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Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve:

The extensive wilderness area of the Groot-vadersbosch Nature Reserve incorporates a 250-hectare indigenous forest, the largest in the southwestern Cape and certainly the region’s richest in bird diversity. A number of more characteristically eastern species reach their western limit here, and most are not difficult to find with a little patience and persistence, particularly in spring when they are at their most vocal. There is also good birding along the disturbed forest edges and in the adjacent moist mountain fynbos. Sought-after endemics that can be found at Grootvadersbosch reserve include Knysna Woodpecker (p.72*), Knysna (p.32*) and Victorin’s (p.73*) Warblers, Forest Canary and Cape Siskin (p.33*), as well a host of exciting forest specials such as Narina Trogon (p.125*) and Crowned Eagle.

To reach Grootvadersbosch, take the N2 national road east of Swellendam for 11 km, then turn left onto the R324 (signposted ‘Suurbraak/Barrydale’). Continue along this road, perhaps stopping to scan the lily- and reed-fringed pond on the left, that sometimes hosts Giant Kingfisher, African Rail and White-backed Duck. Pearl-breasted Swallow is also very often seen along this road. Pass through the picturesque village of Suurbraak, checking any flowering coral trees (Erythrina caffra) for feeding sunbirds, notably Black Sunbird. Where the road forks (the first fork is 26 km from the N2), follow the signposts to Grootvadersbosch (or ‘Boosmansbos Wilderness Area’). The ‘grootvader’ (grandfather) of the forest’s name was an 18th-century Dutch farmer to whom the land was first assigned. From Suurbraak to the reserve, the road passes over a series of rolling hills over which Black Harrier (p.57*) regularly hunt.

The reserve entrance (at 1 on map, above) is on a ridge overlooking the forested valleys and the Langeberg range. Next to the entrance is a parking area, an information centre and a beautifully-situated campsite. Groups of Cape Siskin invariably forage around the campsite, and Greater Double-collared Sunbird feed in the garden of the office, where you need to obtain a day permit to enter the forest. From here it is a short, steep walk down a bracken-covered slope known as Bosbokrand (‘Bushbuck Ridge’; 2 on map) before you enter the forest on an excellent network of paths. West of the ridge, the forest is predominantly slightly drier and lower than that to the east of the ridge. A gentle walk of roughly three hours (allowing time for lots of birding) is a 1.7 km loop through the eastern valley, described below. However, you might also want to make a short foray into the western portion of the forest, or into the moist, fynbos-clad slopes above.

Disturbed areas, such as those on the descent from the campsite to the forest edge at Bosbokrand, are the favoured feeding habitat of several seedeaters, including small flocks of Swee Waxbill, Forest Canary and Cape Siskin. This is also a good place to look for foraging Black Saw-wing Swallows, and for raptors. Crowned Eagle reaches its western limit at Grootvadersbosch, and is regularly seen overflying this ridge; more common forest raptors are Forest Buzzard, Black Sparrowhawk and African Goshawk. These are often seen perching on the skeletons of the introduced Giant Redwoods that protrude through the canopy at various places in the forest. Cuckoo Hawk has also been seen here in recent years.

From Bosbokrand, turn right at 3 onto the signposted ‘Redwoods Road’, a gravel track winding down the slope’s lower contour. Walking down this track early in the morning, you are likely to catch glimpses of the Cape’s westernmost Red-necked Francolins, scurrying off the path edge or calling tantalizingly fifty or so metres ahead. The most common and conspicuous birds in the forest are Sombre Bulbul, Cape Batis and Bar-throated Apalis. Before long, however, you will intercept a bird party and thus be likely to encounter Olive Wood-pecker, Terrestrial Bulbul, Paradise and Blue-mantled Flycatchers, Yellow-throated Warbler and Greater Double-collared Sunbird. While all of these are very vocal, some, such as Terrestrial Bulbul and Olive Bush Shrike, are inconspicuous lurkers, and you will need to invest a little time before obtaining good views.

After a gentle descent, the path turns sharply to the left and crosses the Duiwenhoks River. The streamside undergrowth holds Knysna Warbler, typically vocal yet skulking as ever (p.32*). This junction is also a good spot for Knysna Woodpecker (p.72*), which is not uncommon in the forest, as evidenced by its very distinctive, shrieking call. The challenge to birders lies in that this species only calls at 10–15 minute intervals, though it can often be located by following its soft but more regular tapping. Olive Woodpecker, conversely, is both vocal and conspicuous.

Ignore the continuation of the broad gravel track at 4, and turn left along the footpath back up the northern slope of the valley, where the forest is taller and moister. The forest clearing a few hundred metres up this path is a good spot to look for over-flying raptors. Also look out for Grey Cuckooshrike, a subtly beautiful canopy species that, though fairly common, requires a little alertness to its peculiarly sibilant call, vaguely reminiscent of that of Dusky Flycatcher. Another stunning canopy bird that reaches its western limit at Grootvadersbosch is the Narina Trogon (p.125*). It is surprisingly easy to locate once you become familiar with its repetitive, hoarse hooting call. Listen for it in the vicinity of the canopy hide at 5, as well as elsewhere in the forest. Throughout the forest, look out for South Africa’s most westerly Bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus), which bark startlingly as they make a crashing escape through the dense undergrowth ahead.

Returning to Bosbokrand, you might want to make a short detour to the other canopy hide at 6 (500 m down the signposted ‘Melkhoutpad’, that follows a higher contour down the same valley as the Redwoods Road). This hide provides an excellent vantage point from which to scan for raptors, which often perch on the skeletons of the introduced redwoods across the valley from this hide.

North of Bosbokrand, a gravel track (7 on map) soon leads into moist fynbos to become the beginning of the Boosmansbos Hiking Trail, a route that leads the rugged on a two-day loop among the Langeberg peaks. Victorin’s Warbler (p.73*) is very common here, even a few hundred metres from the forest edge. Red-wing Francolin also occurs on these slopes, but is decidedly scarce.

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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.

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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.

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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:
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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!

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