It’s been a long, steep hike to get to this mountain peak in the Cederberg. The views, the landscapes and the flowers have made it worthwhile. But we’re all the way up here to search for the most elusive fynbos endemics. We’ll sit on these boulders to rest for a few minutes, have a drink from the stream, and then go birding!

Read along:

Hear the Cape Spurfowl? You know, I always joke that birding is not really good exercise, because you’re constantly stopping to look at stuff. But I must say: today I feel like we’re getting our steps in! But we’re almost to the top of this rocky ridge, and I think the view of the surrounding mountains is going to be incredible. Come on, just a few more metres.

Phew! What a view! The Cederberg is a stunning mountain range, isn’t it? Especially at this time of year when all the fynbos plants are in bloom. And of course a lot of these fynbos flowers depend on their specific pollinators – sunbirds and sugarbirds. I’m sure we’ll see some in this habitat. Let’s sit and rest on these boulders for a while and scan the slopes.

See anything? Oh yes, I can see that little guy there. Uhh, Cape Bunting. A little bird on a big rock often turns out to be a Cape Bunting! And something else, a big bigger, on those white rocks on the left. Orange body and blue head – that’s a Cape Rock Thrush! Wow!

There! I can hear a Cape Sugarbird! That weird jangling song. There it is! On top of that protea. It’s a male – look at that long tail – and it’s doing its display flight! Can you hear that frip-frip sound that its wing feathers makes? How awesome is that!? Usually where you see sugarbirds there are also Orange-breasted Sunbirds around. Let’s see…ja, there, a bit lower down on the slope. A male with his breast turned towards us. He just flitted to that yellow conebush. Nice!

What’s that other little guy with the spotted chest? Oh, I can hear it – Karoo Prinia. They’re one of the most common birds in this habitat. And what are these guys flying in? They’re coming closer…and just landed in that clump of ericas. Cape Siskin! Cape Siskin! You got them? Awesome!

Hey, something’s flying overhead! A Rock Kestrel! And he’s being chased by a White-necked Raven. Yes, I’d also flee if I was the kestrel – that raven is like three times his size! And some other birds high up in the sky: African Black Swifts. Can you hear them screaming?

Should we try and climb to that rocky area over there? Maybe we’re pushing our luck, but it looks like good habitat for rockjumpers. Let’s go. Need a hand? You okay? Let’s work our way along this ridge. Excuse me? Oh yes, I see them? Two birds on that big boulder. Grey head, green back and a bit of red on the belly. Ground Woodpeckers! One of my favourite birds! Oh, those Red-winged Starlings just chased them off. 

Hey! I saw something with a white-tipped tail disappear behind that rock. Yes, that rock with all the orange lichens. There it is again! Cape Rockjumper! Wow! That’s one of the most difficult fynbos endemics to find. Well done!

Let’s stroll down to that little stream over there. The vegetation is a bit denser and taller. We might spot some different species. Lots of Clicking Stream Frogs calling – can you hear them? But hey, what’s that song? It sounds like it’s coming from that taller shrub there. Can you see anything? There! In the thin twigs on the right: Cape Grassbird! Look at that red tail! Awesome. I think he might be nesting in those thick restios. Yes, the ones that look like stiff grasses. 

Some Cape Bulbuls flying in. Check out those white eye-rings! And something’s chasing them! A black and white bird. Just landed in that dead shrub. Uhm, Fiscal Flycatcher. Cool! What’s that buzzy sound? Really high-pitched. It sounds almost ultrasonic. Can you hear it? There he is, just there on the other side of the stream. Do you know what that is? Yes, you’re right! A Yellow Bishop, all puffed up. And there are two females too! That’s why he’s so excited.

We should keep an ear open for Victorin’s Warbler. They are one of the least common fynbos birds, and even when you do hear them, they are very tricky to see. They skulk deep inside these dense thickets and almost never come out. But this habitat looks pretty much perfect for Victorin’s. It might be worth walking downstream a bit.

Oi! Flufftail! Flufftail! Flying away from us, about 10 m out! Got it? Just landed! Yes! A Striped Flufftail! I can’t believe it! Did you see his red head? And those dangling legs. YES! That was so lucky…flufftails are almost impossible to see. Just here, it took off right here somewhere, right by my feet. Maybe it’s nesting around here? Let’s rather walk on those rocks there so we don’t trample its habitat. That was incredible! Hey, it’s calling! Listen… and there’s another one hooting! Far off, on that side. Hear it?

And there! Do you hear that fast song, in those thickets? That’s our target! That’s Victorin’s Warbler! Let’s sneak closer and try and get a look. No, I can’t see anything. Can you? Oh wait, hold on, I can see some movement deep inside the bush. Yes, orange chest, grey face, orange eye…that’s him! Victorin’s Warbler.

What a day! I think more or less the only fynbos specials we didn’t get were Fynbos Buttonquail and Protea Canary, and those two are both really tough. But the rockjumpers and that flufftail more than made up for those two dips. Yes, and the Victorin’s! There aren’t nearly as many bird species in the fynbos biome as in woodland or forest. But here it’s more about quality than quantity. All these birds are really special, and most of them live nowhere else on the planet.

Birds featured:

Cape Spurfowl | Kaapse Fisant (p. 135) | 00:03

Cape Bunting | Rooivlerkstreepkoppie (p. 477) | 01:04

Cape Rock Thrush | Kaapse Kliplyster (p. 286) | 01:27

Cape Sugarbird | Kaapse Suikervoël (p. 423) | 01:46

Orange-breasted Sunbird | Oranjeborssuikerbekkie (p. 413) | 02:17

Karoo Prinia | Karoolangstertjie (p. 403) | 02:35

Cape Siskin | Kaapse Pietjiekanarie (p. 471) | 02:44

Rock Kestrel | Kransvalk (p. 197) | 03:04

White-necked Raven | Withalskraai (p. 255) | 03:08

African Black Swift | Swartwindswael (p. 258) | 03:18

Ground Woodpecker | Grondspeg (p. 337) | 03:51

Red-winged Starling | Rooivlerkspreeu (p. 277) | 04:10

Cape Rockjumper | Kaapse Berglyster (p. 289) | 04:27

Cape Grassbird | Grasvoël (p. 393) | 05:15

Cape Bulbul | Kaapse Tiptol (p. 379) | 05:42

Fiscal Flycatcher | Fiskaalvlieëvanger (p. 372) | 05:55

Yellow Bishop | Kaapse Flap (p. 447) | 06:15

Striped Flufftail | Gestreepte Vleikuiken (p. 95) | 07:05

Victorin’s Warbler | Rooiborsruigtesanger (p. 393) | 07:55

ABOVE: A stunning male Orange-breasted Sunbird. Photo by Anton Kruger/Firefinch App.