The Spur-Winged Goose (Plectropterus gambensis) is the largest waterfowl occurring in Africa and is named after the spurs on its wings. I spotted many of them flying across the wheat and canola fields as we drove through the Western Cape, but it was on the bank of the Breede River in the Bontebok National Park that I saw this pair of Spur-winged Geese from fairly close-up.

These birds forage in wetlands and moist grasslands, eating grasses, roots and other plant matter. As you can see, they are mainly black, with a white face with a warty red bill, and large white wing patches. Their legs are flesh-coloured.

Driving through the park, one cannot help seeing the rather dark, grey-brown Karoo Scrub-robins (Cercotrichas coryphoeus) perched atop the dry fynbos. I was fortunate to spot this one with a spider in its beak.

A happy surprise awaited me at the reception buildings: the White-throated Swallows (Hirundo albigularis) have arrived – one cannot ask for a surer sign that the season has turned! They are intra-African migrants that breed in South Africa and over-winter in countries such as Zimbabwe and Angola.

These swallows sport a small rufous patch on the forehead and a dark blue breast band which forms a white throat patch.

Sparrows are very common – and thus largely overlooked – birds. We host a pair of Southern Grey-headed Sparrows in our garden and frequently see House Sparrows in the car-park of our local shopping mall. It was thus refreshing to observe a pair of Cape Sparrows (Passer melanurus) in the Bontebok National Park. The males and females look very different: the female has a pale grey head with a diffuse pale crescent. These sparrows usually feed on the ground as they eat seeds, fruit and occasionally insects. This female is eating a tiny flower.

The males have a brighter, more distinctive livery with a distinctive white ‘C’ shape on the side of their heads.

Although these are not the only birds seen in the park, I cannot resist leaving you with a bird that regular readers will be very familiar with from my monthly garden bird reports: the Cape Robin-chat (Cossypha caffra). Why bother with it then, you might ask. The main reason is because these birds, which sport a distinctive white eyebrow and a rufous chest, are undeniably pretty and it was good to see them in a habitat other than my garden.



For any journey south from the town where I live the first stop must surely be the Nanaga Farm Stall off the N2. I extolled the virtues of this popular place earlier this year, so you won’t be surprised to know that this is where we stopped for an early breakfast before tackling the long road ahead of us.

This farm stall is not only well known for its delicious pies and other things to eat and drink. Its pleasant surroundings, luscious lawns, indigenous plants and an array of picnic tables make it a very pleasant place to take a break from driving. We sometimes see a cat or two, but this time were greeted by a pair of ducks that waddled quietly between the tables.

If you take the time to look around, you will become aware of several birds in the bushes, on the ground, or dipping into the water at the edge of a small pond. Some of the birds – like this Pied Starling – make their presence felt by scuttling towards you on the ground, flying in to land on your table, or perching on the back of a metal chair with a sidelong look to see if you have dropped any crumbs from the delicious pastry of the pie in your hand.

Then there are weavers, such as this Southern Masked Weaver, that take time off from chasing each other over the garden or building their nests in the fever trees to emulate the starlings and arrive to see what pickings are on offer.

More subtle, or perhaps this is because they are less flamboyant looking, are the small flocks of Cape Sparrows that hop about on the lawn or scour the ground around the tables.

The garden is filled with indigenous trees and flowers: definitely a topic for another post. However, as they still boast beautiful flowers alongside the spring flush of green leaves, I have to leave you with this beautiful sight of a young Erythrina lysistemon, one of several planted in this beautiful setting.

Feeling refreshed, we tackled the next section of our long journey much further south.


A young couple walk purposefully down the brick path toward a bench overlooking the water hole at the rest camp and sit down. He sports dark, closely-cropped hair and is wearing a baggy green top over tight jeans. The glistening white of his sports shoes strongly suggests they are new arrivals for he has clearly not walked far along the dirt roads and dusty paths that vein through the camp. He doesn’t notice the Cape Sparrow perched to the left of him on the Spekboom hedge.

She is wearing khaki cargo pants still stiff and showing factory creases. A blue hooded top covers her hair as she sits staring straight ahead, ignoring the cheerful calls of the Cape Weaver on her right, even though it flutters down now and then to search the brick paving around her feet.

He unfolds the coloured map they were given at reception and tries to hold it firm against the gentle tugging from an impish breeze. He turns the map this way and that before stabbing his finger on the water hole they are seated at. “We’re here,” he says with a degree of authority. He runs his finger along the patterns of roads radiating through the park. So absorbed is he in this task that he doesn’t notice the back of a lone buffalo disappearing among the Spekboom and other shrubs a little to the left of the water hole.

She picks up a pair of powerful binoculars and scans the area around the water hole. Neither the presence of a flock of Guineafowl nor the pair of Hadeda Ibises appear to hold her interest, for she quickly lowers the binoculars to rest on her lap. She leans towards her companion. “There’s nothing of interest to see here.” Her voice is flat. He is still studying the map but obligingly leaves off to raise the binoculars to his eyes. He sweeps across the landscape too quickly to pick up either the heron keeping watch over some ducks …

… or the Black-backed jackal that had come for a quick, furtive drink.

“I hope the rest of the park doesn’t look like this desert. All the pictures showed green grass and trees.” There is a whine in her voice as she strokes the binoculars on her lap with her index finger. He grunts and returns to perusing the map before looking up with an endearing smile.

“I overheard in the gents that this area has been denuded of vegetation because so many animals rely on this water for drinking.” He looks at her sulky face and pats her shoulder. “It’s early days though.” He folds the map and rises from the bench. “You hold the map,” he says, giving her a hug.

She shivers in the now icy wind. “Yes, we’ll be warmer in the car.” They walk away holding hands and so do not see the Kudu bulls emerging from the thorny scrub to quench their thirst.


An interesting aspect of travelling is being able to see different species of the many birds South Africa is blessed with. Red-headed Finches (Amadina erythrocephala) are among the many birds I enjoy seeing when we travel up to Gauteng and beyond. Here a pair of them are sharing a branch with Cape Sparrows.

As you can see, they are similar in size to the sparrows. I loved seeing their red heads bobbing up and down as they eat grain from the feeder in this garden. I also saw small flocks of them out in the veld, but they moved far too quickly for me to capture them on film. The flecks of white on the undersides of these finches give them a scaly appearance.

NOTE: Click on a photograph for a larger view.


The Cape Sparrow (Passer melanurus) is mainly a seed-eater although consumes insects, nectar, and fruit. They usually feed on the ground. This frontal view makes the sparrow look as though it has been very well fed!