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Karoopoort to Eierkop

Emerging from the Koue Bokkeveld mountains and onto the semidesert plains of the Tanqua Karoo, one soon reaches a fork in the road (2 on map). In contrast with their unassuming appearance, each of these roads is associated with a South African record: the R356, to the right, leads to the town of Sutherland, which, thanks to its crisp, pollution-free desert skies, is the site of a world-class astronomical observatory. Rather less alluringly, it is ill-famed as the coldest place in the country! To the left is the R355 to Calvinia, similarly notorious as the longest road in South Africa uninterrupted by a town (250 km in all). The surface is of good quality gravel, but travellers driving all the way to Calvinia should nonetheless come well prepared with fuel and emergency water supplies — and should remember to check their spare wheel (see also p.10). Birders should be particularly aware that braking suddenly on these roads could well result in a damaged tyre, as the gravel in this region is iniquitously sharp.

Common birds of the relatively moist scrublands just north of the road fork are Pale Chanting Goshawk, Karoo Lark, Karoo Chat, Yellow Canary and, more scarcely, Sickle-winged Chat and Southern Black Korhaan (p.57*). At 3, the road is crossed by an acacia-lined rivercourse where Pririt Batis (p.85*) and Titbabbler occur. You may notice the farm name ‘Tierkloof’ (see p. 8), referring to the Leopard (Panthera pardus) that still roam this region, although they are secretive and, sadly, now very scarce.

At 4 is a large dam, visible some distance to the east of the road. More often than not, the water level is low and the associated waterbirds are distant, reduced to amorphous shimmering blobs in the telescope. Nonetheless, it is worth the 200-m stroll down from the road to the farm fence to scan the water, as the adjacent scrub is, in any case, always good for a number of bird species. South African Shelduck and Greater Flamingo are often present on the dam, and Namaqua Sandgrouse occasion-ally fly in to drink. The dam is situated on the game reserve Inverdoorn; please respect the fence — there are rhino to enforce the law!

One kilometre further on, at 5, there is a prominent sandy intrusion on the landscape. A small group of Anteating Chats is usu-ally present on these low, vegetated dunes. These most peculiar birds nest in burrows, hence their association with a soft substrate.

An excellent spot to look for several key Karoo specials is the distinctive pair of tillite hills straddling the road at 6. An inconspicuous gravel track, easily negotiable by two-wheel-drive, leads 500 m east from the R355 to the base of Eierkop, the right-hand hill. Eierkop (‘egg-hill’) probably owes its name to the tiny, smoothed pieces of ostrich egg shells found on the summit; these were probably left by the early San hunter-gatherers, whose paintings are found in nearby rock shelters. Eierkop is arguably the most access-ible site worldwide for Karoo Eremomela (p.85*). A small party is more often than not present on the plains surrounding this hill, moving quickly and inconspicuously from bush to bush, usually keeping an infuriat-ingly fixed distance ahead of their observers. Be sure to stay alert to their two calls (see p.85). Other common and typical birds of this habitat are Karoo Lark, Karoo Chat, Rufous-eared Warbler and Grey-backed Cisticola. The slightly denser scrub around the base of Eierkop supports Southern Grey Tit, White-throated Canary, Malachite Sunbird and, in spring during years of good rainfall, Black-headed Canary (p.105*) and Lark-like Bunting.

The short scramble up to the top of Eierkop is well worth the effort: the summit is bedecked with an intriguing diversity of succulents, and provides stunning panoramic views over the surrounding expanse of brown desert plains and shimmering purple mountains.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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