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Swartberg Pass:

For over a century, the 24-km length of the Swartberg Pass has connected the Little Karoo ostrich capital of Oudtshoorn to the placid Great Karoo town of Prince Albert. As you head north from Oudtshoorn and the road begins to climb, there is a sudden switch from arid scrub and ravine-side thicket to moist, mist-wreathed mountain fynbos. The pass crests the Swartberg range at an altitude of 1 436 m before dropping precipitously through a series of dramatic switchbacks, ingeniously supported by dry-stone walls. Becoming progressively more arid, the road emerges into the Karoo proper through a kloof presided over by agonizingly contorted rock layers folded by massive early geological upheavals.

To reach the pass, take the R328 from Oudtshoorn, and follow the signs. You might like to spend a moment investigating the dry hillside scrub in the vicinity of the Cango Mountain Resort turn-off (24 km north of Oudtshoorn) where, among others, Layard’s Titbabbler and Fairy Flycatcher may be found. By the time the pass proper begins (where the road surface changes to gravel, 43 km north of Oudtshoorn), the altitude has rapidly transformed the parched scrub into moist, dense mountain fynbos. The distances given are measured from the end of the tarred road at this point; those in brackets are measured from the beginning of the tarred road on the other side of the pass, 2 km from Prince Albert. At 0.5 (25.5) km past the transition to gravel, a stream flanked by taller vegetation passes under the road. This is an excellent site for Protea Canary (p.57*); look particularly in the tall streamside growth, and in the adjacent stands of Waboom (Protea nitida, a tall, greyish-leafed protea). Protea Canary is in fact common in taller vegetation on both sides of the pass. More conspicuous species to be found in this vicinity are Cape Sugarbird (p.33*), Orange-breasted Sunbird (p.33*), Neddicky, Cape Bulbul, Grassbird and Malachite Sunbird. Victorin’s Warbler is very common in the impenetrable undergrowth, supported by seeps, along the entire ascent of the pass (from here to the summit); look for them at the streams at 3.8 (22.2), 5.0 (21.0) and 7.3 (18.7) km. As the road approaches its highest altitude, the terrain becomes ever-rockier and cooler. The rocky ridges to the east and west of the pass’s summit at 9.2 (16.8) km (‘Die Top’) are well worth a walk in quest of Ground Woodpecker (p.105*), Cape Rockjumper (p.73*), Sentinel and Cape Rock Thrushes and Cape Siskin (p.33*)

North of the summit, the landscape is noticeably drier, revealing spectacular geological contortions. Keep an eye out for classic mountain raptors such as Black and Booted Eagles, Jackal Buzzard and Rock Kestrel. The road descends through progressively more arid country and ultimately joins a river in a dry gorge, at 22.2 (3.8) km. The hillside scrub flanking it hosts such typically kloof-loving Karoo species as Fairy Flycatcher, Layard’s Titbabbler and, usually flying overhead, Pale-winged Starling. At 25.7 (0.3) km, a picnic site lies on the left hand side alongside a band of fearsomely thorned acacia trees. This thicket offers Southern Tchagra, Pririt Batis (p.85*), Namaqua Warbler (p.85*) and Red-billed Firefinch, the latter near the western limit of its range. From the junction at 26.0 (0.0) km, the roads runs for 2 km through a broad valley to the sleepy town of Prince Albert and the Great Karoo beyond.

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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