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Cape Endemics

27 August–11 September 2024

South Africa’s Cape region is a land of stunning scenery and fantastic birding in the most endemic-rich region of Africa, with a total of 25 South African endemics including Cape Rockjumper, Cape Sugarbird and larks galore plus a further 37 southern African endemics. A day will also be spent cruising the bird-rich waters off the Cape of Good Hope, enjoying some of the finest sea birding in the world with up to six species of albatross.

Day 1 Overnight flight from London to Cape Town.

Day 2 Arrival in Cape Town and a visit to the world-famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens that grace the lower slopes of Cape Town’s most famous icon, Table Mountain, and which offer a superb introduction to the avifauna of this exciting region. Endemics abound and we can expect the likes of Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Sugarbird, Forest Canary, Cape Spurfowl, Cape Batis, Karoo Prinia and Swee Waxbill as we stroll around the spectacular wild flower displays. If time permits, we will make our way to the fabulous wetlands at the Strandfontein Water Works. Here, a series of treatment pools attracts a fantastic variety of waterbirds. Highlights include Greater Flamingo, South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveler, Cape Teal, Maccoa Duck and Eared Grebe. The reedbeds are home to the striking Red Bishop, Cape Weaver and skulkers like Little Rush and Lesser Swamp Warblers. In the late afternoon we will settle into our accommodation in the suburb of Noordhoek for three nights.

Day 3 Pelagic trip. The cold upwelling of the Benguela current off Cape Town supports a wealth of seabirds, with vast concentrations of albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters and prions gathering in the deeper water at the edge of the continental shelf. The birding is excellent year-round and we hope to see Shy, Black-browed and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, Southern and Northern Giant Petrels, Cape and White-chinned Petrels, Sooty, Greater, Manx and Cory’s Shearwaters, Wilson’s and European Storm Petrels, Cape Gannet and Parasitic Jaeger. If we manage to locate one of the commercial fishing trawlers, the birding can be truly spectacular, with a cloud of seabirds following in the wake of the vessel to feed on the fish offal. Once the excitement has subsided, we will carefully search through the flocks for rarities such as Wandering and Grey-headed Albatrosses and Spectacled Petrel. Cetaceans are almost always encountered, and we have a good chance of seeing Southern Right and Bryde’s Whales and Dusky Dolphin. Whilst in False Bay we will also visit the famous African Penguin colony. This is a very popular excursion and you will be treated to exceptional views of these very endearing birds. The weather and ocean conditions off the Cape are extremely unpredictable, so our daily schedule will remain flexible to optimise our birding on land and at sea.

Day 4 This morning we will head to the nearby Black Hill and walk through the fynbos. Cape Siskin, Cape Grassbird, Grey-backed Cisticola and Cape Rock Thrush are all resident here. This will be a great chance to marvel at the Cape’s unique flora and we will stop to admire anything in flower. For the rest of the day we will explore the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve on Africa’s south-western tip. We will drive the less-visited roads searching for Malachite and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cloud Cisticola, Neddicky, Bokmakierie, Yellow Bishop, Plain-backed Pipit, Greater Striped Swallow and Cape Bunting. Leaving the reserve, we will make our way along a scenic coastal drive to the exceptionally pretty town of Kommetjie, where we will bird a well-known tern roost. With the right tide we can expect Great Crested, Common, Sandwich and Caspian Terns. The endemic Bank and Crowned Cormorants are occasionally found here among the masses of Cape Cormorants, and we will scan the shore for White-fronted Plover and African Oystercatcher.

Day 5 Today we will make an early start for Sir Lowry’s Pass. This pass is the gateway to the east and its rugged but beautiful hills hold some exciting species. Topping the list is the enigmatic Cape Rockjumper. Finding this species will involve walking and exploring the unspoilt fynbos in the rocky areas above the pass. We should also find Nicholson's Pipit, the skulking Victorin’s Warbler and, if we are lucky, the scarce Fynbos Buttonquail and Sentinel Rock Thrush. We will spend the rest of the day crossing the Agulhas coastal plain, birding en route and passing very close to the Indian Ocean shore. Once off the main road we will bird the fallow lands, wheat fields and rolling grasslands typical of the Overberg region. Here we will look for the elegant Blue Crane, Stanley Bustard, Agulhas Long-billed and Thick-billed Larks, Cape Longclaw, Cape Sparrow and Pied Starling. Occasionally, antelope like Grey Rhebok and Common Duiker are spotted here. In the late afternoon we will arrive at our accommodation on the edge of De Hoop Nature Reserve. The area around the cabins is particularly good for the much sought-after Southern Tchagra and Greater Double-collared Sunbird.

Day 6 The early hours of the day will be spent in the scenic De Hoop Nature Reserve, where we will look for the eastern form of Cape Clapper Lark, Common Ostrich, Capped Wheatear, Pearl-breasted Swallow and Horus Swift, as well as Cape Mountain Zebra and Bontebok. Thicker woodland on the slopes below the headquarters is home to the highly-sought-after, but tough-to-see, Knysna Woodpecker and Southern Boubou. After breakfast, we will make our way inland, stopping at Potberg Nature Reserve to look for Cape Vulture. In the afternoon we will settle into our accommodation close to the wonderful Grootvadersbos Forest and, if time permits, make an afternoon excursion into the forest. This 250-hectare patch of forest is the only indigenous evergreen forest that we will visit on this tour and, as a result, houses some species that we have no chance of finding elsewhere. Top birds for us here are Narina Trogon, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher and Knysna Warbler. In the evening we will look for African Wood Owl around our hotel.

Day 7 The morning will be spent in the forest again looking for Black-headed Oriole, Olive Bushshrike, Olive Woodpecker and the endemic Forest Buzzard. The comical Red-necked Spurfowl can be seen scuttling along the roads on the edge of the forest in the early hours. After breakfast we will continue to make our way north. En route we pass through scenic mountain passes that are excellent places to look for Jackal Buzzard and Booted and Verreaux’s Eagles. In the late afternoon we will arrive in the small farming town of Ceres, known amongst birders as the gateway to the Tanqua-Karoo region, and, if time permits, we will journey to a nearby dry riverbed. Here, we will look for Namaqua Warbler, a really special bird, as this feisty little endemic is found in a genus all of its own. We may also see Mountain Chat, Pied Starling and Grey-winged Francolin. We spend the night at a comfortable guesthouse in town.

Day 8 Today we have the entire day to explore Tanqua-Karoo. This stark region is rich in birds, most of which will be entirely new for us. We will search the arid, scrubby plains for Karoo, Sickle-winged and Tractrac Chats, Karoo Bustard and Southern Grey Tit. Walks in the short vegetation may produce Karoo Eremomela, Rufous-eared Warbler, Cape Penduline Tit and Yellow Canary. On our journey we stop at a beautiful vegetated gorge, where we will take the opportunity to look for Layard’s and Fairy Warblers and Pririt Batis. In the late afternoon we will arrive in the small town of Calvinia, where we will be staying at a charming farmhouse run with typical Afrikaans hospitality.

Day 9 We leave the Tanqua-Karoo and enter the open, arid plains of Bushmanland, which has the highest density of lark species (14) anywhere in the world. Many of the species here are nomadic, but with a little luck and previous rains we will be able to find the area specials and endemics. Continuing north, telephone poles will be adorned with Greater Kestrel, Pale Chanting Goshawk and Chat Flycatcher. On the desolate ochre plains we will keep an eye out for Ludwig’s Bustard, Secretarybird and, if we are very lucky, the huge Kori Bustard – the world’s heaviest flying bird. South African Swallow, a breeding endemic, breeds under the occasional bridge on this route. Other birds to look out for include Red-capped Lark, Lanner Falcon, Martial Eagle, Black-eared Sparrow-lark, Black-headed Canary and Southern Anteater Chat. Once we near the Brandvlei area, we will begin searching for the incredibly limited-range Red Lark (brown form), a true Bushmanland endemic and one of the primary target birds for the area. Overnight in the village of Brandvlei.

Day 10 We begin the day by exploring the gravel plains around town for Sclater’s Lark and Dusky Sunbird. After breakfast we will continue north, where birds typical of the drier northern Cape may include Spike-heeled and Stark’s Larks, Lark-like Bunting, Namaqua Sandgrouse and Double-banded Courser. Further north, we will start to see the near-endemic Sociable Weaver, whose gigantic nests burden telephone poles and on whom the endearing Pygmy Falcons prey. Our final destination is the wonderful Augrabies Falls National Park, where the Orange River thunders through a tiny gap in the rocks and pours into the gorge below, only metres from our cabins! In the Camelthorn Acacia trees in the camp, we will look out for Black-chested Prinia, Ashy Tit, Brubru, Orange River White-eye and Golden-tailed Woodpecker. We will be in the park for a two-night stay.

Day 11 Today we will explore the lunar-like rocky outcrops and steep cliffs of the park. There are a significant number of new birds for us here: Black Stork, Pale-winged Starling and Peregrine Falcon all nest on the cliffs, while the rocky outcrops are home to the tough-to-find Kopjie Warbler and Short-toed Rock Thrush. We also have our only chance here of White-backed Vulture and Red-necked Spurfowl. And by the Orange River, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Malachite Kingfisher, Black Crake and African Fish Eagle can be found. Mammals may include Eland, Gemsbok (or Oryx), Klipspringer, Rock Hyrax and Springbok. In the early evening we will take a short night drive into the park to see what we can find. Possible mammals include Cape Porcupine, Small Spotted Genet, Striped Polecat, Cape Hare, Springhare and Bat-eared Fox

Day 12 After some early morning birding around camp we will make our way west towards the tiny town of Springbok. The range of exciting new birds in this area of Bushmanland includes the likes of Rosy-faced Lovebird, Karoo Long-billed Lark, the richly-coloured form of Red Lark, the nomadic Burchell’s Courser, White-quilled Korhaan, Scaly-feathered Finch, Bradfield’s Swift and Grey-backed Finch-lark. We may also visit Goegap Nature Reserve to catch up on any specials we may have missed previously and possibly add Ground Woodpecker, White-throated Canary, Cape Starling and White-backed Mousebird to our growing total. Overnight in Springbok.

Day 13 This morning we will make a pre-dawn start in order to reach the coastal town of Port, where we will be searching for the incredibly range-restricted Barlow’s Lark. Not only is the global distribution of this bird tiny, but also most of its range is off-bounds to birders, as it occurs in a diamond-mining area. As a further bonus in this area we may see Cape Long-billed Lark, the longest billed of the long-billed lark complex! After breakfast in Springbok we will make our way down the main west coast road and head inland to the small town of Lamberts Bay. After settling in to our accommodation, we will take a short walk down to Bird Island to explore the huge Cape Gannet colony. A sandbank next to the colony is often decked with gulls and terns, and here we have our best chance of finding a Grey-headed Gull amongst the mass of Hartlaub’s Gulls. Crowned Cormorants sometimes roost on dilapidated boats in the tiny harbour next to the colony.

Day 14 Heading south from town, in the short vegetation of the strandveld, which is often exposed to fog and icy Atlantic winds, we will look for Olive Thrush (the distinctive, darker Karoo form), Karoo Lark, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Spotted Thick-knee, Chestnut-vented Warbler and European Bee-eater. Small saline pans next to the road are often teeming with waders, and we will look for the beautiful Chestnut-banded Plover as well as Lesser Flamingo and Kittlitz’s Plover. Next, we will stop at a small rocky valley, where we will look for the rather elusive Protea Canary. In the late afternoon we will arrive at our accommodation in the town of Langebaan.

Day 15 This morning we will make our way through the West Coast National Park on our way down to Cape Town. This reserve is an excellent place to see Southern Black Korhaan and Karoo Scrub Robin and is arguably the best place in the world to see Black Harrier. There are also some excellent hides offering some of the finest wader watching in the country if the tide is right. We will then make our way out of the park and head into Cape Town in plenty of time for our overnight return flight to London, arriving on Day 16.

General Information The climate is temperate. Accommodation standards are good with en-suite facilities in all rooms. Food is of European standard. Transport is by minibus or four-wheel drive and the road conditions are good. There are special health requirements. Only a moderate degree of fitness is needed. Photographic opportunities are excellent.

Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6 with 1 leader; maximum group size: 12 with 2 leaders.

Cape Sugarbird

Cape Sugarbird

Recommended books available from NHBS