Tankwa – Skitterykloof

  • Skitterykloof - Ian Rijsdijk

About the Birding

Skitterykloof (sometimes erroneously called Katbakkies) is situated in the southern Tankwa approximately 41 km from Karoopoort. The site comprises a cliff-lined valley cut into the foot of the Warm Bokkeveld Mountains. A public road traverses the valley and ascends the northern side to reach the Swartruggens plateau.

The site is accessible from either Op-die Berg, north of Ceres, or from the R355 in the Tankwa.

From the Tankwa side, take the turn towards Warm Bokkeveld/Kagga Kamma (-32.8912, 19.7694). It is worth stopping after 250m and scanning the prominent drainage line (-32.8908, 19.7666) for specials like Fairy Flycatcher, Cape Penduline Tit and Pririt Batis.

On entering the valley stop just before the stream crosses the road (-32.8825, 19.7410). The aloe-covered cliffs on either side of the road are excellent habitat for Cinnanom-breasted Warbler. This diminutive reddish brown bird is a true skulker. It tends to stay hidden, or quickly scuttles around its habitat like a little mouse. It is best seen when it calls from an exposed rock or bush. Patient scanning of all this habitat, and knowledge of its call are key. The use of playback is frowned upon as this population has suffered from overuse of recorded calls.

While scanning for this target, be on the lookout for other typical dry mountain species like Cape Bunting, Mountain Wheatear, Pale-winged Starling, Grey Tit and Layard’s Warbler. The numerous aloes attract Malachite Sunbirds and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds. Dusky Sunbirds are present after good rains.
Continue another 250m along the road to the picnic site (-32.8828, 19.7388). Search the numerous thorn trees for Pririt Batis, Fairy Flycatcher, and Chestnut-vented Titbabbler. Other specials on offer include White-throated Canary, White-backed Mousebird and Long-billed Crombec.

A mountain spring feeds into a dense reedbed which springs up like an oasis in this dry hot valley. A number of rallids like Red-chested Flufftails, African Rail and Black Crake can all be heard. The more likely species to be found include Levaillant’s Cisticola, Little Rush Warbler and African Reed Warbler (summer).
If you have had not located the warbler, scan the slope immediately to the west of the picnic area or slope north of the road. You can also park partway up the road (-32.8812, 19.7336) and scan the higher slopes.

While birding this site, keep an eye out for circling Verreaux’s Eagles and Rock Kestrel which breed in the area. Booted Eagle is a summer visitor.
The plateau above the pass is home to Cape Eagle Owl. They tend to sit up on large boulders at night. Just be aware the road can be rough, with plenty of nocturnal mammal activity making any night-time drives very risky.

This site is ideally down as part of a longer southern Tankwa trip. From here you can retrace your steps and stop at the eclectic Tankwa padstal (-32.8707, 19.7756), and/or continue north to the Tankwa National Park.

If you continue along the Swartruggens plateau, the road will reach Katbakkies Pass after approximately 6km. This is another very good site for Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. Ground Woodpecker, Layard’s Titbabbler, Cape Siskin and Cape Bunting are all possibilities. This road eventually links up to the R303 just north of Op-die-Berg.

About the Birding Site

Skitterykloof is the classic site for Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. Cut into the foot of the Warm Bokkeveld Mountains, this valley is a mix of aloe-covered cliff faces and Vachellia karroo drainage lines. Besides the warbler, the site also offers birders a suite of other dryland specials.

Other Related Information

Western end of the valley: -32.8781, 19.7247
Eastern end of the valley: -32.8825, 19.7410
No entry fees are applicable

Text prepared by:

Vince Ward (Birding Africa Tours)

Key species:

Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Cape Bunting, Layard’s Titbabbler, Grey Tit, Pririt Batis, Fairy Flycatcher, Pale-winged Starling, Mountain Wheatear