The Western Cape Birding Route has been divided into five sub-routes:Flamingo Birding Route | Garden Route | Karoo | Overberg | Peninsula
Introduction to birding in the Western Cape
Situated on the south-western tip of Africa, the Western Cape is bordered by two oceans - the Indian Ocean to the south and the Atlantic to the west. It is a region of breathtaking scenery, transecting a diversity of habitats that offer rewarding birding.
Apart from the pelagic trips which are good all year, but best in winter, the Western Cape hosts a large number of endemics species. These endemics include fynbos specials such as Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Sugarbird, Cape Siskin and Protea Seedeater. Cape Rock-jumper can be found on the rocky mountainsides. The West Coast National Park attracts large numbers of waders from their arctic breeding grounds during the southern summer months.
As one travels eastwards from Cape Town, the coast becomes progressively more wooded and the extensive tracts of canopy forests host a diversity of birds including African Crowned Eagle, Forest Buzzard, Kynsna Turaco, Knysna Woodpecker and Southern Tchagra
Further inland, the fynbos-clad mountains give way to the arid expanse of the Karoo. The Karoo semi-desert with its arid landscapes offers many sought-after dry western specials, including Karoo Eremomela, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Namaqua Warbler and Karoo Korhaan.
Winelands Birding Route
Flamingo Birding Route (West Coast area)
The West Coast, stretching from the Atlantic shores from Cape Town northwards to the Olifants River, is best known for coastal wetlands and spectacular spring wildflower displays. Birding is excellent with an abundance of migrant waders and a host of other waterbirds. Specials range from Black Harrier, Grey-winged Francolin, Southern Black Korhaan to the Cape Gannet colony at Lambert's Bay.
The coastal route from Cape Town to Lambert's Bay includes the West Coast National Park, Langebaan Lagoon and the charming seaside towns of Velddrif and Paternoster.
Langebaan Lagoon in the West Coast National Park was registered as a wetland of international importance for birds, under the RAMSAR Convention, in 1988. The lagoon supports large numbers (up to 55 000) of waterbirds in summer.
Rocherpan Nature Reserve, 15 km north of Velddrif, consists largely of seasonal wetlands, though usually dry between March and June. The reserve also provides a sanctuary for one of Africa's most endangered coastal birds - the Black Oystercatcher.
Garden Route Birding Route (Knysna area)
As one travels eastwards from Cape Town, the coast becomes progressively more wooded and subtropical, the ocean warms, the rains fall year-round, and the forests host an ever-greater diversity of birds. The region from Mossel Bay to the Tsitsikamma is known as the Garden Route for the amazing beauty of the area – it is a natural garden of mountains, forests, fynbos and water. The Garden Route has a Mediterranean Maritime climate, with moderately hot summers, and mild to chilly winters. Bird specials include Forest Buzzard, African Crowned Eagle, Knysna Turaco, Emerald Cuckoo, Half-collared Kingfisher, Narina Trogon, Knysna Woodpecker, Chorister Robin-Chat, Knysna Warbler and Olive Bush-Shrike.
The Knysna Heads are one of the most striking geological features along the entire southern African coastline. They flank a deep but potentially treacherous channel through which the sea pours in to flood the wide and breathtakingly pretty lagoon at the mouth of the Knysna River.
Knysna has many attractions, one of the most spectacular being the Knysna Forest. It is the largest indigenous forest in South Africa comprising of tall and ancient trees of local and exotic species, including stinkwood, yellowwood, blackwood, ironwood, white alders and Cape chestnut. The forest is vast and extremely dense in places making it impenetrable. Animal life is limited to a few small antelope, but a large variety of birds, such as Knysna Turaco.
Karoo Birding Route (Beaufort West area)
The Karoo is an area of magnificent landscapes and the arid, brown expanses and isolated hills provide birder the opportunity to find sought-after dry western endemics such as Karoo Eremomela, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler and Namaqua Warbler. Other bird specials include Karoo Korhaan, Karoo Lark, Grey Tit, Tractrac Chat, Layard's Tit-Babbler, and Fairy Flycatcher.
This region passes through farming towns such as Calitzdorp and Ladismith and the wine producing towns of Barrydale, Montagu, Robertson, McGregor, Wellington and Paarl.
The Karoo, the Hottentot word for dry thirsty land, is a landscape characterised by expansive arid plains and mountain ranges. This dry, barren region creates the impression of a hostile deserted land hardly supporting any life, but it is full of life if you know where to look.
Peninsula Birding Route
There can be few natural global icons that can compare in scenic grandeur with the awe-inspiring sight of Table Mountain straddling the Cape Peninsula and overlooking the mother city of Cape Town. This impressive bastion of sandstone rising to over 1000m and dating back 200 million years is flanked east and west by Devil's Peak and Lion's Head. Both peaks tower in sentinel-like capacity overlooking Robben Island of Nelson Mandela fame and the lucrative trade routes to Europe and the Far East.
For centuries Cape Town's strategic position as a half way stopover was known as the 'Tavern of the Seas'. This was due not only to the wide range of fresh provisions and fine Cape wines and brandies but also to the hospitality and friendliness of the resident Capetonian community towards visitors from abroad – a tradition that has endured to the present day.
It is for many since the first naturalist arrived in the 17th Century the unique and very special combination of plant and animal communities that have evolved and successfully adapted to the seasonal hardships of cold wet winters followed by hot dry summers and south easterly winds that characterize the spectacular beauty of the south western tip of the African continent.
Little has changed to alter the unique biodiversity of the Cape Peninsula in recent years due to the inaccessible nature of the mountainous terrain and strict conservation measures and management policies aimed at securing the well being of the natural environment for future generations to appreciate and enjoy. The combination of a winter rainfall pattern and sandy acidic soils support an amazing variety of over 9000 flowering plants within the globally acclaimed 'Cape Floral Kingdom'. This extensive biome is today home to a unique suite of reptiles, amphibians, insects, mammals and bird species for the visiting naturalist and birder to enjoy at leisure while traversing across a broad spectrum of very different habitats. A biodiversity hotspot at the south-westernmost tip of Africa, it offers over 70% of Southern Africa's endemic birds and world-famous pelagic birding. This region is best explored from Cape Town starting with the Peninsula Birding Route.
Overberg Birding Route (Hermanus area)
The Cape Overberg region lies near Cape Town on the southernmost tip of Africa. The region is a gently undulating coastal plain that provides a large diversity of much-coveted species, from Cape Rock-jumper to Blue Crane. Other bird specials include African Penguin, Agulhas Long-billed Lark, Clapper Lark, Victorin's Warbler and Southern Tchagra.
From Cape Town the Overberg is a scenic 90-minute drive along the N2 via Sir Lowry's Pass or along the R44 coastal route via Gordon's Bay. The Cape Overberg coastline is the meeting place of the Indian and Atlantic oceans.
As part of the World Heritage Site Cape Floral Kingdom, the region is rich in fynbos, which in turn offers makes it a bird-watchers' paradise for species such as Orange-breasted Sunbird and Cape Sugarbird
The Overberg is a haven of spectacular scenery from mountains and rivers to the open ocean.