Western South Africa, comprising the Western and Northern Cape Provinces, is one of the world's greatest biodiversity hotspots and is legendary among international and local birders alike for the remarkable variety of birds that are found here and nowhere else. It is an indispensable destination for the eco-tourist and there are no other areas in Africa that offer such a high level of endemism in such a uniquely accessible setting. A staggering 47 of South Africa's 58 endemic and near-endemic bird species occur here, as well as 76% of southern Africa's 181. New innovations to assist the eco-traveler include a new birding site guide that covers the region, and the Cape Birding Route that links the up-to-date birding information with practical routes to follow and accommodation options.
Local and international bird-watchers are inevitably drawn to the region by the tourism gem of Cape Town, the capital of the adjacent Western Cape Province, and by the region's scenic and cultural diversity, well-developed infrastructure, high standard of accommodation, and excellent network of national parks and provincial and private nature reserves. A total of 615 bird species have been recorded in the Western and Northern Cape Provinces, and a two-week trip could expect to yield in excess of 300 species. Indeed, over 220 species have even been seen around Cape Town in a single day! Although the sheer diversity of southern Africa's more tropical eastern region is inevitably higher, most of these species have wide distributions and extend over much of eastern Africa. The west, by contrast, is rich in species largely restricted to this region, making the Western and Northern Cape Provinces an essential destination in both global and local terms. See also Western Cape Province.
Top 10 Species in the Northern Cape: Ludwig's Bustard, Red Lark, Burchell's Sandgrouse, Black-eared Finchlark, Sclater's Lark, Barlow's Lark, Burchell's Courser, Cape Eagle Owl, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Dusky Sunbird.
The Northern Cape Province has a wide diversity of birding habitats including the Arid Kalahari Savanna, Succulent and Nama Karoo (the majority of the Karoo lies in the Northern Cape) and wetlands and coastal habitats. Perhaps Africa's most characteristic vegetation type, Arid Savanna forms an intermediate between grassland and woodland and occupies the famed Kalahari region. Rainfall is in the form of summer thunderstorms that support good grass cover below a varying density of thorn-trees. Although savannah supports a diverse bird community, and the characteristically arid savannah in this region holds endemics such as Kalahari Robin, Ashy Tit, Marico Flycatcher and Crimson-breasted Shrike. Raptors abound.
The Karoo is a vast semi-desert area that is divided into two botanically very different regions and dominates the arid western half of South Africa. It forms part of the most ancient desert system in the world, and is an open area of stony plains, scattered with small shrubs, punctuated by low dunes and hills koppies, and is very sparsely inhabited. The Succulent Karoo Biome is characterized by small succulent plants, supported by low but predictable winter rainfall, whereas the summer-rainfall Nama Karoo Biome is dominated by grasses and low, woody shrubs. The Succulent Karoo Biome is one of Africa's biodiversity hotspots, and has the highest diversity of succulent plant species in the world. Despite these fundamental climatic and vegetation differences, most Karoo bird specials occur in both biomes. Karoo endemics and near-endemics include Karoo Korhaan, Ludwig's Bustard, Red, Barlow's, Karoo Long-billed, Stark's and Sclater's Larks, Black-eared Finchlark, Karoo and Tractrac Chats, Karoo Eremomela, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Namaqua Warbler, Pale-winged Starling and Black-headed Canary.
The productive Benguela Current surges up the Atlantic coast, bringing chilly, nutrient-rich waters from Antarctica, while the warmer Agulhas Current moves down the east coast of Africa from more tropical climes. The birds endemic or near-endemic to the plentiful waters of the Benguela Current of southern Africa's west coast are African Penguin, Cape Gannet (breeding endemic only); Cape, Bank and Crowned Cormorants, African Black Oystercatcher, Hartlaub's and Cape Gulls and Damara Tern (breeding endemic only).
Combined with a visit to the Western Cape Province, the Northern Cape provides the best chance for arid country specials. Foreign birders visiting the Northern Cape Province will need a week based in the region. Birding is excellent throughout the year and the rains fall in summer.
- Kalahari Gemsbok National Park
- Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Excellent for arid savanna species, raptors and large mammals such as Lion, Cheetah and Gemsbok. Burchell`s Sandgrouse at waterholes.
Brandvlei area: Open semi-desert plains. Sclater's and Red Larks, Black-eared Finchlark, Burchell's Courser.
Pofadder area: Open plains, mountains, dunes. Red Lark, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler.
Augrabies Falls National Park: Cliffs, plains and riverine. Pale-winged Starling, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler.
Port Nolloth: Coastal dune and pan. Barlow's Lark, Cape Long-billed Lark, Damara Tern
Goegap Nature Reserve in Springbok: Karoo Eremomela, Cape Eagle Owl
Granite outcrops with sparse vegetation. Grey-backed-, Cloud- and Zitting Cisticola occurs here with Karoo Long-billed Lark, Pale Chanting Goshawk and the nomadic Black-headed Canary seen on regular intervals.
Van Wyk's Vlei
Semi-desert area with flocks of Black-eared Sparrowlarks, the uncommon and nomadic Sclater's Lark and the highly habitat-specialised Red Lark.
Spitskop Nature Reserve
En-route to Kgaligadi National Park outside Upington. Namaqua Warbler, Ashy Tit, Fawn-coloured Lark, Spike-heeled Lark, Pygmy Falcon and Shorttoed Rock-thrush occurs in this jewel.
Die Bos Nature Reserve - Prieska
A ±62ha reserve on the banks of the mighty Orange River. African Black Duck is seen often with Cape Francolin, both Ashy and Grey Tit, Pririt Batis, African Fish-eagle, Lesser Honeyguide and Pearlspotted Owlet at its most southern limit
Supplementary Information - Johan van Tonder
SafariWise (South Africa)
Claire Spottiswoode & Callan Cohen
Essential Birding in western South Africa
Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, Cape Town
Guides & Tour Operators
The Western & Northern Cape Provinces cover much of the dry west of South Africa. The area extends north and east of the beautiful Cape Peninsula into a vast, sparsely populated semi desert known as the Karoo. Further north still lies the unique & mysterious Kalahari Desert. Our vegetation, climate and positioning on the African continent makes us home to 290 easily seen bird species including 70% of all Southern African endemics…
Local birders willing to show visiting birders around their area…
Birding Africa is run by three Capetonian birders and naturalists, Callan Cohen, Claire Spottiswoode and Peter Ryan, all based at the University of Cape Town`s Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. Callan and Claire are postgraduate research students, and have recently published an new birding site guide to Cape Town and beyond: Essential Birding - Western South Africa. Peter is a lecturer and researcher, and the author of numerous publications, most recently a new field guide to the birds of Afrotropics.
Brian's Birding Tours
Specialises in personalised Birdwatching tours in the Western and Northern Cape. We do Birding Day Trips and Overnight Tours from Cape Town, as far as the Kalahari National Park. We offer customised Birding, tailored to your birding wishes…
CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.
2014 [11 November] - Birding Ecotours - Western and Northern Cape
This was a custom-made trip to the endemic-rich Western and Northern Cape provinces, where Kalahari sands meet the ageless Karoo in all its stark beauty. We started with a day or two in the spectacular Western Cape, which included some birding around the city of Cape Town as well as the southernmost point of Africa, where the Agulhas plains hosts some pretty special birds. During this trip and the pre-cursor trip to this one that covered the eastern part of the country we found all the possible bustards and korhaans (small bustards) for South Africa..
2016 [03 March] - Matt Prophet & Dylan Vasapolli
Cleanup trip for a short list of target birds, Northern Cape to Zululand...
2014 [11 November] - Errol de Beer - Western & Northern Cape
2016 [08 August] - Dylan Vasapolli
This tour is timed to take advantage of the great birding conditions in the Western Cape fynbos zone along with the annual displays of the Namaqualand flowers. With only two participants the tour was run as a private tour, tailored to their exact wants.
Places to Stay
Tswalu Private Desert Reserve
Nine spacious, fully air-conditioned thatch and stone suites surround the main lodge - Over 40 different species of animals and over 250 species of birds may be seen when exploring the vast landscape by open sided game vehicles, on horseback or on a game walking trail.
Excellent birding opportunities on farms and in rural areas in South Africa -- Click around and discover the wide variety of farmstays and activities on farms and in rural areas offering quality facilities in attractive yet unconventional surroundings and at tariffs you can afford - bed and breakfast, self-catering, game viewing, bird watching, hiking, biking, 4x4 routes, fly-fishing, horse riding, and many more…
Northern Cape B & B
8 Bed and Breakfasts in Northern Cape South Africa…
Cape Bird Club
The site has some general info about birds and birding in Cape Province as well as a gallery and other useful info.
Augrabies Falls National Park
The Khoi people call it Akoerabis, the place of the Great Noise, referring to the Orange River thundering its way downwards for 60 metres in a spectacular waterfall. The 88 000 hectares on both sides of the Orange River provide sanctaury to a diversity
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Where the red dunes and scrub fade into infinity and herds of gemsbok, springbok, eland and blue wildebeest follow the seasons, where imposing camel thorn trees provide shade for huge black-maned lions and vantage points for leopard and many raptors… this is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Spitskop Nature Reserve
The reserve is situated 13 km north of Upington and measures 5,641 hectares and derives its name from a prominent steep rocky hill close to the entrance.
Tswalu Private Desert Reserve
Tswalu is situated in an enormous private game reserve in the Kalahari Desert in the Northern Cape. Tswalu features harsh thorn bush, rolling grass plains, stark mountains and immense African skies…
Richtersveld National Park
Conjure up a desolate and forbidding landscape, seemingly devoid of life, except for some people dotting along the horizon. Make a startling discovery upon closer inspection when the mirage dissolves into the human-like half-men (half person) and the harsh environment prove to be a treasure-chest containing the world’s richest desert flora…
Tankwa-Karoo National Park
Tankwa-Karoo National Park & Northern Cape Nature and Game Reserves: The 80,000 hectare Tankwa Karoo National Park, proclaimed in 1986 and still in a development stage, is at present in a veld recovery phase and it will be some time before the original vegetation re-establishes itself. Even so, after the occasional shower, the park erupts into a dazzling display of flowering succulents…