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Select Specials: Overberg and South Coast

Cape Vulture

Depending on their itinerary, visiting birders touring South Africa would find it worth their while to attempt to see this species in the Overberg, despite only about one hundred birds remaining here. A common fallacy is that this bird is easy to see in the game reserves in the east of the country, but it is in fact difficult to find except in the Drakensberg mountains, in the far Eastern Cape Province, and in the vicinity of breeding colonies in the Northern Province. The Potberg colony (p.65) is notable as the last existing in the Fynbos Biome, and currently consists of just 32 breeding pairs. This species has declined drastically in South Africa in the past few decades, primarily due to poisoning from stock carcasses laid out by farmers to eradicate vermin.

Blue Crane

This is the country’s national bird, although it escapes being a true South African endemic by virtue of a small population on Etosha Pan in northern Namibia. In the Western Cape, the birds occur fairly scarcely in the wheatfields of the West Coast’s Swartland region (see p.45), but are common and easy to find in the Overberg wheatlands. They are especially conspicuous in winter, when breeding pairs congregate into large flocks of up to several hundred individuals. Indeed, this is one of the few rare birds that may have benefited from the destruction of lowland fynbos in favour of the agriculture that emulates its grassland habitat. Driving along the N2 national road east of Cape Town, you are bound to see cranes at the roadside – often close to small farm dams – even before reaching Caledon or Riviersonderend, and they may also be seen along the farmland loops described on p.63.

Stanley’s Bustard

Isolated in the moist grasslands and lowland fynbos of South Africa, Stanley’s Bustard is currently classified as a subspecies of Denham’s Bustard, whose range extends into East Africa. It has adjusted well to the Overberg wheatlands, particularly those east of Bredasdorp. Though never common, it is readily seen – refer to the main text for likely sites within the Bontebok National Park (p.69) and the Overberg farmlands (p.63). Worth looking out for during spring are the displaying males, which retract their heads, inflate their white throat pouches, and strut about in this voluminous state – an intriguing sight that, from a distance, one might uncharitably liken to a plastic shopping bag caught in the vegetation.

Knysna Woodpecker

This unobtrusive and little-known species is globally restricted to the narrow southern coastal strip of South Africa, extending as far north as the southern extremity of KwaZulu-Natal. It is not actually a very rare bird in its preferred habitat – dense coastal thicket or afromontane forest – but is rather challenging to see, as it calls only at lengthy and irregular intervals. The call is a short scream, likened by many to ‘Skead!’ in honour of one of the Eastern Cape Province’s great natural historians, C.J. Skead. Closest to Cape Town, it can be found in the thickets of the De Hoop Nature Reserve (p.64) and the forests of Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve (p.69). Further east, it occurs more commonly in the Garden Route forests (p.117).

Agulhas Long-billed Lark

This species is a recent and localized split of Long-billed Lark (see p.13). It is restricted to the south coast, and is most common east of Bredasdorp (see Farmland Loops, p.63, for details of reliable sites). It is especially easy to locate in spring, when males regularly perform their looping display flights, launched from roadside fence posts and accompanied by a descending whistle. When not calling, feeding birds can usually be found in stubble fields, often near patches of roadside indigenous scrub.

Cape Rockjumper

Endemic to rocky areas in the fynbos-covered Cape mountains, primarily at higher altitudes, this species is most easily seen at Sir Lowry’s Pass (p.60), Rooi Els (p.62), Bain’s Kloof Pass (p.81) or, further east, at Swartberg Pass (p.123). However, it will be encountered by hikers on most of the Cape’s mountain ranges. The presence of a group nearby is often first revealed by the piping alarm call of the sentinel bird. As you approach the outcrop where they are feeding, you will see the group members disappear between the rocks or move onto the next outcrop in low, gliding flight. Interestingly, the Cape Rockjumper breeds cooperatively: helpers (probably related birds) assist the parents in feeding the young, a behaviour that has attracted much research attention in this and other species.

Victorin’s Warbler

This fynbos endemic can be remarkably common in denser mountain fynbos. The call is faintly reminiscent of that of Grassbird but is more repetitive, and is, predictably, the key to seeing the bird. It can be maddeningly skulking, approaching to within a metre or two of playback but remaining well concealed in streamside thicket. The trick is to look for it in (or lure it into) slightly sparser vegetation and keep very alert to birds darting between denser patches and pausing momentarily before weaving into cover. Often, birds will pop up into clear view once, and then disappear to skulk obstinately thereafter, while tantalizingly continuing to call. Accessible sites are Sir Lowry’s Pass (p.60), Bain’s Kloof Pass (p.81), Harold Porter Botanical Garden (p.62), Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve (p.71) 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