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Select Specials: Cape Peninsula

African Penguin

Formerly known as the Jackass Penguin because of its loud, peculiarly braying call, this charismatic bird has acted as a mascot species for marine conservation in South Africa. Although two mainland colonies have recently formed near Cape Town (see pp.24 and 62), African Penguins typically breed on offshore islands from Namibia to the Eastern Cape Province. The past century has seen a shattering 90 per cent loss of the population, which now stands at a steadily declining 160 000. Old enemies have been replaced by new ones: egg collecting and guano harvesting once took a heavy toll on the breeding colonies; today their main food source, pilchards, is threatened by over-fishing. Oil spills also cause devastating losses, although the South African National Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) has over the past two decades successfully rescued and rehabilitated many tens of thousands of oiled birds (see p.43).

African Black Oystercatcher

Fewer than 4 800 individuals of this striking endemic still grace rocky and sandy shores from Namibia to the Eastern Cape Province. Although it is one of the world’s rarest oystercatcher species, it is conspicuous on the Cape Peninsula and can easily be seen at Sea Point (p.31), Kommetjie (p.21) or in the Cape of Good Hope reserve (p.24). In fact, more than half the world population occurs within 300 km of Cape Town. The birds’ demise lies in their habit of nesting on exposed beaches: the superbly camouflaged eggs and young chicks are often trodden on or driven over. Professor Phil Hockey of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology leads a long-term study of the ecology and conservation of this species.

Knysna Warbler

This localized endemic, which occurs along the south coast from Cape Town to the Eastern Cape, is best searched for in the riverine undergrowth of the forests and thickets of the eastern slopes of Table Mountain (see Constantia Greenbelts, p.19, and Kirstenbosch, p.17). There are also good sites at the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve (p.69) and on the Garden Route (p.117). It is an extreme skulker, though its penetrating, descending song makes up for its admittedly drab plumage and secretive habits. Its low, rattling contact calls are rather less conspicuous, but are often useful in locating it. Stealthy and mouse-like, it spends much of its time feeding on the ground, flicking its wings and tail to disturb insects from the leaf litter. Despite occurring in the city suburbs, its nest was only discovered as recently as 1960, in the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.

Cape Sugarbird

There are just two species of sugarbird, together constituting southern Africa’s only endemic bird family. Their puzzling evolutionary relationships continue to perplex scientists, with conflicting evidence variously suggesting relationships with the starlings, the sunbirds, or even the Australian honey-eaters. The Cape Sugarbird is easily seen, conspicuous in distinctive silhouette, as it perches on the flowerheads of the protea bushes that are a major element of fynbos vegetation. Local sugarbird populations fluctuate markedly over the year, with the birds ranging up to 150 km in search of flowering protea bushes. Nonetheless, sugarbird-bedecked flowering proteas are found year-round in the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden (p.17); other good sites are the Cape of Good Hope reserve (p.24), Sir Lowry’s Pass (p.61) and Swartberg Pass (p.123).

Orange-breasted Sunbird

Another fynbos endemic, the Orange-breasted Sunbird is primarily a specialist feeder on the spectacularly diverse, often tubular, erica (heath) flowers that are a major component of fynbos. It is often the most abundant species in this habitat, and is easily located by its characteristically metallic call, one of the distinctively atmospheric sounds of the rugged, wind-battered Cape mountains. Sunbirds at Kirstenbosch (p.17) are often very approachable, but this species is also easily found at the Cape of Good Hope reserve (p.24), Sir Lowry’s Pass (p.61), Harold Porter Botanical Garden (p.63), Bain’s Kloof Pass (p.81), Swartberg Pass (p.123), or indeed any expanse of mountain fynbos.

Cape Siskin

One of the trickier fynbos endemics to find during a short visit, the Cape Siskin is nonetheless often a common bird in its preferred habitat, which is open, rocky fynbos, usually wind-blown and not conducive to good views of a small, mobile seed-eater. Cape Siskins are usually detected as they give their distinctive tri-syllablic flight call before disappearing over a ridge in small, nervous flocks. The males’ white-tipped wings and tail are a good field character. For details of the best sites, refer to the text on the Cape of Good Hope reserve (p.81), Bain’s Kloof Pass (p.81), Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve (p.70), Harold Porter Botanical Garden (p.63) and Swartberg Pass (p.123).

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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