Ladismith Birding Routes
– Klein Karoo and Klein Swartberg –
1. Introduction to Klein Karoo Birding
The region surrounding Ladismith in comprised of three quite different natural biomes which lead to excellent birding opportunities, especially to identify and observe many of the Southern African endemic and near-endemic bird species. Most of these endemic species form part of the so-called “LBJ” (little brown jobs) of birds, which makes birding in the region very interesting, albeit quite challenging at times. Towns and villages, as well as diverse cultural areas, especially those with irrigated fields, further add to the biome dynamic and bird species’ distribution and occurrences. The regional bird data set (https://sabap2.birdmap.africa/coverage/pentad/3325 2115) indicates that at least two-hundred and thirty-one different bird species have been recorded in a 50km radius for pentads, since 2007 when the SABAP2 bird atlassing initiative was launched countrywide. The Southern African birding region boasts ninety-six endemic bird species of which fifty (52%) have already been recorded in the Ladismith area. Endemic species are defined as species whose breeding and non-breeding ranges are confined and restricted to within a specific geographical region. The Southern African birding region also contains seventy=eight near-endemic bird species of which twenty-nine (37%) have been recorded in the Ladismith sub-region. Near-endemic species are those of which their ranges extend to slightly outside the region’s borders. On average approximately 40% of these endemic bird species and 43% of the near-endemic bird species are consistently recorded on an individual full-protocol atlas card pertaining to only a single pentad.
2. The habitat of birds around Ladismith
Ladismith is located within the Greater Cape Floristic Region which is famous for being the smallest, yet richest, plant region on Earth. From a botanical viewpoint, the Klein Karoo is remarkably rich in plant species. 3200 species have been recorded, with over 400 occurring nowhere else on earth. The existence of this diverse vegetation in such near proximity (a 50km radius around town), and the opportunity for exploring nature and birding in the area, is unique.
Three main biomes are encountered in the south, namely the Renosterveld, Succulent Karoo and Mountain Fynbos vegetation types.
The Mountain Fynbos biome is encountered on the Klein Swartberg, Touwsberg and Rooiberg Mountain Ranges, with their associated valleys, very steep mountain slopes and verdant vegetation. Here most of the Proteas, Leucadendron, Leucospermum, Heathers, Cape Reeds and Buchu occur.
The Renosterveld is found across the lowlands of the Klein Karoo, (centrally in a west to east corridor). This vegetation type is typically encountered on nutrient-poor, acidic, sandy soils. Shrubs like Renosterbos, Spekboom, Gwarriebos are common.
The Succulent Karoo vegetation type boasts a very large number of different succulent species of varying size, from minute to rather impressive in size and stature – Aloes and Botterboom are most visible. Succulents are structured to retain moisture over extended periods of time when no free water is readily available to the plants and their root systems.
To the north of the Klein Swartberg lies the Great Karoo. This biome is an extremely hot, dry, and ecologically hostile environment, which experiences very low annual rainfall and is exposed to extreme temperatures, very hot during the day, and bitterly cold at night. The area is also prone to high wind speeds and dust storms during late afternoons.
Best time to bird in this generally arid region is from first light in the early mornings, to catch the early morning chorus, prior to the onset of the mid-morning heat (Max midday temperatures in summer can reach above 40˚C). Late afternoons can be equally rewarding when the bird parties return to their roosting sites, but the Karoo can also experience windy conditions in the afternoons, which make effective birding somewhat more challenging.
Birding can be very rewarding a week or two after good rain events, as several special species tend to be in abundance following short spells of good seasonal rains. The typical Karoo flora types respond very rapidly to this irregular addition of moisture to the environment and produce short spells of food abundance in the production of seeds and nectar which attract prolific amounts of insects following such rain events. The abundance of insects and seeds directly attracts larger numbers of especially insectivorous birds, as well as nectar and seed eaters to the region, whereas the increased activity and presence of these larger numbers of birds in turn attracts higher numbers of raptors and scavengers to the area. Seeds and especially nectar could be hard to come by during dry spells and hence bird numbers may be severely negatively impacted during droughts.
Locating and observing birds, especially the drab coloured species, (all the LBJ’s), in the generally arid and extremely hot at times landscapes, can be quite challenging for the novice birder. Studying and understanding the behaviour of the different special Karoo bird species assist in locating these highly sought-after species. Birds that may be very active during the early morning chorus will often grow very timid and silent as the day progresses and the temperature rises. Many birds will take refuge and shelter deep within the scrubs and thickets where there may be a little shelter against the blazing sunlight and midday heat, or they will be standing completely motionless, hard-up against the stems of shrubs, in the shade provided by the stems, which make them very difficult to locate.
A good knowledge of the different bird songs is probably the easiest way to locate and identify specific bird species, especially during the early morning chorus. Birds are most vocal during the spring season (mating season for most) and tend to be non-vocal or rather quiet at other times. The singing during the mating season is deployed to attract the attention of members of the opposite sex whilst they remain quiet at other times to conceal themselves from their predators and to not alert predators to their presence in a specific location. Alarm calls are obviously used to attract the attention of others (not only limited to the same species) and make them aware of the presence of unwanted intruders or imminent dangers such as man, snakes, reptiles, or birds of prey, etc.
3. Klein Karoo birding routes in the Ladismith region
FIVE recommended birding routes are detailed in the Tracks4Africa map. The main loop routes can be considered as full day outings whilst the shorter routes can be used as either short cuts on the main loop routes or half day drives. The shorter link roads, or detours / shortcut routes pertaining to any specific route or area, are also described as sub-sections of the main routes or loops.
The intentions of the road descriptions (obtainable in pdf format from email@example.com) are provided to:
- Direct visitors and birders to the respective birding route options located within a 50km radius area surrounding Ladismith,
- Provide information on bird species previously seen and to provide information on other bird species that could be encountered,
- Describe road/s, travelling conditions, indicate route lengths and estimated birding/travelling time for advance route planning,
- Describe at a high level, the general topography and habitat zones encountered along the respective routes,
- Indicate the location of any specific good or special birding observation points along the respective routes, and
- Provide locations of known accommodation facilities and places of general interest along each road section.