cape birding route > birding spots > introduction
Info Service
About Us
Birding Spots
Day Guiding
Car Hire
Contact Us
    Site Map

Birding Sites along our Western Cape Birding Routes

Western South Africa is an extraordinarily biodiverse region, and an indispensable destination for the ecotourist in southern Africa. Indeed, there is no other area in Africa that offers such a high level of endemism in such an accessible setting. The region is well known among inter-national and local birders alike for the remarkable suite of birds that is found here and nowhere else in the world: a staggering 42 of South Africa’s 53 endemic bird species occur here, as well as 76 per cent of southern Africa’s 181. Complimenting this unique birdlife is the scenic and botanical wealth of western South Africa, which is now acknowledged to contain two of the African continent’s four biodiversity hotspots as defined by Conservation International.

In addition, local and international bird-watchers are inevitably drawn to the region by the tourism gem of Cape Town, and by the region’s scenic and cultural diversity, well-developed infrastructure, high standard of accommodation, and excellent network of national parks and provincial and private nature reserves. A total of 613 bird species have been recorded in this region, and a two-week trip could be expected to yield in excess of 350 species. Indeed, over 220 species have even been recorded around Cape Town in a single day! Although the sheer diversity of southern Africa’s more tropical eastern region is inevitably higher, most of the species found here have wide distributions and extend over much of Africa. The west, by contrast, is rich in species largely restricted to this region, making western South African an essential destination in both global and local terms. Furthermore, this region offers representatives from seven of Africa’s ten endemic and near-endemic bird families: Ostrich, Hamerkop, Guineafowl, Secretary-bird, Mousebirds, Turacos, Woodhoopoes, African Barbets and Sugarbirds.

Western South Africa forms part of the well-defined birding region of southern Africa, a region that
includes South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and southern Mozambique (as covered by local field guides). Throughout this book, we refer to ‘endemics’ as those birds restricted to greater southern Africa, unless explicitly stated otherwise. Near-endemics are those birds whose ranges extend only marginally beyond the borders of this subregion.

Visit Peter Steyn's endemic bird photo galleries.

Taxonomy for Birders

Click here to read about the changing taxonomy and recent splits of birds in these regions.

Cape birding habitats

Five major biomes (broad-scale vegetation categories) occur in western South Africa: Fynbos, Succulent Karoo, Nama Karoo, Forest and Savanna. Within these biomes, the variation in vegetation, topography and human alteration has created a complex array of birding habitats. We have simplified this variation into five major birding ‘habitats’ that encapsulate the region’s characteristic and endemic birds. Below, we discuss these categories and highlight those endemics (see p.5) that are linked to a particular habitat type.

1. Cape Floral Kingdom and Fynbos

The smallest of the world’s six floral king-doms, the tiny Cape Floral Kingdom is one of the richest biodiversity hotspots on earth, and is almost totally restricted to the area covered by this book. Despite occupying less than 0.05 per cent of the earth’s land surface, this small pocket of diverse veg-
etation lying at Africa’s southern extremity holds an astronomical 8 700 plant species. The winter-rainfall Cape Floral Kingdom encompasses all the vegetation types in the geographical area stretching from the Nieuwoudtville escarpment in the northwest through to Port Elizabeth in the southeast, and from the arc of mountain ranges to the sea. However, it is the shrublands of the Fynbos Biome, the largest and most prominent subset of the Cape Floral Kingdom, that lends this region its essential character.

Fynbos (Afrikaans for ‘fine bush’ – probably referring to the plants’ spindly stems that are unsuitable for timber) is remarkable not only for its variety of plant species but also for its ecological peculiarities, among them its absolute dependence on regular fires, essential for successful germination of many fynbos plants, and the fascinating partnerships developed between plants and animals. Flower pollinators range from sugarbirds and bizarre long-tongued flies to nocturnal mice, while seed dispersal is facilitated by pheromone-laced seed coatings that entice ants to plant them in their underground nests, ready to germinate following the next fire.

Although pristine areas of fynbos have a very low diversity of birds, there are some notable endemics to be seen, namely Hottentot Buttonquail (see p.23), Cape Rockjumper (p.73*), Victorin’s Warbler (p.73*), Cape Sugarbird (p.33*), Orange-breasted Sunbird (p.33*), Cape Siskin (p.33*), and Protea Canary (p.57*). While not restricted to fynbos, the ranges of Cape Francolin, Agulhas Long-billed Lark (p.73*) and Cape Bulbul are largely centred on the Cape Floral Kingdom.

Fynbos vegetation is composed largely of three conspicuous plant groups: the large, broad-leafed proteas (favoured by Cape Sugarbird and Protea Canary); the low, small-leafed ericas (heath; favoured by Orange-breasted Sunbird, see picture on p.33); and the grass-like, clumped restios (brownish ‘thatching reeds’). All are readily recognizable. For further information, visit the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. The true fynbos endemics are restricted primarily to the widespread mountain fynbos that occurs on rocky slopes and mountains of the Cape. Much rarer is lowland fynbos, which occurs on the flats of the coastal forelands. Here, too, Renosterveld occurs (p.63), a related vegetation type that has many bird species in common with fynbos, such as Agulhas Long-billed and Clapper Larks. The broad-leafed ‘strandveld’ (‘beach vegetation’) thicket, which occurs in a narrow band along the coast, is not related to fynbos. However, on parts of the West Coast it forms a mosaic with lowland fynbos, and many bird species are shared (p.43).

2. Succulent and Nama Karoo

The Karoo is a vast semidesert area that is divided into two botanically very different regions and dominates the arid western half of South Africa. It forms part of the most ancient desert system in the world, and is an open area of stony plains, scattered with small shrubs, punctuated by low dunes and hills (‘koppies’), and is very sparsely inhabited. The Succulent Karoo Biome (Tanqua Karoo and Namaqualand) is characterized by small succulent plants, supported by low but predictable winter rainfall, whereas the summer-rainfall Nama Karoo Biome (Bushmanland, the southern Kalahari, and the Karoo National Park in Garden Route and Interior) is dominated by grasses and low, woody shrubs. The Succulent Karoo Biome is one of Africa’s biodiversity hotspots, and has the highest diversity of succulent plant species in the world.

Despite these fundamental climatic and vegetation differences, most Karoo bird specials occur in both biomes. Karoo endemics and near-endemics include Karoo Korhaan, Ludwig’s Bustard (p.105*), Red (p.96*), Barlow’s (p.100), Karoo Long-billed (p.13) and Sclater’s Larks (p.96*), Black-eared Finchlark (p.96*), Karoo and Tractrac Chats, Karoo Eremomela (p.85*), Cinnamon-breasted Warbler (p.85*), Namaqua Warbler (p.85*), Pale-winged Starling and Black-headed Canary (p.105*). Numerous other species, such as Karoo Lark and Rufous-eared Warbler, are characteristic of this region, but also extend peripherally into other biomes.

3. Afromontane Forest

This biome is scattered discontinuously across central and east Africa’s montane peaks, with the temperate forests of the Cape constituting its southern fragments. In the west of our region (Cape Peninsula and Overberg), pockets of afromontane forest survive in moist, fire-protected areas, and along the Garden Route large tracts extend along the coastal plain. Although these relict forest patches are rather species poor compared to those further north and east in Africa, Knysna Warbler (p.32*) and Knysna Woodpecker (p.72*) are almost restric-ted to this region.

More widespread South-ern African forest endemics occurring here are Forest Buzzard, Knysna Lourie (p.125), Chorister Robin (p.125*), Cape Batis, Olive Bush Shrike and Forest Canary, and other special birds include the Crowned Eagle, Narina Trogon (p.125*) and the dazzling Emerald Cuckoo.

4. Arid Savanna

Perhaps Africa’s most characteristic vegetation type, this biome forms an intermediate between grassland and woodland, and occupies the northeast of our region, the Kalahari. Rainfall is in the form of summer thunderstorms that support good grass cover below a varying density of thorn-trees, perhaps most characteristically the camel-thorn (Acacia erioloba). Although savanna supports a diverse bird community, most of these species are widely distributed in southern Africa and further afield. However, the savanna in this region is characteristically arid, and endemics include Short-clawed Lark, Kalahari Robin, Ashy Tit, Marico Flycatcher and Crimson-breasted Shrike. The species composition present at a given locality depends on the relative density of grass and trees; consult Kalahari for details.

5. Coastal and Wetland

Both the Atlantic and Indian oceans flank this region, merging at Africa’s southernmost point, Cape Agulhas (p.59). The productive Benguela Current surges up the Atlantic coast, bringing chilly, nutrient-rich waters from Antarctica, while the warmer Agulhas Current moves down the east coast of Africa from more tropical climes. The birds endemic or near-endemic to the plentiful waters of the Benguela Current of southern Africa’s west coast are African Penguin (p.32*), Cape Gannet, Cape, Bank (p.21*) and Crowned Cormorants, African Black Oystercatcher (p.33*), Hartlaub’s Gull and Damara Tern; consult the Cape Peninsula, West Coast, Overberg and Namaqualand chapters. Furthermore, huge numbers of migrant pelagic seabirds are attracted to offshore waters (see Seabirding).

This website is maintained by Birding Africa.
Please do not use any text, images or content from this site without permission.
© Birding Africa 1997-2009
4 Crassula Way, Pinelands, 7405, Cape Town, South Africa

27/09/09: Dalton Gibbs reports back from Gough Island! Read the blog!

26/09/09: New Cape Town Pelagics trip report from trips of 12 and 19 September 2009.

30/08/09: British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water proved very successful, with sunny weather and over 20,000 visitors. Callan's "Birding Namibia and the Okavango" was the most highly-attended lecture on the Saturday, with over 240 people. Congratulations to the winners of the Birding Africa competition and the African Bird Club raffle that we helped sponsor!

12/08/09: New Cape Town Pelagics trip reports from August and July 2009. Highlights: Little Shearwater and more!

07/08/09: The sub-adult Black Sarrowhawk visits our garden again! Read on about Raptor Research in the Western Cape.

27/07/09: Cape Town's Verreauxs' Eagle Chick has grown! And its sibling never had a chance to hatch. See the pictures of the chick, its nest and the breeding pair. Find out more about the Western Cape Raptor Research Programme.

27/07/09: To follow modern nomenclature and systematics, we've adopted the IOC World Bird List, Version 2.1.

13/07/09: The 8th African Bird ID Challenge has launched! Win a 50% discount on a Cape Town Pelagics trip, a copy of Southern African Birdfinder, or African Bird Club membership for 1 year.

6 July 09: Cape White-eye research in our garden.

2 July 09: Cape Town's Verreauxs' Eagle Chick has hatched! See the pictures of the chick, its nest and the breeding pair. Find out more about the Western Cape Raptor Research Programme.

2 July 09: Campbell Fleming, a Cape Town scholar, avid birder and photographer, joined Birding Africa last month as an intern. Click here, to see what he got up to.

2 July 09: New pelagic trip reports from the Cape Town Pelagics trips in June 2009. Highlights: Slenderbilled Prion and Leach's Storm Petrel

30 july 09: Our latest Cape Fynbos and Karoo trip reports feature Hottentot Buttonquail, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler and other fynbos and Karoo endemics...

26 June 09: Tungsten mining threatens RAMSAR site, South Africa's Verlorenvlei. Read the Media Release.

22 June 09: Claire Spottiswoode, one of the Cape Birding Route founders, was part of the exploratory team at Mount Mabu. The mountain is part of the newly discovered largest rainforest in Southern Africa.

11 June 09: A colour-ringed Black Sparrowhawk visits the Birding Africa office garden. Read why it's a 10 months old male!

14 June 09:
Wildlife at the office of The Cape Birding Route, Birding Africa and Cape Town Pelagics.

31 May 09:
Michel Watelet wins the 7th African Bird Club & Birding Africa ID Challenge. Test your African birding skills and WIN a Birding Africa Cape town day trip or a copy of the Birdfinder!

30 May 09: A tragedy unfolds at Kommetjie south of Cape town as 44 beached False Killer Whales were shot. Click here for more details and pictures.

14 March 09: Raptor Watch in Cape Town on 14 March 09