Far West – Willowmore, Klaarstroom and Rietbron

About the Birding

The vast plains that dominate the area are rich in ‘LBJ’s’ and dedicated birders should find the Karoo Long-billed, Large-billed, and Red-capped Larks, Grey-backed Sparrow-lark, the African and Long-billed Pipits, the Karoo and Sickle-winged Chats and Lark-like Bunting. Karoo Lark occurs in neighbouring parts of the Western Cape but has yet to be discovered in the Eastern Cape. Top prize within this area are the rare and highly-nomadic Sclater’s Lark and Black-eared Sparrow-lark.

The best approach to seeing these species is to sit and wait besides a drinking trough, as both species drink daily. In the dwarf shrubland, look for Karoo Eremomela, Tractrac Chat and Rufous-eared Warbler. The Kori and Ludwig’s Bustards and both the Karoo and Northern Black Korhaans are all reasonably common. Several pairs of Blue Crane nest near isolated water bodies.

Belts of riverine woodland are something of an oasis within this stark region, supporting a fair diversity of bird species. The endemic Namaqua Warbler is common and is best detected by its high-pitched trilling call. Other noteworthy species include the Pririt Batis, Yellow Canary, Red-headed Finch, Red-billed Firefinch, Dusky Sunbird, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler (Warbler), and Acacia Pied Barbet.

A high diversity of birds-of-prey occur throughout the region. Pale Chanting Goshawk is common and conspicuous, regularly perching atop trees to survey the surrounding landscape. Both Greater and Rock Kestrels occur, the former frequently using abandoned crow nests to breed. The Martial and Verreaux’s Eagles are both prevalent in the area though these birds maintain massive territories.

Key species:

Sclater’s and Karoo Long-billed Larks, Karoo Eremomla, Ludwig’s and Kori Bustards, Karoo Korhaan, Black-eared Sparrowlark

About the Birding Site

Much of the north-western area of the Eastern Cape consists of extensive karoo plains, in the rain shadow of the Baviaanskloof Escarpment. Riverbeds, which are dry for most of the year, descend sharply from the escarpment and meander across the flat plains to join the Sunday’s River. The harshness of the landscape is reflected in its overall climate: the climate is one of extremes with temperatures ranging from -15 °C on the plateau in winter to highs of more than 40 °C on the plains in summer.

The region receives an average rainfall of 260 mm p.a. and is prone to periods of drought. This stark variation yields a wide diversity of micro-habitats, resulting in a distinct contrast between the lusher vegetation of the escarpment, where fynbos elements dominate, and the lower plain, where dwarf scrub dominates and thornveld occurs in the moister valleys and watercourses. Nama Karoo shrubs, seldom exceeding 70 cm in height, are the major component of the scrub vegetation that covers much of the plains and lower escarpment. The vegetation becomes non-succulent as the altitude increases. Belts of riverine thicket line the mostly dry riverbeds, creating a network of tree-veins that stretch across the stark landscape. Other habitats include constructed dams, human habitation, gardens and stands of exotic Eucalyptus and Populus species.

The area has gained appreciation among provincial listers for the occurrence of several range-restricted species that are not easily seen anywhere else in the Eastern Cape. Among these are the Karoo Eremomela, Black-eared Sparrowlark, Tractrac Chat, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, and Sclater’s Lark. However, the region supports an estimated 230 species including several key Karoo biome-restricted species. In particular – the lowland plains in the area are particularly good for both Ludwig’s and Kori Bustards, the Karoo and Northern Black Korhaans, Karoo Chat, Rufous-eared Warbler and Black-headed Canary to name a few. That being said – the region is still relatively under-explored, and several obvious species have yet to be found including both the Karoo Lark and the Cape Spurfowl. Access to the region is relatively easy, given that the area is bisected by several important road networks, but visitors should be mindful that the area it is sparsely populated, and birders need to be well-prepared when visiting this remote corner of the province.

Key species:

Sclater’s and Karoo Long-billed Larks, Karoo Eremomla, Ludwig’s and Kori Bustards, Karoo Korhaan, Black-eared Sparrowlark

Other Related Information

From Graaf-Rienet – head south along the N9 through Aberdeen to reach Willowmore. From Willowmore, turn west along the R407 to reach Klaarstroom. The detailed network of unpaved roads to the north of here – in the direction of Rietbron – offers the best access to the area.

Access and facilities:
The area is sparsely populated, and birders should be well prepared when planning to visit this remote region of the Eastern Cape. The nearest towns are Klaarstroom and Willowmore, where it is possible to refuel and buy supplies.

Other related information:

Note too that many of these areas are privately owned and birders should remain on the main roads at all time. Farmers are often inviting of birders but do not take kindly to trespassing.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
No Birder Friendly Establishments are currently available for the area, though a variety of accommodation options are available in the nearby city of Beaufort West located in the Western Cape.

Local guide information:
No Birder Friendly Tour Operators or local guides are currently available for the area.

Text prepared by:
Daniel Keith Danckwerts (Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Tours)

Key species:

Sclater’s and Karoo Long-billed Larks, Karoo Eremomla, Ludwig’s and Kori Bustards, Karoo Korhaan, Black-eared Sparrowlark

Contact details: