(This overview was originally published in the Hermanus Times on 22 December 2020)
Many visitors to are attracted the Overberg region by the diversity of endemic bird species to be found in the region despite the negative impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has on tourism. Endemism refers to species that are restricted to a certain region and that can be found nowhere else in the world. Southern Africa is fortunate to have a high level of endemism in all forms of life and, as a country, is considered by some to be the third most biologically diverse country in the world. At least 57 of the Southern Africa's endemic bird species and 32 of the near-endemic species are found in the Overberg. With these 89 species the region boasts more endemic birds than most countries have to offer. A further advantage is that most of these species are fairly easily accessible and several guides, eager to part with appropriate local knowledge, are readily available.
Most people believe that the “Cape endemics” largely consist of birds associated with the Cape Floral Kingdom, with its 9 000 plant species. Some of the endemic birds associated with these fynbos habitats include the Fynbos (aka Hottentot) Buttonquail, Agulhas Long-billed Lark, Protea Seedeater, Cape Siskin, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird and Victorin’s Warbler. Top destinations for these “fynbos specials” are the world-renowned Rooiels site, the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens in Betty's Bay, the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve at Kleinmond, the Fernkloof Nature Reserve in Hermanus and several privately owned properties throughout the region.
Agulhas Long-billed Lark
A further group of endemics is associated with the cold Benguela current and consists of species such as the Bank, Cape and Crowned Cormorants, African Black Oystercatcher and African Penguin. These species can all be viewed at Stony Point in Betty’s Bay. These two groups of species mentioned form the backbone of marketing efforts to attract bird-watchers to the region.
Species that prefer more mountainous and hilly habitats include Jackal Buzzard, Grey-winged Francolin, Cape and Sentinel Rock-Thrushes and Ground Woodpecker. Look out for some of these species at locations such as Rooiels, Fernkloof Nature Reserve in Hermanus and the Marloth Nature Reserve and Tradouw Pass near Swellendam. Endemics or near-endemics attracted to forests or thickets include Cape Batis, Forest Buzzard, Forest Canary, Knysna Warbler and Knysna Woodpeckers. The top spot for these “forest specials” is the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve near Swellendam. To crown it all, this list is by no means comprehensive.
African Black Oystercatcher
Crowned and Cape Cormorants
To this should be added that several issues had not even been mentioned: Many birders are amazed when they realise that several fairly common species often found in suburban gardens are in actual fact endemic – the Southern Boubou, Cape Bulbul and Cape White-eye are examples of these. The Cape Vulture breeding colony at Potberg in the De Hoop Nature Reserve and birding along the rural roads of the Overberg Wheatbelt further attract huge numbers of international birders. Probably the brightest feather in the Overberg’s bird-watching cap is the pelagic cruises from Kleinbaai that members of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust now offer to watch albatrosses and other brilliant ocean-going birds out at sea.
Albatrosses on pelagic cruises with the Dyer Island Conservation Trust
The freedom of flight
The best news for birding in the region is that the Cape Rock-jumper (BirdLife Overberg’s logo-bird) had been selected as the BirdLife South-Africa “Bird of the Year for 2021”. This represents a major opportunity to market the Overberg as a top bird-watching destination over the next year. Various educational resources will also be disseminated to schools in the region.
More detail on bird-watching opportunities in the Overberg is available under “Routes” in the Overberg section on www.westerncapebirding.co.za. Contact Anton Odendal at firstname.lastname@example.org for further information or to join BirdLife Overberg.