Betty's Bay & Tanqua round trip

Hi All,

I took 2 clients on an overnight trip to Tanqua Karoo via Betty’s Bay.

After all the rain on last week, the weather was kind to us the thereafter.  Cape Siskin performed well along Clarens Drive close to the road.  No wind at Rooi-els so birding was pleasure with great views of Yellow Bishop, Neddicky, Cape Rock-thrush as well as two fairly good sightings of Cape Rock-jumper.  A Cape Grassbird called well and loud from the top of a shrub.  Harold Porter National Botanical Gardens was also windless and Victorin’s Warbler gave great views.  
Fairly big groups of Blue Cranes at Botriver with Red-capped and Large-billed Larks with hundreds of Cape Canaries & Cape Sparrow filling in the gaps.  Malachite Sunbirdreally looking spectacular feeding in the exotic acacias. 

An adult Martial Eagle was seen on the way to Villiersdorp hunting over Renosterveld.  Going through Villiersdorp a lone Grey-headed Gull scavenged through town, with a pair ofWhite-backed Duck on one of the pond on the Worcester side of the town.

An early start at Ceres was chilly at 5 degrees, but “wait there is more” once we topped Therons Pass the gauge said -0.5 degrees!!!!!!!!!!!! Grass was white and stiff and the puddles were sheets of glass!  No wonder the Cape Clapper Lark gave an unusual call in the rising sun.  

Down to Karoo Poort where we spent 2hrs birding the various habitats.  Black-headed and Yellow Canaries, Layard’s Tit-babbler, Grey-backed Cisticola, Namaqua Warbler, Long-billed Crombeck, Mountain Wheatear and a pair of SA Shelduck , with the male bringing up the rear as usual, flying past.  At the Karoo Poort manor house Pied Starling, Streaky-headed Seedeater, Bokmakierie, Hamerkop, Red Bishop, Red-faced Mousebird, seen whilst eating a packed breakfast.  Once through the poort the wind eased down and White-backed MousebirdRock Kestrel, Fairy Flycatcher were seen.

The Fairies gave really good displays as they fed in the shrub around us.  Whistled for the Cinnamon-breasted Warbler and silently and suddenly it appeared on the rock close to us and gave its high pitched strong song.  Soon disappeared and called again from on top of the hill, still clearly heard.  A large group of Alpine Swifts flew low over the rocks.  One of the last birds to be seen in this pentad was a Sickle-winged Chat.

Near Inverdoorn Dam the resident Fish Eagle appeared on the far bank of the dam with a pair of Yellow-bellied Eremomela feeding in the low bushes.  I found this unusual as they normally use taller bushes, but with the Tanqua being very dry for this time of the year, any habitat will do I suppose!  Quickly found the Karoo Eremomela at Eier/perdekop with the weather becoming very comfortable. 

Spike-heeled Larks and Trac-trac Chats were seen on the road to the pit stop at Tanqua Padstal.  Strangely no Karoo Larks or Rufous-eared Warbler were seen or heard up to then which was quite strange.   This changed after lunch and Rufous-eared WarblerKaroo & Trac-trac Chat and Karoo Lark and a very obligingPririt Batis pair were seen.  With the area being very dry we did not see many Canaries or Black-eared Sparrow-larks at this end of the Tanqua.  

On the way back we encountered a pair of Karoo Korhaan.  After walking a short distance away from the road, the one sat down amongst some rocks but not sure if it was on eggs. It was fairly close and this was unusual for them to sit down as they normally walked away slowly. Did not want to disturb the bird by flushing it.

African Black Ducks and a Spotted Eagle-owl were seen at Slanghoek Valley on the way home at dusk. 

Another great day in the Tanqua Karoo.  Could almost call it a “warbler run”. Total of 106 species seen.

Brian Vanderwalt

Bird watching from Brians Birding office in the Western Cape! - 7 August 2014

Hi All,

It’s great when the morning sun has moved away from the “office” window as the birds cannot then see me at my “desk”.  I can be very scary at times!!

Watching two Acacia Pied Barbets taking chances eating raisons (which were being discarded as too old for baking) from the feeder bag that I hung outside my office window. They seem to love pecking through the mesh bag. They fly from the nest, which I can also see from my desk( I don’t put the nests where I cannot see them!!!!), to the feeder.  Talking about this Barbet nest, I watched the Lesser Honeyguide doing house calls last week without the Barbets in attendance so I am sure she laid an egg, but only time will tell, so watch this space.

The Cape Bulbuls have also found the liquid feeder in the same tree and are now trying to hassle the Barbets away from the raisons which will be more to their liking, without success so far.  But wait there is more, the Barbets have left and the Bulbuls can now feed  in peace.  Just when you thought it was safe to eat, the Cape White-eyes have arrive, but they drink before the eat.

The Barbet has returned and is now pecking on the paw-paw leftover.

Brian Vanderwalt

Cape Town Birding - June 2014

Dear Brian,

Just a quick note to thank you for your patience, skills and excellent company this week.  It has been a great introduction to African birds, and a real stimulus to think about coming back for a more serious look with you at some of the areas you talked about.  I am not sure when that would be though!

All the very best,
Mike May

Brian and Martha Birding trip - April 2014

Dear Brian,

We want to thank you very, very much for such a great birding--and cultural--experience in your beautiful country. We are in awe of the landscape in SouthAfrica, and the birding is great too. 

Staying at bed and breakfast places gave the trip a much richer experience for us than a "plastic" hotel. Honeywood Farm and "The Little House on the Prairie" stand out in our memory as especially wonderful. 

Now Brian is reliving the trip as he tries to figure out the photos. Anyway, there were so many magical moments on the trip for us, like the wonderful Clapper Lark singing joyfully in the wheat field (not to mention the burly farmer who whipped our his bird ap). In fact I loved all the larks, as we have so few in the States. I think we also loved the Jackal buzzard and the Black Harrier. 

As you put it, "Isn't he magic?" For Brian, I think seeing the famous Langebaan with its fynbos was special. We appreciate the extra mile (literally) that you went every day to show us S. Africa's birds. 
And yes, I loved the beauty of the Karoo. Thank you!

Many thank again from both of us,
Martha Sheldon and Brian Harrington

Birding Western Cape April 2014

Dear Ione and Brian,
Thank you so much for such a wonderful time.
We enjoyed meeting you and Birding with you.

Again, thank you very much.
Jon Kastendiek

Cheepers Western Cape Tour Oct 2013

Hello Brian

I enjoyed every moment of my time with you.  I have many photos & treasured memories. 

Best Wishes from a clear (although slightly smoggy), & chilly (0 deg Celcius!) Salt Lake City.

Dan White

Western & Kalahari tour with Amazilia Tours in Oct 2013

Thank you Brian for an excellent birding trip.  

You are a very sharp birder and a pretty nice guy! 

Suzanne & Dominic,
José & Alain 
Quebec - Canada

Terry Sadler - Cape Birding in Oct 2013

Hi Brian,

"Brian, I thoroughly enjoyed your guiding us on our Cape area tour in Oct 2013.

You have so much enthusiasm and passion for finding the birds.

While you were driving I was watching you from the back seat.  Your head was constantly going back and forth in bird search and you were always in the moment for birding.

I particularly liked our search for the rock jumper even though we weren't successful. I also got great thrill from our Karoo excursion.  I could have walked for hours across that terrain with you telling us about the plants and flushing up the endemic birds of that region.

Also, thanks for beer at that little bar and store in the middle of nowhere."

The best to you,
Terry Sadler

Susan Coyne - California

Dear Brian,

Thank you so much!  Great birding!  

Enjoyed your perspectives on history, plants and more in depth info on birds and their behaviours (“Clapper” for example). 

I loved the fact that you gave us all personal attention. 
You are very comprehensive in your approach & not just checking off a list. 
You gave personality to the experience! ! !  

You were the best “guide” and your enthusiasm & positive attitude made it all even better.

Susan Coyne – California

Cape 8 day birding in Oct 2013

Thanks for a great tour, Brian.  
Although we had some challenges we don’t normally face, and you handled them beautifully.  

Looking forward to birding with you again. 

Cheepers Birding Tours 
Utah, USA

Tanqua trip before the snow!!! - 25-27 August 2013

I spent Sun, Mon & Tues in Tanqua Karoo region this past week.

My client was a videographer so plenty of time was spent at each site. Main targets were Victorin’s Warbler, Protea Seedeater, CapeClapper, Namaqua Warbler, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Tractrac Chat and Black-eared Sparrowlark.

Our route through Bainskloof Pass was not succesfull for Victorins Warbler as they were not calling and it was dripping wet along the road. The dammetjie at Ceres proved very successful for Protea Seedeater as it came in and bathed in full view. Someone has cleaned up the gulley of rubbish and stones and made viewing much better.

Mozambique Trip - Part 2- African Harrier Hawk sighting March 2013

On our recent trip to Southern Mozambique in March 2013 we had an excellent sighting of an African Harrier-hawk "digging" for its supper. 

There was a 20m leafless coconut palm tree next to the road and the A H-H was busy digging and scratching the bark off the tree. It would hang on with one claw whilst flapping and then used its beak and other claw to rip off 20cm strips of bark, then scratch all the loose chips out and rip with its beak again. This went on for at least 20min! I videoed the last 16min until it flew away. We could not see what it eventually took out but it was white-ish and the size of a pork sausage. There was no tail or fur. Once home I isolated the last few frames and can now see that it was not a bird. I first thought that it may be a queen ant or queen bee but after reading my Insect Book it could be a grub from a Giant Long-horned Beetle!  I checked that with Mike Picker (Author of Insects of South Africa) at UCT and asked him if he knew what insect would use a Palm tree as a "nest" at 10m from the ground.


His reply was:  “I can make out that the larva is a scarab - very likely that of Oryctes boas (Rhino beetle) - which is known to burrow into the growing apex of palm trees, where the larvae develop. I guess the larvae then migrate to various parts of the trunk as they mature. The larvae are always bigger than the 44 mm long adults - see 208.2 of Field Guide to Insects of SA.  Regards, Mike”

Interesting stuff.  I was partially right as I had another beetle, Long-horned Beetle in mind.  I did see examples of dead Rhino Beetle at a shop that we stopped at. We were very privileged to see this whole episode.

Birding in Mozambique - Part 1 - March 2013

I have just returned from a 9 day trip to Southern Mozambique with clients. We were a total of 11 in two Volkswagen Kombi vehicles.

We flew to Johannesburg and I drove the 2nd vehicle to Maputo via Komatipoort border post which was a dream, neat clean and efficient.

Target birds were Crab Plover, Eurasian Bittern, Olive-headed Weaver, African Hobby Falcon (not likely!!!!!!), Shorebirds and Sooty Falcon and many more.

But we also had the Green Tinker-bird in our sights as we would be close to the site where they had been re-found a few months ago after 50 years. This was due to the long war in Mozambique restricting access.

The weather was hot, max 33C and humid, at least 70%, but the sea was warmmmmmmmm………………

All accommodation had mosquito nets and aircon or fans and were well placed for birding the different habitats.  Being so far east meant starting your day at 4.00am was the norm, followed by a quick coffee and rusks. Well worth it as it was soon light at 5am.

South African habitats and bird tour March 2013

Hello Brian.
About a month back home now and I'm just finishing working up my African images. Phew.

It was great meeting you and many many thanks for giving Margaret and I such a wonderful overview of South African habitats and birds - it was such a good time that it has taken us a while to get back to "normality"! Every view and sighting was special and we got to see lots of nice scenery too. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens was truly amazing in its setting and outlook - one of the many highlights of our adventures.

Russell Cockman

Report back on Western Cape Trip from 13-22 November 2012

Dear Brian 

What a fantastic holiday with you. 
You are amazing "Rock Jumper at 50 yds, left" at 50 mph, etc, etc, etc! You gave so much time and put so much effort to making made it such fun and happy time, besides all the birding.
I have some photos that I’m really pleased with and a lot that are a good record.

I do hope all is well with you over Christmas and that you get a well deserved break.

Look forward to Kalahari!!! 
All the very best and Thank you 
Peter Corbett

Western Cape Birding trip- 13-22 November 2012

Dear Ashley and Brian,

Kathy, Adrian and I finally arrived back in the UK yesterday morning after our overnight flight from Jo'burg.

We just wanted to express our sincere and heartfelt thanks for providing us with birding holiday memories that will live with us for ever. Not only did the two of you find some fantastic birds in large numbers but our total South Africa experience could not have been possible without your dual team input. You both worked tirelessly to make us get the best from our trip, from accommodation, meals to transport everything was superb. You did a truly great job!   

Again very many thanks to you both and Brian, you haven't seen the last of us either!

Warmest regards,
Jan Haeck & Kathy.