The Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve (33°57’52.46”S 20°48’24.70”E) is situated on the R322 between Swellendam and Heidelberg and protects the most westerly patch of indigenous forest in South Africa. The reserve also has large stretches of unique mountain fynbos, thus adding to the avian biodiversity of the region. From a bird-watching perspective the reserve offers several species associated with forest habitats in many cases on the most westerly limit of their distribution range. For this reason it is regarded as one of the top birding destinations for bird-watchers from the Western Cape and elsewhere. It further adds a unique suite of sought-after species to the already impressive list of birds to be found in the Swellendam local municipal region.
The list of sought-after forest-associated target species that have been recorded in the past include Terrestrial Brownbul, Olive Bush-Shrike, Forest Canary, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, Red-winged Spurfowl, Grey Cuckoo-Shrike, Lemon Dove, African Crowned Eagle, African Cuckoo Hawk, Black-headed Oriole, Red-necked Spurfowl, Narina Trogon, Knysna Warbler and Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler. The description of species abundance herewith is based on the latest SABAP2 (the bird atlasing project) report cards for the region.
Birding while en route
Slow birding is advised when approaching Grootvadersbosch from Swellendam. The farmlands may produce Denham’s Bustard, Blue Crane, Black Harrier and Secretarybird. There is an extensive dam and wetland just before one enters the village of Suurbraak at 34°00’59.50”S 20°38’59.40”E. Parking along the road is a problem here, but it is quite safe at the bluegum trees. This spot regularly turns up very interesting species for the Western Cape Province. Look out for Fulvous, White-backed and White-faced Ducks, Goliath Heron, African Jacana, and several others. It is well worth spending some time in the village of Suurbraak itself as there are very interesting cultural and historical experiences to be had.
Habitat types in the reserve
The Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve protects a diversity of habitat types dominated by Afromontane forest. Birding under the closed forest canopy is often difficult as many of the sought-after species forage high up in the canopy. The disturbed forest fringes and bracken-covered slopes are often far more productive. The reserve further offers moist mountain fynbos where many of the special and often endemic species associated with this habitat type are to be found. The best time of year to visit is in spring when most of the birds are breeding. A variety of day walks and mountain bike trails are available and permits can be obtained from the reserve office. Maps of the various trails are available at the office. The campsite has braai facilities, ablutions, and a thatched lapa. Advanced reservations are advised.
Birding around the reception and camping area
Excellent birding is available at the Grootvadersbosch reception office and camping area. Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Batis, Sombre Greenbul, Cape Robin-Chat, Olive Thrush and Cape White-eye are abundant. Cape Canary, African Dusky Flycatcatcher, Greater Double-collared Sunbird and Common and Swee Waxbills are seen commonly. Special species to look out for at the campsite include Olive Bush-Shrike, Forest Canary and Olive Woodpecker, and small groups of Cape Siskin often forage in the area. Brimstone Canary, Greater Honeyguide and African Olive-Pigeon are also often conspicuous. Amethyst Sunbird and Southern Double-Collared Sunbird are seen less often, as are Yellow Bishop and Rock Martin. Campers can expect to hear the calls of Fiery-necked Nightjar, Spotted Eagle-Owl and Barn Owl at night. The beautiful call of African Wood-Owl represents a special treat.
Bosbokrand, a short and steep bracken-covered slope north of the campsite, features outstanding bird-watching. The disturbed forest edge here produces several seed eaters, with Forest Canary, Streaky-headed Seedeater, Cape Siskin and Swee Waxbill featuring prominently. Cape Bulbul, Fork-tailed Drongo, Fiscal Flycatcher, Speckled and Red-faced Mousebirds and Neddicky are abundant and Cape Grassbird can often be heard calling from the surrounding vegetation. Bokmakierie, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Lesser Honeyguide, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Karoo Prinia, and Cape Spurfowl are found less often. Expect to find the spectacular Black Sawwing foraging at high speeds during summer months. Also look for Brown-backed Honeybird, a relatively recent arrival in the Western Cape. Bosbokrand is one of the best spots in the reserve to look for raptors and Forest Buzzard, African Goshawk, African Harrier-Hawk and Black Sparrowhawk are found commonly. Special species to look out for are African Crowned Eagle and African Cuckoo Hawk, both on the western limit of their distribution range. It should be noted however that African Cuckoo Hawk has not yet been recorded during SABAP2 surveys since 2007.
Boosmansbos Hiking Trail
A gravel track north of Bosbokrand leads to the beginning of the Boosmansbos Hiking Trail and features moist mountainous fynbos. Cape Siskin, Cape Sugarbird and Orange-breasted Sunbird are very common here. Look for Victorin’s Warbler in rank vegetation along streams, even though knowledge of the bird’s call is critical in finding it. There are a few records of sightings of Cape Rockjumper and Protea Seedeater along the Boosmansbos Hiking Trail, but keep in mind that these two species have very specific habitat preferences and requirements. Protea Seedeater is found sporadically in mature stands of protea, particularly those featuring ‘wabome’ (Protea Nitida). The rocky slopes and ridges deserve particular attention as Cape Rock-Jumper could be found there. Also look out for Cape Bunting, Familiar Chat, Cape Rock-Thrush, Mountain Wheatear and Ground Woodpecker in this habitat type. Cape Penduline-Tit and Grey Tit are found occasionally and Red-winged Francolin is also on record, but seems to be particularly scarce. Raptors that feature in this area fairly regularly include Jackal Buzzard, Booted and Verreaux’s Eagles, Peregrine Falcon and Rock Kestrel. Permits for the spectacularly beautiful two-day Boosmansbos Hiking Trail can be obtained from the Grootvadersbosch office, but reservations are advised.
The Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve is however best known for forest birding and visiting bird-watchers have a wide selection of captivating forest walks to choose from. An extended circle route is available along ‘Melkhoutpad’ and ‘Redwoods Road’, but most birders prefer to take separate walks along these two roads to visit the bird hides. Melkhoutpad follows a higher contour than the Redwoods Road. Lemon Dove often features in the undergrowth and leaf litter along here. Look out for Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Batis, Southern Boubou, African Dusky Flycatcatcher and Greater Double-collared Sunbird all of which are abundant when walking to the hide. The same applies to African Paradise-Flycatcher in summer, with Spotted Flycatcher being found less often at this time of year. More difficult to find are Olive Bush-Shrike, Terrestrial Brownbul, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher and Tambourine Dove – knowledge of their calls helps a lot in locating them. Black Cuckoo-Shrike and Black-headed Oriole are on record, but in very small numbers. The hide is best known for its excellent views of the forest canopy where birds of prey often perch prominently. Look for Forest Buzzard, Booted Eagle, African Goshawk, African Harrier-Hawk and Black Sparrowhawk and Yellow-Billed Kite in summer.
Redwoods Road is clearly sign-posted along Bosbokrand. It is on the slope’s lower contour and is extremely popular with birders as it features most of the species mentioned in the Melkhoutpad description and many, many more. Red-necked Spurfowl on its westernmost distribution is scarce and best found early in the morning. The calls of Sombre Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul, Olive Bush-Shrike, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler and Olive Woodpecker are heard often, but these species are notoriously difficult to spot visually. It is best to become accustomed to their calls and spend patient time searching for them. A sharp turn to the left is reached where the road crosses the Duiwenhoks River. The undergrowth along the stream is the best spot in the reserve to look for the inconspicuous and difficult-to-find Knysna Warbler. It is best located by its call and it tends to react well to ‘splishing’. This is also a good area for Knysna Woodpecker, with its single nasal shriek often leading one to its location. It unfortunately only calls every 10 to 15 minutes or so. Look out for airborne raptors at the few forest clearings along the road.
The bird hide
A footpath to the left is reached some 800m further and this leads to a beautifully constructed hide. Look out for Grey Cuckooshrike high up in the canopy roof – this species is often difficult to find and patience is normally required to track it down. Narina Trogon is found throughout the forest, but the area around the hide is generally regarded as the best spot to look for it. Its hoarse hooting call often leads to its detection. The main feature of this hide is that it is constructed to allow views within the forest canopy increasing one’s chance of finding Narina Trogon. Terrestrial Brownbul, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, Tambourine Dove and Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler are also observed from this hide regularly. The Duiwenhoks River is crossed for a second time after leaving the hide and the path ends at the bottom of Bosbokrand.
Finally, other summer migrants that are observed fairly regularly include Steppe Buzzard, Black and Red-chested Cuckoo, Common House-Martin, Common Quail, Barn and Greater Striped Swallows and Alpine and White-rumped Swifts. Recent records also confirmed the hugely sought-after Striped Flufftail.
This description clearly illustrates that the Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve adds a diversity of species to the Swellendam region’s already impressive list of birds. Its location as the most westerly patch of Afromontane forest in the Western Cape makes it one of the prime bird-watching destinations in the province. An added bonus is that several staff members are excellently equipped to assist bird-watchers with advice, guidance and guiding.
From Cape Town: Take the N2 from Cape Town towards George. Just past Swellendam and Buffelsjag River, take the left-hand turn-off for Suurbraak/Barrydale on the R324. Turn left and continue through the town of Suurbraak and past the turn-off for Barrydale via Tradouw Pass. The tar road becomes a dirt road and after this follow the small signposts to Grootvadersbosch/Boosmansbos Wilderness Area. Continue till a T-junction, turn left and keep left at the next fork in the road. The road ends at the entrance gates.
Gate opening times: Monday to Friday: 08h00 to 16h00. Saturday and Sunday: 08h00 to 18h00.
Office hours: 07h30 to 1600
Tel: +27 (0)28 722 2412
Reservations can be made on Tel: (021) 659 3500 or email: email@example.com.