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Written by: Mike Fraser 

The Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve is one of South Africa’s most popular tourist destinations. Most visitors tend to head straight to Cape Point to enjoy the spectacular views there. What they might miss as they travel down the main road is the wonderful richness of wildlife that make their home at the reserve. Over 1 000 species of plant (at least 14 of them endemic) occur here, part of the extraordinary treasure trove that is fynbos and the Cape Floral Kingdom.

Some visitors are disappointed at the lack of large mammals that are traditionally seen in other South African nature reserves and game parks. These animals do not occur naturally at Cape Point, as the fynbos vegetation is too coarse and lacking in nutrients to support huge herds of antelopes and the like.

What you can find here, however, is a wide variety of birds. Over 270 species have been recorded, ranging from ostriches and eagles down to tiny sunbirds and warblers.

When the protea bushes, particularly the yellow pincushions along the roadside in the southern section of the reserve, are in flower they can attract hundreds of nectar-feeding birds such as Cape sugarbirds and red-winged starlings. Other bird-pollinated plants, such as large-flowered erica heaths, are particularly popular with brilliantly-coloured orange-breasted sunbirds.

The coastal scrub supports a variety of bushbirds, including warblers, canaries, and shrikes. Cape canary, Cape grassbird and Karoo prinia are some of the commonest and most conspicuous birds here while southern boubou and bokmakierie are most easily detected by their distinctive calls.

Cape grassbird is one of the most characteristic bushbirds of the reserve © Mike Fraser
Cape grassbird is one of the most characteristic bushbirds of the reserve. © Mike Fraser

Lucky visitors might see a Verraux’s eagle, one of 25 species of bird of prey (raptor) that have been recorded at the reserve. Smaller raptors include rock kestrel and black-shouldered kite.

The reserve’s coast is home to a variety of waders, many of them migrant visitors from northern Europe and Russia such as ruddy turnstone, sanderling and whimbrel. It is also an important nesting area for African black oystercatcher, a species found only in southern Africa.

About 180 pairs of African black oystercatchers nest in the Reserve. Eggs and chicks are vulnerable to mammalian predators such as  Water mongooses and baboons. © Mike Fraser
About 180 pairs of African black oystercatchers nest in the reserve. Eggs and chicks are vulnerable to mammalian predators such as water mongooses and baboons. © Mike Fraser

The viewing areas at Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope are recognised as among the best places in the world to see oceanic seabirds close to shore. A good pair of binoculars or a telescope are generally needed to see these, and in windy weather in winter huge numbers can drift close to the shore. Eight species of albatross, six species of shearwater, and 12 species of petrel are amongst the migrant seabirds that have been recorded. Resident white-breasted and Cape cormorant nest on the cliffs and can be seen playfully riding the powerful up-draught that blows up the rock faces.

The cliff ledges at the Cape of Good Hope provide some of the best land-based sea watching in the world © Mike Fraser
The cliff ledges at the Cape of Good Hope provide some of the best land-based sea watching in the world. © Mike Fraser
Part of a flock of 45,000 common terns roosting at Die Mond, a sanctuary area in the north-west of the reserve © Mike Fraser
Part of a flock of 45 000 common terns roosting at Die Mond, a sanctuary area in the north-west of the reserve. © Mike Fraser

The reserve is particularly popular with “twitchers”, keen birders who look out for rarities. Two species (Western reef heron and Baird’s sandpiper) have been found here that had not been seen before in South Africa, as well as an exceptional number of out-of-range regional rarities. These include many species new to the south-western Cape, such as grey-headed kingfisher, icterine warbler and cinnamon-breasted bunting. So almost anything can turn up!

The wide range of birds found here, from rare vagrants to common residents, add to the enjoyment of a visit to the reserve. Please enjoy the birds and take care not to disturb them, especially those that nest along the shore in summer, such as African black oystercatcher and white-fronted plover, and the roosts of terns and waders on the rocks and beaches – like you, they also need their rest and relaxation!

Birds of the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve includes an informative description of the various habitats of the reserve and the birds found in them, as well as detailed accounts of all the species that have been recorded.

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