Greater Karoo – Prince Albert

About the Birding

The town of Prince Albert is situated in the southern Karoo. The town and adjacent arid plains offer a good variety of sought-after Karoo specials.

From Prince Albert you can go on different roads to go birding. It all depends on the condition of the veld what birds you will see and how plentiful they are.

One road is the road to Kruidfontein station and the N1. The turn off to this road is about 2 km from the church to the north of the town. As soon as you turn on to this gravel road you will find the local golf course on your left-hand side. Look here for Red-capped Lark, Spike-heeled Lark, Crowned Lapwing and Lark-like Bunting (after good rain), while the little sweet thorn trees (Acacia karoo) host Chestnut-vented Warbler, Yellow-bellied Eremomela and Cape Sparrow. Occasionally you will find Rufous-eared Warbler, White-backed and Red-faced Mousebird. Even Burchell’s Courser occurs on the fairways from time to time.

About 1 km from the turn off you pass the local sewage works. Look for Little Grebe, Red-knobbed Coot, South African Shelduck and Egyptian Goose on the water, while Black-smith Lapwing, Three-banded Plover and Kittlitz’s Plover roam the banks.
After the sewage works one passes patches of thorn trees which normally host Acacia Pied Barbet, Fiscal Flycatcher, Chestnut-vented warbler, White-throated Canary and sometimes you will also find Black-headed Canary, Yellow-bellied Eremomela and Cape Penduline Tit.

After crossing the drift over Swart River the Swartrivier Olive Farm of Jan and Annelien Bothma is on the left. They welcome visitors to show their olive products that can be bought. The birds are plentiful around the farm and you can find Hadeda Ibis, Southern Fiscal, Namaqua Warbler, Cape and House Sparrow, Southern Masked- and Cape Weaver, Greater Striped Swallow, Barn and Pearl-breasted Swallow (summer), Red-faced, White-backed and Speckled Mousebirds, Karoo Prinia, Pririt Batis and African Paradise-Flycatcher. Listen for the calls of Southern Boubou, Southern Tchagra, Diderick and Klaas’s Cuckoo (summer). Scan the thickets for Willow Warbler (summer), Cape White-eye, Cape Bulbul and Karoo Thrush. It is also a good place to look for Common Swift (summer) and Alpine Swift.

Beyond the green belt of the farm you will encounter the arid Karoo. Most birds are well camouflaged, but it is good to stop at the dry drainage lines where there is more vegetation and look for birds like the Grey Tit, Dusky and Southern Double-banded Sunbirds, Acacia Pied Barbet, Fiscal Flycatcher, White-throated Canary and Karoo Prinia. Southern Pale Chanting Goshawks scan the area from telephone poles and there is a possibility of Rock and Greater Kestrel, Steppe Buzzard (summer), Lanner Falcon and Martial Eagle. Karoo Korhaans are quite common, while Yellow Canary, Karoo Long-billed, Spike-heeled, Red-capped, Large-billed, Karoo and Bradfield’s Sabota Lark, Rufous-eared Warbler and Grey-backed and Black-eared Sparrowlarks (after rains) are also present. At windmills near the road, stop and listen for the call of Namaqua Sandgrouse, especially in the morning or late afternoon, when they come to drink. Kori Bustards are seen in the drainage amongst the trees and grass, while Ludwig’s Bustards are common on the plains after rains. Look in the small drainage lines amongst tall bushes for one of the Karoo specials, the Karoo Eremomela.

The plains also host Double-banded Courser, Tractrac and Sickle-winged Chat, lots of Karoo Chats, Lark-like Bunting and Namaqua Dove. Cape Crows nest on telephone poles and Chat Flycatchers are best seen when they perch on telephone lines. Pied Crows are regularly seen along the road.

About 25 km from Prince Albert you pass the farm Combrinckskraal and the road follows the edge of the Gamka River. The next 2 km is very rewarding. You have on the one side the river with water pools (after rains) and riverine bush and on the other side a typical Karoo koppie. In the river, you find Little Egret, Grey Heron, Hamerkop, African Spoonbill, Reed Cormorant, African Sacred Ibis, Egyptian Geese, South African Shelduck and Yellow-billed Duck, Black Stork, Blacksmith Lapwing and Three-banded Plover, Cape Wagtail, Malachite and Pied Kingfisher and in summer Common Greenshank, Marsh and Common Sandpiper. Occasionally you will also find Glossy Ibis, White Stork and Great White Egret at the pools.

The riverine bush hosts Bokmakierie, Red-eyed Bulbul, Cape Spurfowl, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Southern Masked-Weaver, Acacia Pied Barbet, Malachite Sunbird, Karoo Thrush, Helmeted Guineafowl, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Long-billed Crombec, Pririt Batis, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Southern Red Bishop and Common Waxbill.

The koppie on the eastern side of the road hosts Dusky Sunbird, Layard’s Warbler, Grey Tit, Cape Bunting, Mountain Wheatear, Pale-winged Starling and Fairy Flycatcher. Late afternoon and early evening you will probably see a Spotted Eagle Owl perching on a pole along the road while Rufous-cheeked Nightjars are common along the road early evening. Scan the sky for Little, White-rumped and Alpine Swifts, flying together with White-throated, Greater Striped Swallows and Rock and Brown-throated Martins. Listen for the calls of the Diderick and Klaas’s Cuckoo in summer.

Another road with good birding is the road to Gamkapoort Dam Nature Reserve which is managed by Cape Nature. The nature reserve is not sign-posted at all but it is worth the effort, so drive west up Magrieta Prinsloo Street out of Prince Albert. On the edge of Prince Albert look for Pale-winged Starling, Familiar Chat and around the little hill near the huge rondavel house for Long-billed Pipit. In the area around the weavery, Grey Tit and Cape Canary are often seen. The road continues over a few hills and then along a stretch of vast “vlakte”. This is a very good birding area, especially after rains, with a lot of the Karoo species normally found here like Rufous-eared Warbler, Karoo Chat, Chat Flycatcher, Karoo Korhaan, Karoo Eremomela, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Cape Penduline Tit, Karoo Long-billed, Spike-heeled and Large-billed Lark, Yellow, White-throated and Black-headed Canary, Cape Sparrow and White-backed Mousebird. Look for Steppe Buzzard (summer) and Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk on the poles and Booted Eagle (summer) in the air.

After 3 km one passes a farm on the right. Check the thorn trees for Fairy Flycatcher and Acacia Pied Barbet, while on the fields along the road there are African Pipit and Red-capped Lark. A few hundred metres further on, the little koppies are also good habitat for Karoo and Yellow-bellied Eremomela and Long-billed Pipit. PLEASE DO NOT CLIMB OVER THE FENCE.

A further 400 metres the road crosses the Treintjies River and the thorn trees here host a lot of birds. Look for Fairy Flycatcher, Chestnut-vented Warbler, Sombre Greenbul, Diderick and Klaas’s Cuckoos (summer), Black-headed, Yellow and White-throated Canary, Red-faced and White-backed Mousebird, Bokmakierie, scan the sky for Lanner Falcon, Steppe Buzzard and Booted Eagle (summer), Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk which breeds nearby, Spotted Eagle Owl, Rufous-cheecked (summer) and Fiery-necked Nightjar, Namaqua, Cape Turtle- and Laughing Dove, Acacia Pied Barbet, Cardinal Woodpecker, Layard’s Warbler, Karoo Prinia, Grey-backed Cisticola, Namaqua Warbler, Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Bulbul, Southern Tchagra, Southern Boubou, Streaky-headed Seed-eater, Cape and Lark-like Bunting.

The next 10 km of typical Karoo “vlaktes” are very rewarding, especially after rains. Lots of canaries, larks, Karoo Korhaan, Ludwig’s and Kori Bustard, Karoo Chat, Grey-backed and Black-eared Sparrowlarks can then be found.

About 15 km from Prince Albert the road crosses the Perdevlei River, which is a very rewarding stop. You can find Southern Tchagra, Southern Boubou, Sombre Greenbul, Namaqua Warbler, Jacobin, Diderick and Klaas’s Cuckoo (summer), Karoo Prinia, Cape Bulbul and Fairy Flycatcher. Look out for the resident pair of African Fish Eagle soaring in the sky.

Over the next 8 km the road drops to the Gamka River and this area is good for Karoo Korhaans, Ludwig’s Bustard (after rains), larks and canaries. Take note of the beautiful Karee poles in the fence on the southern side. These poles have been in use for nearly 100 years.

At 23 km you will reach a gate, continue through and cross the Gamka River. The riverine thickets are good for Dusky, Malachite and Southern Double-banded Sunbirds, Fairy Flycatcher and when there are water pools in the river, you may also find Black Stork, Grey Heron, Black-winged Stilt and some ducks. The road continues through a private game farm with more gates. You may see springbuck, gemsbuck and red hartebeest. PLEASE STAY ON THE ROAD AND CLOSE THE GATES. Watch out for typical Karoo birds.

30 km from Prince Albert you reach the Gamkapoort Dam Nature Reserve gate. There is no entrance fee.

The third very rewarding birding road, is the road via Tierberg to the N12. This road leaves Prince Albert via Pastorie Street which turns off in front of the D R Church in Church Street. In town you can look for Red-eyed Dove, Little Swift, Crowned Lapwing and Pin-tailed Whydah. At 19 Pastorie St, there is a dam adjacent to the street where you can often see Purple Heron, Malachite and Giant Kingfisher, a breeding colony of Cape Weaver, Southern Red Bishop and Pin-tailed Whydah. On the outskirts of the town are lots of thorn trees and look here for Chestnut-vented Warbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Cape Penduline Tit, Karoo Prinia, Pririt Batis, Fiscal Flycatcher and White-throated Canary. Rock Kestrels often perch on the telephone poles and look out for Steppe Buzzard and Booted Eagle in summer.

About 3 km out of town, the road passes between two koppies with a windmill on the left. This is a very good place to listen and watch for Karoo Eremomela and Layard’s Warbler. Karoo Chat is common in that area. Long-billed Pipit also occurs in the koppies.

The road descends to the farm Vyevlei and crosses the Cordiers River where Karoo Prinia, Namaqua Warbler, Southern Boubou and Southern Tchagra occur. Sometimes even Black-headed Canaries are present. On the fields next to the river Levaillant’s Cisticola, Zitting Cisticola, Southern Red Bishop and Pin-tailed Whydah are common. Pied Starlings, Wattled Starlings and Red-billed Queleas gather around the feeding places of the ostrich chicks. In summer White Storks are often seen walking in the lucerne.

The road goes across a flat piece of veld where Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, African Pipit, Spike-heeled and Karoo Long-billed Lark are common. Occassionally you will also find Yellow-bellied Eremomela and Chat Flycatcher.

The road crosses the usually dry Sand River after about 10 km from Prince Albert (DON’T TRY TO CROSS WHEN THERE IS WATER IN THE RIVER) and the thorn trees in the river host Fairy and Fiscal Flycatcher, Pririt Batis, Dusky Sunbird and Acacia Pied Barbet. Listen for the call of passing Namaqua Sandgrouse in the early morning or late afternoon.

The road continues through typical Karoo veld with small bushes and often crosses dry streams. Keep watch for Karoo Korhaan, Double-banded Courser, Karoo Chat, Chat Flycatcher, Karoo, Spike-heeled and Karoo Long-billed Lark. Near the dry streams be on the lookout for Kori Bustards, while after rains Ludwig’s Bustards are common. The dry riverbeds host Chestnut-vented Warbler, Dusky Sunbirds, Fairy Flycatcher and Cape Sparrow. Look for Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Greater Kestrel and Cape Crow on the telephone poles. Stop at the windmills along the road because a lot of birds come here to drink. Birds you can possibly tick off are Lark-like Bunting, Karoo Eremomela, Yellow, Black-headed and White-throated Canary, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Namaqua Dove and Cape Bunting.

After about 23 km the road reaches a tall mountain on the right called Tierberg (Tiger Mountain). The area around Tierberg is prime birding area with Ground Woodpecker, Layard’s Warbler, Alpine and White-rumped Swift, Pale-winged Starling, Karoo Scrub-Robin and White-necked Raven. The river vegetation hosts Cardinal Woodpecker, Lesser Honeyguide, Cape Robin-Chat, Acacia Pied Barbet, Fairy Flycatcher and Southern Double-banded Sunbird. In the river pools there are sometimes Hamerkop, which nest on the cliffs along the road, Black Stork and Three-banded Plover. The reeds in the river provide shelter for Cape and Southern Masked-Weaver and Common Waxbill.

Where the road crosses the river, look for Namaqua Warbler, African Reed-Warbler and Willow Warbler (both in summer), Lesser Honeyguide, White-throated Swallow and African Red-eyed Bulbul. The surrounding hills are good for Long-billed Pipit, while in summer Red-faced and White-backed Mousebirds feed on the seeds of Searsia lancea.

The road now continues over flat Karoo veld producing species like Kori Bustard, Ludwig’s Bustard, Karoo Long-billed, Spike-heeled and Karoo Lark, Plain-backed Pipit, Grey-backed Sparrowlark and after rains Black-eared Sparrowlark. Rufous-eared Warbler is common and where taller bushes occur, look for Karoo Eremomela, Cape Penduline Tit and Yellow-bellied Eremomela. Chat Flycatchers sit most of the time on the telephone wires searching the area for insects. In summer Booted Eagle are often seen soaring overhead.

Look out for Namaqua Sandgrouses near windmills and Double-banded Coursers in open areas with sparse vegetation. Southern Pale Chanting Goshawks are common, while Martial Eagles are often seen perching on telephone poles.

Just before you reach the tar road between Beaufort West and Oudtshoorn the road crosses the Traka River. There is normally some spring water in the riverbed, and it is the drinking place of several bird species like Lark-like Bunting, White-throated and Yellow Canary and Namaqua Sandgrouse. In summer you may find Wood and Common Sandpiper as well as Common Greenshank at the water, while Hamerkop, Little Egret and Black Stork are common. The trees on the edge of the river host Fork-tailed Drongo, Southern Tchagra, Southern Boubou, Sombre Greenbul, Fairy Flycatcher, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Southern Masked-Weaver, Chestnut-vented Warbler and Fiscal Flycatcher.

About the Birding Site

Prince Albert is situated in the Great Karoo in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. Just 72km from Oudtshoorn over the majestic Swartberg Mountains, or 88km through the awe-inspiring route of Meringspoort and the beautiful Prince Albert Valley. Prince Albert is a delightful South African village in the Karoo. Although situated in an arid region, Prince Albert is blessed with water from the Swartberg Mountains and the village is a little oasis. The town celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2012.

Other Related Information

Text prepared by:

Japie Claassen

Key species:

Karoo species like Karoo Eremomela, Karoo Long-billed Lark, Black-headed Canary, Karoo Lark, Layard’s Warbler, Dusky Sunbird, Double-banded Courser, Burchell’s Courser, Lesser Honeyguide