Sir Lowry’s Pass, as it is known to local birders, is part of the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, run and managed by Cape Nature.
Much of the northern parts is given over to hiking trails, but for birders the more accessible and rewarding part is in the south, just west of the town of Grabouw, off the N2 highway.
This habitat offers good montane fynbos and rocky mountain slopes for some species not found on the Cape Peninsula e.g. Sentinel Rock Thrush, Victorin’s Warbler, Cape Rockjumper, Striped and Red-chested Flufftail.
Park at Sir Lowry’s ‘gate’, it is really a steel cable across the track, which sometimes is not locked. However, do not drive in, less someone comes along after you and locks the entrance. There is a small open area to park outside. This is on the left hand side of the N2 coming down from the summit of the pass from Cape Town. Be wary of vehicles behind you, as the entrance is not well marked or easy to see and may necessitate a quick left manoeuvre . (This is about 1 km after passing the view site parking on the right. It is advisable not to park at this view site).
From here footpaths lead off to the left and one straight on. The left path takes one across the railway line and up the slopes through fine montane fynbos and along below the foot of the mountain. The path/dirt road straight on follows either side of the railway line.
In the fynbos, look out for Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Siskin and Cape Grassbird. Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Malachite Sunbird and Grey-backed Cisticola are often quite common.
The rocky outcrops and mountain slopes are the habitat of Cape and Sentinel Rock Thrush, Cape Rockjumper, Cape Siskin, Cape Bunting and Ground Woodpecker.
Dense rank vegetation along streams holds Victorin’s Warbler. Listen out for its melodious and repetitive call, the best way to locate this species.
A species many birders come here for is the generally uncommon, rare and secretive Striped Flufftail, not always easy to find and difficult to locate. Dense damp undergrowth, water run-off, along the sides of the railway track are good places to listen out for its hooting and sharp ki-ki-ki-ki calls. Spotting these birds in the dense vegetation, even when almost under-foot, takes patience and careful observation. Watch the rodent channels in the grass as they often use these to move about.
Red-chested Flufftail occur in the marshy patches lower down and in the fringes of the upper section of the Steenbras Dam.
Cape Rockjumper can be found in areas along the upper rocky slopes and a good spot is at the ‘Cannons’. This is an historical National Monument and also known as the Gantouw’s Pass. By 1821, 4 500 ox-wagons per year were hauled up and over the pass by Voortrekkers heading into the interior. Ruts from the wagon wheels can still be seen grooved out of the rocky substrate and a pair of signal cannons sit silently alongside.
Birders are often rewarded with sightings of raptors viz: Verreaux’s (Black) Eagle, Jackal Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon, Booted Eagle, White-necked Raven and occasionally Black Harrier, quartering the fynbos slopes.
Cape Eagle-owl has been encountered, but rarely, on the ridges of rocky outcrops between the mountain slopes and the railway line.
Protea Seedeater (Canary) has been recorded, but some of the larger stands of Protea bushes, the species’ preferred habitat, have burned in the past and have yet to grow substantially to support them again… keep an eye out.
It is advised not to visit in windy conditions as this makes birding impossible and few birds will be about.
It must also be noted that as part of the reserve, a permit should ideally be obtained from Cape Nature. This can be done by either phoning 021 483 0000 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
State the number of people in the group and they will tell you the total amount (R40 p.p. lastest known). They e-mail you an invoice upon which you do an EFT payment for the total amount to them. They then e-mail you the permit.
Other options are Enquiries 028 841 4826/4302, Mobile: 082 413 5258.
Avoid leaving anything visible in the parked vehicle that might encourage criminals.