Winding up the Swartberg Mountain between Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert is a Pass that can be hairy to drive. Make sure you have a driver that can navigate the narrow roads, unless you want to add a level of adrenaline to your birding experience.
Apart from the winding road, The Swartberg Mountain is a world heritage site, decked in threatened Fynbos vegetation and home to some special birds.
Leaving Oudtshoorn at about 8:30am, which is late for birding but when you consider that the southern side of the mountain doesn’t get sun until late morning in winter allowing a little extra sleep, we set off in search of this year’s Bird of the Year.
Having read and seen multiple recordings of the Cape Rockjumper on the Swartberg Pass I figured it would be fairly easy to spot. Boy, was I in for a little hunting expedition.
Although the rockjumper didn’t come knocking on my camera lens, we were in for a great day of nature and birding. Stopping at the dams just outside of Oudtshoorn, we saw a Grey Heron, Red-knobbed Coots, both White-breasted and Reed Cormorant. Watching us watch the waterbirds was a huge flock of Starlings. On closer inspection we identified 3 different species namely, Pied, Red-winged and Wattled starling. What a treat!
We went on to tackle the great mountain of the Klein Karoo. What makes birding in this area so special is the amazing views, dramatic rock formations and flowering protea. We were spoiled with all three as the day was clear, however a little windy the higher we climbed.
If you’re looking for great sightings of Orange-Breasted Sunbirds and Cape Sugarbirds then this is the place for you. With pink proteas as backdrops you are guaranteed to take some stunning photos.
If you are anything like me, when you're out birding you will stop to examine and appreciate the smaller things as well. I am a huge fan of photographing the vegetation and then going home to do some research on the plants/flowers of the area. It adds a great dynamic to your birding expedition. While doing this on my Swartberg Pass outing I flushed a Barn Owl and while my camera was nowhere near ready to snap a shot it was so spectacular to stand there and watch this creature of the night silently escape.
Onwards to Prince Albert we went. The beauty of the winding, narrow pass is that it forces you to take your time and appreciate the surroundings. It also allows you to see things you would not necessarily see if you were driving along some of the passes in the area.
One such surprise came when we spotted a group of Ground Woodpeckers flying and landing on some nearby rocks. It was the best sighting of Ground Woodpecker I have had. They were scouring up and down the rocks. Some even sat guard along the edge, making sure that I didn’t move any closer.
A truly amazing sighting as we were fortunate enough to spot a Cape Bunting and Neddicky in the area as well.
Although on this day we decided not to travel the whole way to Prince Albert, it would be a lovely day’s outing if you booked yourself into the small Karoo town. That way you could explore the lower lying areas of the mountains as well as the constant stream of the Dorpsrivier. We however turned around and I am happy we did. On our way back I was able to add to three lifers to my list, namely Sickle Winged Chat, Cape Siskin and yes you guessed it, the Cape Rockjumper. My photograph is not great as they were quite far, scurrying across the face of the rocks but I have it.
Our return journey also yielded a couple of raptors. A super sighting of a juvenile Verreaux’s Eagle in flight as well as a couple of Jackal Buzzards.