A week in Plettenberg Bay - article and images by Mike Graham
Margaret and I spent a very nice week in Plettenberg Bay at the beginning of August, tied in with a Slide-show for BirdLife Plettenberg on our trip to Zambia.
Plettenberg Bay offers some good birding without having to move too far from the town. Farther afield there is Nature’s Valley and Storm’s River for those who want to go the extra kilometre.
We stayed at Bitou River Lodge for the 7 nights with Sue Scheepers, her 3 dogs and a cat. Whilst Sue is not a “Birder Friendly” establishment she does produce bird lists for the Bitou Wetlands and there are numerous bird books in the lounge plus binoculars for those who have forgotten them. There are several kayaks which may be used for trips up and down the river. The lodge lies 4.5 kilometres along the Wittedrift/Uniondale Road to the east of Plettenberg town.
Birding areas locally include the Robberg Peninsula, Keurbooms River, Bitou River and the associated wetlands. These wetlands have been very wet this year after the heavy rains but still offer good sightings.
If you park the car by the road bridge on N2 where it crosses the Bitou River, you should be able to see African Black Oystercatcher, Common Whimbrel, Ruff, Kelp Gull, Cormorants and some of the smaller Plovers. Sandpipers should also be feeding in the mud.
Cape Robin-Chat with nesting material
The Keurbooms Estuary between Goose Valley Golf Club and the sea is good for a walk at low tide. There are plenty of shore birds plus Diderick Cuckoo. There were large numbers of Alpine Swift there this August along with Black Saw-wing, Rock Martins and African Black Swift.
Take a slow drive up the Wittedrift Road and check out the Wetlands on the left. We saw Southern Pochard, Cape Shoveler, Cape Teal, Red-billed Teal, Giant Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Little Grebe, Black-winged Stilt, Yellow-billed Duck, African Darter, Levaillant’s Cisticola and African Fish-Eagle. There are plenty of good vantage points and a scope would be really helpful.
The river is narrow but quite navigable from Bitou River Lodge up and down stream. Upstream is around a 30 minute slow paddle to the weir, but downstream you can go for at least an hour. The habitat is very similar both ways - Riverine forest, reed beds and thickets. There is potential for 60+ species. I managed to find Little Bittern twice and there is a large population of Black Crake downstream. Little Rush Warbler is always chirping away in the reed beds and look carefully in the trees for Knysna Turaco and Malachite Kingfisher. Sue’s garden is a good place to observe the comings and goings. Cape Weavers, Greater and Lesser Double-collared Sunbirds, Malachite Sunbird, Southern Boubou, Yellow Bishop, Cape Robin-Chat, Cape White-eye, Black-bellied Starling, Black-headed Oriole, Cape Longclaw (in the horse paddock). There is now a resident Spotted Eagle-Owl and Sue’s husband Paul has now built an owl box which they hope will be utilised this breeding season.
Overhead and across the river one should look out for Jackal Buzzard, Forest Buzzard and Osprey.
I did 1 Pentad whilst there and without actually looking for birds and spending just 1 hour a day came up with 66 species. Little Bittern was the best sighting as Sue hadn’t seen any for some time and was afraid they had moved farther afield but they were only about 15 minutes downstream.
One good day in the area should net you 60-70 species without too much difficulty.