Friday, January 9, 2015

South Africa - The Tour Part 4

Nature in the Western Cape region of South Africa is so special and is complimented by scenically stunning vistas throughout the area. It was the perfect place to spend our last few days in this wonderful country. From Table Mountain, Cape Rockjumper in the Rooi Els, to an unforgettable day on the ocean enjoying a productive paleagic trip (Photo left Shy Albatross), ensured the tour extension was a great success. I hope you enjoy reading this penultimate episode in the series of blogs related to Worldwide Birding Tours 2014 tour of South Africa, perhaps you may even be tempted to join us in 2015.

South Africa THE tour: Part Four of our amazing nature tour. A trip report/blog
Tour Leader: Peter Jones (Worldwide Birding Tours, Co-author and Editor)
        Dylan Vasapolli (Birding Guide & Main Author)

Cape Sugarbird
Preface. Because of the length of this tour, 3 weeks, there is so much to tell you and thus I have broken this blog, or more correctly Trip Report, into 5 parts! The final part will be a bird species list and a mammal list. I hope you can forgive the drawn out nature of these information packed day by day accounts of my tour. This comprehensive tour of South Africa by Worldwide Birding Tours undertook a 3-week journey across eastern South Africa, and down into the Western Cape of South Africa. Starting in Durban on the scenic Kwazulu-Natal coast, we slowly worked our way northwards taking in the rolling hills and forests of Eshowe down to the coastal forest and bushveld of the greater Isimangaliso Wetland Park, before heading up to the high-altitudinal grasslands surrounding the endemic hotspot of Wakkerstroom. Kruger was next on the agenda, where a few days were spent enjoying this true natural side of Africa, before heading onto Cape Town and the Western Cape via Dullstroom. Some time was spent on the Cape Peninsula itself, before heading up the west coast to the sleepy village of Langebaan, thereby bring the tour to an end some three weeks later. Due to the length of the tour, and variety of habitats taken in, a mammoth total of nearly 470 species of bird were found on the tour! Photographs from the paleagic trip courtesy of Dylan Vassapolli.

Cape Grassbird
Day 17, 7 December – Day around Cape Peninsula
We had got word yesterday that our Paleagic Trip would be postponed for today, and could still run tomorrow, so we all had our fingers crossed hoping we would get out! As a result, we had planned a morning excursion to Rooi Els, followed by Strandfontein Bird Sanctuary in the afternoon. Arriving at Rooi Els as the sun was warming up the slope seemed to work the magic. We had a great run of birding, and got brilliant views of Ground Woodpecker, Cape Rockjumper (obviously high on everyone’s ‘hit-list’) and we did have to work for them until we eventually were rewarded with great views; Cape Rock Thrush, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Karoo Prinia, Grey-backed Cisticola, White-necked Raven, Rock Kestrel, Cape Grassbird, Rock Martin, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and another of our main targets – Victorin’s Warbler. Whilst a few of us were patiently waiting for the Warbler to show itself, a few of the other guys in the group managed to lock onto a Cape Siskin. The Warbler took some time, and after a small brain-wave we were rewarded with good, but brief views. Despite spending some more time birding the area, we would have to call it quits on the Siskin momentarily for those who missed it. We enjoyed a great lunch, during which we also found out our paleagic would be heading out tomorrow, before heading onto Strandfontein. The birding was great, and the spectacle of thousands of Greater Flamingos kept everyone enthralled for a while! Great White Pelican, African Marsh Harrier, Maccoa Duck, Black-necked Grebe, Pied Avocet, African (Black) Oystercatcher, Caspian and Sandwich Terns and a host of other great waterbirds were on show. Cape Spurfowl was one of the non-waterbird highlights and a Small Grey Mongoose on the mammalian side of things.

Cory's Shearwater
Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross
Black-browed Albatross
Southern Giant Petrel
Day 18, 8 December – Paleagic off Cape Point
With smiles all round, we set off for Simonstown high in anticipation for our paleagic trip. After quickly refuelling the boat, we were off and bound for the oceanic waters off Cape Point. We enjoyed the rafts of Cape Cormorants en-route out. Just before the point we clocked our first true pelagic species, White-chinned Petrel. After enjoying the views of Cape Point, the shout went up for Giant Petrel – we had some good looks as it shot on past the boat allowing us to confirm it as a Northern Giant Petrel. It wasn’t too long afterwards before we got our first Sooty Shearwater, followed by Cory’s Shearwater and some brief Sabine’s Gulls. Shy Albatross was our first Albatross, and it gave some great views as it followed in our wake for a while. Rafts of Arctic Terns would shoot up off the water, and we successfully managed to locate a group of fishing vessels – all with large numbers of seabirds in their wake. Amongst the crowds, we picked out Atlantic Yellow-nosed, Indian Yellow-nosed, Black-browed and Shy Albatrosses, both Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Brown (Sub-antarctic) Skua, Great and Cory’s Shearwaters, White-chinned Petrel and better looks at Sabine’s Gull. The journey back was interrupted by a huge pod of Common Dolphins, numbering a few hundred at least! We picked up on the water ‘shimmering’ in the distance, and headed over to see what it was. We all thoroughly enjoyed this surprise! Numbers of Cape Gannets and Cory’s Shearwaters followed the pod. A few Parasitic Jaeger sightings just off the point rounded up the paleagic species. We enjoyed good views of Bank Cormorant just offshore, and in the harbour a lone Crowned Cormorant perched. We quickly shot off for the nearby Boulders Penguin Colony, and enjoyed some time with the birds here as they went about their daily activities. Cape Bulbul and Fiscal Flycatcher delayed us a little bit before dinner.

Spotted Eagle Owl
Day 19, 9 December – Cape Town to Langebaan
Today we were transferring up the coast to Langebaan, and as some of us had missed the previous Cape Siskin sighting, we shot off for a nearby alternative. As soon as the sun had warmed up the rocks, we had our Siskin and enjoyed the antics of a small party of them. Cape Bunting, Cape Grassbird, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird and a few confiding Neddickies kept us company throughout the morning. After a good breakfast, we headed off up to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, but not before getting eyes on one of the Common Chaffinches around the lodge. We got all of our main targets at Kirstenbosch except Lemon Dove – African Dusky Flycatcher, Forest Canary, Swee Waxbill and Spotted Eagle-Owl. We had great views of the resident Owl pair, and their two large chicks. After combing through the gardens, we headed up to West Coast National Park, but not before taking in a scenic view of Table Mountain. After lunch at Geelbek, we popped into a few of the hides, and also paid a visit to Abrahamskraal, the only freshwater in the park. We managed to get a good sampling of birds, and on the waterbird front found Eurasian Curlew, Marsh and Curlew Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, Grey Plover, Common Whimbrel, Lesser Flamingo and South African Shelduck amongst many others. We also enjoyed great looks at Grey-winged Francolin, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Black Harrier, White-backed Mousebird, a brief Southern Black Korhaan, Namaqua Dove and Yellow Canary. African Rail and Little Rush-Warbler taunted us with their calls, but wouldn’t show at all. There was a stiff wind blowing, so that didn’t help our cause either. Eland and Red Hartebeest were seen on the mammalian side.

Verreaux's Eagle
Day 20, 10 December – Day around Langebaan
Up at first light, and off we went into the farmlands north of Langebaan. A quick coffee break got us underway, and a stop for a Booted Eagle produced an unexpected Chestnut-vented Warbler (Tit-babbler). Before long we were stopping regularly for the likes of Capped Wheatear, Sickle-winged Chat, Black Harrier, Red-capped Lark, Large-billed Lark, White-throated Canary, Bokmakierie, Blue Crane and our main target – Cape Long-billed Lark. The Long-billed Lark was relatively straight forward, and after a bit of time in the gale-force wind we had enjoyed both great views of displaying birds, and views on the ground. We were also most fortunate to come across a close Secretarybird, and as we piled out the van to watch it, we noticed it had some vegetation in its bill, and it took off and flew to a nearby bush, where it landed on its nest up on the top of the bush! A second bird appeared from behind the bush and we enjoyed them for a while before moving on. A skittish Bat-eared Fox in the fields was a surprise find. Next up was a visit to the salt works at Velddrif, where we went looking for Chestnut-banded Plover. We spent some time walking around the various pans, and enjoyed looks at both Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Black-necked Grebe and all the regular small plovers (White-fronted, Common Ringed, Kittlitz’s and Three-banded) except Chestnut-banded. With lunch calling, we had to exit the saltworks. After a great seafood lunch, we quickly visited the Riviera hide, to find not much happening, and decided to spend the afternoon back in the West Coast National Park. The drive up to the Seeberg lookout provided great views of two Southern Black Korhaans walking right next to the track. After soaking in the views (and avoiding being blown off the viewpoint back to Johannesburg) we set off for the hide. Grey-winged Francolins and Angulate Tortoise delayed us. At the hide, we enjoyed a few roosting Little Terns, amongst the Commons, along with numbers of roosting Common Whimbrel. A quick visit to the Langebaan quarry failed to produce the Verreaux’s Eagles. We enjoyed a fantastic final dinner before calling in for the evening.

Secretary Bird
Day 21, 11 December – Langebaan to Cape Town, and end of tour
A few of us were up at dawn, and shot over to the nearby Quarry to try again for the Eagle. It didn’t take long, and we had our first perched views of the Verreaux’s Eagle, however, it soon moved off and out of sight. In the process we enjoyed numerous Familiar Chats and Rock Kestrels. We decided to check another section of the quarry and found the pair of Eagles perched against the distant rock face. We got to a respectable distance from them and bathed in their beauty for a while. We birded the scrub en-route out and came up trumps with a small group of Grey Tits, along with White-backed Mousebird, Yellow Canary and Karoo Scrub-Robin. After breakfast we bade farewell to some of the group, who had opted for a day excursion up Table Mountain, and had later flights booked, whilst some of us with early afternoon flights popped into the West Coast National Park for some last birding. We visited the Seeberg hide again, and enjoyed a plethora of birds this time around. Huge numbers of waders with Red Knot, Eurasian Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit being the highlights. Cape Penduline Tit was seen in the scrub around the parking area, and came in for great views! All too soon we were on the road back to the airport, and with it brought the end of a highly successful tour!

Cape Point
African Penguin
Cape Fur Seal
Cape Cormorant
The final piece in this story (Part 5) will focus on the systematic list of birds and mammals seen, so for those with an interest watch out for the next blog. My heartfelt thanks go to Dylan, not only for taking time to write the main content to these blogs, but for being such great company too. The tour owed so much to Dylan and his expert guiding, good humour and safe driving! Thank you for reading the series on this most wonderful of nature tours and hope you enjoyed it. For full details of our itinerary on this tour, click on this link

Kittlitz's Plover
To see other destinations we visit, please see our main website. Thank you