Bush Blackcap Lioptilus nigricapillus, Wakkerstroom, South Africa
The following extracts are taken from “Southern African Birdfinder: where to find 1400 birds in southern Africa and Madagascar” by Callan Cohen, Claire Spottiswoode and Jonathan Rossouw, released by Struik Publishers in 2006.
WESTERN SOUTH AFRICA
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens is widely recognized as one of the world’s finest botanical gardens and would be an essential destination for its pleasing landscapes and spectacular floral displays alone. Here, it is possible to approach a number of Cape endemics at close quarters. Specials: Cape Sugarbird Promerops cafer, Orange-breasted Sunbird Anthobaphes violacea, Cape Francolin Francolinus capensis, Forest Canary Serinus scotops, Red-chested Cuckoo Cuculus solitarius and Knysna Warbler Bradypterus sylvaticus (scarce).
Boulders Beach African Penguin Colony the site of the larger of the two mainland colonies of the endearing and globally threatened African Penguin Spheniscus demersus is home to 900 pairs of penguins, peering suspiciously from their shallow, sheltered burrows at their now considerable following of tourists.
Strandfontein Sewage Works: although the uninitiated will often turn up their noses at the idea of voluntarily visiting a sewage farm, such places are often exceptionally rich in birdlife. This is especially true of the extensive Strandfontein sewage works, arguably the best waterbird locality close to Cape Town, whose existence is under threat from a new motorway. The abundant and diverse birdlife makes it an ideal destination for the beginner and serious twitcher alike, and it is possible to see more than 80 species on a summer morning. Specials: Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber, Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus, Maccoa Duck Oxyura maccoa, Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis, African Marsh Harrier Circus ranivorus.
Pelagic Birding from Cape Town. See the feature article Pelagic Seabirding off Cape Town by Callan Cohen, Claire Spottiswoode and Barrie Rose, or read it in the Bulletin of the African Bird Club, Volume 8.1, March 2001.
West Coast National Park has become a legendary birding site, best known for the large numbers of migrant waders that crowd the mudflats during summer. These can easily be observed from the well-positioned bird hides, offering local birders an excellent chance of finding rarities. The top-class strandveld birding, spring flowers and proximity to Cape Town (taking the direct route along the R27, it is less than an hour from the city) all make the West Coast National Park a most productive, pleasant, and accessible birding destination. Specials: Black Harrier Circus maurus, Black Bustard Eupodotis afra, Cape Penduline Tit Anthoscopus minutus, African Water Rail Rallus caerulescens, Karoo Lark Certhilauda albescens, and a host of waders.
Tanqua Karoo: Skitterykloof is a superb site on the edge of the Tanqua Karoo, offering an excellent selection of species typical of the Karoo’s arid, rocky gorges and acacia thickets. Notably, it is the classic site to find Cinnamon-breasted Warbler Euryptila subcinnamomea, a peculiar and often evasive warbler of hill slopes and cliffs. Specials: Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Layard’s Tit-Babbler Parisoma layardi, Fairy Flycatcher Stenostira scita, Pririt Batis Batis pririt, Southern Grey Tit Parus afer, Ground Woodpecker Geocolaptes olivaceus.
De Hoop Nature Reserve: this reserve incorporates 36,000 hectares of lowland fynbos and coastal dunes east of Cape Agulhas, including a low, fynbos-clad mountain (Potberg) and a coastal lake. The cliffs on the southern side of Potberg mountain are renowned for hosting the Western Cape’s last breeding colony of Cape Vulture Gyps coprotheres, while the coastal thickets of the lowlands offer access to such desirable endemics as the Southern Tchagra Tchagra tchagra and Knysna Woodpecker Campethera notata. Specials: Cape Vulture, Southern Tchagra, Knysna Woodpecker, Denham’s Bustard Neotis denhami, Agulhas Long-billed Lark Certhilauda brevirostris, Karoo Bustard Eupodotis vigorsii, Black Bustard Eupodotis afra.
Bushmanland: Brandvlei is a small town of exceptionally forlorn demeanour, situated on the plains of central Bushmanland. Its unprepossessing appearance is deceptive, however, as excellent birding may be had close to the town. Specials: Ludwig’s Bustard Neotis ludwigii, Karoo Bustard Eupodotis vigorsii, Burchell’s Courser Cursorius rufus, Red Certhilauda burra and Sclater’s Larks Spizocorys sclateri, Karoo Eremomela Eremomela gregalis, Black-headed Canary Alario alario.
Kalahari Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: this vast wilderness area offers the alluring combination of abundant game, superb landscapes and good birding, all within two-wheel drive access. The park is best known in birding terms for its remarkable diversity and abundance of raptors. Specials: Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus, Red-necked Falco chicquera and Pygmy Falcons Polihierax semitorquatus, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl Bubo lacteus, Burchell’s Sandgrouse Pterocles burchelli and Pink-billed Lark Spizocorys conirostris.
Cape Recife is an excellent site for shorebirds and terns, and a classic site for Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii, and is conveniently located on the south-east edge of Port Elizabeth. Specials: Roseate, Damara S. balaenarum and Antarctic Terns S. vittata, African Black Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus, Knysna Woodpecker Campethera notata.
Read the feature article “Birding Africa's basement - the Cape to the Kalahari” by Keith Barnes, from Bulletin of the African Bird Club, Volume 6.2, September 1999 and see it on the ABC website at Cape to Kalahari.
EASTERN SOUTH AFRICA
Mkhuze: the Holy Grail of Southern African birders, Mkhuze offers the heady mix of avian richness, endemicity and unpredictability that makes birding the Zululand coastal plain so exciting. Not only are most of its special birds seen relatively easily on a short visit, but its impressive birdlist is over 450 species, a tally in South Africa second only to that of the vast Kruger National Park. Specials: Broad-billed Roller Eurystomus glaucurus, Pel’s Fishing-owl Scotopelia peli, Lesser Black-winged Lapwing Vanellus lugubris, African Cuckoo Hawk Aviceda cuculoides, Southern Banded Snake Eagle Circaetus fasciolatus, African Broadbill Smithornis capensis, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike Telophorus viridis, Eastern Bearded Scrub-Robin Cercotrichas quadrivirgata, Eastern Nicator Nicator gularis, Rudd’s Apalis Apalis ruddi, Olive-tree Warbler Hippolais olivetorum, Neergaard’s Sunbird Cinnyris neergaardi, Bush Pipit Anthus caffer, Green Mandingoa nitidula and Pink-throated Twinspots Hypargos margaritatus, Grey Waxbill Estrilda perreini and Lemon-breasted Canary Serinus citrinipectus.
Ndumo: this remote Maputaland reserve has achieved legendary status in Southern African birding circles, boasting a birdlist that is high in both quantity and quality. In addition to its numerous Zululand specials, Ndumo offers the chance of finding a handful of birds otherwise restricted to Mozambique, which borders it to the north. Specials: Scaly-throated Honeyguide Indicator variegatus, Narina’s Trogon Apaloderma narina, Broad-billed Roller Eurystomus glaucurus, Pel’s Fishing-owl Scotopelia peli, Lesser Black-winged Lapwing Vanellus lugubris, Southern Banded Snake Eagle Circaetus fasciolatus , Sooty Falcon Falco concolor, African Broadbill Smithornis capensis, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike Telophorus viridis, Retz’s Helmet-Shrike Prionops retzii, Black-throated Wattle-eye Platysteira peltata, Eastern Bearded Scrub-Robin Cercotrichas quadrivirgata, Eastern Nicator Nicator gularis, Rudd’s Apalis Apalis ruddi, Green-capped Eremomela Eremomela scotops, Neergaard’s Sunbird Cinnyris neergaardi, Bush Pipit Anthus caffer, Pink-throated Twinspot Hypargos margaritatus, and Grey Waxbill Estrilda perreini .
St Lucia Lake: St Lucia is the most important breeding area for waterbirds in South Africa, supporting large numbers of pelicans, storks and flamingos. The recently amalgamated Greater St Lucia Park protects this vital wetland and the surrounding rich mosaic of forests, woodlands and grasslands, spanning a vast region from Maphelana in the south to Kosi Bay in the north. The park incorporates the former Mapelane, Eastern Shores, Cape Vidal, Charters Creek, Fanies Island, False Bay Park, Sodwana Bay, Kosi Bay and Mkhuze Game Reserve. Specials: Great White Pelecanus onocrotalus and Pink-backed Pelicans P. rufescens, Lesser Phoeniconaias minor and Greater Flamingos Phoenicopterus ruber, Southern Banded Snake Eagle Circaetus fasciolatus, Crested Guineafowl Guttera pucherani, Buff-spotted Flufftail Sarothrura elegans, Livingstone’s Turaco Tauraco livingstonii, Yellowbill Ceuthmocares aereus, Swamp Nightjar Caprimulgus natalensis, Mangrove Kingfisher Halcyon senegaloides, African Broadbill Smithornis capensis, Western Nicator Nicator chloris, Brown Cercotrichas signata and Eastern Bearded Scrub-Robins C. quadrivirgata, Rudd's Apalis Apalis ruddi, Woodward's Batis Batis fratrum, Rosy-throated Longclaw Macronyx ameliae, Green Mandingoa nitidula and Pink-throated Twinspots Hypargos margaritatus, and Grey Waxbill Estrilda perreini.
Eshowe, 150 km north-east of Durban, boasts excellent forest birding within the town limits and the only mistbelt forest canopy walkway in South Africa. Specials: Olive Woodpecker Dendropicos griseocephalus, Scaly-throated Honeyguide Indicator variegatus, Narina’s Trogon Apaloderma narina, Crowned Tockus alboterminatus and Trumpeter Hornbills Bycanistes bucinator, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon Columba delegorguei, Lemon Dove C. larvata, Buff-spotted Flufftail Sarothrura elegans, Crowned Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus, Spotted Ground-Thrush Zoothera guttata, Chorister Robin-Chat Cossypha dichroa and Green Twinspot Mandingoa nitidula.
Wakkerstroom: once a sleepy hamlet in a forgotten part of the country, the presence of rare birds in its vicinity has propelled Wakkerstroom into the international birding limelight. Its grassland specials, such as the localised Rudd’s Heteromirafra ruddi and Botha’s Larks Spizocorys fringillaris and the beautiful Yellow-breasted Pipit Anthus chloris, are its major drawcards for international birders. Wakkerstroom boasts also an excellent wetland at the edge of town and a birder-friendly infrastructure, complete with local bird guides, bird-viewing hides, and comfortable accommodation. Although one clement summer day here may be enough to find most of the target species, the unpredictability of the weather and the superb birding conditions mean that a stay of two to three days is a far more reliable and enjoyable option. Specials: Red-winged Francolin Francolinus levaillantii, Ground Woodpecker Geocolaptes olivaceus, Denham’s Bustard Neotis denhami, Blue Bustard Eupodotis caerulescens, Grey Crowned Balearica regulorum and Blue Cranes Anthropoides paradiseus, African Water Rail Rallus caerulescens, Black-winged Lapwing Vanellus melanopterus, Southern Bald Ibis Geronticus calvus, Sentinel Rock-Thrush Monticola explorator, Buff-streaked Chat Oenanthe bifasciata, Bush Blackcap Lioptilus nigricapillus, Drakensberg Prinia Prinia maculosa hypoxantha, Rudd’s Heteromirafra ruddi, Eastern Long-billed Certhilauda semitorquata, Pink-billed Spizocorys conirostris and Botha’s Larks S. fringillaris and Yellow-breasted Pipit Anthus chloris.
Marievale: this sanctuary is part of the Blesbokspruit, a modified high-altitude wetland that offers perhaps the best wetland birding on the highveld. Specials: African Crake Crex egregia, Black Egret Egretta ardesiaca, Slaty Egret E. vinaceigula, Baillon’s Crake Porzana pusilla, Greater Painted-snipe Rostratula benghalensis, Black-winged Pratincole Glareola nordmanni, Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava, Parasitic Weaver Anomalospiza imberbis, Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus and African Marsh Harrier Circus ranivorus. Marievale has proved the best locality for the rare Spotted Crake Porzana porzana.
Strijdom Tunnel: the only accessible South African site for the extremely rare Taita Falcon Falco fasciinucha. This site is along the R36 between Lydenburg and Tzaneen / Kruger Park. It is close to a curio stall 1.3 km above (south) of the JG Strijdom Tunnel. From the stalls, cross the road and walk 25 m downhill to a big rock, where a makeshift viewing position is obvious. A local birding guide is usually present at the stalls and knows the movements of the birds. Otherwise scan white stained spots about two-thirds up the cliff face directly in front of you, or watch overhead for the distinctive “parrot-like” flight of the Taita. Other birds present in the area include Cliff Chat Thamnolaea cinnamomeiventris, Striped Pipit Anthus lineiventris, Cape Rock-Thrush Monticola rupestris and White-necked Raven Corvus albicollis.
Magoebaskloof: the Magoebaskloof area on the Drakensberg escarpment offers arguably the best forest birding in South Africa, and is certainly the best place for Black-fronted Bush-Shrike Telophorus nigrifrons and Bat Hawk Macheiramphus alcinus. Specials: Black-fronted Bush Shrike, Chorister Robin-Chat Cossypha dichroa, Brown Scrub-Robin Cercotrichas signata, White-starred Robin Pogonocichla stellata, Knysna Turaco Tauraco corythaix, Orange Ground-Thrush Zoothera gurneyi, Narina Trogon Apaloderma narina, Buff-spotted Flufftail Sarothrura elegans, Crowned Eagle Stephanoaetus coronatus, Bat Hawk, Brown-necked Parrot Poicephalus robustus, African Emerald Cuckoo Chrysococcyx cupreus, Grey Cuckoo-Shrike Coracina caesia, Yellow-streaked Bulbul Phyllastrephus flavostriatus, Green Twinspot Mandingoa nitidula, Mountain Wagtail Motacilla clara, Barratt’s Warbler Bradypterus barratti.
Kruger National Park is one of Africa’s best known safari areas. Besides its impressive mammal diversity, this 20,000 km2 swathe of wilderness boasts a bird list in excess of 500 species. Apart from the high diversity of woodland birds, Kruger is the classic site for a host of large birds which require extensive areas to ensure their conservation. These include Saddle-billed Stork Ephippiorhynchus senegalensis, Hooded Necrosyrtes monachus, African White-backed Gyps africanus, Lappet-faced Torgos tracheliotus and White-headed Vultures Trigonoceps occipitalis, Tawny Aquila rapax and Martial Eagles Polemaetus bellicosus, Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus, African Finfoot Podica senegalensis, Kori Bustard Ardeotis kori, Pel’s Fishing-owl Scotopelia peli, Yellow-billed Oxpecker Buphagus africanus and Southern Ground Hornbill Bucorvus leadbeateri. Other species with limited distribution in Southern Africa which occur here include Greater Blue-eared Starling Lamprotornis chalybaeus, Meves’s Long-tailed Glossy Starling L. mevesii, Retz’s Helmet-Shrike Prionops retzii, Stierling’s (Miombo) Wren-Warbler Calamonastes undosus stierlingi, Thrush Nightingale Luscinia luscinia, Eastern Bearded Scrub-Robin Cercotrichas quadrivirgata, Thick-billed Cuckoo Pachycoccyx audeberti, Lesser Black-winged Lapwing Vanellus lugubris and Brown-headed Parrot Poicephalus cryptoxanthus.
The Kruger National Park is set apart from many similar big-game areas elsewhere in Africa by the ease with which it can be visited on an independent basis. An excellent road network, numerous points of entry and a variety of accommodation make this a mecca for independent birders and nature enthusiasts.