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Darling Farmlands and Wildflowers

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Returning from Silwerstroomstrand to the R27, continue for a further 9.3 km before turning right onto a gravel road marked ‘Darling Hills Road’ (opposite the conspicuous ‘Grotto Bay’ sign; look for the yellow flags, 1 on site map, above). Clapper Lark (p.116*) and Southern Black Korhaan (p.57*) occur in the patch of vegetation at the junction of these two roads, and are most conspicuous when they are vocal in spring. Continue along the Darling Hills gravel road for 0.6 km until you reach a small pond (dry in late summer) on the left, where Avocet and Three-banded Plover can often be seen. Pied Starlings have burrowed their breeding tunnels into a sandy bank here, and a male Pin-tailed Whydah often displays overhead.

This area is most active in winter and spring, when the surrounding wheatlands are filled with birds; after the summer harvest it becomes progressively drier and less active. Small numbers of Blue Crane (p.72*) may be found in the adjacent fields (2 on map), especially in summer. Red-capped Lark, Capped Wheatear, Familiar Chat, Grassveld Pipit and Cape Sparrow are common in this vicinity. In spring and summer, look overhead for Banded Martin and Pearl-breasted Swallow among the more numerous Greater Striped and European Swallows.

Continue along the Darling Hills road, and look out for the small stream passing under the road at 3. A Masked Weaver colony is present in the large tree on your right at this point, and in spring a parasitic Diederik Cuckoo lurks around its edges. We have seen all three mousebird species perched in a single bush here! The road continues along a winding, overgrown river course until you reach a bridge (4). White-throated Swallow breeds under the bridge, and the alien vegetation in this vicinity holds Fiscal Flycatcher, Acacia Pied Barbet and Cardinal Woodpecker. Titbabbler and Long-billed Crombec may be found in the remnant natural scrub. Listen out at any stand of exotic trees in this area for Klaas’s Cuckoo, African Hoopoe and the scarce Greater Honeyguide. Occasionally, Secretarybird is seen stalking the open fields along the road, and Namaqua Dove may be seen in summer. The route intersects a tar road (the R307; 5 on map); just before turning left towards Darling, take a quick scan for the Jackal Buzzard that often perches in this area.

Roadside birding in the wheatlands of the Swartland, near Darling

If you’re passing through these parts at any time between August and October, do pay a visit to the Waylands Wildflower Reserve (6) where renosterveld vegetation occurs (see p.7). The vivid colours and massive diversity of flowering bulbs are truly spectacular and are sure to impress even the most hardened of birders. This is also an excellent place to see Clapper Lark. In 1998, a major irruption of Black-headed Canary (p.105*) and Ludwig’s Bustard (p.105*), two arid-country species normally found much further north in Namaqualand and the Karoo, occurred in this part of the Cape. Large numbers of both these species invaded the area for some weeks, and the canaries even bred here. Continuing towards Darling, the tiny Oudepos Wildflower Reserve (7) provides further great birding and flower viewing, and can be enjoyed from the comfort of your car. You’ll see the white gateway to the reserve on your left, directly opposite the R315 turn-off to Malmesbury. A few pairs of Cloud Cisticola (p.57*) breed here, and Orange-throated Longclaw, Thick-billed Lark, Grassveld Pipit and Yellow Canary are also common. A small group of Spotted Dikkop, which can sometimes be quite difficult to see, roosts in the gardens near the main building which, incidentally, is the largest orchid nursery in the southern hemisphere.

The quaint town of Darling, home to a number of local artists including the internationally renowned political satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys, appears rather unhurried, except perhaps during the peak flower season. It is an excellent place to take a short break from birding and enjoy a light meal. Little Swifts breed in the town and can almost always be seen wheeling overhead. Cape Canary can also be seen in the town. The Wildflower Reserve, adjacent to the town itself, is worth a visit in spring if you have time.

Continue through Darling along the R315 towards Yzerfontein (poorly signposted), which eventually intersects the R27. The unassuming Tienie Versveld Nature Reserve lies on the left at 8. There are no facilities here, but its presence is betrayed by a small sign and a stile over the fence. For most of the year, it resembles an ordinary, abandoned field, but in spring it undergoes a spectacular transformation, becoming a vast mosaic of flowers. It is best known among birders as an excellent site for Cloud Cisticola (p.57*), which is common in the areas of taller grass. Common Quail (summer), Thick-billed and Red-capped Larks, Capped Wheatear, Orange-throated Longclaw and Grassveld Pipit are also found here. The seasonally flooded marsh often holds Ethiopian Snipe, and Blue Crane (p.72*) is an occasional early morning visitor to the reserve.

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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