Blue Swallows of Kaapsche Hoop
Did you know?
Kaapschehoop is also famous for its wild horses.
Of all the avian migrants that visit South Africa every year, the blue swallows that visit Kaapsche Hoop must surely be one of the most beautiful. A dark, iridescent blue with flamboyantly long tail feathers on the males, this swallow hawks above high-altitude grasslands, catching insects on the fly.
But this beauty hovers on the brink of extinction. Every spring, birders report with relief that the blue swallows have appeared again, having successfully made it through their long migration from the highlands of Malawi, Zambia, Uganda and Tanzania, where they overwinter in mild climes.
Blue swallows are superbly adapted to very specific environments – high-rainfall, high-altitude grasslands that are frequently shrouded in mist.
Unfortunately, these very ecosystems were targeted decades ago by forestry companies wanting to plant pine and eucalyptus plantations. It was done at a time when grasslands were simply not recognised as the important, biodiverse regions as they are now. As a result, pristine mist-belt grasslands are at a premium for these birds. Their habitat has just been eroded away by development.
In South Africa there are fewer than 80 pairs of blue swallows left, and they are scattered in little pockets around Mpumalanga, making them something of a birding challenge. But they have a stronghold around Kaapschehoop.
Their nesting habits are quite unusual. They make a cupped nest in a deep depression, ditch or aardvark hole. Around the old gold-mining town of Kaapsche Hoop, they nest in abandoned prospecting and mine shafts.
More than 60% of South Africa’s grasslands have been transformed by forestry or agriculture, and blue swallows are now seen in some circles as eloquent avian ambassadors for this threatened and previously under-appreciated ecosystem. The Endangered Wildlife Trust has recognised this ecosystem, for example, through its Threatened Grassland Species Programme.
Guides at Kaapsche Hoop (sometimes called Kaapsehoop) have been trained to take birders to the right places, but these birds are sometimes difficult to find!
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Kaapschehoop Birding Guides
Rudi du Plessis
Tel: +27 (0) 13 734 4580
Cell: +27 (0) 82 601 5455