A Day of Magnificent Birding in the Swartberg Pass
Winding up the Swartberg Mountain between Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert is a Pass that can be hairy to drive. This Pass was built in 1888 and is still the original one used today, although maintenance has been done over the year. This is the site of one of the most lovely birding experiences I have had and which I so enjoy sharing with my guests.
Apart from the winding road, the Swartberg Mountain is a world heritage site, decked in threatened Fynbos vegetation and home to some special endemic birds. Setting out from the guest house at around 5:30am on a summer’s morning with a packed breakfast from the guest house, we start our birding experience. Oudtshoorn is surrounded by farmlands and dams so the birding opportunities on the way to the pass are almost as spectacular as the birding on the pass itself.
Although the Klein Karoo does not have the vast variety of birds that you would typically get up north in the Limpopo province, KZN or Kruger National Park, there are certainly a fair amount of endemic species found in the region and particularly on the Swartberg Mountain. Home to Birdlife SA Bird of the Year 2021, The Cape Rockjumper, makes the journey to the top one of an anticipation and excitement.
Being a historical landmark, the Swartberg Pass has many interesting facts as well as stories that are shared by your guide as you meander up. Keep your eyes open as often you are treated with the flying displays of the Jackal Buzzards or Verreaux’s Eagles. Home to the Klipspringer and Dassies (Hyraxes), these guys also need to keep their eyes open otherwise they may just be the next meal on the menu for these raptors. My guests and I have been so lucky the last couple of times we have ventured up the pass to see the Klipspringer families up on the rocks enjoying the vegetation, and the views I would assume.
Speaking of views, you are in for a real treat and many photographic opportunities of the magnificent views, both of the Klein Karoo and the Groot Karoo. With view of a 120km either side you can see the next mountain ranges on a clear day.
Ok so back to birding. In March the proteas are out in full bloom, turning the mountain pink and spoiling the Cape Sugarbirds as well as the Sunbirds. There are particular spots on the pass that when you stop and get out the vehicle you cannot hear yourself think for the amount of birds chatting while posing on the proteas for their photo ops.
Being nectivores, the Cape Sugarbird has a long decurved beak, that they used to get to the bottom of the flower where the nectar is stored. In reaching down there, they end up covering their faces with pollen, which when they moved to the next flower they deposit again. So the proteas are very dependent on these birds for pollination.
Some times if you lucky while watching the birds you may come across the Protea Beetle. These guys are also very important in pollination, either by covering themselves in pollen and moving on, or attracting the insectivores that catch them and inadvertently pick up pollen themselves, which they then deposit on the next flower. It all works so well together.
Another great species of bird to come across and particularly to watch is the Ground Woodpecker. Normally in groups of about 6 they fly around from one rock to the next, some on sentry duty while others feed on the ground. Add to that the possibility of spotting the Cape Siskin, Cape Bunting and of course the Cape Rockjumper, you may be ticking off some lifers on your list before the morning is over.
Remember the packed breakfast and the views? Well it cannot get better than this. With a choice of places to stop you can enjoy your coffee and breakfast with a view.
Our excursion birding in the Swartberg Pass is available to anyone that comes to visit us in Oudtshoorn. We will pick you up from your guest house so you can enjoy the ride and the scenery and then drop you back again just in time to enjoy lunch. The excursion takes about 6 hours and is ideal for a couple or 3 friends. Bigger groups can be accommodated with prior arrangement. For recommendations on where to stay in Oudtshoorn contact us or visit Oudtshoorn Tourism Bureau.
What to expect while birdwatching near Oudtshoorn
Click here to download your own bird check list
To see what else we offer in the Oudtshoorn and Garden Route areas visit Explore with Me
For tailormade Klein Karoo birding excursions contact me on Lynette@a2zebraadventures.com