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The Tankwa Karoo National Park has become a popular birding destination, providing as it does a wide range of Karoo endemics and specials within relatively easy access of Cape Town. Situated about midway between Ceres and Calvinia, the park stretches from the R355 in the west over a distance of 70 km to the tops of the Roggeveld Mountains in the east, and presently covers an area of 137,000 ha. It is a very remote area and great parts are stony desert, with rainfall of 50 mm in the west to 400 mm on the Roggeveld Mountains in the east. The seasonal Tankwa River runs just south of the park's southern boundary, with several other seasonal rivers which drain the Roggeveld Mountains crossing the park. The mean July minimum temperature is 6C, and the mean January maximum temperature is 36C.

The bird list is presently 175 species, and it is expected that more species will be added in the future. The best time to visit the park is during spring.

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Specials

Typical specials of the dry western area include Martial Eagle, Ludwig's Bustard, Karoo Korhaan, Karoo Eremomela, Tractrac Chat, Karoo Chat, Burchell's Courser, Doublebanded Courser, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Karoo Lark, Large-billed Lark, Karoo Long-billed Lark, Black-eared Sparrowlark, Layard's Tit-Babbler, Rufous-eared Warbler, Namaqua Warbler, Cape Penduline-Tit, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Dusky Sunbird, African Rock Pipit and Black-headed Canary.

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Habitats

Flat Karoo veld with sparse vegetation in the west, becoming scrubbier to the east. The Renoster River flows through the southeastern part and the Tankwa River through the southern part of the park. These rivers are lined with karee (Rhus lancea) and sweet thorn trees (Acacia karoo). In the east are the Roggeveld Mountains with scrub-covered foothills and sour renosterveld grasses in the high-lying areas.

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Facilities

The network of old farm tracks which cross the park have been upgraded, but a vehicle with high clearance is still recommended. The Middelpos road from the R355 traverses the park for about 40 km. No road signs exist on the minor roads in the park, and a GPS is essential.

There are two furnished houses in the park for tourists. The one at Varschfontein on the western side of the park near the R355 can sleep 6 people. The other house at Paulshoek in the east is near the Middelpos road at the foothills of the Roggeveld Mountains, and can also sleep 6 people. Bedding is provided in both houses. The Elandsberg Wilderness Camp has 5 luxury cottages which sleep 2 people each. The farm with the famous Tanqua Guest House has been included into the park and will provide further accommodation to tourists. A camping site will be built in the near future.

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Birding

Birding in the park can be undertaken after reporting to the Park's reception where personnel will furnish you with a map and explain the roads. Otherwise you have to use a guide who is familiar with the area. Bird lists are available at reception.

The area around the Park's Office and Maansedam consists of Karoo koppies. Species include Pale-winged Starling, Cape Bunting, Karoo Long-billed Lark and Grey Tit, with the occasional Verreaux's Eagle and Jackal Buzzard visiting from the nearby Roggeveld Mountains. Check the slopes for Karoo Eremomela, Rufous-eared Warbler and Grey-backed Cisticola. During spring relatively numbers of Ludwig's Bustards occur. Booted Eagle is a common summer visitor.

The riverine bush along the Renoster River hosts Pririt Batis, Dusky Sunbird and Southern Double-collared Sunbird, White-backed Mousebird, Fairy Flycatcher, Acacia Pied Barbet, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Karoo Thrush, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, African Reed-Warbler (in summer), Lesser Honeyguide, Black Harrier, Orange River White-eye, Wattled Starling and African Red-eyed Bulbul.

In the Gannaga Pass area look for Long-billed Pipit and African Rock Pipit, Layard's Titbabbler, Karoo Eremomela, Mountain Wheatear, Ground Woodpecker, Pale-winged Starling, Cape Bulbul, Grey Tit and Black-headed Canary. Verreaux's Eagle, White-necked Raven and Rock Kestrel are residents, and share the sky with Alpine Swift and African Black Swift. Cinnamon-breasted Warbler was recorded here and is a possibility. On top of the pass look for Common Quail, Cape Canary, Cape Siskin and Cape Penduline-Tit.

The flat plains to the west are covered with bushman grass (Stipagrostis sp.) and host species such as Capped Wheatear, Karoo Lark, Spike-heeled Lark, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Lark-like Bunting, Yellow Canary, Black-headed Canary, White-throated Canary, Black-eared Sparrowlark and Grey-backed Sparrowlark. Raptors, which occur, are Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Rock Kestrel, Greater Kestrel, Martial Eagle and visitors such as Black-chested Snake-Eagle, and in summer, Steppe Buzzard. Pied Crow are breeding residents who scavenge the area and Ludwig's Bustard occur in huge numbers during winter and spring.

In the more barren parts look out for Double-banded Courser and Burchell's Courser, Red-capped Lark, Tractrac Chat and Karoo Korhaan.

The area around the Tanqua Guest House is rich in birdlife and about 50 species have been recorded here. Look around the airstrip for Double-banded Courser and Burchell's Courser, Tractrac Chat, Capped Wheatear and Large-billed Lark. The riverine bush along the Tankwa River host Cape Spurfowl, Common Quail, Namaqua Warbler, African Reed-Warbler and European Bee-eater in summer, and a variety of swallows and martins.

Waterbirds are mainly found around the Oudebaaskraal dam which is situated on the Tankwa River near the Tanqua Guest House. The dam and reedbeds below the wall host Little Bittern, Black-crowned Night Heron, Greater Flamingo, Black Stork, and a variety of ducks and waders (summer).

Birding can also be done outside the park along the P2250 (Middelpos road which turns off the R355) and runs through the park up the beautiful Gannaga Pass. The first part is good for Double-banded Courser and Burchell's Courser, Tractrac Chat and a number of larks. The riverine bush, where you cross the Tankwa River, hosts Fairy Flycatcher, Karoo Prinia, Karoo Scrub-Robin and Willow Warbler (summer). On entering the park look out for Karoo Lark, Karoo Chat, Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Booted Eagle (summer), Karoo Eremomela, Rufous-eared Warbler and Cape Penduline-Tit. Karoo Korhaan and Ludwig's Bustard are often seen on the flat areas. Check the windmills along the road for seed-eaters, which come to drink.

You can also bird the road to Sutherland (which is outside the Park) via the Ouberg Pass, which turns off the P2250. The first part of the road is good for Lark-like Bunting, Karoo Long-billed Lark, Large-billed Lark, Rufous-eared Warbler and Karoo Eremomela. Where the road crosses the Tankwa River, you can find Namaqua Warbler, Fiscal Flycatcher, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, African Reed-Warbler (summer), Acacia Pied Barbet and Levaillant's Cisticola. When there are pools in the river, look for Hamerkop, Black Stork and African Black Duck. The Ouberg pass itself is spectacular, rising up the Roggeveld escarpment and affording possibilities of African Rock Pipit, Sickle-winged Chat, Long-billed Pipit, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Grey Tit, Black-headed Canary, Pale-winged Starling and where boulders occur, Cape Eagle-Owl.

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General

Prior arrangement should be made with the Park before visiting. For accommodation in the park, contact the Park Office at tel 027 3412389 / 3411927.

Accommodation is available in the area.

Approaching from Ceres, the park is signposted on the R355. Approaching from Calvinia, take the Roodewerf turn-off about 55 km from Calvinia. Proceed along this gravel road until you enter the Park and later reach the Park's office.

Bird Guiding
Contact Japie Claassen for bird guiding in the park, Tanqua Karoo and the Karoo in general. Telephone 083 724 7916 / 023 4142980 or e-mail .

Japie Claassen 2007.

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