TWO DAYS AT THE BITOU RIVER LODGE, PLETTENBERG BAY
Posted on the 3rd October 2015
Elaine and myself spent two nights as guests of Paul and Sue Scheepers at the magnificent Bitou River Lodge outside Plettenberg Bay. It seems as if this destination is becoming increasingly popular with BirdLife Overberg members as Dawid and Carin Malan were here last week and Mike and Margaret Graham left this morning. Birding along the Bitou River floodplain is brilliant. The relative inaccessibility of the floodplain is a bit of a problem and for this reason it is recommended that visiting birders investigate the BITOU RIVER LODGE. Canoes are available and the river is narrow, but quite navigable from Bitou River Lodge. Birding upstream comprises a slow paddle of some 30 minutes to the weir, but downstream visitors can paddle and bird for at least an hour. Heavy rains earlier this week caused major flooding – amazing to see a BLUE CRANE on a nest once the water had subsided. One wonders whether the bird stayed put during the flooding and if the eggs would hatch.
Paddling past our patio
Very optimistic Blue Crane
The Bitou River floodplain lies along the R340 between Plett and Uniondale. The floodplain offers limitless birding potential as vast numbers of waterbirds, waders and species associated with thickets and forest habitats are found in the same area. From a birding perspective it is unfortunate that most of the floodplain lies on privately owned land and that there are very few safe spots to park when trying to bird along the R340. Extreme caution is advised, as vehicles often travel along this road at high speed. Privately owned land can only be accessed with the permission of owners.
Waterbirds abound along the floodplain, but the use of spotting scopes is advised when birding from the R340. During our stay we saw RED-KNOBBED COOT, COMMON MOORHEN and THREE-BANDED PLOVER, as well as YELLOW-BILLED DUCK, CAPE SHOVELER and CAPE and RED-BILLED TEALS. The reeds fringing the water at the lodge featured species such as LEVAILLANT'S CISTICOLA, LESSER SWAMP-WARBLER and LITTLE RUSH-WARBLER. Secretive and evasive species such as BLACK CRAKE and AFRICAN PURPLE SWAMPHEN allowed fleeting glimpses. PIED AVOCET and BLACK-WINGED STILT were also prominent lower down the river. Keep in mind that in summer one can expect to find migrants such as COMMON GREENSHANK, GREY PLOVER, COMMON RINGED PLOVER, RUFF, COMMON, MARSH and WOOD SANDPIPERS, LITTLE STINT, RUDDY TURNSTONE and COMMON WHIMBREL.
Common Moorhen - the lodge's logo bird
Birding along the Bitou is however not only about waterbirds and waders. The fringes and thickets along the river produced BRIMSTONE CANARY, FORK-TAILED DRONGO, SOMBRE GREENBUL, BROWN-HOODED KINGFISHER, AFRICAN OLIVE-PIGEON, BLACK-HEADED ORIOLE and AFRICAN PARADISE-FLYCATCHER. Remnants of forest patches to the east of the river may produce a selection of forest species such as TERRESTRIAL BROWNBUL, GREEN-BACKED CAMEROPTERA, BLUE-MANTLED CRESTED-FLYCATCHER, BLACK and GREY CUCKOOSHRIKES, SCALY-THROATED HONEYGUIDE, BLACK-BACKED PUFFBACK, CHORISTER ROBIN-CHAT and OLIVE WOODPECKER. We found FOREST CANARY, BLACK-BELLIED STARLING, KNYSNA TURACO and KNYSNA WOODPECKER.
A safe and secure spot for birding is the road bridge just after the turn-off to Wittedrift has been taken. The upstream section of the river is narrow and shallow and birding is spectacular. We found BURCHELL'S COUCAL, DIDERICK, AFRICAN EMERALD, KLAAS'S and RED-CHESTED CUCKOOS, AFRICAN HOOPOE, MALACHITE and PIED KINGFISHERS, KAROO PRINIA and GREEN WOOD-HOOPOE at this spot. Overhead and across the river one should look out for raptors like FOREST and JACKAL BUZZARD, AFRICAN FISH-EAGLE and AFRICAN MARSH-HARRIER. Interesting to see PIED CROWS chasing an AFRICAN FISH-EAGLE down the valley. Summer migrants include YELLOW-BILLED KITE and WESTERN OSPREY. These are just a few of the many birds of prey to be found along the Bitou River.
To this impressive list the ordinary garden birding seen around the lodge should be added. BAR-THROATED APALIS, SOUTHERN RED and YELLOW BISHOPS, AFRICAN DUSKY FLYCATCHER, SOUTHERN BOUBOU, BROWN-HOODED KINGFISHER, CAPE LONGCLAW, CAPE ROBIN-CHAT, CAPE SPURFOWL, both weavers and CAPE WHITE-EYE are just some examples. All of the region's sunbirds are present and AMETHYST, COLLARED and GREY SUNBIRDS deserve mention in this regard. SPOTTED EAGLE-OWL and FIERY-NECKED NIGHTJAR were heard at night. Great also to see that WILLOW WARBLERS are back. A very enjoyable first for me was to watch a RED BISHOP taking a bath on the leave of a water lily, unfortunately without my camera.
The Bitou River Lodge is hugely underrated as a bird-watching destination and an ideal base to use to investigate the birding delights of the greater Plettenberg Bay region. We saw well over a hundred species through relaxed and casual birding without any effort. Here are their contact details: