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South Africa Western Cape Province

A 13-day, small group birdwatching tour to South Africa

We travel to South Africa’s wildlife-rich Western Cape Province at the best time of year for seeing its abundant birds and amazing wildflowers. A host of regional endemic birds - from African Penguin and Black Harrier through to Cape Sugarbird and Cape Rockjumper... Plus a world-class seabird pelagic, Southern Right Whales off The Cape, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, the iconic Table Mountain and vast swathes of colourful wildflowers as the spectacular Cape Floral Kingdom hits peak of flowering.

Tour Dates

2019

Spaces
5

Leaders
Dalton Gibbs

Max Group Size: 6
Duration: 13 Days

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Cost: £4595

inc flights from London Heathrow-Cape Town, nonstop with British Airways

Deposit: £600

Single Supp: £395
Land Only: £3895

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African Penguins coming ashore Boulders Cape South Africa Callan Cohen IMG 0038

African Penguins coming ashore at Boulders Beach - seeing them is a major highlight of any spring visit to Cape Province © Callan Cohen

The wildlife of western South Africa is extraordinary. Nowhere else in Africa offers such a high level of endemism in such a uniquely accessible setting. No fewer than 47 of South Africa’s 58 endemic and near-endemic bird species occur in the region, as well as 70% of all southern Africa’s 180 endemic birds - many of which we shall see on this exciting tour! Complementing its unrivalled birdlife is the scenic and botanical wealth of Cape Province, which contains two of Africa’s four plant biodiversity hotspots - the renowned Cape Floral Kingdom and the Karoo, the world’s richest area for succulents.

The coastal endemic birds, including African Penguin and African Black Oystercatcher, are rivalled by spectacular offshore concentrations of albatrosses. In the fynbos vegetation, often against a backcloth of dramatic mountain scenery, we will look for Cape Rock-jumpers and Ground Woodpeckers hopping on the rocky slopes above, and Cape Sugarbirds and Orange-breasted Sunbirds flitting among the flowers.

The Karoo semi-desert offers many fine endemics, too. We have a good chance of seeing four bustard species, along with graceful Blue Cranes, South Africa's national bird. Few sights can rival that of the striking Black Harrier quartering low over the West Coast shrublands and we'll make a special effort to find this magnificent species.

Smallest of the world’s six floral kingdoms, the Cape Floral Kingdom is also one of the richest on earth. Comprising largely fynbos vegetation, this tiny pocket lying at Africa’s southernmost extremity holds an incredible 8,700 species of plants! Bordering it to the north is the Succulent Karoo, a winter-rainfall desert that can also burst into flower unpredictably at this season. For many species, September sees the peak of flowering.

Our tour will introduce you to the best of the endemic birds and characteristic habitats of the Western Cape - at the very best time of year. We've reworked our itinerary for this year's tour whilst retaining all the key sites, so we spend less time travelling and have fewer changes of hotel. We'll visit the world famous botanical gardens at Kirstenbosch, take a day-trip off Cape Town (weather permitting) on one of the world’s most celebrated pelagic boat trips in search of seabirds and Southern Right Whales, and explore some of western South Africa’s finest reserves and national parks - all while staying at a selection of the region's most charming lodges and guesthouses.

Limosa has been operating a wide-ranging programme of birding tours to Southern Africa since 1998 and this 2019 trip will be our ninth tour to Western Cape Province. Guide Dalton Gibbs is a conservator for the City of Cape Town (South Africa) and runs Rondevlei Nature Reserve, where - apart from ensuring Cape Town’s last protected areas remain intact - his responsibilities include monitoring bird breeding colonies and chasing down escaped hippos!

All in all, South Africa has that rare combination of scenic splendour and wonderful wildlife, coupled with good food, great accommodation and excellent field guides that makes for a truly marvellous birdwatching holiday. Backed by the exclusive services of our specialist local agents in Cape Town and with one of the country's top-rated wildlife experts to guide us, this 13-day tour to South Africa offers an unrivalled wildlife experience!

3AFR view Table Mountain across the bay Cape South Africa Callan Cohen P1090778

View across the bay from the Cape of Good Hope Reserve looking back towards Cape Town and the iconic Table Mountain © Callan Cohen

Day 1
FLY CAPE TOWN

Our September birdwatching tour to South Africa begins with a British Airways overnight flight from London Heathrow to Cape Town.

Days 2-4
CAPE PENINSULA, CAPE TOWN SEABIRD PELAGIC BOAT TRIP & HOTTENTOTS HOLLAND MOUNTAINS

We arrive in Cape Town on the morning of day two, where Dalton will be waiting to welcome us at the start of our tour.

Considered to be one of the most scenic stretches of coastal landscape in the world, the Cape Peninsula is among Africa's premier tourism destinations. For birdwatchers, it provides an excellent introduction to the exciting and varied birdlife of Cape Province, as well as easy access to a good selection of fynbos, forest and coastal endemics.

Our base is not far from the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. Widely recognised as one of the finest botanical gardens in the world, Kirstenbosch would be an essential destination for its pleasing landscapes and spectacular floral displays alone. But the well-maintained gardens and adjacent fynbos and indigenous forest also support a diverse selection of bird species. Here we hope for point-blank views of several fynbos endemics, such as Cape Sugarbird and Orange-breasted Sunbird, as well as a number of forest species including Forest Canary and Cape Batis.

The rugged coastline and windswept moorlands of the Cape of Good Hope Reserve at the southwesternmost tip of Africa are now incorporated into the Table Mountain National Park. This spectacular reserve is excellent for seawatching and one of the best places to see the fynbos endemic, Cape Siskin, which is best searched for in the vicinity of the cliff view points at Cape Point. We should also see the remarkable Bontebok antelope, once one of the world’s most threatened species with less than fifty individuals remaining. Returning from the Cape of Good Hope, Boulders Beach is the site of the larger of the two mainland colonies of the endearing and globally threatened African Penguin. Over 1000 pairs nest here, peering suspiciously from their shallow, sheltered burrows at their now considerable following of human visitors!

It is possible to see over 100 species of birds in a day at the extensive Strandfontein sewage works, arguably the best waterbird locality close to Cape Town. We’ll spend a few hours here on one of our days in Cape Town, where specialities include Greater Flamingo, Great White Pelican, Maccoa Duck, African Marsh Harrier, African Swamphen, South African Shelduck and African Fish Eagle.

We will plan to head out to sea on the first day of suitable weather, taking one of the Cape’s world famous seabirding trips.*1  Pelagic species - those that breed on land but otherwise remain at sea - congregate around the trawlers, making them easy to locate and approach. The high point of a pelagic birding trip is sure to be that of wallowing behind a trawler with up to 5000 seabirds squabbling for scraps in its wake. At this time of year, day-trippers regularly see up to 30 different species, making it arguably the World's most memorable yet easily accessible seabirding experience. We should also see Southern Right Whales from the boat, for the females migrate to the Cape to calve in the shallow waters here.

[ *1  Pelagic boat trip - please note: we have a very high success rate at finding trawlers that the seabirds follow, but this is never guaranteed! Note also that the pelagic is entirely weather dependent and we won't go if conditions are unsuitable. For anyone who prefers not to join the boat trip, today offers an ideal opportunity to enjoy some private sightseeing in Cape Town or maybe to return to wonderful Kirstenbosch.]

Across the sandy, low-lying flats that lie east of Cape Town, a barrier of mountains interrupts the landscape - the haunt of the Cape Rock-jumper and other fynbos endemics. Our first stop will be to explore the mountain fynbos at Rooiels, a classic Cape birding spot in the Hottentots Holland Mountains. We’ll search a rocky ridge, keeping alert for the loud piping call of the rock-jumpers and looking out for Cape Grassbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Neddicky and Karoo Prinia. Victorin's Warblers can be heard singing from the denser vegetation of the hill slopes.

Nearby, at Betty’s Bay the jumble of lichen-splattered boulders provides a safe roost for good numbers of terns, gulls and cormorants, and is where we will search for a number of endemic or localised coastal species. These include the Benguela endemics Cape, Crowned and Bank Cormorants, Hartlaub’s and Kelp Gulls, and African Black Oystercatcher. The highlight here though is the nesting African Penguins that rest on the slipway or waddle ashore to their burrows in the village.

This area is also remarkably diverse in Erica species and we’ll see many mountain fynbos specials. It’s also an excellent area to see and understand the critical effect fire has on these ecosystems.

Throughout our stay of three nights here, we will be based at a comfortable guesthouse on the Cape Peninsula, which has superb birding from the garden! Three nights on the Cape Peninsula

Days 5-6
WEST COAST NATIONAL PARK

The southwestern Cape’s western seaboard, stretching along the Atlantic shores from Cape Town northwards to the Olifants River, is best known for its superb beaches, bountiful sea-life, internationally-recognised coastal wetlands and spring wildflower displays - which are nothing short of spectacular!

The birding here is wonderful too, with an abundance of migrant waders and other waterbirds to watch for, plus the rewarding strandveld, where highlights could well include the quiet elegance of a Black Harrier, hunting low over the scrublands of the West Coast National Park, or a secretive Chestnut-vented Warbler or Bar-throated Apalis.

We’ll drive up from Cape Town, birding our way along the coast and eventually ending up in the West Coast National Park, which we will have ample time to explore. Southern Black Korhaan is a notable local speciality, and we should see waterbirds such as Great White Pelican, Greater and Lesser Flamingos, and Chestnut-banded Plover. Two nights Langebaan (at the edge of West Coast National Park)

Days 7-8
TANKWA KAROO

After enjoying some final birding on South Africa's West Coast, we'll head towards Ceres, which will our base for two nights as we explore the Tankwa Karoo and adjacent areas.

The Tankwa Karoo is best known for the unpredictable yet spectacular spring floral displays that provide such a colourful yet ephemeral façade to a fascinating region. This winter-rainfall desert is home to a unique arid-land flora that is unparalleled globally in terms of its diverse mixture of both species and growth forms. The region forms the largest portion of the Succulent Karoo Biome, recognised as the only desert biodiversity hotspot on earth and hosting the world’s greatest variety of succulent plants.

The parched brown expanses, aloe-lined escarpments and lonely isolated hills of the provide an apt setting for some sought-after dry western endemics and a whole new view of the botany! Emerging from the hills and onto the semi-desert plains of the Tankwa Karoo, one enters a whole new habitat for birds, too – where almost everything is an endemic! We’ll take the R355 towards Calvinia, famous as ‘the longest road in South Africa uninterrupted by a town’ (250km in all).

Common birds of the relatively moist scrublands just north of the road fork are Pale Chanting Goshawk, Karoo Lark, Karoo Chat, Rufous-eared Warbler, Grey-backed Cisticola and Yellow Canary. We’ll search for Karoo Eremomela; a co-operative breeder, it occurs in small, agitated flocks that remain constantly on the move, thoroughly gleaning low bushes before the birds follow each other onwards. And we’ll visit a special rocky hillside where we might even see the elusive and little-known Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, one of the tougher Karoo endemics to set eyes on!

As we head north, bushes are few and far between and the ground gleams with the mineral patina of the desert pebbles. This is classic Tractrac Chat country: birds are most often spotted as they flush near the road and display their white rumps as they fly a short distance to perch again on a fence or low bush. Spike-heeled Lark is also regularly seen. From this point on, we’ll be alert for Black-eared Sparrow-lark, a nomadic species found throughout the Karoo and which often moves around in flocks. It is also worth keeping an eye out for pairs of superbly camouflaged Karoo Korhaan. We might also find Springbok, an antelope occurring in the arid areas of southern Africa.          

If we are lucky enough to visit after recent rain, we will see that pools forming close to the road invariably attract South African Shelduck and thirsty flocks of Namaqua Sandgrouse. We’ll search for Namaqua Warbler in the watercourses and if we’re really fortunate, may even spot a Burchell’s Courser on the plains in areas where we’ve seen them in the past. Two nights Ceres

Days 9-10
GROOTVADERBOSCH FORESTS

Today we’ll head across the mountains to Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve. In the late afternoon, we will arrive at our accommodation for the next two nights, a comfortable guest farm at Grootvadersbosch. The endemic Forest Buzzard (recently split from Mountain Buzzard) often soars below our hillside cottages - and the home-cooked meals are always excellent!

The vast wilderness of the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve incorporates a 250-hectare indigenous forest, the largest in the southwestern Cape and certainly the region’s richest in bird diversity. A number of more characteristically eastern species reach their western limit here - and most are not too difficult to find with a little patience and persistence.

Forest edge areas are the favoured feeding habitat of several seedeaters, including small flocks of Swee Waxbill, Forest Canary and Cape Siskin. This is also a good place to look for foraging Black Saw-wings, and for birds of prey. African Crowned Eagle reaches its western limit at Grootvadersbosch and is sometimes seen overflying this ridge, while commoner forest raptors include Forest Buzzard, and Black Sparrowhawk and African Goshawks. The most numerous and conspicuous small birds in the forest are Sombre Greenbul, Cape Batis and Bar-throated Apalis. Before long however, we will intercept a bird party, adding the likes of Olive Woodpecker, Terrestrial Brownbul, African Paradise Flycather, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler and Greater Double-collared Sunbird.

While many of these birds are very vocal, some species - such as Olive Bush-shrike - are inconspicuous lurkers and we may well need to invest a little effort before obtaining good views. Other species we might see today include the ever-elusive Knysna Woodpecker, Knysna Warbler and Grey Cuckooshrike. Two nights Grootvadersbosch

Day 11
OVERBERG & DE HOOP NATURE RESERVE

In the early morning, we’ll head off into the lowlands in the direction of De Hoop Nature Reserve. The superficially sterile monoculture of the Overberg wheatlands harbours a surprising diversity of birds, including such desirables as Black Harrier, Blue Crane, Karoo Korhaan and Grey-winged Francolin. Agulhas Long-billed Lark is endemic to this area and among the world’s most localised lark species.

The area is pleasantly scenic, with only the scatter of fiery red aloes across the winter hillsides destroying the illusion of a restful southern European landscape. Isolated in the moist grasslands and lowland fynbos of South Africa, ‘Stanley's Bustard’ is currently classified as a subspecies of Denham's Bustard, whose range extends into East Africa. In spring, the displaying males retract their heads and inflate their white throat pouches before strutting about in this voluminous ‘Mae West’ state!

The whole of the Overberg region is good raptor country; Secretarybird, African Marsh Harrier and Black Harrier are regularly seen. Common and characteristic species of the agricultural lands include Large-billed and Red-capped Larks, Capped Wheatear, Cape Longclaw, African Pied Starling, Cape Crow, Pin-tailed Whydah, Yellow Canary and, particularly in stubble fields, the wonderfully named Cloud Cisticola.         

We head to De Hoop Nature Reserve, its 36,000 hectares of lowland fynbos and coastal dunes east of Cape Agulhas encompassing a low fynbos-clad mountain (Potberg) and a coastal lake. The cliffs on the southern side of Potberg mountain are renowned for hosting the Western Cape's last breeding colony of Cape Vulture, while the coastal thickets of the lowlands conceal such desirable endemics as Southern Tchagra and, more rarely, Knysna Woodpecker.

Late in the afternoon, we will drive down to the dunes where, from a prominent viewpoint over the Indian Ocean, we'll spend time watching the Southern Right Whales – with calves often alongside their mothers at this time of year. Further out, Humpback Whales can flash the white undersides of their tails and fins as they breach. Night De Hoop area

Day 12
DE HOOP TO CAPE TOWN

We’ll enjoy some morning birding in the area in search of any specialities that we might not have had time to try for yesterday. De Hoop’s main entrance gate is located on a range of limestone hills, from which the road winds down onto the lowland fynbos-swathed plains below. The fynbos is interspersed with open pasture-like areas, relics of attempted agriculture prior to the proclamation of the reserve. Bontebok, Eland, Cape Mountain Zebra, Chacma Baboon, Angulate Tortoise and Ostrich all favour these pastures, ensuring both an exciting and varied finale to our tour.

We’ll then drive back through the farmlands - perhaps seeing a few more bustards and cranes - before heading to Cape Town. We bid farewell to Dalton and check-in for our British Airways evening flight to London.

Day 13
ARRIVAL IN LONDON

Morning arrival at London Heathrow, where our September birdwatching tour to South Africa and Western Cape Province concludes.

Cape Rockjumper South Africa BSmall 0916 CK copy resized

One of South Africa's most striking endemics, the Cape Rock-jumper is restricted to the southernmost tip of the continent © Brian Small, Limosa

What To Expect

A 13-day tour to South Africa in search of the special birds of the Western Cape - and including a world-class pelagic boat trip off Cape Town for seabirds (weather dependent). Wildflowers should be at their best (mid Aug-end Sep) when we visit, but please keep in mind that flowering periods can vary between years depending on the timing of the rains.

Our new and improved itinerary for 2019 means fewer changes of hotel and significantly reduces the amount of time spent travelling.

It is early spring when we visit South Africa and the climate in Western Cape is very variable. September days are usually warm and sunny - and the famous Cape flora should be putting on a spectacular show (unless the preceding winter has had exceptionally low rainfall). However, please note that it can still be chilly - even cold at times - especially in the evenings and early mornings, and on some trips the distant high peaks have been snow-capped adding an extra chill to the breeze.

At the time of our visit, typical midday temperatures range from 15-25C (59-77F), but we do recommend you pack some extra warm clothes, especially for the evenings and at night, when the temperature can drop to around 5C (41F). We are likely to experience some showers at this season, encouraging the wildflowers to bloom in profusion.

Mosquitoes are not a problem on this tour, and there is no malaria risk.

Good-excellent opportunities to photograph birds, flowers and other wildlife. Highly scenic, too!

Birds

200-250 species

Mammals

15-25 species

PLANTS
The sky's the limit! ...

Accommodation

10 nights accommodation in South Africa, where we stay at a selection of charming hotels, guest houses and lodges. All rooms are en suite.

Meals

All main meals are included in the tour price, commencing with lunch in South Africa on Day 2 and concluding with lunch there on Day 12.

Breakfasts and dinners will be usually taken at our accommodation, with lunches either as picnics in the field or at the lodges. Food is good-excellent throughout.

Walking

Easy. Short walks over easy terrain. Wear comfy walking shoes or lightweight boots.

Travel

We fly London Heathrow to Cape Town, nonstop with British Airways.

Ground Transport  By minibus. South African roads are good, but expect to travel over some unmade dirt roads in the parks and reserves.

Boat Trips

The Cape Town pelagic boat trips are acclaimed as among the world’s finest for seabirds - with up to 30 species possible. Note that the operation of this boat trip is entirely weather dependent, and individual participants will have the opportunity to decide whether or not to sail on the day.

Depending on the size of the group, we will probably be aboard a small fishing boat (please note: with larger groups, two boats may sometimes be used). We expect to be on board for around 7-8 hours, during which time the vessel typically travels up to around 20 miles offshore. Sea conditions can vary from calm to relatively rough at this season, but the boat won’t sail if it is unsafe to do so.

AFR3 plant Stands of Bulbinella elegans Cape S Africa Callan Cohen LCF0963IMG 0726

Attention! Stands of yellow Bulbinella elegans stretch away into the distance © Callan Cohen

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  AUTHOR TESTINTRO TITLE
1 DO, South Africa tour ... This was my second visit to the SW Cape area and, as my first was 38 years ago, this was both a trip down memory lane and an opportunity to see lots of species I’d missed last time. It did not disappoint. The pelagic was one of my most memorable birding experiences and the drive down through the Karoo, with desert in bloom, was unforgettable. Both leaders knowledge about birds, flowers and other aspects of natural history were as good or better than other top bird guides I’ve travelled with. They were also fascinating on South African history... [empty string]
2 PP, South Africa tour ... An excellent holiday - thank you... [empty string]
3 RC, South Africa tour ... The flowers were stunning! Wave on wave of brilliant colours. Our guides [Alastair & Callan] knew the names of them all, how they were pollinated and how seeds were dispersed. I knew it would be good but not that good! Sea trip exciting with the albatrosses plus one shark! Great views of two whales in the bay. Enjoyed the Verreaux’s Eagles, Black Harriers, penguins... [empty string]
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