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Tankwa Karoo Birding Route

Tankwa Karoo Scenery in SpringA biodiversity hotspot, the remote, arid and stony Tankwa Karoo offers a birding list of 174 species, of which 18 are endemics.

Most specials are available year round, but with temperatures soaring in summer, the best time to visit is spring (August to October) when, if rain has fallen, you will be treated to Karoo desert flora.

Though only 3-4 hours drive from Cape Town to Tankwa Karoo National Park, birding will slow you down and it is best to overnight in the park or surrounding area. The arid Karooveld habitat of riverine bush in the south and a mountainous area in the east will often surprise by revealing spectacular scenery. Most of the roads are gravel but passable, and the closest re-fueling points are Ceres, Sutherland and Calvinia, so if necessary, take a jerry-can. If you drove the entire route, it will be in excess of 600 km.

Birding in the park can be undertaken after reporting to the Park’s reception where personnel will furnish you with a map and explain the roads. Bird lists are available at reception.

Typical specials of the dry western area include Fairy Flycatcher, Martial Eagle, Ludwig’s Bustard, Karoo Korhaan, Karoo Eremomela, Tractrac Chat, Karoo Chat, Burchell’s Courser, Doublebanded Courser, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Karoo Lark, Large-billed Lark, Karoo Long-billed Lark, Black-eared Sparrowlark, Layard’s Tit-Babbler, Rufous-eared Warbler, Namaqua Warbler, Cape Penduline-Tit, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Dusky Sunbird, African Rock Pipit and Black-headed Canary.

Route: Take the R46 from Cape Town to Ceres and continue a further 40 km to the intersection with the R355. The R355 is the spine of this birding route. The R355 can also be reached from the N1 by taking the R46 (signposted Ceres) 10 km before Touws River on the Cape Town side.  At the T-junction, turn right onto the R355.

From here, the R355 follows a riverbed of reeds and thicket, ideal habitat for the Namaqua Warbler and other arid western species. There is a picnic site at the junction of the R355 and R354, ideal for some spotting.

After a further 8 km from the picnic spot, stop where the road is crossed by an acacia lined riverbed as this area is often active. There is a road of 200 meters to a fence overlooking Swartkop dam, which can yield some water birds when full.

About 4 km further on, lookout for the distinctive pair of hills and take the gravel track to the base of the right hand hill called Eierkop. This area is home to many endemic Karoo species, especially the Karoo Eremomela. Walk to the top of Eierkop to see the view and diversity of local succulents.

Continue to Skitterykloof, 21 km north of Eierkop and turn left at the Kagga Kamma, Swartrugpad sign. After 3.5 km, a small track leads left into the picnic site where tables, toilet and tap are available. The picnic site itself is productive, as are the cliffs seen on entry to the site.

25 km north of Skitterykloof, turn right onto the P2250 (towards Middelpos and Sutherland) and travel this route to the Tankwa Karoo National Park. This road is excellent for birding, especially in early spring. Take a stop at the first and second water courses (the latter being 27.6 km from the R355 and just prior to the junction to the right) as they are very productive, even in the hotter parts of the day.

Just after the second watercourse, continue left to the Tankwa Karoo National Park. Accommodation and Park Details

The Ouberg Pass on the way to Sutherland from the P2250 offers  superb views of the Tankwa Karoo below, and excellent birding. Coming from the east, an attractive option is work your way down into the Tankwa over Ouberg Pass, having first taken the tarred R354 from the N1 towards Sutherland.

Note: On the return trip from Tankwa Karoo National Park, continue on the Skitterykloof road via the Katbakkies Pass that plunges down to join the R303 close to Op-die-berg. The rocky pass yields sightings of the Ground Woodpecker and keep a look out for the Cape Eagle and Spotted Eagle Owls.

Birding in the Tankwa Karoo National Park OR Read the Country Life Magazine article on the Tankwa Karoo National Park

More info on the Hantam Karoo area

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