The dry plains and rocky slopes of Namaqualand and the Karoo are magic! There’s no sound except for our footsteps, the sheep and lots of birds! Today we’re on a mission to find one of the toughest Dry West endemics: Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. It’s going to be a long walk – I hope we brought enough water. Let’s head out!

Read along:

I love birding in Namaqualand! There’s something very special about being out on these dry plains. Just listen to how quiet it is. No traffic noise, no people, not even a breeze. Just our heartbeats and the birds. But where are the birds? Let’s rest for a moment and scan a bit.

There! Something perched on that bush, out towards that old windmill. Wait, he just hopped down to the ground. No, he’s back up, and he’s flicking his wings. That must mean it’s one of the wing-flicking chats. Yip, I can hear him. Karoo Chat. Lekker man! Bokmakierie calling. What an incredible sound! And listen, there in the distance. That’s a special one that you’ll enjoy – let’s walk a bit closer. 

Cool. It sounds like he’s somewhere in these low bushes. See anything? There, just popped up to the top of that grey-green bush. See his long tail? That’s a Rufous-eared Warbler. Something else running on the ground, behind the bushes. He’s going to appear in that gap in a second…there! Karoo Scrub Robin! That’s his special skizzlezit call. These guys are experts at spotting snakes—that’s why they’re called Slangverklikker in Afrikaans. So it’s always a good idea to be a bit more careful when you hear them calling.

We’re making good progress towards the koppie. I really do hope we can find a Cinnamon-breasted Warbler. One of the most tricky dry west birds to track down. But that hill looks like perfect habitat. We might see some larks on the way there. This stony plain looks good for them. Oh, listen! There! Can you hear that? Namaqua Sandgrouse. Kelkiewyn! They’re on their way to their morning drink. How many can you count? One, two, three, four…looks like about 15 or 16 of them. Cool! And there are a few small things scuttling around on the ground there. Uhm, wait, stand here…okay, now if you look in the direction of that quiver tree, just by those angled rocks. There! Spike-heeled Larks! Fat little larks, with short tails and longish, slightly curved bills. And that funny chattering sound. Awesome!

Okay, here we go. I guess we’re going to have to climb a bit from here. Let’s see if we can work our way up to that little canyon there. And keep your eyes open for that warbler! Sho, it’s steep! Let’s sit on these rocks and scan for movement. Careful, don’t slip. Yo! Some swifts way up there. Brown and scaly – Bradfield’s Swift. A dry west special! And here come some Pale-winged Starlings. Looks like they’re heading for that cliff opposite us. Yip, just landed.

Oh, hey! Can you hear that little song? Layard’s Warbler. Or I guess Layard’s Tit-babbler if you prefer. He’s foraging in that line of bushes along the base of the cliff. I can see movement in that bush on the far left. No, hold on, that’s not the Layard’s…that’s a Fairy Flycatcher! Yes! Can you see him? Man, he doesn’t sit still for a second, does he!? And there, do you hear those notes? That’s a Grey Tit. Down there, hopping about on those rocks, by those succulent plants. I don’t know, it’s just black and grey but it’s so handsome. I really like them.

Above us! Dusky Sunbird singing. Where is he? Where is he? Can you see him? Oh yes, thanks, no I got him. Wait, something just hopped around the corner of that huge boulder. It had some white on its tail or rump somewhere. Uhm, there, on top of the boulder now. Mountain Wheatear. It’s a male, one of those blue-grey types. Very cool. Maybe he’ll do his displ…hey! There, there! Hear that? That’s our target! That’s Cinnamon-breasted Warbler! Sounds like he’s over there, somewhere in that gorge. What? You got him? No, I can’t see him. He disappeared? Oh no. But at least you got a look? That’s great. Well done! It’s a really tough bird!

I don’t know about you, but I could do with a drink. That’s better. Maybe we should get out of the sun a bit and work that strip of bush along that dry riverbed. At least there will be some shade. Let’s go.

Well, these thorn trees are not exactly huge, but they certainly help. I reckon we’ll see some new species in this habitat too. Check, this tree has some berries. Such a food source will probably attract some birds. Here! Some bulbuls flying in. Yes, in this dry habitat they would be Red-eyed Bulbuls. And I can see some White-backed Mousebirds clambering about up there. Got ‘em? Some white-eyes flitting about. Orange River White-eyes. Can you see their peachy flanks? Nice. We will probably also see…yes, haha, right there…Acacia Pied Barbet. It’s fairly slim pickings for fruit-eaters out here. Most barbets live in forests and eat figs. But Pieds have to make do with that they can find out in this semi-desert. Vicious bill on that thing hey?

Let’s work our way along the channel. There seems to be some action down that way. Did you hear that soft tshick, tschik? That’s one of the calls of Pririt Batis. Let’s seeeee…yes, a female up here. The male is probably also closeby. Oh, I can hear him! That’s his song, and that’s also where the name comes from. It’s of French origin, and strictly speaking we should say “Pree-ree” Batis. Cool characters! 

What? You saw something green with a blue tail? What could that have been? Oh, maybe a Swallow-tailed Bee-eater. Yes, actually, I can hear some Swallowtails. Did it fly past or what? Yeah, they can move pretty fast. Pity they didn’t hang around a bit longer.

Look over there. There’s a cattle drinking trough and the pipe seems to be leaking. Can you see those little birds drinking from the puddle? Let’s sneak a bit closer. Okay, let’s seee…Uhm, White-throated Canary. That’s the one that looks a bit like a sparrow, but with a greenish yellow rump. And those other more orangey ones? Do you recognise those? Haha, yes, super-LBJs. They are Lark-like Buntings. They’re the ones making that tec call. And there’s something else flying in. A little flock of them. Black and white. Oh, those are Black-headed Canaries! Epic!

There’s one more thing that I want to look for on the way back to the guest house. And I think we have a good chance among these scattered Euphorbia bushes. Watch for small birds either on the ground or in the low bushes as you walk, okay? What? Where? Oh yes, I can see it moving in there. Umm, no that’s got streaking on the chest. It’s a Karoo Prinia. Close, but no cigar. Here, here, I can hear them just up head. There we go…Karoo Eremomela. Wow!

We pretty much cleaned up hey? I don’t think we missed much. Maybe we’ll go for a drive this afternoon and try and spot some bustards or coursers. And then tonight, we can make a mission for Cape Eagle-Owl. But then we’re really pushing our luck! Then again, we seem to be on hot streak today! Fingers crossed!

Birds featured:

Karoo Chat | Karoospekvreter (p. 303) | 00:41

Bokmakierie | Bokmakierie (p. 244) | 00:50

Rufous-eared Warbler | Rooioorlangstertjie (p. 403) | 01:15

Karoo Scrub Robin | Slangverklikker (p. 290) | 01:36

Namaqua Sandgrouse | Kelkiewyn (p. 149) | 02:11

Spike-heeled Lark | Vlaktelewerik (p. 321) | 02:48

Bradfield’s Swift | Muiskleurwindswael (p. 259) | 03:28

Pale-winged Starling | Bleekvlerkspreeu (p. 277) | 03:42

Layard’s Warbler (Tit-babbler) | Grystjeriktik (p. 383) | 03:59

Fairy Flyatcher | Feevlieëvanger (p. 368) | 04:18

Grey Tit| Piet-tjou-tjougrysmees (p. 375) | 04:32

Dusky Sunbird | Namakwasuikerbekkie (p. 421) | 04:54

Mountain Wheatear | Bergwagter (p. 298) | 05:16

Cinnamon-breasted Warbler | Kaneelborssanger (p. 404) | 05:25

African Red-eyed Bulbul | Rooioogtiptol (p. 379) | 06:48

White-backed Mousebird  | Witkruismuisvoël (p. 333) | 06:56

Orange River White-eye | Gariepglasogie (p. 411) | 07:12

Acacia Pied Barbet | Bonthoutkapper (p. 343) | 07:22

Pririt Batis | Priritbosbontrokkie (p. 351) | 07:51

Swallow-tailed Bee-eater | Swaelstertbyvreter (p. 240) | 08:20

White-throated Canary | Witkeelkanarie (p. 474) | 08:55

Lark-like Bunting | Vaalstreepkoppie (p. 477) | 09:07

Black-headed Canary | Swartkopkanarie (p. 470) | 09:15

Karoo Prinia | Karoolangstertjie (p. 403) | 09:50

Karoo Eremomela | Groenbossanger (p. 409) | 10:09