It’s still so dark that we need headlamps to see the footpath. We’re weaving our way between the giant trunks to a stunning viewpoint. From up there you can see the whole forest below you. Our target? Cape Parrots that fly past at first light. We’ll wait until daybreak and then plunge down into the forest for some epic birding!

Read along:

Oops. I think my headlamp is about to die. It’s giving me warning flashes. Good thing the sun’s almost up. It’s really nice waking up to these African Wood Owls hey? And listen, way off in the valley. That long hooting sound? Buff-spotted Flufftail. Yeah, I’m afraid seeing that one in this dense forest is going to be tough. But maybe we’ll get lucky. But we’re almost to the viewpoint, and I think our timing is going to be perfect.

Here we go. Wow, what a view! You can see the entire forest below us from up here. Although half of it is hidden in this thick mist. But yeah, our timing is spot-on for Cape Parrots to fly past. And they’ve got such a loud and penetrating call that we can’t miss them. Listen? Hear that? Chip, chip, chip…that’s a male African Goshawk doing his display. I can’t see him in the mist though. Sounds like the first day birds are also waking up. That loud song is Barratt’s Warbler. And those twangy notes are from a Square-tailed Drongo. 

This is amazing! All the birds sounds are travelling up towards us. It’s like a whole orchestra! If you know your bird calls you can just sit here and list, like, 30 species. I can’t wait to walk down. Hey! Cape Parrot! Cape Parrot! Flying towards us, I can see them! You got them? Nice! What a way to start the day!

Wow, that was a great sighting. But let’s walk down this footpath and get into the forest proper. It’s still pretty dark in here…whoah…and slippery! Sorry, I’m making a lot of noise. We’ll walk quietly and slowly, and keep our ears open. There, on our left, do you hear that low wooping sound? That’s a Lemon Dove. And on this side…some Knysna Turacos calling in the distance. Oh and another group answering from across the valley.

Something just flitted across the path. Umm, there, I saw some movement by that tangle there. I can see some orange. Oh, it’s a Chorister Robin-Chat. I love these guys, they can imitate anything they hear. Let’s listen for a while. He’s copying a Klaas’s Cuckoo! And that sounds like a Black-headed Oriole. And I’m sure that was a car alarm! Yeah, must be a car alarm. And that’s Piet-my-vrou! So cool!

I can hear a Cape Batis. That’s a good sign. It means there’s a bird party heading this way. Batises are often at the heart of such parties. You ready for some lifers? Yip, there’s another bird party specialist calling: Yellow-streaked Greenbul. Let me see…there he is, climbing on that mossy trunk. See how he just lifted one wing? That’s an easy way to identify Yellow-streaked Greenbuls. And there’s the batis! Oh and a female, just a bit further back. What else? Oh, that sound is a Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler! Check in the canopy for a really small, really busy little bird. Got him? Great! Zweet-zwa! Zweet-zwa! That’s the call of the African Paradise Flycatcher. There he goes…you just see his ridiculously long tail whipping about. What a bird! Oh, and that’s his song there.

This little clearing should be a good spot to watch from. Why is it so open here? Oh yes, you’re right. That tree fell over. It must have been a spectacular crash! But yes, we can see the edges nicely here, and I think the birds will also enjoy the sunlight. Something big flying in. Just landed on that horizontal branch with all the lichens hanging down. See it? Grey Cuckooshrike! Yes, that long, hissy whistle. That’s him. And something tiny just shot out from that dead branch and circled back. There it goes again! Uhm, African Dusky Flycatcher, I think. Yes, I can hear him. And something’s climbing on the trunk of that giant tree. He’s on the far side now so I can’t see him at the moment. No, I don’t think it was another Yellow-streaked Greenbul. You can see him? And? Olive Woodpecker? Yes, that must be it! Yes, you’re right. That’s his call there.

Hey! Listen there! That hooting. That’s a Narina Trogon! That would be a lifer for you? Cool! Well, maybe we can try and call him into view. I’ll do it, you keep watching. Shout if you see him! [Faansie imitating a trogon, poorly]. Yes, yes, I saw him. He just shot past didn’t he? But I don’t think we should disturb him any further. When we use bird calls to draw birds closer they see it as a territorial intrusion by a rival. I always say to people imagine if a stranger just walked into your house and started shouting “this is my territory now”. It would be really upsetting. Yeah, I really try my best to limit playback or imitating sounds. Anyways, often you have much better views if you’re just patient. Let’s walk down to the stream.

What a beautiful spot! And what bird do you think we might find at this stream? Yip, that’s right. Okay, ten bucks to the one who spots it first! Ha, nice. I owe you ten bucks. Mountain Wagtail by those rapids there. What a gorgeous bird. And that tail is just over the top! I love it. This water is noisy. I can’t hear anything. Let’s jump across by those rocks and walk up the other side. 

Sombre Greenbul. I like the Afrikaans name, Willie. Each song starts with willie; hear it? One of the most common forest birds. I’m a bit surprised that that’s the first one we’ve seen today. There’s a bit of a clearing up here and the grass looks nice and rank. Probably a good area to check for seed-eaters. Oh and look! There’s a Black Sawwing flying around! Some small stuff over there near those purple flowers. Uhm, I think there’s more than one species there. Yes, I can hear Swee Waxbills…that high, thin note, that’s their call. But also some other notes from Forest Canary. Yes, there. Can you see them? Oh, hey, listen! That super-high trilling call. That’s a Green Twinspot! Yes, there, hopping on those fallen leaves. Wow! What a bird! Magical!

Birding in forests is pretty tough hey? But if you don’t know the calls, it’s almost impossible. How many of the birds we saw today did we identify and track down by their sounds? I know right, like ninety percent! It’s just practice. Like any skill in life. You learn them one by one, and make sure you put in enough birding time so you don’t forget them again. Eventually the sounds sort of get stuck in your head, and you’ll never forget them again. And thank goodness for that, otherwise we would have had a pretty poor bird list today!

Birds featured:

African Wood Owl | Bosuil (p. 205) | 00:05

Buff-spotted Flufftail | Gevlekte Vleikuiken (p. 95) | 00:37

African Goshawk | Afrikaanse Sperwer (p. 185) | 01:17

Barratt’s Warbler | Ruigtesanger (p. 390) | 01:35

Common Square-tailed Drongo | Kleinbyvanger (p. 365) | 01:52

Cape Parrot | Woudpapegaai (p. 250) | 02:19

Lemon Dove | Kaneelduifie (p. 218) | 02:55

Knysna Turaco | Knysnaloerie (p. 221) | 03:07

Chorister Robin-Chat | Lawaaimakerjanfrederik (p. 293) | 03:37

Cape Batis | Kaapse Bosbontrokkie (p. 350) | 04:28

Yellow-streaked Greenbul | Geelstreepboskruiper (p. 381) | 04:42

Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler | Geelkeelsanger (p. 386) | 05:10

African Paradise Flycatcher | Paradysvlieëvanger (p. 369) | 05:26

Grey Cuckooshrike | Bloukatakoeroe (p. 363) | 06:02

African Dusky Flycatcher | Donkervlieëvanger (p. 371) | 06:23

Olive Woodpecker  | Gryskopspeg (p. 340) | 06:52

Narina Trogon | Bosloerie (p. 253) | 07:06

Mountain Wagtail | Bergkwikkie (p. 305) | 09:06

Sombre Greenbul | Gewone Willie (p. 380) | 09:45

Black Saw-wing | Swartsaagvlerkswael (p. 263) | 10:15

Swee Waxbill | Suidelike Swie (p. 453) | 10:33

Forest Canary | Gestreepte Kanarie (p. 472) | 10:45

Green Twinspot | Groenkolpensie (p. 459) | 11:07