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Sir Lowry's Pass:

This is a classic Cape birding spot in the Hottentots Holland mountains, and provides easy access to two of the fynbos endemics (Cape Rockjumper and Victorin’s Warbler) that, puzzlingly, do not occur on the Cape Peninsula, despite an abundance of apparently ideal habitat. Excellent fynbos birding may be had minutes from the viewsite next to the N2 highway at the summit, just 50 minutes’ drive from the city (along the way, look out for Cape Town’s steadily increasing House Crow population in the vicinity of the N2 airport off-ramp). A rewarding birding walk at Sir Lowry’s Pass can be completed in just two to three hours – longer if you’re waylaid by the remarkable plant diversity of these mountain slopes.

The first hurdle lying between visiting birders and their quarry is a blind corner, on the N2 highway: this needs to be crossed on foot with considerable caution after parking at the viewsite on the southern side of the road (at 1 on map, opposite). Running north of the road is a rocky ridge of minor outcrops leading up to the summit of Kanonkop peak at 2. Winding along its eastern contour is a broad track (3) leading north towards a neck in the mountains at 4 called Gantouw Pass (after the Khoikhoi word for Eland, as this was once the route taken by migrating antelope). Here you will see deep ruts in the soft sandstone, a legacy of the east-bound ox-wagons of traders and those who became restive under British rule in the Cape two centuries ago. By 1821, 4 500 wagons a year were making the crossing, a journey of such epic proportions that one in five wagons never survived it! Close by lie a pair of antique signal cannons that were later installed at the pass. The rocky slopes here are the domain of the Cape Rockjumper (p.73*). The entire length of the ridge between the N2 viewsite and the summit of Kanonkop is in fact prime Cape Rockjumper country, and birders alert to its loud, piping call can be sure to locate a group of these fine birds here (see box opposite).

Birds are scarce in this landscape, but the area does have its rewards. The series of rocky outcrops along the path and the ridges above also hold low densities of Ground Wood-pecker (p.105*), Familiar Chat, Cape Siskin (p.33*), Cape Rock Thrush and, rarely, Sentinel Rock Thrush. Common birds of the dense fynbos between the ridge and gravel track are Grassbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird (p.33*), Neddicky, and Karoo Prinia. Cape Sugarbird (p.33*) and Yellow-rumped Widow occur more sparsely in denser vegetation, such as that growing along the stream under the powerlines.

Victorin’s Warblers (p.73*) can be heard singing from the slightly denser vegetation of the hill slopes. Those unfamiliar with its call should take care to distinguish it from the superficially similar, but less repetitive, song of the more conspicuous Grassbird. Victorin’s Warblers are far more readily lured from cover in this relatively open habitat than in their more typical haunts in impenetrable streamside thicket, such as that found beneath the powerlines at Gantouw Pass, where they are common. Another good area to look for them is in the dense vegetation along the railway track at the bottom of the mountain at 6. To reach this spot, drive past the viewsite, turn left opposite the entrance to Steenbras Dam, and park at the gate. This area also supports Striped Flufftail, although this species is almost impossible to see during the day.

Jackal Buzzard (including at least one potentially confusing white-breasted individual; see p.99), Rock Kestrel and Peregrine Falcon are the most frequently seen raptor species at Sir Lowry’s Pass, although numerous others occasionally pass through the area. These include Black and Martial Eagles, Black Harrier (p.57*) and Red-breasted Sparrowhawk.

Over the crest of Sir Lowry’s Pass, the N2 continues eastwards across a rolling plateau, largely covered in timber plantations and South Africa’s most important deciduous fruit orchards, before dropping suddenly into the wheat-swathed lowlands of the Overberg (see p.63).

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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.

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