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Stretching from the northern outskirts of Cape Town lies the extensive cereal croplands and planted pastures of the Swartland agricultural region. The area is bordered on its western side by the atlantic Ocean and on its eastern side by a number of mountain ranges. The Swartland is home to a variety of grassland species and species characteristic of agricultural areas. Interesting birds include the recently described Cape Long-billed Lark and Cape Clapper Lark. Situated on the western edge of this region near the town of Darling is the Tienie Versveld Nature Reserve.

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Habitat

Grasslands and agricultural land interspersed with patches of woody alien vegetation and remnant renosterveld and fynbos scrub

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Specials

Black Harrier, South African Shelduck, Blue Crane, Grey-winged Francolin, Southern Black Korhaan, Cape Long-billed Lark, Cape Clapper Lark, Large-billed Lark, Cloud Cisticola, Cape Bulbul, Karoo Prinia and Cape Longclaw.

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Facilities

The area is covered with a network of tar and gravel roads. The Tienie Versveld Reserve is covered by a number of footpaths.

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Birding

1. The grasslands and agricultural fields hold species such as Cape Longclaw, Capped Wheatear, Zitting Cisticola, African Pipit and Pied Starling. Listen out for Blue Crane, Southern Black Korhaan and Common Quail, which can all be found in the vicinity of agricultural fields. Other ground birds occurring in the area include Grey-winged Francolin, Cape Spurfowl and Namaqua Sandgrouse. Together with the occasional loose flocks of Grey-backed Sparrowlark, a number of lark species occur within the area including the Large-billed Lark, Red-capped Lark and the recently described Cape Long-billed Lark and Cape Clapper Lark.

2. Tienie Versveld Nature Reserve. Both the Cape Long-billed Lark and Cape Clapper Lark can be found at Tienie Versveld and in the immediate surrounds. Knowledge of the different calls will not only alert one to the presence of these species, but will aid identification. The grasslands are also home to the Western Cape race of the Cloud Cisticola. Check the moister areas with taller vegetation and reeds for Levaillant's Cisticola, Lesser Swamp-Warbler, Cape Weaver and Yellow Bishop. In summer, the Swartland skies attract Greater Striped Swallow, European Bee-eater, White-throated Swallow, Pearl-breasted Swallow and Banded Martin.

3. In the wetter winter and spring months, many of the drainage lines and moister valleys hold permanent surface water. Species such as Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Teal, African Snipe, Common Waxbill and African Quailfinch can be found in these marshy areas. In the dry summer months many of the moister areas dry up and water birds are attracted to the larger farm dams and open water bodies. Waterfowl gathering around these open water bodies include amongst others South African Shelduck, Maccoa Duck, Cape Teal, Cape Shoveler and Spur-winged Goose.

4. Natural vegetation can still be found on some of the larger mountains as well as between agricultural fields. The lower slopes of these areas hold a number of interesting species including Grey-backed Cisticola, Cape Bulbul, Bokmakierie, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Acacia Pied Barbet, Karoo Prinia and Yellow Canary. Areas of sandstone often support diverse fynbos communities and are home to many of the fynbos endemics including Orange-breasted Sunbird, Protea Seedeater and Cape Sugarbird.

5. The Swartland holds two globally threatened birds of prey, the endemic Black Harrier and the migrant Lesser Kestrel. Other birds of prey seen regularly in the Swartland include the Jackal Buzzard and Booted Eagle.

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General

If one is looking for grassland birds, the quieter agricultural roads between the towns of Darling, Malmesbury, Moreesburg and Piketberg are always more productive. To reach the Tienie Versveld Reserve, drive north up the R27 coastal road towards Yzerfontein. At the turnoff to Yzerfontein about 80km north of Cape Town, take a right towards Darling on the R315. The Reserve is 3km down this road on the right hand (southern) side and is marked by a green signboard. Alternatively, one could approach the Reserve from the eastern side via the town of Darling. The Swartland area can take the better part of a morning to explore.

Andrew Hester 2001.

Oude Denneboom
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