Birding Without Borders

Day 208: Birding the Western Cape

Noah meets up with a an American ex-pat to continue birding South Africa.

July 27, 2015, Tankwa Karoo, South Africa — For the next three days, I’m hanging out with Ethan Kistler, a 25-year-old birder who lives in Cape Town. Ethan is originally from Ohio but moved to South Africa several years ago, he says, because the birds lured him here. At one point, he spent four months hitchhiking from South Africa to Tanzania to scout for birds; now Ethan guides trips for a local company called Birding Africa then goes birding in his free time. Yesterday he returned from a 40-day backpacking trip in Uganda, landed in Cape Town at about midnight, and picked me up a few hours later to begin a three-day run around the Western Cape.

We got an early start this morning to look for Spotted Eagle-Owls, which look quite similar to the Great Horned Owls I’m familiar with in the U.S. These Eagle-Owls like to perch on power poles just before sunrise, so we drove slowly along a rural road and used the high beams to scan for them. At about an hour before dawn, Ethan and I spotted three Spotted Eagle-Owls and found a bonus Barn Owl—a nice way to kick off the day!

The two of us spent the rest of the morning birding the Agulhas Plains, where Ethan got us onto some great specialties in an undulating grassland. Black and Karoo bustards stalked the fields with Blue Cranes and herds of Helmeted Guineafowl, and we had cracking views of the local endemic, Agulhas Lark.

In the afternoon we made our way toward the Tankwa Karoo, a remote region of dry scrubland near the Northern Cape province border, where we’ll spend tomorrow looking for another suite of specialties. As we entered the Karoo this evening, the hills stretching into the distance looked like some desert panorama from Nevada. I’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference, actually, until a bird pops into view to remind me that we are, in fact, still in South Africa! We are staying tonight along a 250-kilometer section of dirt road—the longest stretch between two towns anywhere in this country—in a tented camp in the desert.

New birds today: 11

Year list: 3736

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