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Situated some 185 kms east of Cape Town, on the N1 National Road to Johannesburg, lies the little railway town of Touws River. Set on the karoo fringe, and in the foothills of the majestic Matroosberg mountains, the Touws River area provides a very useful introduction to karoo endemics and does complement the better known Karoopoort area some 40km to the north. Target 80 birds on a summers day including 15 not found significantly closer to Cape Town.

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Specials

The area supports a useful number of arid country specials including Karoo Eremomela, Layard's Tit-Babbler, Pririt Batis, Black-headed Canary, Cape Penduline-Tit, Rufous-eared Warbler and Karoo Lark and Spike-heeled Lark.

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Habitats

The area is predominantly succulent karoo with stretches of Renosterveld and some cultivated lands, particularly along the Touws River itself.

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Facilities

Touws River boasts a modest Nature Reserve, known locally as "Die Bokkamp", an 80km circular route along sand roads south of the town ( the Bloutoring route) and a shorter sand road stretch known as Pienaarskloof. Basic toilet and picnic facilities are available only in Die Bokkamp. Modest overnight accommodation is available at the Logunda Hotel. For real karoo hospitality though spend the night at Bergplaas. Mine host, John Rudd, is an unforgettable character whose great-grandfather Charles gave the family name to Rudd’s lark and Rudd’s apalis.

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Birding

1. Bloutoring Loop. You will, ideally, want to devote a day to this meandering circular route south of Touws River. A trip to only to Bloutoring and back along the same road requires a morning.

From the N1 take the turn off into the town. Turn left at Logan Street ( named for the founder of nearby Matjiesfontein), right at the Railway Station, follow the rail tracks until you cross the railway line and then turn immediately right again onto the sand road. Drive slowly along through the cultivated lands (good for seedeaters including White-throated Canary and Yellow Canary) until you reach the turn off to Bloutoring (about 4 km from the railway crossing).

For the next 14 km, keep a careful eye open in the stretches of indigenous vegetation for Karoo Eremomela, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Cape Penduline-Tit, Grey-backed Cisticola, Rufous-eared Warbler, Sickle-winged Chat and Long-billed Crombec. Spike-heeled Lark are also found along this section particularly at drier times of the year. Your first Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk will soon appear and both Booted Eagle and Verreauxs' Eagle are fairly common along this stretch. Keep an eye open for Karoo Korhaan and Ludwig's Bustard although these are not always present.

Look out for Grey Tit as you reach the rocky outcrop about 14 kms from the Bloutoring turnoff. Continue for another 8kms and stop at the bridge crossing the Touws River. Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Pririt Batis and Fairy Flycatcher are common in the acacia karoo trees growing in the river bed. The countryside begins increasingly to resemble the Klein karoo and the course leafed Gwarri trees start to appear. Layards Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler sometimes responds to a tape recording at the cattle grid about 3km from the bridge over the Touws River and Acacia Pied Barbet nest in the telegraph poles. Listen out here for an isolated population of Sombre Greenbul which seem singularly out of place in the dry karoo.

Reach the Touws River again at the farm Bloutoring 31 km south of Touws River. The reedbeds here are a good spot for Namaqua Warbler. From Bloutoring one has the option of returning to Touws River along the road you have come or completing the circular route. In the latter instance turn right at the T Junction about 12.km from Bloutoring, drive another 22kms to Nougqaspoort and return to Touws River via the poort. Pale-winged Starling are sometimes seen along this section and South African Shelduck and African Black Duck are often seen at the small farm dams along the way. Toward evening keep your eyes open for Double-banded Courser on the home stretch and Rufous-cheeked Nightjar can be heard (and occasionally seen ) on late spring and early summer evenings.

Take time out along the way to enjoy some spectacular sandstone folding dating back to the Cape Fold mountain geological activity over 150 million years ago.

2. "Die Bokkamp". Two hours minimum. Collect the key from the Kom Kyk B P Service Station at the entrance to the town. Drive a few hundred yards in the direction of Johannesburg and take the left hand turnoff, signposted Korrana. Note the rifle emblem on the abandoned building that used to house the Touws River commando. Drive over the hill and the Nature Reserve gates appear immediately on your left. Spring (late August – October ) is the best time to visit. Included in an array of karoo birds is the conspicuous Karoo Lark . Eastern Clapper Lark display throughout the reserve in spring. Southern Black Korhaan are regularly seen and heard in the area and the distinctive Ant-eating Chat flutters up from its karoo scrub perch. Namaqua Sandgrouse drink at the only waterhole in the reserve in the early morning and evening. The reserve also boasts a small herd of springbok and a few melanistic forms of the antelope are the pride of the town.

3. Pienaarskloof. Two hours minimum. Travel along the N1 in the direction of Johannesburg and take the left hand Pienaarskloof turnoff about 4km from the town. The first 6 kms of sand road take one through stretches of succulent karoo scrub and renosterveld which support a variety of karoo birds. Mountain Wheatear and Chat Flycatcher are common. Grey-winged Francolin also occur here. The indigenous vegetation gives way to a 10km stretch of cultivated lands. If you are going to find the nomadic Black-headed Canary anywhere in the Western Cape you will find it here. Be sure to check out those Cape Sparrow carefully. The cultivated areas support a number of seedeaters including White-throated Canary and Yellow Canary. There are also occasional outbreaks of Lark-like Bunting and Grey-backed Sparrowlark. Black Harrier often quarters the fields.

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Accommodation

Bergplaas Guest Farm (entrance opposite the turnoff to the R318 to Montagu – situated 21km from Touws River in the direction of Cape Town).
Logunda Hotel, Touws River. Tel 023 3581130.

Richard Grant 2001




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