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Kaapsehoop is situated 25km southwest of Nelspruit on a buttress of the Mpumalanga escarpment. The Kaapsehoop area offers protection to between nine and twelve pairs of the globally threatened Blue Swallow and is designated as an Important Bird Area. Kaapsehoop is a good locality to see Southern African bird endemics, an asterisk in the text marks these species.

A 470ha portion of Kaapsehoop grassland falls under protection of the Natural Heritage Site while the state owned forestry company owns a another substantial expanse of grassland wedged between the reserve and town. Wild horses graze the latter area, a practice that appears to have a beneficial effect on the Blue Swallow. Safcol and Sappi manage the forest areas and encourage some indigenous forest regeneration along the steep eastern drainage lines.

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Specials

Endemics: Knysna Turaco, Bush Blackcap, Cape Rock-Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat, Chorister Robin-Chat, Brown Scrub-Robin, Cape Grassbird, Drakensberg Prinia, Cape Longclaw, Southern Tchagra, Bokmakierie, Olive Bush-Shrike, Gurney's Sugarbird, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Swee Waxbill and Forest Canary.

Other: Blue Swallow, Red-throated Wryneck, Mountain Wagtail, Barratt's Warbler, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Familiar Chat, Lazy Cisticola, Wing-snapping Cisticola, Red-necked Spurfowl, Red-winged Francolin, Swainson's Spurfowl, Black-winged Lapwing, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, Lemon Dove, Olive Thrush, Orange Ground-Thrush, Narina Trogon, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, African Goshawk and African Wood-Owl.

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Habitats

The area's main ecological importance is due to the conserved remnant of high rainfall montane grassland, a habitat type that has been extensively replaced elsewhere by commercial pine plantations. In addition to grassland there are extensive cliffs, a forested gully with waterfall and broken sandstone formations around town. Fragmented indigenous forest is found on the forestry property of the eastern escarpment slopes. A private road along the reserve boundary gives access to this forest and the associated forest birds.

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Birding

1. Walking trail from Kaapsehoop town to the Battery Waterfall.
In the shrubbery around the town one is likely to see the Drakensberg Prinia, Bokmakierie, Red-throated Wryneck and African Stonechat frequent the town’s perimeters. The trail intersects the tar road. African Dusky Flycatcher are commonly found in the plantation and the verges of the gully further along. With sufficient effort Forest Canary, Bar-throated Apalis and Southern Double-collared Sunbird may be found along the gully fringes, while African Olive-Pigeon are seasonally common in the plantations and gully due to the Bugweed infestation (a Solanum exotic). When crossing the stream you may see Mountain Wagtail and with luck, the flycatcher-like White-starred Robin. Among eroded rocks at the top of the steeply ascending trail you may find parties of Swee Waxbill feeding in sage bushes. Listen for Barratt's Warbler calling or singing in the bramble thickets on the hillside near the waterfall and scan the surrounding grassland for Rock Kestrel and Steppe Buzzard.

2. Walking trail from Kaapsehoop town to escarpment.
This trail heads in the opposite direction to the previous one and takes you uphill and eastwards. At the guest house or among the nearest eroded sandstone formations you should find the resident Red-throated Wryneck. They move about constantly but advertise themselves regularly with their strident, nasal call notes. Further along the trail you should find several confiding thrushes; look for Cape Rock-Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat, Mocking Cliff-Chat and Familiar Chat. The ridge of sandstone rocks to your left is worth investigating as flowering aloes attract small numbers of wintering Gurney's Sugarbird. Locate them by listening for their rather metallic gurgling calls. Along the same ridge you may also be lucky enough to find a very northerly Southern Tchagra. They forage inconspicuously on the ground between rocks. Lazy Cisticola call from the higher rocks.

3. Blue Swallow Reserve and adjacent grassland
This area is reached via the main tar road. Drive from town towards Ngodwana, i.e. to your left as you leave town, and turn left again on the dirt road at the second locked gate. To enter this area you need the key, so prior arrangement is necessary. The road follows the boundary of the Natural Heritage Site, which is on your right, until it reaches the escarpment where it descends steeply into plantation, shrub and forest.

In the grassland, look for Wailing Cisticola and Wing-snapping Cisticola. Listen for Cape Grassbird and Levaillant's Cisticola calling from bracken near the streams, as well as Red-necked Spurfowl, Red-winged Francolin and Swainson's Spurfowl. Greater Striped Swallow and Blue Swallow are seen in summer during good weather conditions. To see the latter species, the special of the area, it is essential to wait for the sun to emerge from the clouds.

Black-winged Lapwing frequent the grassland along the escarpment hiking trail while African Wattled Lapwing, Cape Longclaw and pipits forage on the short grass. Black-rumped Buttonquail has been recorded but should be regarded as rare.

4. Indigenous forest
Continue along the same dirt road described above to reach the plantations and indigenous forest. The road takes several sharp turns once you reach the escarpment. In the first forested gully on the left-hand side you can search for the enigmatic Bush Blackcap (warbler / babbler) and listen for Barratt's Warbler. Both species are most vocal during summer and difficult to locate in winter. The further you progress along this track the more mature and continuous the indigenous forest becomes. The best birding is done from the road.

Cape Batis, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher (short-crested subspecies), Olive Bush-Shrike, Sombre Greenbul, Olive Woodpecker, Chorister Robin-Chat, Knysna Turaco, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and Bar-throated Apalis are responsible for most of the activity and calling in the forest and they should be found with relative ease. Other less obtrusive species that are found here include Terrestrial Brownbul, Brown Scrub-Robin, Lemon Dove, Olive Thrush, Orange Ground-Thrush, Narina Trogon, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler and African Goshawk. African Wood-Owl are sometimes heard calling from the wooded heights during daytime.

Summer is the recommended season for visits to the forest. The forest becomes comparatively quiet during winter due to reduced singing activity and altitudinal movements of some species. The exception appears to be the Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Southern Africa’s colourful Phyloscopus resident. Their numbers may increase in winter as southern populations move northwards.

5. Starvation Creek
This nearby reserve, along a separate creek, is mainly of botanical importance and may only be entered on guided visits after prior arrangement with the Department of water Affairs and Forestry. Phone Richard green at 013-755 1677.

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General

The town is visitor-orientated and there are several places to stay. The guesthouse mentioned below is however recommended since the owner can arrange access to the Safcol property when given sufficient prior notice.

Kaapsehoop is approached from either side of the loop road that joins the N4 at two points. To reach Kaapsehoop from Gauteng, take the N4 east, and turn south at the Ngodwana paper mill. From Nelspruit, take the N4 west and turn south just 0,5km out of town. Then follow the Kaapsehoop/Airport road for 32km. Kaapsehoop town is situated at the highest point and outer verge of the loop road.

Accommodation is available in the area.

Bird Guide
The local BLSA-trained guide is Edward Themba. He is knowledgeable and keen, and knows most of the good stake-outs. He is also one of the few people with a key to get into the swallow grasslands. Contact him on (072) 340-5588.

Mostert Kriek 2001.

Fanny Lambourn
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