South Africa: The Southwestern Cape & Kruger Aug 18—Sep 02, 2017

Posted by David Wolf


David Wolf

David Wolf is a senior member of the VENT staff and one of our most experienced tour leaders. After birding the U.S. and Mexico for over a decade, an interest in the wildli...

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Unique in so many ways, South Africa is the temperate tip of a tropical continent, with its own special fauna and flora, and culture and history. It is also the most developed country on the continent, with great facilities for touring. Our 2017 tour took full advantage of all of this, as we visited three very different regions of this complex country, explored unique habitats and saw birds and animals unknown elsewhere, and thoroughly enjoyed all of it, including the outstanding food, great wines, and excellent accommodations. Special thanks go to Patrick and Mary Louise Cardwell for making this tour such a grand success!

Blue Crane

Blue Crane— Photo: David Wolf


The first half of our trip was spent in the southwestern Cape, initially working out of Cape Town, surely one of the world’s most attractive cities. Cut off from the rest of Africa by a ring of mountains, this region has a delightful Mediterranean climate, with cool wet winters and warm dry summers, or, as we experienced it, somewhat chilly nights and pleasantly warm days.  With windier weather predicted in upcoming days, we opted to make our first morning’s excursion a pelagic trip. It wasn’t calm, but we were able to get 25 miles offshore, where we stopped to chum.  Before long we had a remarkable array of tubenoses right behind the stern, at close range, our heads swirling as 3 species of albatross whizzed around us—Yellow-nosed, White-capped, and Black-browed—and abundant White-chinned and a few Cape petrels, Sooty Shearwaters, and Subantarctic Skuas landed just a few feet from us to feast on the free offerings. Later that afternoon we visited the extensive False Bay Environmental Park, quickly becoming acquainted with a huge variety of African waterbirds, though the most unusual sighting here may well have been the weird Cape Dune Mole-Rat that was out by day right beside the road, seemingly oblivious to our presence. 

On our second day we began at world-famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, established over 100 years ago. Here we found the protea garden alive with sunbirds, while Cape Sugarbirds sat just a few feet away from us, Cape Francolins and Southern Boubous skulked on the forest edge, and a rarely seen Forest Canary foraged at our feet. The gardens were a great introduction to the songbirds of the region, and the floral displays were spectacular, but we tore ourselves away to spend the afternoon at the Cape of Good Hope Reserve. Here, where the cold waters of the Atlantic meet the warmer waters of the Indian Ocean, we found ourselves awed by the scenery. Added attractions were a cow and calf Southern Right-Whale just offshore, gorgeous Bontebok antelope, and coastal birds like cormorants, White-fronted Plover, and African Oystercatchers, plus an especially cooperative Cape Grassbird that climbed to the top of a low bush and sang its heart out.

Read David’s full report in his Field List.