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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 (p.72*), while the coastal thickets of the lowlands offer access to such desirable endemics as the Southern Tchagra and Knysna Woodpecker (p.72*).

From Cape Town, De Hoop Nature Reserve is most easily reached by taking the N2 national road as far as Caledon, where you turn right onto the R316 to Bredasdorp. In Bredasdorp, turn left (north) onto the R319, and turn right, 6 km later, onto the signposted gravel road. The turn-off to the reserve entrance (also signposted) is 30 km along this road (a particularly good one for seeing Stanley’s Bustard), and the reserve gate a another 6 km further on. Allow at least three hours to reach the reserve from Cape Town. An alternative route is via Swellendam, along the birding loops described on p.64.

Access to Potberg mountain is not, as one might expect, through the reserve’s main entrance. Instead, continue along the gravel road from Bredasdorp (see map, p.58), drive past the turn-off to the main entrance, and follow the signs for about 10 km to the parking area and environmental centre below Potberg’s southern slopes. The parking area is an excellent vantage point from which to look for Cape Vulture soaring over the nearby slopes, and a half-hour’s scan overhead is bound to turn up birds wandering from the colony just to the east.

The eucalyptus (blue-gum) plantation and mixed alien and indigenous thicket along the stream adjacent to the parking area hosts a surprising number of interesting species. Knysna Woodpecker occurs in the riverine strip of eucalyptus, but is as unobtrusive and difficult to locate as ever (p.72*). These alien trees have also hosted all three of the southwestern Cape’s honeyguide species (Greater, Lesser and Sharp-billed Honeyguide), along with a contingent of forest raptors, including Black Sparrowhawk, African Goshawk and Gymnogene. Swee Waxbill and Southern Tchagra lurk in the thicket between the parking area and the eucalyptus. Cape Siskin occasionally visit from the mountain slopes above. The pleasant Klipspringer Trail ascends to the summit of the Potberg (4 km each way), offering some good fynbos birding (Cape Rockjumper, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Siskin) in addition to guaranteed views of overflying Cape Vultures. The colony itself is not accessible to visitors, in order to protect the breeding birds from disturbance. Hottentot Buttonquail (see p.23) and Striped Flufftail occur on the southern slopes of the mountain, but, as ever, it is very difficult to see these ground dwellers.

De Hoop’s main entrance gate is located on a range of limestone hills, from which the road winds down onto the lowland fynbos-swathed plains below. The fynbos is interspersed with open, pasture-like areas, relics of efforts at agriculture prior to the proclamation of the reserve. Chacma Baboon (Papio ursinus), Bontebok (Damaliscus dorcas dorcas), Eland (Taurotragus oryx), Cape Mountain Zebra (Equus zebra zebra), Angulate Tortoise (Chersina angulata) and Ostrich favour these pastures and are bound to be seen in good numbers in the vicinity of the turn-off to the reserve headquarters and rest camp (on the right, 4 km from the entrance). Capped Wheatear and, peculiarly, Namaqua Sandgrouse also inhabit these short-grass areas. The latter are likely to be heard calling during mid-morning, as they fly over on their way to water. In the open fynbos, look out for striding Secretarybird and Southern Black Korhaan, and quartering Black Harrier (p.57*).

The reserve office and rest camp are set among dense, gnarled milkwood thickets adjacent to De Hoop Vlei. This large, irregularly shaped lake can at times attract a huge number and an excellent diversity of waterfowl and waders, although this varies greatly between years and seasons. Great Crested Grebe is regular here, and occasionally breeds in large numbers. Southern Tchagra is shy but reasonably easy to find in the thickets around the camping area – its call is loud and conspicuous (De Hoop is one of the more westerly sites where it may be found, although it occurs closest of all to Cape Town in Acacia karroo thicket in the Karoo National Botanical Garden at Worcester). Knysna Woodpecker is surpris-ingly frequent around the vlei, but is characteristically tricky to find (p.72*): look in the thickets partitioning the camping sites. Common residents of the vlei-side thicket are Bar-throated Apalis, Sombre and Cape Bulbuls, Southern Boubou and, rarely, Black Cuckooshrike. The area around the vlei and reserve buildings is also one of the best places in the southwestern Cape to see Pearl-breasted Swallow, which often feeds alongside other hirundines such as White-throated Swallow and Brown-throated Martin.

De Hoop is one of the few places in the Western Cape where Horus Swift is regularly seen, most often in the vicinity of the vlei or flying low over the vegetated coastal dunes – for instance, those around Koppie Alleen. The parking area at Koppie Alleen (follow the signs on the main road from the entrance gate) is at the eastern edge of a vast sand-sea of pure white coastal dunes – a splendid place in which to wander aimlessly and absorb the landscape. The rockier coastline to the east of Koppie Alleen is frequented by good numbers of African Black Oystercatcher (p.32*), together with more widespread coastal birds such as White-fronted Plover and a selection of migrant waders including Sanderling, Turnstone and Grey Plover. From July to November, many calving Southern Right Whales (Eubalaena australis) make their appearance along this stretch of coast and are easily seen.

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