08 – 12 August 2018
The Tankwa Karoo National Park lies about 70 km due west of Sutherland near the border of the Northern Cape and Western Cape, in one of the most arid regions of South Africa, with areas receiving less than 100 mm of average annual precipitation. It is a biodiversity hotspot.
The vegetation in the park falls within the Succulent Karoo biome and has been described as very sparse shrub land and dwarf shrub land. Several unique succulent genera occur there. The park is home to about 190 species of birds.
The first week of August was wet and very cold. The Karoo is harsh in winter and the low temperatures meant that scarves, buffs, gloves and beanies were packed together with the puffer jackets and essential birding equipment. Snow draped the tops of the mountains from Du Toit’s Kloof all the way to Touw’s River and could be seen from the accommodation in the Tankwa.
Our group of 21 occupied the two houses of the Tanqua Guest House complex, four of us having obtained special permission to sleep in the spacious garage. Fortunately there were no large gaps between the walls and door so things were quite cosy.
Everyone gathered at the main house for the camp briefing by Mel and Simon at 16.00 followed by a braai in the courtyard. The house has a large communal kitchen and spacious lounge / dining room. Peter had built two fires in the braai space as well as in the fire place in the lounge so the chilly night was not nearly so bad (helped by the fact that there was no wind).
The plan for the first full day of birding (Thursday 9th) was to drive to the western section of the park (Varschfontein, Luiperskop and Pramberg). Our convoy of 6 vehicles left at 8.00. The wind was fresh but not very strong. Although the park is in the arid region rain had fallen recently and, in parts, carpets of yellow daisies stretched as far as the eye could see. The same could not be said for the birds, which were few and far between. Our patience however was soon rewarded with good views of Tractrac Chat, Familiar Chat, Yellow Canary, Spike-heeled Lark and Large-billed Lark. The roads in the park are horrendous and there is no way to avoid the corrugations and so any opportunity to stop for a bird and to walk a bit along the road was welcome.
Karoo Prinia, Grey-backed Cisticola, Rock Martin, Common Ostrich and Ludwig’s Bustard were added to the list on the way to Varschfontein, our late morning tea stop. There we saw Black-headed Canaries, Karoo Korhaan and Pied Crow. Whilst scanning the sky for raptors two Black-chested Snake Eagles were seen soaring very high, as well as a lone Alpine Swift.
In spite of the arid conditions there are areas where water seeps from underground springs. We saw a Three-banded Plover and Lark-like Buntings at one such spring. Red-capped Lark and Karoo Chat were also seen.
At about 16.00 we were making our way back to the houses. The front two vehicles were looking at a Capped Wheatear when we noticed that the others had stopped some distance back. Fortunately we had two way radios and we learned that they were watching an Aardvark. These are primarily nocturnal animals and notoriously shy. The wind was in our favour and so we enjoyed watching the animal as it foraged around before returning to its burrow, which was not far from the road.
Another enjoyable evening was had around the braai fire. The moonless night ensured a fantastic night sky.
Friday saw us gathering again at 8.00. We drove through the park and up the spectacular Gannaga Pass. A stop on the bridge over the dry Tankwa River yielded Ring-necked Dove (Cape Turtle Dove), Malachite and Dusky Sunbird, White Throated and Yellow Canary and Karoo Scrub Robin. Driving further along the road two Black Chested Snake Eagles were seen sitting on top of a tree so really close views were had.
Making our way slowly up the pass we saw Pale-winged Starling, Fiscal Flycatcher, Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Cape Bunting, Bokmakierie, Namaqua Dove and Chestnut-vented Warbler (Alt. name Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler). A profusion of yellow Bulbinellas were flowing on the upper slopes of the mountain pass. We stopped at the summit for a group photograph before driving as far as the hotel where we could see some farm dams. Sickle-winged Chat, South African Shelduck and Southern Masked Weaver were added to our list for the day.
On the way back down the pass we saw Fairy Flycatchers and a Booted Eagle. A highlight of the day was seeing (and hearing) a Karoo Long-billed Lark and a pair of Double-banded Coursers.
Another wonderful day out was finished off with the usual braai.
On Saturday we made our way to the nearby Oudebaaskraal dam. The water level was low but there was still enough to support a good number of species. From the dam wall we saw Kittlitz’s Plover, Great Crested, Black-necked and Little Grebes, Cape Teal, Southern Pochard, Blacksmith Lapwing, Grey Heron, Cape Shoveler, Spur-winged and Egyptian Goose, White-breasted Cormorant, Grey-headed Gull and Greater Flamingo. Over the reed bed on the other side of the dam wall we watched an African Marsh Harrier quartering in search of its lunch. Brown-throated Martin and Little Swift were also seen. We were searching for Namaqua Warbler and spent a while to determine that what we were looking at was in fact a Karoo Prinia.
At the Jagdhut Chestnut-vented Warbler and Pririt Batis were seen in the very dry bushes whilst all the while a couple of African Hoopoes were heard but not seen.
Marilyn and Priscilla had spotted a little bird hopping in the thick foliage of a large thorn tree. After patient perseverance we were rewarded with very good views of a Namaqua Warbler.
On the way back to the houses at lunch time we stopped at the sad looking date palms near the water source supplying the houses. There we saw another Namaqua Warbler, Speckled Mousebird, Namaqua Dove, Speckled Pigeons, Southern Masked Weaver, Cape Wagtail and Yellow Canaries. Pied and Common Starlings were also seen as well as the elusive African Hoopoes.
A sortie in the afternoon to the area where the Double-banded Coursers were seen was unsuccessful but we did see a Greater Kestrel and Ludwig’s Bustard.
After dinner the final bird list was read out. A total of 88 species was seen.
A thoroughly enjoyable time was had and I thank all who took part, especially the leaders Mel and Simon for their enthusiasm and expertise.