Birding in the Overberg Farmlands

Front Page_-¬peter_chadwick_20130512__0016929If you think the best birding is found in reserves, be surprised by a slow drive through the Overberg farmlands. Our favourite twitcher, Peter Chadwick shares his top 10 with us.

Words and Pictures: Peter Chadwick www.peterchadwick.co.za

We birders are often obsessed with the belief that the best birding is found within the boundaries of a national park or nature reserve and, whenever unleashed from our jobs, rush off to those destinations without opening our eyes to what flies in front of us along the way.

The Overberg lies on the doorstep of Cape Town and is well known for its picturesque landscapes of grazing sheep, lush grain fields and swathes of yellow canola set among rolling hills. But it is seldom considered a great birding destination in its own right.

The Overberg farmlands offer the best opportunities for viewing the endemic Agulhas Long-billed Lark (pictured above).

 

Season and Weather

  • The climate is Mediterranean with warm summers and mild winters. Wind is present throughout the year, and rain falls mainly in the winter months. Always be prepared for sudden changes in the weather. Summers are dry and dusty while in winter the fynbos is lush and in flower. The best months to visit are April and September.

Habitats

  • Agricultural lands interspersed with fynbos, endangered Renosterveld and numerous wetlands.

Specials

  • Black Harrier
  • Blue Crane
  • Denham’s Bustards
  • Agulhas Long-billed Lark
  • Cape Clapper Lark

Prime Routes

  • Bredasdorp heading south and taking the Elim road, then veering south past Soetendaalsvlei to Struisbaai.
  • Bredasdorp heading south along the Struisbaai road, then travelling the link road to Arniston via De Mond Nature Reserve.
  • Bredasdorp heading east and taking the road to De Hoop Nature Reserve, Ouplaas and to Malgas and Infanta.
  • Bredasdorp heading south, taking the Elim road and heading through Baardskeerdersbos to Uilskraalmond and Gansbaai.

Birding checklist: 10 specials to try and spot in the Overberg Farmlands

Red-billed Quelias

Red-billed Quelea (Rooibekkwelea) males can have differing markings. It is an extremely widespread nomadic species that can occur in flocks of hundreds of thousands. Adults feed on grain and seeds but they will feed insects to their young.

 

 

 

Blue Crane pair partaking in their pair bonding display dance, Overberg, Western Cape, South Africa

The Blue Crane (Blou Kraanvoël) has intricate dance rituals that include bowing, and leaping into the air. One of 14 crane species worldwide, they are endemic to South Africa, with an isolated population also found in Etosha, Namibia.

 

 

 

Denhams Bustard taking off from cultivated lands, Overberg, Western Cape, South Africa

Extremely shy, Denham’s Bustards (Veldpou) are found alone or in pairs during the breeding season between October and March. The clutch of one or two eggs is laid on bare ground and incubation is undertaken only by the female.

 

 

 

Black Harrier hunting in hovering flight, Gondwana Game Reserve, Western Province, South Africa

Black Harriers (Witkruispaddavreter) are most often encountered quartering low over the farmlands in search of birds, rodents or small reptiles. Their nest is a pad of dry grass, usually on the ground and well concealed by surrounding vegetation.

 

 

 

White Stork standing scratching in a grassy field filled with cattle, Overberg, Western Cape, South Africa

Breeding in the Northern Hemisphere, the White Stork (Witooievaar) visits Southern Africa during summer. It is locally nomadic and occurs in loose flocks that can number several hundred.

 

 

 

Greater Flamingoes standing in shallow water, Overberg, Western Cape, South Africa

The Greater Flamingo (Grootflamink) is much larger and paler in colour than the Lesser Flamingo. It may be found on large bodies of shallow, brack water. It feeds by wading with its bill upside-down in the water to filter out small crustaceans.

 

 

 

Agulhas Long-billed Lark

One of the Overberg specials, the Agulhas Long-billed Lark (Overberg langbeklewerik) is often found in farmlands rather than in protected areas, particularly shortly after dawn, singing from the top
of a farm fence post.

 

 

 

Pied Avocet coutship and mating ritual, Overberg, Western Cape, South Africa

The Pied Avocet (Bontelsie) searches for a small island in a wetland to build a shallow nest and lay up to three speckled eggs. Both parents take part in caring for the young.

 

 

 

Cape Grassbird singing from the top of a bush, Overberg, Western Cape, South Africa

Occurring in rank vegetation and thick low fynbos, the Cape Grassbird (Grassvoël) is a shy species most easily found through its call of jumbled phrases of musical notes. It flies heavily with short rounded wings, and prefers to creep through the undergrowth.

 

 

Spurwinged Goose taking to flight, Overberg, Western Cape, South Africa

About 100cm in length and with a150-200cm wingspan, the Spur-wing Goose (Wildemakou) is the largest member of the duck and goose family in South Africa. It stretches its wings to the limit, the spur is clearly visible.

 

 

 

Add more of our birding checklists to your own as you travel South Africa’s countryside.

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