Bird Watching in the Blue Crane Route
  • Somerset East

Last Updated: February 2018

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About Bird Watching in the Blue Crane Route

A Festival of Endemic Birds

As it is the point where most of South Africa's natural biomes converge, it comes as no surprise that about 350 species of birds occur in the Blue Crane Route.  This makes it one of the richest areas for birding in the Eastern Cape, and possibly the most diverse in the country.

Where else can one find all three bustards, all three mouse birds, and all three yellow-vented bulbuls?  Where else can one find Orange-breasted, Grey, and Dusky Sunbirds in one district?  While one could spot a Narina Trogon or a Yellow-throated Woodland-warbler on the slopes of the Boschberg; 15 km away on the Karoo plains, one has just as good a chance of spotting a Double-banded Courser or a Rufous-eared Warbler.  If that has not caught your attention, wait until you see the list of endemic birds recorded, including 53 Southern African endemics and 33 near endemics.  The raptor enthusiast has a selection of 33 birds of prey, including 9 species of eagle.

Historically, this area was explored by many of the early naturalists.  It was on the Great Fish River near the present day site of Somerset East, in 1777, that Sparrman made the Greater Honeyguide known to science.  Francois Le Vaillant gathered many specimens, made drawings, and recorded his first sighting of the Piet-My-Vrou near Bruintjies Hoogte in 1782.  In 1816, Dumont discovered and named the Black-collared Barbet near present day Cookhouse.  The Neddicky, from Camdeboo, was described by Vieillot in 1817.  In 1818 he discovered the endemic Bush Blackcap on Bruintjies Hoogte.  In 1830, Smith found the Black Sparrowhawk and in 1850 Kutsen followed with the Chinspot Batis, both of these up the Baviaans River.  The emblem of the area, the Blue Crane, was first described by Lichenstein in 1793 at "inner South Africa", so perhaps we can claim that too!

The mountain plateaus harbour special birds such as the Verreaux's Eagle, Cape Eagle-owl, Wing-snapping Cisticola and Buff-streaked Chat.  The forested slopes of the Boschberg may reward the patient birder with sightings of Bush Blackcap, Knysna Turaco (Lourie), Lemon Dove, Chorister Robin-Chat, White-starred Robin, Grey cuckoo-Shrike, Knysna Woodpecker, and Swee Waxbill.

Interesting birds from the bushveld habitat include: African Scops Owl, Layards Tit-babbler,Southern Chagra and African Rock Pippit.  On the grassy plains the following birds may be of interest: Melodious Lark, Blue Korhaan, Blue Crane, Sickle-winged Chat and Cloud Cisticola; while the Karoo plains are good for Karoo and Southern Black Korhaan, Cape Penduline Tits, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, and a wealth of Larks.

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