Northern Cape

Karoo prinia Prinia maculosa ©Stephen Hammer Website
Birding Northern Cape

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.

This page is sponsored by Birding Ecotours

Top Sites
  • Bushmanland

    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.
  • Die Bos Nature Reserve - Prieska

    Satellite View
    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
  • Kalahari

    Satellite View
    - 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.
  • Kamieskroon

    Satellite View
    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.
  • Namaqualand

    Satellite View
    Port Nolloth: Coastal dune and pan. Barlow's Lark, Cape Long-billed Lark, Damara TernGoegap Nature Reserve in Springbok: Karoo Eremomela, Cape Eagle Owl
  • Spitskop Nature Reserve

    InformationSatellite View
    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.
  • Van Wyk's Vlei

    Satellite View
    Semi-desert area with flocks of Black-eared Sparrowlarks, the uncommon and nomadic Sclater's Lark and the highly habitat-specialised Red Lark.
  • Claire Spottiswoode & Callan Cohen

    Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, Cape Town
  • Supplementary Information - Johan van Tonder

  • Cape Bird Club

    We’d love you to get involved in one of our many initiatives. You can just come along to see what we do or get involved in a more permanent capacity. If conservation is an interest of yours or you just want to help casually get in touch.

Abbreviations Key

  • GP Tswalu Kalahari Reserve

    WebsiteSatellite View
    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…
  • NP Augrabies Falls

    InformationSatellite View
    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 of wildlife. When the tree flowers in the winter flocks of birds are attracted to their copious nectar, and baboons can be seen tearing the flowers apart to get the sweet liquor.
  • NP Mokala

    InformationSatellite View
    The size of the park is 26,485 hectares. Mokala is the Setswana name for the magnificent camel thorn, a tree species typical of the arid western interior and common in the area. There is currently 70 km of accessible roads in the national park. A bird list is available at reception. In summer, the best time to go birding in Mokala National Park is at sunrise, particularly between 07h30 and 09h00. The level of endemism at Mokala is high. The Kalahari sandveld habitats hold more bird species than the rocky areas, especially during times of higher rainfall. The endemic black-chested prinia thrives in the arid conditions of the park. Chestnut-vented warblers are attracted to the lawns surrounding the lodges. A fairly tame pair of Cape buntings frequent Mosu Lodge, using the buildings as an artificial nest structure, while greater striped swallows nest beneath the eaves of the restaurant's thatched roof.
  • NP Namaqua

    InformationSatellite View
    The park is part of Namaqualand, an area covering 55,000 km2 located within the semi-desert Succulent Karoo biome. This biome is a biodiversity hotspot with the largest concentration of succulent plants in the world.
  • NP Tankwa Karoo

    InformationSatellite View
    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…
  • NR Spitskop

    Facebook PageSatellite View
    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.
  • TP Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

    InformationSatellite View
    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.
  • TP Richtersveld

    InformationSatellite View
    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…
Guides & Tour Operators

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…

  • Birding Africa

    Tour Operator
    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.
  • Birding Ecotours

    Tour Operator
    South Africa is one of the best value destinations on the entire continent. The outstanding infrastructure, great accommodation, excellent food, wonderful South African hospitality, spectacular and varied scenery, and the presence of Africa's big and small mammals makes it one of the most pleasant countries in the world to bird in...
  • Brian's Birding Tours

    Tour Operator
    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…
  • Rockjumper

    Tour Operator
    There are 39 tours available in South Africa...
Trip Reports

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  • 2013 [11 November] - John Tinkler

    PDF Report
    With Janet and John settled in what would become their favoured seats for the rest of the tour we left a very stormy Cape Town after breakfast and headed for the west coast to collect Monika
  • 2013 [October] - Karoo

    PDF Report
    The tour started in rainy conditions in the big garden of our guest house in Durban, but the birding was good, with great sightings of African Paradise-Flycatcher, Southern Black Flycatcher, Kurrichane Thrush, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Sombre Greenbul, Blackbacked Puffback, Green-backed Camaroptera, Olive Sunbird, Crested Barbet, and a nesting pair of Rose-ringed Parakeets.
  • 2014 [10 October] - Errol de Beer

    PDF Report
    Our standard trip covering the eastern part of South Africa covers a wide variety of habitats and a good sampling of what the country has to offer.
  • 2014 [11 November] - Birding Ecotours - Western and Northern Cape

    PDF Report
    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..
  • 2015 [07 July] - kalahari

    PDF Report
    Before 1976 not many people knew of the great white shark, but the Spielberg film Jaws made the animal infamous and scared a generation out of the water. The real great white is very different from the marauding, blood-thirsty killing machine that the film portrays, but it has taken until very recently for this view to be shared with the wider public.
  • 2015 [08 August] - Dylan Vasapolli

    PDF Report
    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.
  • 2016 [03 March] - John Tinkler

    PDF Report
    Only some and not all of the birds and mammals we saw on a particular day will appear in the text. There is a full list of all the species at the end of the report.
  • 2016 [03 March] - Matt Prophet & Dylan Vasapolli

    PDF Report
    This bespoke cleanup birding tour was especially designed to try and find a short list of difficult species (such as flufftails and coursers) and remote endemics (such as the Northern Cape larks), that Stephen still “needed” in South Africa (not many of those!).
  • 2017 [08 August] - Jason Boyce - Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

    PDF Report
    Well, what a trip this has been! Many thanks to John and Alison for making this a really memorable tour! Many an excellent photograph was taken, and many fun moments were had.
  • 2017 [11 November] - Jason Boyce

    PDF Report
    This tour was a private photography trip for two clients with a particular interest in the smaller mammals of South Africa. However, the larger mammals and birds were also thoroughly enjoyed!
Places to Stay

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  • Farmstay

    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
  • 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.

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