10000 birds - Birding with Brian - May 2008

from Charlie Moores Blog about Birding the Cape

For my second trip to South Africa in just three weeks, this time to Cape Town (the first was to Johannesburg), I decided to hire a professional guide for the two (actually, one-and-a-half) days I would be there. Normally I’m happy just to hire a car and wander around, but sometimes - and this felt like it would be one of those times - I like to hire a guide.

Guides obviously know the area well, they’ll usually do the driving, they know the birds of course - and they know the calls those birds give: all things that infrequent visitors either don’t know, or - in the case of driving - don’t particularly want to do.

I only decided to try and book a guide a few days before I went, but - I think because it’s winter in the Cape and here are fewer overseas tourists around - I was fortunate enough to hook up with Brian Vanderwalt, whose company, Brian’s Birding, has the by-line “Birding with Passion” (which, I hasten to add, does indeed refer to his love for birds not to any strange extras he organises ‘after-hours’).

Brian proved to be an excellent bloke to go birding with. I gave him a target list before we set off (actually it would be more truthful to say that I told him I didn’t care what we saw as long as we saw plenty and could rub rival year-lister Graham’s nose in it afterwards) and he navigated his way round expertly, stopping at some really unlikely spots - including a tiny patch of native vegetation outside a new private housing development which was extraordinarily productive.

One thing he couldn’t do though was control the weather - which isn’t a criticism of course.

The day began under heavy clouds, cleared up, and then closed in again, and the second day never escaped them:

however, despite the early rain we did see some really good birds…almost 50 new ones for the year over the two days (including three lifers)!

So, where did we go?

The Cape region is incredibly varied (eg coastline, wetlands, mountains, grassland) and full of South African endemics or southern African near-endemics (ie birds found nowhere else on the planet), and Brian’s plan was to head to the west coast and look for seabirds (eg wintering Antarctic Tern, four species of cormorant, and African Black Oystercatcher), drive along the strandveld looking for Southern Black Korhaan, the endemic and gorgeous Black Harrier, larks and pipits and Sickle-winged Chat etc, and to pick up bits and pieces at specific sites (a quarry with nesting African Black/Verraux’s Eagle and African Black Swift for example, a field good for Cloud Cisticola (which is, incidentally, the only known site in the world for the bulb Geissorhiza darlingensis), a reliable site for the highly-restricted and recently split Cape Long-billed Lark). Pretty good eh? 
Oh, and Brian seems to know every farm-shop in the district - they’re full of goodies, and until you’ve tried locally-grown fynbos honey you’ve never tasted the sweet stuff before, I promise you…

Blogging about such a long day (we covered 500km in a very full 12 hours) and about so many sites is almost impossible unless you have nothing else whatsoever to do during your days off (and I do I’m afraid), so it’s probably best just to post some interesting photos from this first day and hope that proves enough. We’ll see…

Please click on this link to the blog page for the images and birdlist.