South Africa

Western Cape In Spring

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

Our September birdwatching tour to South Africa focuses on the wildlife-rich Western Cape Province at the very best time of year for seeing its abundant birdlife and amazing wildflowers. It’s the austral spring and we can expect to find a host of regional endemic birds - from African Penguin and Black Harrier through to Cape Sugarbird and Cape Rockjumper... Other notable highlights of this birding tour to South Africa include 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 & Prices

Tue 7th September 2021

Sun 19th September 2021

  • Booking Closed

Tue 6th September 2022

Sun 18th September 2022

  • Booking Closed

Tour Cost: 13 Days from £4495* inc return flights from London Heathrow

Deposit: £600Single Supp: £395*Land Only: £3795*Group Size: 6Leaders:  Dalton Gibbs
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* 2020 tour costs shown. Please note costs for our 2021 tour TBA (available summer 2020)

What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • Return flights London Heathrow-Cape Town, nonstop with British Airways
  • 10 nights accommodation in South Africa
  • All main meals (with drinking water provided)
  • Minibus transport
  • Cape Town pelagic boat trip
  • All excursions, permits and entry fees, tour-based tips and taxes
  • Map and Limosa checklist of bird & mammals

Cost Excludes

Insurance, drinks, airport meals/snacks & other items of a personal nature

View or Download Tour Info Pack


The Land Only cost is the price you will pay if you choose to arrange your own flights

Tour Cost: 13 Days from £4495* inc return flights from London Heathrow

Deposit: £600Single Supp: £395*Land Only: £3795*Group Size: 6Leaders:  Dalton Gibbs
Join the Wait List

* 2020 tour costs shown. Please note costs for our 2022 tour TBA (available summer 2021)

What's Included?

  • Limosa Tour Leader
  • Return flights London Heathrow-Cape Town, nonstop with British Airways
  • 10 nights accommodation in South Africa
  • All main meals (with drinking water provided)
  • Minibus transport
  • Cape Town pelagic boat trip
  • All excursions, permits and entry fees, tour-based tips and taxes
  • Map and Limosa checklist of bird & mammals

Cost Excludes

Insurance, drinks, airport meals/snacks & other items of a personal nature

View or Download Tour Info Pack


The Land Only cost is the price you will pay if you choose to arrange your own flights

Tour Highlights

  • For birdwatchers and naturalists, September is an excellent time to visit the Western Cape
  • A long and mouth-watering list of regional endemic birds...
  • Black Harrier, Blue Crane, Cape Rockjumper, Cape Batis, Orange-breasted Sunbird
  • World-class Cape Town pelagic boat trip - up to 30 species of seabirds possible
  • See Southern Right Whales, Eland, Springbok, Mountain Zebra and other unique African mammals
  • Timed to catch the legendary Cape Floral Kingdom at the height of spring flowering
  • Visits to the world famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens - and the remarkable Karoo
  • Small group tour - maximum of 6 participants
  • Expertly led by top-rated South African naturalist Dalton Gibbs, who lives in Cape Town

Outline Itinerary

  • Fly overnight London Heathrow-Cape Town

  • Arrival in Cape Town morning of Day 2. We explore the Cape Peninsula and take a seabird pelagic boat trip. Cape Peninsula (3 nts)

  • Cape Town to West Coast National Park. Langebaan (2 nts)

  • We head to the flowering desert, the Tankwa Karoo. Ceres (2 nts)

  • We leave Ceres and head across the mountains to the indigenous forests of Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve. Grootvadersbosch (2 nts)

  • The Overberg wheatlands to De Hoop Nature Reserve. Night De Hoop area

  • De Hoop Nature Reserve and return to Cape Town for our overnight flight home.

  • Morning arrival London

Trip Info
Trip Reports
African Penguin South Africa 0916 Brian Small .jpg
You can get close to African Penguins at times © Brian Small, Limosa

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 Rockjumpers and Ground Woodpeckers hopping on the broken, rocky slopes, and Cape Sugarbirds and Orange-breasted Sunbirds flitting among the flowers.

Birding the Karoo semi-desert offers many fine endemics, too. We have a good chance of seeing four bustard species here, 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 plant 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 tour whilst retaining all the key sites, so as to spend less time travelling and with fewer changes of hotel. We will visit the world famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (also a great place for birds!); take a day-trip out of Cape Town on one of the world’s most celebrated pelagic boat trips  (weather permitting) 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 some 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 our 2020 trip will be our ninth visit to the Cape. 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 wild areas remain intact - his duties range from monitoring bird breeding colonies to chasing down escaped hippos!

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, Limosa’s 13-day tour to South Africa and the Cape offers an unrivalled wildlife experience!

West Cape NP South Africa Brian Small .JPG
The West Coast National Park on a glorious day - perfect for a picnic! Brian Small, Limosa

Day 1

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

Days 2-4

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 top 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 - all looking at their very best now, in the austral spring.

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.

Situated at the southwesternmost tip of Africa, the rugged coastline and windswept moorlands of the Cape of Good Hope Reserve are now incorporated into the Table Mountain National Park. This spectacular reserve is excellent for seawatching and one of the best places to see Cape Siskin, a fynbos endemic, 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 50 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. More than 1000 pairs breed, 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.  Pelagic species - those that breed on land but which otherwise remain at sea - congregate around the trawlers working offshore, 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

Across the sandy, low-lying flats to the 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 rockjumpers 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. It’s here 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 undoubted highlight here though are the comical 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 spot to see and understand the critical effect that 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

*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.

Days 5-6

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

Birding here is wonderful, too - not only for the abundance of passage waders and other wetland birds to watch for, but for 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 catching sight of 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, where a two-night stay at Langebaan will afford ample time to explore. Southern Black Korhaan is a notable local speciality, and we should enjoy waterbirds such as Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Great White Pelican and Chestnut-banded Plover. Two nights Langebaan (at the edge of West Coast National Park)

Days 7-8

After enjoying some final birding on South Africa's West Coast, we'll head east (inland) 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, though 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 region 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 the yellow-eyed 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. We’ll also visit a special rocky hillside, where we might be lucky to find 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 flocks of nomadic Black-eared Sparrow-larks, which is found throughout the Karoo. It is worth keeping an eye out for pairs of superbly camouflaged Karoo Korhaan, and also 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

Today we head across the mountains to reach 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 here 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 westernmost limit here - and most are not too difficult to find with a little patience and persistence.

The 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. Crowned Eagle reaches its western limit at Grootvadersbosch and is sometimes seen overflying this ridge, while commoner woodland raptors include Forest Buzzard, African Goshawk and Black Sparrowhawk.

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 Flycatcher, 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 birds we might see today include the ever-elusive Knysna Woodpecker, Knysna Warbler and Grey Cuckooshrike. Two nights Grootvadersbosch

Day 11

In the early morning, we leave Grootvadersbosch  and 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 is 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, a bird whose range extends into East Africa. In spring, 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 favouring 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 Vultures, 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 flash the white undersides of their tails and fins as they breach. Night De Hoop area

Day 12

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 late afternoon for our British Airways evening flight to London.

Day 13

Morning arrival at London Heathrow, where our September tour to South Africa concludes.

Cape Grassbird South Africa Brian Small 0916.jpg
A Cape Grassbird shows very well on the Cape of Good Hope © Brian Small, Limosa

A 13-day tour to South Africa in search of the special birds of the 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 this tour 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 - here in spring, especially evenings and early mornings; on some trips, the distant high peaks have been snow-capped adding an extra chill to the breeze.

At the time of our visit, midday temperatures typically 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 rain 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. Immensely scenic, too!

210-250 species

20-30 species

The sky's the limit! ...

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

All main meals are included in the tour price (and with drinking water provided during the day), 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 taken either as picnics in the field or at the lodges. Food is good-excellent throughout.

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

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.


The Cape Town pelagic boat trips are acclaimed as among the world’s finest for seabirds - with up to 30 species possible.

Please note that the operation of this boat trip is entirely weather dependent and individual participants will have the opportunity to decide on the day whether or not they wish to sail.

Depending on the size of the group, we will probably be aboard a small fishing boat. 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.

It can be cold on deck in windy weather - wear warm and waterproof clothing (including a hat and gloves) to protect against the cold and any spray. Participants who are prone to seasickness will need to take suitable precautions.

Tour Gallery

View a gallery of images for this tour below, click on an image to view as full size with caption

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