On 3 December 2022 BirdLife South Africa will host their 38th annual Birding Big Day. The aim of this event is to find (see or hear) as many bird species as possible within only 24 hours. Teams from across the country will participate in the event. It can be an exhilarating competition or simply a fun day out with good friends or family.
Due to variable landscapes and resulting climate and vegetation types, the Garden Route and Little Karoo are particularly good areas for this event. In order to see as many species as possible, you need to visit as many habitats as possible (in this area there are at least 15 habitats to consider when planning a route). You must also think about finding certain nocturnal birds in their respective habitats at night (pre-dawn or well after sunset). The list below provides you with an idea of the habitats to consider, each harbouring a certain community of birds, often with unique bird species:
Bird habitats in the Garden Route and Little Karoo
- Afro-temperate forests (mountain and coastal)
- Plantations and exotic forest (pine & eucalyptus)
- Moist grasslands (mostly agricultural fields)
- Wetlands, marshes and vleiland
- Dams, lakes and rivers
- Estuaries and salt marshes
- Sandy beaches and rocky shores
- Parks, gardens and industrial areas
- Southern Cape valley thicket
- Thorny riparian thicket and drainage-line woodland
- Renosterveld (and associated agricultural fields)
- Fynbos (coastal and mountain)
- Mountain ridges, cliffs and gorges
- Arid (grassy) fields (mostly agricultural fields)
- Karoo scrubland and succulent Karoo veld
To formulate your route, decide on the best birding hot spots to visit to access as many of the named habitats as possible, taking your time-frame into consideration. As most birds tend to sing first thing in the morning, each habitat will have a dawn chorus of its own, but some habitats are lusher than others, making it much harder to see the birds. I always recommend enjoying the dawn chorus in the forest habitat, arguably the toughest habitat within which to spot birds. Getting to the forest at first light to hear the dawn chorus is essential.
You then need to decide where to go next. Take note of the ocean tides, as it is often best to visit the coastal habitats (estuaries, sandy beaches and rocky shores) at low tide, as that is when the birds that live there will be most active, feeding on the exposed rocks and mudflats. Also check the weather and predicted temperatures – you certainly don’t want to get to the Karoo scrubland at noon when it is 35 °C or more … Rather plan this for the early morning or late afternoon. Finally, remember to take mosquito lotion, sunscreen lotion, and plenty of snacks for the road, and make a memorable day of it!