A trip to South Africa had been on the radar for quite a while. Whilst we originally planned to visit the Western Cape the lure of Big Mammals proved too strong. We eventually ended up spending 9 nights in the Cape Town area before flying to Johannesburg for a further 4 nights in Kruger National Park.
Priority number one was to get out on a Pelagic from Simonstown and we arranged out trip early on in the stay to give us another shot if the wind was too strong. Fortunately we had great weather during the early days of the trip and our Pelagic ran to schedule. We were lucky enough to find eight Trawlers and the sheer number of Seabirds will live in the memory for many years!
We were not so lucky with our planned Shark diving trip out of Gansbaai as following our pelagic we encountered several days of strong winds and heavy rain. This did however enable us to squeeze in some extra birding in the De Hoop area.
We resisted the temptation to hire a guide during our trip and armed with a copy of SASOL South African Birdfinder and a host of trip reports we managed to see a good selection of endemics. With only ten days around the Cape and plenty of time taking photos and Whale watching we naturally missed a few things, but overall we crammed in a good selection of Western Cape endemics.
Checking trip reports prior to our visit, it appeared that Noordhoek was a popular base for a number of Bird tour companies and for our time in the Cape Town area we decided to base ourselves here. We stayed in a self catering annex at http://www.enchantedgarden.co.za/ which we thoroughly recommend.
During the Kruger leg of our trip we stayed athttp://www.bucklersafrica.co.za/ near Komatipoort.
Our rooms overlooked the Crocodile River and offered some excellent opportunities for mammal watching along with quick and easy access to Kruger National Park via the southern Crocodile Gate entrance.
Other accommodation used was Ceres Inn www.ceres.org.za/ceresinn.htm
De Hoop NR- http://www.buchu-bushcamp.com/ within a few miles of park entrance,so ideally placed.
Gansbaai http://www.gansbaybackpackers.com/ booked as part of a Shark dive package but our trip was cancelled due to strong winds.
No Visas required for UK nationals to enter South Africa and we were through passport control in minutes.In the main we cooked for ourselves and the supermarkets in Noordhoek and Komatipoort Catered for our needs. On the couple of occasions we chose to eat out we had little problem in finding a reasonably priced meal.
No need for Antimalarial around Cape Town although we took Malarone whilst in Kruger. However with little recent rain there were no Mosquito's to be seen anyway. Cash points were widely available and whilst electric fences and armed response signs were common in many areas we encountered no problems throughout the trip in terms of personal security.
Thursday 10th September
After an uneventful overnight flight from Heathrow we arrived in Cape Town at 9.30 local time. First bird of the trip was a Pied Crow from the terminal buildings and with no waiver forms to fill in and a quick stamp of the passport, we had probably our fastest ever passage through customs.
First stop was our accommodation for the next week at The Enchanted Gardens in Noordhoek. After getting rid of the luggage we headed off to Kommetjie for our first proper birding of the trip. Although the tide was out , we nevertheless had some great views of Swift Tern and Spotted Thick-knee but failed to find any Bank Cormorants amongst the Crowned and Cape Cormorants, Karoo Prinia helped to get the endemic list going and with the weather quite pleasant we headed off down the coast along Lighthouse Road. We managed to find both White Fronted and Kittlitz,s Plover along some small sandy beaches, whilst in nearby scrub, Grey-backed Cisticola, Bokmakierie and Cape Robin Chat were all on show,. With a weather front moving in off the sea we caught site of a few distant seabirds but they would have to wait until our pelagic on Saturday.
Friday 11th September
With the weather holding up, things were looking up for our pelagic tomorrow.
Meanwhile, today we visited Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens entering via the Rycroft Gate off Klassens Road. We spent several hours working the upper reaches of the park before eventually stopping for lunch down at the restaurant area. Highlight was great views of several Cape Sugarbirds. The supporting cast also included Cape and forest Canaries, African Harrier Hawk and Southern Boubou. We struggled however to find the roost tree for Spotted Eagle Owl, only to eventually find out that workmen had actually cut it down that morning! The Owl was now roosting in grass close to the path and we were able to obtain brief views of it.
Leaving Kirstenbosch mid afternoon we headed down to Strandfontaine Sewage Works. As to be expected waterbirds were plentiful although waders were low in number.Several hours traversing the numerous tracks running along side the various pools produced hundreds of Flamingos, African Marsh Harrier, Lesser Swamp Warbler and Southern Masked Weaver. It also gave our duck list a real boost with Southern Pochard, Maccoa Duck, White Backed Duck, Hottentot Teal, Cape Teal and Cape Shoveler, along with hundreds of Black necked Grebes.
Serrated Hinged Terrapin
Cape Sugar Bird
Saturday 12th September
Up at the crack of dawn today for the most eagerly awaited day of the trip, our pelagic out of Simonstown. With poor weather forecast after today we were relieved to be able to get out , and it started well with Humpback, Southern Right and Bryde`s Whales before we had even left False Bay. As we passed the Cape Light House a group of Common Dolphins, presumably Long-beaked also swam alongside our boat.
Heading south in search of Trawlers we were soon joined by a few White-chinned Petrels. It was not too long before we had our first Shy Albatross beside the boat. Fortunately, our luck was in and some 20+ miles south we located eight Trawlers. The next couple of hours were nothing short of phenomenal, with birds absolutely everywhere around every Trawler. Pintado Petrels numbered in excess of 10,000 birds, whilst the expected Shy and Black Browed Albatross were joined by a single Northern Royal and 2 Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses. We also had to be quick to catch an Atlantic Fulmar Shearing past the boat. Other birds of note included more familiar friends such as Great and Sooty Shearwaters and hundreds of Wilsons Petrels.
Heading back too Simonstown we stopped briefly off the Cape Lighthouse to watch several more Humpback Whales. Back on dry land (phew!) we made the short distance down the coast to Boulders for some sedate photograph opportunity with African Penguin. Final stop of the day was a return to Simonstown and the Salty Sea Dog fish & chip shop - highly recommended!
Long beaked Common Dolphin
White-chinned Petrel and Pintado Petrel
Sunday 13th September
In contrast to yesterday, the weather this morning was awful with strong winds and heavy rain. We decided to head up the West Coast in the hope that the weather would clear but by the time we got to Yzerfontein the rain was still persistent and the hope of seeing Heavisides Dolphin were dashed. A Black Harrier seen from the car was frustratingly brief and we decided to bird the Darling Wildflower route from the car. We soon encountered the first 2 Blue Cranes of the trip, whilst nearby fields held Yellow and Northern Red Bishops, Cloud Cisticola and African Pipit. Persisting with a mystery calling bird close to the car paid off when a Southern Black Korhaan popped up. whilst we could not find any Cape Clapper Larks, we did catch up with Red-capped and large-Billed Larks, Cape Longclaw and Mountain Wheatear. We also came across a solitary Bontebok. Finally late in the afternoon we headed off on the long drive to Ceres where we booked into the Ceres Inn, in preparation for some proper Karoo birding tomorrow.
Southern Black Flycatcher
Jackal Buzzard with Cape Mole Rat
Lower Sabie Rest Area
Black-faced Vervet Monkey
Tuesday 22nd September
Thankfully it was much cooler today and consequently there was much more bird activity. We managed to bump into a nice feeding flock of birds early on, although not being able to get out of the car was somewhat frustrating. New birds included Bennett`s & Cardinal Woodpeckers, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Grey-Tit Flycatcher and Southern White-crowned Shrike, other additions later in the day included Green Wood Hoopoe, Common Scimitarbill, Martial Eagle and Lappet-faced Vulture. However the best part of the afternoon was spent near Lower Sabie, making the most of some photo opportunities with a pair of Cheetahs sat yards from the car, well once we could get into position given the scrum of vehicles!
A final visit into the park this morning failed to produce any big cats although we did succeed in finding a few new trip birds. Grey Penduline Tit, Red-crested Bustard, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Green-capped Eremomola and Red faced Cisticola helped to boost our overall trip total.
Leaving Kruger at midday, it was a long 6 hour journey back to Johannesburg, where we just about managed to follow the road signs to the airport against a low evening sun.
Lesser- Swamp Warbler 5 at Strandfontaine sewage works
African Reed Warbler 1 at Karooport
Cape Grassbird Seen on 4 dates with great views at Silvermine
Green-backed Cameroptera 1 at Kruger
Fairy Flycatcher 2 birds at Karooport
Layard`s Tit Babbler 2 at Karooport
Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler 2 at Karooport
Long-billed Crombec fairly common in Kruger
Yellow-breasted Apalis 1 at Kruger
Bar-throated Apalis up to 7 birds at De Hoop
Cloud Cisticola Single bird on the Darling Wildflower Route
Grey-backed Cisticola Seen on 4 dates, max 6 at Karooport
Croaking Cisticola 1 in Kruger
Rattling Cisticola Regular in Kruger
Levaillant`s Cisticola Excellent views at Strandfontaine
Red-faced Cisticola 1 at Kruger
Namaqua Warbler A single at Karooport
Karoo Prinia common throughout
Tawny-flanked Prinia Common in Kruger
African Dusky Flycatcher Good views in Kirstenbosch and Grootvadersbosch
Grey-tit Flycatcher 2 in Kruger
Southern Black Flycatcher several birds in the grounds of our lodge at Kruger
Fiscal Flycatcher seen at Rooi Els and several more at De Hoop area
African Paradise Flycatcher seen in Kruger on 3 dates
Cape White-eye seen on 6 dates
Cape Batis seen at Kirstenbosch,Constantia Greenbelt and Grootvadersbosch
Chinspot Batis Regular in Kruger
African Pied Wagtail common in Kruger
African (grassland ) Pipit Fairly common in farmland around Western Cape
Plain-backed Pipit 1 along Darling Wildflower Route
Cape Longclaw 3 Eeast of Darling 1 near Karooport
Orange-breasted Sunbird common at Silvermine, De Hoop and Rooi Els
Common Fiscal Regular
Magpie Shrike Common in Kruger
Black-crowned Tchagra 5 in Kruger
Southern Boubou seen on 4 dates
Black-crowned Tchagra 1 in Kruger
Southern Tchagra Seen at Buchu Bush Camp and De Hoop
Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike Single bird in Kruger
Bokmakierie Seen on 5 dates, max 8 near Kommetjie Lighthouse
Southern white-crowned Shrike 4 in Kruger with 4 on 22nd 1 on 23rd
Brubru Daily sightings in Kruger
Black-backed Puffback Seen daily in Kruger
Cape Glossy Starling regular in Kruger
Greater Blue-eared Starling Seen only in Kruger
Burchell`s Starling Fairly common in Kruger
Pale-winged Starling 6 at Karooport
Red winged Starling Common around Cape Town
Common Starling Regular sightings
Wattled Starling A flock of 60 at Komatipoort
African Pied Starling 30 along Darling Wildflower Route, 20 en route to De Hoop
Red-billed Oxpecker Seen daily in Kruger
Cape Sugarbird At Kirstenbosch, Cape of Good Hope and De Hoop
Malachite Sunbird Regular around the Cape
Greater Double-collared Sunbird Single at Grootvadersbosch
Southern Double-collared Sunbird Common in the Cape Town area
White-bellied Sunbird Fairly common in Kruger
Marico Sunbird Small numbers in Kruger
House Sparrow regular sightings
Cape Sparrow Common around Western Cape
Yellow-throated Petronia Singles in Kruger
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow Common in Kruger
Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver Just 1 on our final day in Kruger
Village Weaver 2 in Kruger
Southern-masked Weaver 1 at Strandfontaine
Lesser-masked Weaver Common in Kruger, particularly around the restaurant area at Lower Sabie
Cape Weaver Seen on 4 dates with several roadside colonies along the Darling Wildflower Route
Southern-red Bishop Seen on 4 dates max 100+ along Darling Wildflower Route
Yellow Bishop Not as numerous as Southern but regular
Fan-tailed Widowbird Seen in Kruger on 2 dates
Jameson`s Firefinch 4 Kruger on 20th 6 on 23rd
Red-billed Firefinch Single in Kruger
Common Waxbill Seen on 4 dates with max 10 on 14th
Blue Waxbill Common in Kruger
Green-winged Pytillia Several sightings in Kruger
Bronze Mannikin 5 birds in Bucklers Africa
Yellow Canary 5 Karooport 2 on 17th
Yellow-fronted Canary 10 at Kruger
Forest Canary 5 Kirstenbosch
Cape Siskin up to 15 birds at Rooi Els
Cape Canary Fairly common around the Cape
Common Chaffinch 3 at Kirstenbosch
White-throated Canary 2 at Karooport 4 at De Hoop
Black-headed Canary 5 Karooport
Golden-breasted Bunting A few in Kruger
Cape Bunting Good numbers in Karooport
Lark-like Bunting 6 at Karooport
Bryde`s Whale Good views on the way out of False Bay
Humpback Whale Excellent views of several animals around the Cape Lighthouse
Southern Right Whale Superb views along the coast at several locations from Hermanus to Cape Agulhas often seen just off shore in the surf. Also seen off the pelagic.
Common Dolphin prob Long Beaked Few seen during Pelagic.
Cape Fur Seal Great views during pelagic
Chacma Baboon Several troops in Kruger also seen at the Cape of Good Hope.
Vervet Monkey Fairly common in Kruger.
Black-backed Jackal Excellent views at a Lion kill in Kruger.
Wild Dog A group of 12 animals resting within feet of our vehicle in Kruger will live long in the memory for a long time. Brilliant!
Yellow Mongoose Several sightings in farmland around the Cape with 2 on the Darling Wildflower Route and 2 near De Hoop.
Small (cape) Grey Mongoose 2 Along Darling Wildflower Route.
Spotted Hyena Great views in Kruger.
Lion We managed 2 sightings whilst in Kruger. Several Lions guarding a kill (Giraffe) surrounded by a whole host of Vultures, Jackals and Hyenas, also a roadside group early one morning just after entering the park.
Cheetah Following a tip off and despite the scrum of vehicles we eventually had superb views of a pair sat under a tree during the heat of day.
Cape Rock Hyrax 1 at Boulders and 5 at Betty`s bay and a few at Yzerfontaine.
African Elephant Common in Kruger with a few hairy moments when a few Bulls got a little too close to our vehicle.
Cape Mountain Zebra Distant views of 5 animals on the far side of the Viel at De Hoop.
Burchell`s Zebra Common in Kruger.
White Rhinoceros Quite a few close range encounters in Kruger.
Hippopotamus Plenty of sightings in Kruger.
Common Warthog Regular sightings in Kruger.
Giraffe Lots of close range views in Kruger.
African Buffalo Max count of 50 in Kruger.
Greater Kudu Regular in Kruger.
Eland Single animal on the Cape of Good Hope.
Steinbuck Several seen in Kruger.
Klipspringer An animal appeared on rocks as we watched a group of Wild Dogs.
Waterbuck Several in Kruger.
Springbok Good views in the Eiercop area.
Impala Very common in Kruger.
Bontebok 1 on Darling Wildflower Route and 7 at De Hoop.
Wildebeast Good views in Kruger.
Eastern Grey Squirrel 1 on the 15th
Nile Crocodile Common in Kruger.
A massive thanks to Alex for taking the nightly log and for this draft.