Western Cape

Report by Paul and Sally Bartho

23 to 26 August 2016

On the spur of the moment Sally and I decided to spend a few days in Cape Town as our Avios points covered most of the cost.

Like the last time when we went to see the Snowy Egret, we found a hotel in the centre of town – the Inn on the Square. The hotel was comfortable and the room and facilities were good.

Traffic is more than hectic at peak times. So staying in the town centre meant we were travelling in the opposite direction to the hectic traffic at peak times.

Our purpose was to find the Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin in Zeekoevlei and to go to Postberg in the West Coast National Park to see the flowers.

After checking in at the hotel we took a drive in our cheapo rental car to Zeekoevlei to scout the area. It was chilly and windy when we got there at 16h00. Having not been there it was unclear where the bird had been seen. We looked where we thought it might be – based on Trevor’s photos. No luck. Were we looking in the right area or were the conditions unfavourable? A phone call was in order. And we learnt in which general area to look. A large grassy field some 200 by 50 metres – stretching from the car park to the start of a copse of trees.

As it started to get dark we decided that was enough for the day and to come back early the next day.

As we were driving out we had several unexpected sightings – Cape Francolins right out in the middle of the road. The other sighting was more curious as there was this huge spread of tail feathers stretching up some 2 metres in length and it seemed to be courting local Helmeted Guineafowl. It was a Peacock with the longest tail we have ever seen.

The next morning we headed back to try and find the Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin. Now day 40 so what were our chances? We met some staff there and they told us that it had gone. Were we too late? We were the only people there. Rats.

After about half an hour traipsing around in the field getting soaked by the dewy grass we started to wonder. The day was perfect – sunny and windless. Surely it was there and would pop out to cheer up from the dewy night and to find some food.

Another person arrived – Barry. Just arrived back from Singapore the previous day and he had seen it the previous afternoon. Now we were hopeful.

Then Barry calls out “There it is”. We get a glimpse as it flies off into the dense scrub. Patience was the order of the day and it paid off. The Robin came back and displayed on the path 10 metres from us – unfortunately just popping round the corner as we got a decent view of it. However we did get a nice long viewing of it and its behaviour. The striking feature being its vertical cocking of its tail.

The Robin then came and went in the treed area and along the path enabling us to get reasonable good sightings of it.  After about an hour of observing and trying to take photos we decided to leave.

We headed for Rondevlei NR. We did not expect to see much but we had several pleasant surprises.

Two of our first surprises occurred before we entered the Park. I had gone back to collect the tripod and scope while Sally waited for me. On my return she was talking to someone. As I got closer I realised it was a good friend from Durban whom we had not seen in ages – Adam Kahn.

Then the second surprise was a large raptor flying over our heads. At first we thought it might be a Yellow-billed Kite but then as it got closer we realised it was something else – a juvenile BBJ (Big Brown Job). It was only later when we had a good look at the photos that we realised it was a juvenile African Harrier-Hawk.

Most of the birds we saw at Rondevlei were resident species but several Greenshank had returned. Rondevlei has six bird hides overlooking the vlei with a couple of tall lookouts. It was at the second bird hide that we visited that we had our next surprise. Not a bird but a large nocturnal porcupine.


The rest of the day was spent with Sally’s brother in Somerset West.

On Thursday we headed for the West Coast National Park to see the flowers in Postberg. It was about an hour and a half’s drive with little traffic but thick fog in patches.

Our first stop was Geelbek. We went to one of the hides but it was still quite misty and blowing. We saw more species along the walk to the hide than from the hide itself – mostly because it was still high tide. Numerous Greater Flamingos about. On the way we saw Avocets, Cape Teals, Yellow-billed Ducks, Egyptian Geese, Black-winged Stilts, Blacksmith Lapwings and a harrier – either African Marsh or a juv. Black??.

Then we headed for Postberg. Fortunately we arrived early. On departure it was one long stream of cars coming in – it would have been impossible driving around without getting badly frustrated.

The flowers were fantastic – oranges, yellows, golds, whites, lavender blues and the odd red. So hard to capture on film. It was so colourful and extensive.

The landscape had some interesting rock formations as well.

Postberg Rock Formation
Postberg Rock Formation
Postberg Rock Formation
Nature has a hand of its own making.

The animals too surprised me – Zebra with unusual striped markings on their rumps and differently on their bellies, Blesbok, Wildebeest, Oryx, Springbok and Eland.

There were numerous birds as you might expect but the common species were predominantly Lesser Double-collared Sunbirds, Cape Bulbuls, Karoo Prinias, Cape Robin-Chats and Yellow Canaries.

On the way out we had a couple of sightings of Black Harriers – unfortunately some distance away.

Then it was the long drive back to the hotel and an early night in preparation for our very early morning flight back to Durban.

Well worth the Avios Points.

Paul and Sally Bartho

Vumbuka and Umbogavango

Vumbuka and Umbogavango

Saturday 6 August 2016

Report by Elena Russell

The moon was a sliver in the dawn sky and the click of the African Goshawk could be heard overhead and then seen.  We had a good turnout starting off with about 14 members and ending up with 18/19 (the guards had been told about late-comers).

In the beginning a lot of the birding was on call but as the morning warmed up things started to improve.  Red-fronted Tinkerbirds caused a bit of excitement, we then saw the Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds which didn’t quite have the same pulling power!

As we walked through the ‘man-made’ forested area of Vumbuka (it is amazing what AECI have done in reclaiming slime dams and dumps) we identified Southern Boubou, Green-backed Camaroptera, Terrestrial Brownbul, Dark-capped Bulbul, Sombre and Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Bar-throated Apalis, Chinspot and Cape Batis as well as lots of nice flycatchers: Black, Dusky, Ashy, African Paradise.  Our sunbird tally was not too shabby either: Collared, Grey, Olive and Amethyst.   A very confiding Red-capped Robin Chat (aka Natal Robin) gave us one of those special birding moments too.

Tambourine and Red-eyed Doves, Square-tailed and Fork-tailed Drongos in abundance, Yellow-fronted and Brimstone Canaries, Black-collared and dare I say it the ubiquitous White-eared Barbet.

As we came out towards the grassland area there were masses of Africa Palm Swifts and & Black Saw-wings and to a lesser extent Lesser Striped Swallows and Rock Martins.

African Palm-Swift
African Palm-Swift – PB

Here we had Grey and Black-headed Herons, Rattling Cisticola, Bronze and Red-backed Mannikins as well as Tawny-flanked Prinias.  We also had excellent views of a juvenile African Goshawk  as well as an adult flying overhead.

And nearby in the grassy field there were Blacksmith Lapwings and Fan-tailed Widowbirds. African Pied Wagtails were seen in the fenced dam.

We had our tea at Vumbuka and then went on to Umbogavango (maybe a little late for good birding) but a number of Black-headed Orioles greeted us in the car park and a pair of African Fish Eagle delighted us as we set off for our second walk.

We got very excited in trying to identify a raptor. There were two raptors perched at most five metres apart. One was an adult Black Sparrowhawk. The other caused some consternation amongst the group. It was obviously a juvenile – but what? African Harrier-Hawk was one opinion the other a Black Sparrowhawk. In the end the consensus was Black Sparrowhawk (juvenile).

At the last hide not much on the water, Yellow-billed Duck, Little Grebe and Common Moorhen.

A slow walk back to the picnic site where Jenny and Jane were waiting. Did you see the Yellow-billed Kite? They asked. Of course none of us had. Here, an African Jacana entertained us while we had lunch and chatted (remember this is the Saturday Chat Show!!).

Our total bird count was 77 – not too shabby.

Thanks to John and Paul for the pics.