Johannesburg to the Western Cape 

My folks and I have recently returned from an awesome trip across our beautiful country, it was; 

  • 23 days 
  • 5 provinces 
  • 5000km+
  • 51 birds added to my year list 
  • 39 lifers 

I have been to many of our destinations before but not since I really got into birding, so this trip was definitely going to be exciting and open my eyes to all these new species! 

‘African’ tree

Day 1: Johannesburg to Gariep Dam

I had been looking forward to seeing White-backed Mousebirds, and as we walked around the resort we saw some mousebirds but they were in dark shade or silhouetted so I couldn’t confirm what they were. Only the next day when I edited the photos a bit, did I realise they had in fact been the White-backed Mousebirds. I eventually got a good look at them in a few other spots on our trip. 

Also on our walk I got a Familiar Chat, which was indeed familiar to me. I have never seen it before, but a friend gave me a photo last year which he couldn’t ID and told me about it flapping its wings. After going through all my books I managed to figure it out for him, which proved to be a great learning tool because I knew exactly what I was looking at with this Gariep bird. When they land they do a little wing flap which, with its black-and-rufous tail pattern is diagnostic.  

Being early in August it was still miserably cold in the mornings and evenings at Gariep so when I spotted some different looking birds just outside our chalet, I had to layer up and brave the cold. It was worth it because they turned out to be Red-eyed bulbuls

I couldn’t manage to get decent shots of any of these birds, so here are some super cute cats that were enjoying the last rays of sunshine before the freezing night.  

Gariep Cats

Day 2: Gariep Dam to Karoo National Park 

The road down through central South Africa is straight, and mostly flat and apparently has a lot of birds! I saw so many birds…flying across the road, sitting on fence posts or flying up out of the grass, but it’s not possible to stop and look at them all, so I’m sure I missed out on a bunch of lifers! 

A few I could ID driving at 100km were Blue Cranes, Cape Crows and a Martial Eagle! I was not expecting that! When I think Martial Eagle I immediately think bush, Kruger, lowveld. I did not realise they were actually resident across the whole country. As we were driving I spotted the Eagle sitting on a telephone pole and we obviously had to stop and have a look at this beauty. Even after stopping and reversing back to the bird it still seemed very chilled with our presence so I managed a few pics and a good look with my bino’s.

Martial Eagle

We saw this very funky windmill right next to the road, another thing worth stopping for! 

Karoo Windmill

We arrived at the Karoo National Park nice and early so we had time to find a camp site and still go out for a drive. I didn’t really know anything about this park, it has never attracted my attention, but wow, I need to go back there! The landscape started off fairly typical of the Karoo, but on our drive around the park I was blown away by the huge pass we went up, the gorges, vast open plains and mountain cliffs…..who knew! The area directly around the camp is great in itself. The camping area is small and quiet, with quite a bit of grass and lots of birdlife. There are also some self-guided walks of various lengths which look awesome, so I need to go back for those and to go on a night drive to find all those secretive nocturnal creatures! 

The park is home to a good population of Cape Mountain Zebra, which we saw quite a few of, as well as a nice herd of Gemsbok. 

Karoo National Pass

Cape Mountain Zebra

Karoo National Park


On our drive around the park, we eventually had a much needed sighting after seeing nothing for ages. I think all of us were getting extremely hot and bothered after driving along a dusty and bumpy road, on a very hot afternoon. We came across a Pale Chanting Goshawk. A beautiful bird, which I’m sure I have seen, but not in a very long time. 

Pale Chanting Goshawk

The following morning in the camp site I got a Southern Tchagra, foraging in the undergrowth right next to our camp site. At first I had only seen it briefly before it disappeared and had no clue what it was, I think that was the start of me saying “What was that?!!!” throughout the entire trip!  A really cool sighting of a new bird for me. 

Southern Tchagra

I also had fun following a Karoo Scrub-Robin which eventually posed nicely for me. Another lifer! 

Karoo Scrub Robin

On our way out of the park we drove past the bird hide which looks onto a dam. Down at the dam there was a pair of South African Shelduck, another lifer! 
Our trip then took us down into the beautiful winelands and canola fields of the Western Cape. I’ll continue the trip report in my next blog post…
Darling – Yzerfontein -Langebaan 
Ps. If I actually have the ID wrong on any of these birds please feel free to tell me!! 

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