Ground Woodpecker, Betty's Bay
Ground Woodpecker, Betty's Bay

Introduction: 

In birding terms South Africa is a must for both the world lister and the leisure birder. For the leisure birder it’s a wonderfully diverse destination in which to see a lot of birds as well as some of Africa’s iconic mammal species in a seemingly endless array of habitat types. For the world lister however, South Africa is important for the high levels of endemism which make it the most important country on the continent in terms of endemic and near-endemic species. These include 19 true endemics; two breeding endemics; one seasonal endemic; and 45 near-endemics. These are spread out over a large geographical region, and it’s a given that any tour which aims to give a chance for almost all of them is going to be long and cover huge distances. With this almost outrageous goal in mind we have come up with this tour, a mega-birding tour, which will give participants a chance of seeing virtually all of the endemics and a large proportion of the near-endemics. It’s divided into two parts, Western and Eastern, which run back-to-back. The Western section starts in the regional town of Upington in the Northern Cape, with a night in Augrabies Falls National Park before heading westwards to Springbok in Namaqualand, then on to Calvinia in the heart of Bushmanland and then down to the West Coast and the Cape Peninsula before heading eastwards to the Agulhas Plain and the start of the Garden Route, where we begin to get a taste of what the eastern side of the country has to offer. Follow on from here on our Eastern Endemics tour…

8 – 19 November 2019 (11 nights / 12 days)

Starts in Johannesburg (O R Tambo International Airport) on the morning of the 8th November 2019 in time for a connecting flight to Upington. Ends at Cape Town International Airport on the 19th November 2019  in time for afternoon connecting flights to Durban (to continue with the Eastern SA Endemics Tour) or Johannesburg. Please check with use before booking any flights.

2019: ZAR 45 100 per person sharing, ZAR 3 700 single supplement

Price subject to change based on external factors. Price is based on a minimum of 4 participants. Small group surcharge will be levied for groups smaller than 4 participants. Please contact us for more detail.

Includes
• Accommodation
• All meals
• Ground transport
• Bottled water in Lawson’s vehicle whilst travelling
• Entrance fees
• Personalised checklists
• Specialist guide fees

Excludes
• All airfares
• Travel and medical insurance
• All drinks
• Optional excursions where applicable
• Gratuities
• Items of a personal nature

Note
• This itinerary is subject to change due to weather conditions at the time and other factors beyond our control.
• The species mentioned in the itinerary represent only some of the possible ones we may see on the tour, however, none of these can be guaranteed even though every effort will be made where possible to locate them. A full list of possibles appears on your checklist.

Group size: maximum of 12 participants, 1 guide per 6 participants.

Areas visited: Augrabies Falls, Springbok, Calvinia, Langebaan, Cape Peninsula, Swellendam, Wilderness.

Expected weather conditions: the interior will by hot and mildly humid this time of year, whilst the Western Cape will be pleasant but could be quite windy.

Tour tempo: medium-plus to fast paced.

Accommodation standards: medium; guest houses and National Parks accommodation.

Birding in brief: excellent variety of habitats and bird species, strong focus on birding.

Top birds: Sclater’s Lark, Burchell’s Courser, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Black-eared Sparrowlark, Cape Rockjumper, Victorin’s Warbler, Knysna Warbler, Knysna Woodpecker, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Karoo Korhaan and Black Harrier.

Mammal viewing: although not strongly focused on mammals, a good selection of game is possible with Gemsbok, Dassie Rat, Cape Grysbok, Cape Mountain Zebra, Cape Fur Seal and Southern Right Whale.

Other wildlife and attractions: excellent plant diversity in the Cape and Namaqualand, scenic Cape Peninsula.

Add-ons: this tour can be combined with the Eastern South African Endemics set-departure, 16th November – 1st December 2016 / 21st November – 6 December 2017.

Western SA Endemics map
Start Upington / end George. 1: Augrabies Falls. 2: Springbok. 3: Calvinia. 4: Langebaan. 5: Simon's Town. 6: Swellendam. 7: Wilderness.

Day 1: Augrabies Falls National Park
After landing in Johannesburg, we’ll have a short wait before catching our connecting flight to the town of Upington, situated in the heart of the Northern Cape. After picking up our vehicle and loading up our luggage, we’ll complete the drive to the nearby Augrabies Falls National Park, with the camp overlooking the falls as the mighty Orange River cuts its way through the surrounding rock to form an 56m high waterfall followed by an 18km long gorge with some spectacular viewpoints along the way. We hope to arrive here late afternoon to allow us to do some birding in the nearby areas, and we should find a range of species such as Namaqua Warbler, Pririt Batis, Short-toed Rock-Thrush, Orange River White-eye, Pale-winged Starling, Acacia Pied Barbet and Ashy Tit, whilst, time permitting, a drive past a few of the viewpoints may turn up the sought after Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. We’ll spend a comfortable night here listening to the sound of the mighty Orange River crashing down nearby.

Days 2 – 3: Springbok
We’ll be up early for a short morning drive through a nearby section of the park where we’ll try to locate a few species we may still need, such as Double-banded Courser, before returning for breakfast and setting off in the direction of Springbok where we’ll be staying for the next two nights. The road there however provides some excellent birding, and we’ll spend some time at several sites searching for a selection of important species, with top prize arguably going to the quite striking ‘Dune’ form of Red Lark, a distinctly different colour morph compared to the birds found further south. Time permitting we’ll head down a fairly lengthy dirt road towards the Orange River to allow ourselves an opportunity to locate Rosy-faced Lovebird, a difficult bird to locate in South Africa, although the route there also has some good birding with Stark’s Lark, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler and the highly nomadic Burchell’s Courser also being found in this region. Once we get back to Pofadder we’ll check a few nearby sites for the enigmatic Sclater’s Lark before completing the rest of the drive through to Springbok, arriving late in the afternoon. Our full day will be focused on one species, Barlow’s Lark, and we’ll drive across to the coastal town of Port Nolloth, experiencing a very pleasant drop in temperature as we do so, with the cold Benguela Current running along the coast creating a very different habitat compared to the dry interior. Along the way we’ll also search for the similar Karoo Lark, which overlaps slightly with Barlow’s Lark at various sites, and as such, we’ll spend a fair amount of time aiming to get good views of both species in order to ensure a positive ID before we search for some of the other more widespread but none the less interesting birds to be found here. Cape Long-billed Lark is found in the coastal scrub, where it is joined by several other species such as Southern Grey Tit, Cape Penduline-Tit, Southern Double-collared and Malachite Sunbirds. The coastline can also be quite rewarding, with Cape and Crowned Cormorant occurring here alongside African Black Oystercatcher, Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gulls, Caspian, Swift, Common and, if lucky, Damara Terns, with the latter occasionally being seen at a nearby pan where they are known to breed in small numbers. Depending on time, we may choose to drive further north to Alexander Bay, where the Orange River meets the cold Atlantic Ocean, offering us the chance to do some excellent coastal estuary birding. We should encounter a host of species here such as Curlew Sandpiper, Common Whimbrel, Grey Plover and Little Stint, whilst Caspian Tern is regularly seen alongside the typically scarce Damara Tern. Eventually we’ll start to make our way back to Springbok, keeping our eyes open for the fairly widespread Black-headed Canary, as well as the more scarce Damara Canary, although the latter can be quite erratic in its occurrence. Once we arrive back in Springbok, we may opt to search for the scarce Cape Eagle-Owl at a few areas along the outskirts of town after dinner.

Days 4 – 5: Calvinia
By now we would be quite used to our typical daily routine, and we’ll be up fairly early in order to bird the nearby Goegap Nature Reserve where we hope to locate Cinnamon-breasted Warbler and Karoo Eremomela if we haven’t yet done so, while other species we’ll be looking out for include Dusky Sunbird, White-backed Mousebird, Mountain Wheatear, Layard’s Titbabbler and Ground Woodpecker. After breakfast we’ll load everything into the vehicle once more and make our way south to the small town of Calvinia, situated on the edge of the stark and imposing Bushmanland region of the central Karoo. The drive there will be fairly lengthy and it will be considered to be a travelling day. However, we’ll still devote some time to birding at a few sites along the way, where we’ll search for birds such as Cape Long-billed Lark, Spike-heeled Lark, Cape Clapper Lark and Namaqua Sandgrouse. After driving directly south for much of the way we’ll turn inland towards Calvinia, with the imposing Van Rhyn’s Pass providing some spectacular views over the surrounding areas. As we pass through the town of Niewoudtville, the area will become rapidly more arid and stark, and we’ll keep our eyes open for a few additional species along the way such as Ludwig’s Bustard, Black Harrier and Greater Kestrel. We’ll only arrive in Calvinia late the afternoon or early evening and after dinner we’ll be straight off to bed. The next morning we’ll be up with a packed breakfast as we prepare to spend the day exploring the Bushmanland interior in search of a few localized species, with Black-eared Sparrowlark and Sclater’s Lark being at the top of the list. Initially we’ll spend time making our way further north in order to maximize our chances of locating these birds, although roadside species could include the much sought after Black-eared Sparrowlark, Large-billed Lark and Red-capped Lark. A roadside stop at a small dam may turn up South African Shelduck, and Black-necked Grebe, before we continue through to the small town of Brandvlei, briefly stopping to view the South African Cliff-Swallows along the way. Once we reach Brandvlei, we’ll start exploring the smaller dirt roads that branch out from here, with the hotter times of the day often being good for several lark species as they visit the few livestock drinking troughs which are the only sources of dirking water for most of the year in this arid region. We’ll look for a host of different species along the way, such as Red Lark, Karoo Korhaan, Karoo Eremomela, Spike-heeled Lark, Black-eared Sparrowlark and with luck, Burchell’s Courser. We’ll return to Calvinia late the afternoon for a well earned dinner and rest.

Day 6: Langebaan and the West Coast
We’ll be up slightly later than usual, and after breakfast we’ll make our way out to Langebaan where we’ll be based for the evening. The route there will offer some spectacular scenery as we drop down to the coastal plain once more, where we’ll spend some time birding along the way for a few specials, with Protea Seed-eater being one of our main targets for the day. Additional species to look out for include Streaky-headed Seed-eater, Yellow, Cape and White-throated Canaries, Fairy Flycatcher and Layard’s Titbabbler. Along the way we’ll also spend some time birding the excellent Berg River Estuary where a host of shorebirds can be found, with Curlew and Marsh Sandpipers, Little Stint, Ruff, Bar-tailed Godwit and Common Whimbrel all being fairly regular, whilst Eurasian Curlew and Red Knot are present in low numbers, and if we’re lucky, Red-necked Phalarope may even turn up here. Afterwards we’ll have a fairly straightforward drive through to Langebaan, situated just outside of West Coast National Park, which we should arrive at in the late afternoon.

Days 7 – 9: The Cape Peninsula
We’ll be up early again, heading out to the West Coast National Park for the morning, with this being arguably the best site for waders in South Africa, with numerous rarities having turned up on the lagoon shores over the years. We’ll divide our time between birding the tidal mudflats around the Geelbek Hide, where we hope to find a number of waders, many of which we would probably have recorded already but we’ll still aim to locate Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Red Knot, African Black Oystercatcher, White-fronted Plover and Chestnut-banded Plover whilst rarities such as Eurasian Oystercatcher, Black-tailed Godwit and Greater Sand Plover do turn up from time to time. The surrounding bush and scrub will also attract our attention for much of the morning as we aim to locate Grey-winged Francolin, Black Harrier, Cape Penduline-Tit, Karoo Lark and Southern Black Korhaan. Afterwards we’ll return for brunch before we make our way south to the Cape Peninsula, where we’ll be based for the next three nights. During this time we’ll visit a few different spots as we aim to track down a plethora of species. Depending on what time we arrive, on the way onto the Peninsula we may well stop at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens on the slopes of Table Mountain, where our birding will begin. Fynbos specials such as Cape Sugarbird and Orange-breasted Sunbird will be high on our list of ‘must-sees’, while other species we’ll look for include Swee Waxbill, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Lemon Dove, Malachite Sunbird and others. Moving on we’ll head to our guest house in the small village of Noordhoek and spend the rest of our time birding in the area. Sites to visit over the next day include the following:

Kommetjie
This small bay and stretch of rocky shoreline is the favoured roost of Cape, White-breasted, Bank and Crowned Cormorants, as well as Swift, Common and Sandwich Terns. Hartlaub’s Gull is common and African Black Oystercatcher should also be seen. Along the sandy shore we’ll look for White-fronted Plover and low bushes on the inland side often produce Karoo Prinia, while Speckled Pigeons frequent the rocks and houses along the waterfront.

Boulder’s Beach
On the False Bay side of the Peninsula there is a colony of African Penguins, the larger of only two mainland-based breeding colonies, and we will see them up close with wonderful photographic opportunities. The wooded area inland from the colony usually produces White-backed Mousebird, Brimstone and Cape Canaries, Fiscal Flycatcher, Southern Boubou, Southern Double-collared Sunbirds and the common Cape White-eye. Mammals seen here may include Rock Dassie (Hyrax), Cape Fur Seal and Southern Right Whales offshore (though it may be a bit early in the season at this time). We’ll be staying right next to the colony and should have plenty of time with the penguins.

Cape of Good Hope
We drive along the magnificent shoreline to the southern tip of the Peninsula, with the final leg of this lovely journey by funicular railway to Cape Point. This reserve has an excellent representation of fynbos vegetation, with flowering Protea, Leucospermum, Restio and other genera making up one of the richest plant kingdoms on earth. Birds favouring this habitat include Malachite and Orange-breasted Sunbirds, Cape Sugarbird, Cape Grassbird, Cape Bulbul and others. The mountain slopes are favoured by Rock Kestrels, Cape Rock-Thrush, Cape Siskin, Peregrine Falcon and Ground Woodpecker. Mammals on the peninsula include the endemic and striking Bontebok and the endemic Cape Mountain Zebra, plus Eland, the largest of African antelope, and the small Common Duiker. Chacma Baboons will probably also be seen and sadly some have become habituated by people illegally feeding them.

Strandfontein Wetlands
These are actually large water-treatment ponds and the open water as well as the prolific growth of water vegetation makes for a habitat that is very attractive to water birds such as Greater Flamingo, Red-billed and Cape Teals, Maccoa Duck, Cape Shoveler and Southern Pochard, among others. This is a great venue for birding in the ‘English’ style; i.e.: setting up scopes and scanning for new species. On one of the days we’ll also partake in a Pelagic birding tour out of Simon’s Town where we’ll add a great number of species to our list, such as Northern and Southern Giant Petrel, Shy, Black-browed, Atlantic Yellow-nosed, Indian Yellow-nosed and possibly Wandering Albatross, Cory’s, Great and Sooty Shearwater, White-chinned Petrel and Wilson’s and European Storm Petrel, amongst others.

Day 10: Swellendam and the Agulhas Plain
We’ll have an early morning departure from Noordhoek as we head out towards the east to explore the region around Swellendam and the Agulhas Plains, where a number of specials will be high up on our list. Along the way though we’ll stop at a few sites as we try and locate specific species such the highly sought after Cape Rockjumper, with this species being one of the iconic birds of South Africa, along with Drakensberg Rockjumper which we hope to find a few days later. Other species we’ll search for if we haven’t yet found them include Victorin’s Warbler and Cape Siskin, before carrying on to spend the afternoon birding the surroundings for species such as Agulhas Clapper Lark, Denham’s Bustard, Blue Crane, Karoo Korhaan, Agulhas Long-billed Lark, and Black Harrier.

Day 11: Wilderness and the Garden Route
We’ll have an early morning outing to try to locate a fairly specialist species that is only present at a few localities in South Africa, the Damara Tern, with a handful of these birds breeding each year at a nearby site roughly 30 minutes drive away from where we’ll be staying. Other species we’ll search for here include Southern Tchagra, which is fairly common in the dense thickets, whilst African Black Oystercatcher and White-fronted Plover may also be seen. After returning for breakfast we’ll pack up once more and continue to the east with a fairly lengthy drive lying ahead of us. Much of the day will be dedicated to travelling as we try to get to the small town of Wilderness with enough time left to do some afternoon birding. Along the way we’ll stop to search for the tricky Knysna Warbler, whilst some birding around Wilderness may turn up species such as Grey Cuckooshrike, Narina Trogon, Bar-throated Apalis, Scaly-throated Honeyguide and possibly Knysna Woodpecker before calling it a day.

Day 12: Departure
We’ll start our final day with an early birding session to try and track down the skulking Knysna Warbler at a nearby site, before we make our way through to the airport where we’ll have breakfast before our flight back to Cape Town at the end of the tour, where everybody will connect with their international flights back home. For anybody that is continuing on to the Eastern South African Endemics tour, we’ll have a short flight to Durban, where we’ll get our vehicle loaded up and then complete the 3 hour drive through to our destination for the next two nights, the small town of Underberg, and depending on what time we arrive, we could perhaps still have time for some birding before settling in to our guest house for the night.

Join Western SA Endemics!