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LOCAL TIME: 12:43 am | Wednesday, 26 June
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Birding, Swartberg Pass, R62, Oudtshoorn

Birding, Swartberg Pass, Garden Route

Swartberg Pass Birding Spots

Declared a world heritage site in 2004, Swartberg Nature Reserve stretches 121 000 hectares between the Klein and Groot Karoo, bordering the Gamkapoort Nature Reserve to the north and the Towerkop Nature Reserve to the west. The town of Oudtshoorn is 40km away.

Heading north from Oudtshoorn the road will begin to climb, you will notice a sudden switch from arid scrub and ravine-side thicket to moist mountain fynbos. The pass crests the Swartberg range at an altitude of 1 436m before dropping through a series of dramatic switchbacks, becoming progressively arider and as the road emerges into the Karoo, look out for the contorted rock layers folded by the massive early geological upheavals.

Once you reach the dry hillside scrub in the vicinity of the Cango Mountain Resort turn off, take a moment to investigate, the Layard’s Titbabbler and Fairy Flycatcher have been found in this area.

43km north of Oudtshoorn the road surface changes to gravel, this is when the pass begins, the altitude has transformed the parched scrub into moist, dense mountain fynbos. Look out for a stream flanked by taller vegetation, this is an excellent site for Protea Canary, look in the tall streamside growth. More conspicuous species that can be found in this area are Cape Sugarbird, Orange Breasted Sunbird, Neddicky, Cape Bulbul, Grassbird and Malachite Sunbird.

The Victorian Warbler can be found in the impenetrable undergrowth along the entire ascent of the pass. As the road approaches its highest altitude, the terrain becomes rockier and cooler. Take a moment to walk the rocky ridges to the east and west of the pass’s summit, where you could be rewarded by spotting the Ground Woodpecker, Cape Rockjumper, Sentinel and Cape Rock Thrushes and the Cape Siskin.

The landscape north of the summit is noticeably drier, keep an eye out for the classic mountain raptors such at the Black Eagle, Booted Eagle, Jack Buzzard and Rock Kestrel.

As the road descends through progressively more arid country it will ultimately join a river in the dry gorge. The flanking hillside scrub hosts kloof loving Karoo species such as the Fairy Flycatcher, Layard’s Titbabbler and Pale Winged Starling.

Look out for the picnic site which lies on the left hand side alongside a band of thorned Acacia Trees. See if you can spot the Southern Tchagra, Pririt Batis, Namaqua Warbler and Red Billed Firefinch from the picnic site.

The road will run for another 2km through a broad valley to the sleepy town of Prince Albert and the Great Karoo.

Not only will you see many birds on this trip, but it is one of the most spectacular drives in South Africa. You can choose to overnight in Prince Albert, a quaint Karro town with lots to do, or, if you are in a 4×4, opt to turn left off the Swartberg pass and drive to De Hel, where you can overnight in self catering cottages. The drive to De Hel is also amazing, and in spring the fynbos not only delivers sunbirds and sugar birds galore, but is absolutely beautiful.

See the self drive route over the Swartberg Pass to Prince Albert and back to Oudtshoorn via De Rust

Getting there

From Cape Town, take the N1 to Worcester, and then take the turn-off to the R60. Follow that road as it changes to the R62 at Montagu, and keep following it until you reach Oudtshoorn, about 420km from Cape Town. In Oudtshoorn, go to the CapeNature office in Baron von Rheede Street, and receive further instruction to reach the reserve.

More info on the town of Knysna More info on the Garden Route area



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