. The KAROO EREMOMELA, GREY-BACKED and BLACK-EARED SPARROWLARKS and NAMAQUA and RUFOUS-EARED WARBLERS represent much more of a challenge, but are regarded as some of the key species to target in the Tankwa Karoo. 
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Karoo Long-billed Lark  (Image by AO)
Spike-heeled Lark  (Image by AO)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chat Flycatcher  (Image by AO)
Karoo Lark  (Image by AO)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The views from the GANNAGA PASS are awe-inspiring and several species associated with higher altitudes should be targeted along the winding road. The GREY-WINGED FRANCOLIN, CAPE CLAPPER LARK, MOUNTAIN WHEATEAR and LAYARD'S TIT-BABBLER are very active and vocal during spring. The CAPE BUNTING, PALE-WINGED STARLING, CAPE ROBIN-CHAT and DUSKY SUNBIRD are abundant. The GROUND WOODPECKER is spotted frequently. Gannaga Pass has a merited reputation for producing the BOOTED and VERREAUX'S EAGLES regularly, furthermore, the BLACK STORK can at times be seen flying overhead. The AFRICAN ROCK PIPIT is regarded as somewhat of a vagrant species to this area and great care should be taken to look for it along the rocky slopes and cliffs. It is of significant interest that the first sighting of a CINNAMON-BREASTED WARBLER was recorded in the pass during the Tankwa Karoo Birding Bonanza weekend in 2015. 

Experienced bird guides recommend that the GANNAGA LODGE (32° 06'37”S 20° 07'17”E) at the top of the pass be used as base to indulge in the region's birds. This privately owned establishment, surrounded by the Tankwa-Karoo National Park, is equipped with all desired amenities and does not offer self-catering accommodation. This exceptional lodge is highly recommended as it provides outstanding food and service.
CONTACT – Tel: +27 (0)79 922 1688 or +27 (0)87 802 5206 E-mail: gannaga@hantam.co.za Website: www.gannaga.com
Frome here the P2250 continues further towards the village of Middelpos and the R354 to Sutherland. 
(Note that there are links to more information, trip reports and the like below the photographs that may be used to further plan a visit to the area).
 

Gannaga Pass  (Image by AO)
Mountain Wheatear  (Image by RM)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Booted Eagle  (Image by Dawid Malan)
Verreaux's Eagle  (Image by AO)


 

 

 

 

THE TANKWA KAROO NATIONAL PARK 2 - OUDEBAASKRAAL AND SURROUNDS Show details

THE TANKWA KAROO NATIONAL PARK 3 - THE INTERIOR ROADS AND ACCOMMODATION Show details

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Show details