Birding in the Karoo: 3 – 9 May 2021

While most Bird Club members were doing the doggy-paddle around a watery Hermanus during the first week of May, Margie and I were walking through the very dry Karoo bossies in the Karoo National Park.

The Park is not in the happiest of spaces at the moment: Many of the thorn trees are dead, and the plateau at the top of Klipspringer Pass is suffering from a lot of erosion. The dam at the bird hide in the camp is overgrown by reeds and there is no birding to be done there. Birds were a bit scarce (as I guess was to be expected), and apart from the Bokmakierie calling non-stop, there were not too many bird calls to practice our skills on.

BUT: We loved being there, and had a splendid time. Mornings and nights are becoming nice and crisp, and we had some magnificent clouds soaring by − without stopping, alas. We also spent a morning in the Molteno Pass searching for the Cinnamon-breasted Warbler who did not put in an appearance, but sent us some magnificent Verreaux’s Eagles instead.

All in all, we logged 63 species, but it was hard work. We did have good sightings of the Karoo Lark, Karoo Long-billed Lark, Rufous-eared Warbler, Long-billed Crombec, and Karoo Korhaan. Also some four-legged creatures.

Our dedication to finding the African Rock Pipit along Klipspringer Pass on the rocky side of the road was such that we did not notice two lionesses lying on the left, right next to the road. When we stopped about 50 metres further to have our morning coffee, a passing car stopped and the couple asked us, very excitedly, if we had enjoyed watching the lions behind us. We admitted that we had not seen them at all, were not that interested in lion, and were actually looking for a little brown bird. The next morning at breakfast in the dining room they gave our table a wide berth. (Disclosure: We did turn back for a peek at the lions!)

From the KNP we went through Meiringspoort, Oudshoorn, and along the foot of the Swartberg to Kruisrivier where Roger Young exhibits his photographs. We then turned right and entered the Groenfontein Valley where a lovely road winds deeper into the Swartberg and ends at the Groenfontein Retreat, our stay for the next 2 nights. This retreat has beautiful views of the mountains and some excellent walks with good birding. We recorded 42 species, including a Sentinel Rock-Thrush, during our walks. The food there is very good, so the whole stay was a wonderful, and well-deserved, treat.


On the way back through the valley to Calitzdorp, we popped in at Peter Bayly’s small farm where he and his wife produce luscious Port, made the Portuguese way. Then it was full-steam homewards. Swellendam and Riviersonderend showed us how heavy the rains had been in our absence, so we returned home via Caledon and Shaw’s Pass.

A wonderful trip, to be repeated when the Karoo has had better rains.

Barbara Swart

p.s. It appears that we may soon be able to trundle between the Red Stone Hills on camels: A group of Arab businessmen have apparently bought up a couple thousand hectares of land in that area…

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