The Koue Bokkeveld (cold buck-country) is the south western corner of the Great Karoo semi-desert and offers the closest access from Cape Town to many of the Karoo species.
From the R46 (Ceres/Touws River) as the tarred road changes to gravel, a dry river bed runs parallel to the road on the right. This is usually a good place to look for the endemic Namaqua Warbler, listen out for their distinctive calls from the reeds.
At Karoopoort, through the rocky outcrops of the Kwarrieberg and Saalberg mountains is where Karoo birding really starts as one heads into the Karoo flats.
A picnic site on either side of the road, often quite messy with litter, is nonetheless worth stopping at to search for Layard’s Titbabbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Long-billed Crombec and Mountain Wheatear (Chat). Karoo Scrub Robin is always present.
Yellow-bellied Eremomela can sometimes be seen in small flocks moving through the scrub, feeding.
Passing the Sutherland road (R356) on the right, one carries straight on. Keep a look out throughout the day for soaring raptors. Verreaux’s (Black) Eagle, Booted Eagle and Martial Eagle. Jackal Buzzard, Common (Steppe) Buzzard (in summer), Rock Kestrel, Black-shouldered Kite and occasionally Lanner Falcon and Greater Kestrel can be seen. Ever present perched on roadside poles are Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk.
Travel northwards on this road (the R355 Calvinia road). Along the way, stop to check birds perched on fences, wires and poles… Karoo Chat, Ant-eating Chat, Sickle-winged Chat, Large-billed Lark, Yellow Canary, as well as the erratic Black-headed Canary and Lark-like Bunting. Look for small groups of Spike-heeled Lark on the ground.
Small dams do occur along the road, with Acacia scrub that sometimes holds interesting species. A very large dam, Inverdoorn is then situated on your right-hand side. However, since the recent droughts from 2015 this has been dry, but in good wet years it may flood right up the road. A good representation of waterbirds can then be seen, including the endemic South African Shelduck.
From here, two Tillite Hills, one on each side of the road, can be seen in the distance, standing out from the short arid semi-succulent Karoo scrub. Eierkop (Egg Hill) is the hill on the right. A track on the right allows access to this hill. Park and spend some time looking around here for a good chance to find Karoo specials such as Karoo Eremomela, Rufous-eared Warbler, Grey Tit, Cape Penduline Tit, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Lark-like Bunting, Grey-backed Cisticola and both Karoo Chat and Karoo Lark. A climb to the top of Eierkop gives stunning panoramic views and in spring (August – October) the veld is ablaze with a stunning array of plants in flower.
Travel further north, approx 20kms, a road on the left is signposted Op-die-Berg and Kagga Kamma. Before reaching here look out for Tractrac Chat and Spike-heeled Larks in suitable habitat along this stretch.
Take this left turn across a usually dry river course that leads to a narrow arid kloof (pass). This in birding circles is known as ‘Katbakkies’, (officially ‘Skitterykloof’ or ‘Peerboomskloof’) and has been one of the best places to locate the extremely elusive Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. Just into the pass a small track leads off left, this goes down to a picnic site, with an Acacia fringed dry river and a spring that has recently been capped by the municipality but continues to seep into a reed fringed pond, where Lesser Swamp Warbler, Cape Weaver and Three-banded Plover are usually resident .
Park and spend time exploring for Fairy Flycatcher, Pririt Batis, Fiscal Flycatcher, Layard’s and Rufous-vented Titbabler in the Acacia trees. Acacia Pied Barbet, White-backed Mousebird, Pale-winged Starling and Streaky-headed Canary can also be found.
Follow the dry river course and track that runs from the picnic site into the rocky kloof. Here is the one of the best places and ideal habitat to listen and to watch for the Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. However, discretion on the use of audio call-up devices must be observed to avoid unduly disturbing the birds.
Dusky, Malachite and Southern Double-collared Sunbird are often present.
Ground Woodpecker has occurred on the higher slopes near the road.
From here, depending on your time, you can carrying on over the pass, westwards towards Op-die-Berg, the drive is quite spectacular.
Or, go back south the way you have just come and it is worthwhile taking the route from Ceres via Bainskloof Pass, instead of the N1 and Du Toit’s Kloof pass or tunnel if returning to Cape Town.
Or, retrace your route back to the main Calvinia/Ceres road and carry on northwards, left towards the Tankwa National Park and the P2250 road. This road is always rewarding if you have the time. The P2250 turn-off is approximately 25 kms from the Katbakkies turn-off. Look out for Karoo Korhaan, particularly early morning, also Namaqua Sandgrouse flying to or from water and making their distinctive call.
Double-banded Courser and if really lucky, Burchell’s Courser occur along this road.
The recent Club camp August 2018 to the Tankwa National Park covered much of the above areas and habitats en route. The ongoing drought was more than evident in the surrounding Karoo veld with perhaps unsurprising few birds seen. Tractrac Chat being the most evident in the arid gravel flats.
The usual species were present at the Katbakkies picnic site.