May - August - Winter Birdwatching


Welcome to another part of Where the birds at.

It is officially winter in this part of the Southern Hemisphere - specifically the Western Cape - with its winter rainfall season and colder temperatures serving to emphasise the start of this freezing cold season. The time of the year that leads to warmer clothing choices (which include scarves, sweaters, hoodies and others); shorter days and longer nights; spending more time indoors; and other winter-related activities.

In dedication to the current season, I decided to highlight what Bird-Watching will be in this chilly season - after consulting several websites that I felt that held some promise for you.

Looking at the information that I have collected it is surprising to there are so many birding opportunities during this time of year and some opportunities presented include:

1. Cape Specials

As already discussed the Western Cape - like most of eastern SA - has a winter rainfall season as opposed to western SA that has a summer rainfall season (although South Africans are most undoubtedly aware of the devastating drought), this implies that is would be an importunate time for birders to find the so-named Fynbos specials that are highly sought after by birders with most of the birds being endemic to only fynbos biomes with key species such as:
  • Orange-breasted Sunbird
  • Cape Sugarbird
  • Cape Siskin
  • Hottentot Buttonquail
  • Protea Seedeater          
  • Victorin's Warbler
  • Cape Grassbird
With other sought after species such as:
  • Cape Rockjumper
  • Knysna Warbler
  • Variety of larks
2. The Sardine Run

Another great opportunity for birders looking to increase the number of water and seabirds that make up most of SA's bird list as well as getting some great photographs is to go and see the well-known annual sardine run.

Taking place during early winter usually between the months of May and July, this winter natural phenomenon occurs due to the annual sardine fish migration along SA's east coast, from the Western Cape to Kwa-Zulu Natal. This causes quite the remarkable event as various marine predators make an opportunity of this phenomenon , thus the high chance of getting sightings of seals, sharks, dolphins, whales and of course the marine birds - most particularly the Cape Gannet.

I have never seen the sardine run personally, but based on the nature documentaries covering the Sardine Run, along with photos, I can definitely say that this is a event not to be missed this year.

3. Pelagic Trips

The last bird watching opportunity that I will identify is SA's pelagic boat trips, which I think is the best way in order to see those birds that can be found far off SA's coast. In my opinion, taking a pelagic boat trip should be on every birder's bucket list (or so I hear), because it gives them the chance to find the magnificent Albatross and Gannets.

It is advised to do this during the winter months, and doing this you will have the opportunity see a variety and multitude of seabirds, with a high chance of seeing a Wandering Albatross.

Update (27/08) - After participating in a pelagic trip (for more details read the recent post about my participation in the Dyer Island Cruises situated in Kleinbaai/Gansbaai) - this is highly recommended and included sightings of different marine bird species (taken from Dyer Island Cruises post):

  • Sooty Shearwater
  • Pintado Petrel (A beautiful black and white bird)
  • White-chinned Petrel
  • Northern Giant-Petrel
  • Southern Giant-Petrel
  • Wilson's Storm-Petrel
  • Shy Albatross
  • Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross
  • Black-browed Albatross
  • Wandering Albatross
  • Shy Albatross
  • Cape Gannet
  • Antarctic Prion (My new favourite due to its beautiful blue plumage and black diagonal lines along its wings - a surprisingly small and swift bird)
  • White Pelican (in flight)
  • Antarctic tern (logo of Birdlife South Africa)

  • As it can be seen great birding opportunities are not only found during the warm times of the year, but also within the long, cold and miserable winter months.

    For the readers out there, what is your experience of bird-watching during the winter season?

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