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The Karoopoort / Koue Bokkeveld area has become the prime destination for Cape Town birders wishing to see a huge variety of dry country specials. Situated within two hours of Cape Town and at the southern edge of the Tanqua Karoo, the area holds a number of species at the southern edge of their geographical range.

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Specials

South African Shelduck, Karoo Korhaan, Northern Black Korhaan, Cape Spurfowl, Grey-winged Francolin, Ludwig's Bustard, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Ground Woodpecker, Large-billed Lark, Karoo Lark, Tractrac Chat, Ant-eating Chat, Mountain Wheatear, Karoo Chat, Sickle-winged Chat, Karoo Prinia, Layard's Tit-Babbler, Grey Tit, Karoo Eremomela, Rufous-eared Warbler, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Namaqua Warbler, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Fairy Flycatcher, Pririt Batis, Grey-backed Cisticola, Pale-winged Starling, White-throated Canary, Black-headed Canary, Lark-like Bunting.

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Habitat

The area is dominated by a variety of dry country habitats including karoo scrub, thorny river courses and rocky gorges.

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Facilities

A number of gravel and tar roads lead to the various areas. Picnic sites are located at the bottom of the Karoopoort and the Katbakkies Passes.

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Birding

1. Driving north along the N1, turn left approximately 10km before the town of Touws Rivier towards Ceres. Although the best birding is still to come, a stop along this road at the base of some of the large mountains can be very productive, with Northern Black Korhaan, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Prinia, Bokmakierie, Large-billed Lark, White-throated Canary and Malachite Sunbird all being fairly common. The telephone lines should be checked for Pied Starling, Karoo Chat and Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk. The area also holds small numbers of Ground Woodpecker.

2. At the T-Junction (R46, left towards Ceres), take a right towards Karoopoort. Shortly after leaving the tar, a walk amongst the reedbeds and riverine scrub on the right should produce the energetic Namaqua Warbler. The scrub along the dry river course holds Grey-winged Francolin, Cape Spurfowl, Layard's Tit-Babbler, Long-billed Crombec and Levaillant's Cisticola.

3. Further down the valley in the vicinity of the farmhouse look for Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk, Malachite Sunbird, Pale-winged Starling and Capped Wheatear. The rocky slopes on either side can produce Mountain Wheatear and Long-billed Pipit.

4. The dry riverine scrub at the bottom of the pass holds a number of birds including Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Long-billed Crombec, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Fairy Flycatcher, White-throated Canary and Malachite Sunbird.

5. Take the left fork at the bottom of the pass towards Calvinia. The road passes through open areas and roadside verges should be checked for Large-billed Lark, Karoo Lark, Sickle-winged Chat, Ant-eating Chat and Yellow Canary. The scrub on either side of the road holds Rufous-eared Warbler. A walk down one of the dry river courses can produce Pririt Batis, White-backed Mousebird, Red-faced Mousebird and Fairy Flycatcher.

6. Driving north, the somewhat flat countryside is punctuated by two "pimple" like hills of which the eastern can be approached by car. The hills are worth exploring and Grey Tit, Rufous-eared Warbler, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Karoo Eremomela, Cape Penduline-Tit, Black-headed Canary and Lark-like Bunting have been recorded in the area.

7. Driving through the open plains on the northern side of the hills look for the slightly smaller Tractrac Chat on the fence posts and telephone lines. Greater Kestrel, Lanner Falcon, Cape Crow, Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, and if one is lucky, Martial Eagle, can also be seen on prominent perches. Apart from Large-billed Lark and Karoo Lark, these open plains are also home to Red-capped Lark and Spike-heeled Lark. Other birds to look for include Double-banded Courser, Ludwig's Bustard and Karoo Korhaan. The numerous farm dams along this road produce South African Shelduck and a small number of waders.

8. A turn to the left towards "Kagga Kamma / Op die Berg" takes one towards the rugged cliffs known in birding circles as Katbakkies (the real Katbakkies Pass is further along this road). The road enters a dry riverbed with rocky cliffs on either side. The dense acacia thicket in the riverbed can be very rewarding and holds Pririt Batis, Fairy Flycatcher, Layard's Tit-Babbler, Long-billed Crombec, Acacia Pied Barbet, Streaky-headed Seedeater and White-throated Canary. The small reed fringed pond near the picnic sites holds African Reed-Warbler, Lesser Swamp-Warbler and Cape Weaver. In addition to the many dry country specials found in this kloof, the bird most people travel to "Katbakkies" for, is the secretive Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. Patience will be rewarded when trying to find this secretive bird amongst the rocky cliffs and stunted trees above the picnic site. Birders should be careful not to overdo the use of tape recorders when trying to find the Cinnamon-breasted Warbler.

9. From "Katbakkies" one has a number of options. One can continue along the road up over the pass and head towards Op-die-berg. The route passes through some interesting terrain and patches of Fynbos holds a number of Fynbos specials including Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird and Protea Seedeater.

10. Alternatively, one can retrace ones steps back onto the plain and then turn north towards Calvinia. The road north passes through some arid areas and has turned up a number of interesting birds in the last few years including Burchell's Courser and Black-eared Sparrowlark.

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General

The easiest and quickest way to get to Karoopoort from Cape Town is via the N1. Drive through Worcester and the Hex river Valley, and take a left (approximately 180km North of Cape Town) towards Ceres on the R46. One can also reach Karoopoort via the town of Ceres, where one should follow the R46 through the town and over the Hottentotskloof Pass. Like all desert and semi-desert like environments, the Karoopoort area experiences extremes in temperature. Birders should be aware that Summer temperatures can climb over 40ºc, while temperatures on an early winters morning can dip well below 0ºc. Birders preparing to visit the area should take sufficient liquid refreshment as well as the necessary protection from the sun. At least one full day is required to explore the area.

Andrew Hester 2001.



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