THE LOWER BERG RIVER WETLANDS (VELDDRIF) - A TOP BIRDING DESTINATION ALONG THE CAPE WEST COAST
Posted on the 28th March 2017
Once the Lower Berg River Wetlands at Velddrif are reached from Piketberg, the first birding hotspot along the R399 is DE PLAAT. (S32º 48’05.62” E18º 12’53.45”) These mudflats are ideal for viewing waders and is best visited 3.5 hours after high tide, or 1 hour after low tide in Table Bay.
This Important Bird Area (IBA SA 104) stretches from Cloeteskraal and Kruispad in the east, Varkvlei in the south, and the salt-pans along the R27, towards Dwarskersbos in the north. 127 waterbird species and 93 terrestrial species have been recorded here. These include 25 species of national importance and at least 5 Red Data listed species. An application for this wetland system to be awarded RAMSAR status is being considered. The area of the Lower Berg River which includes a variety of habitat types is well known as a hotspot for rarities.
Common Ringed Plover
Excellent birding is to be had at various spots along the river. The estuary is saline and tidal, and interesting at all tidal stages. Between October and April many migratory waders visit the area. It has been shown that the mud banks along the river support the highest diversity of waders along the Atlantic seaboard.
The next site to be visited after De Plaat is Bokkom Alley, which is clearly signposted along the R399. A stopover at the traditional fishing businesses is worthwhile. Birding here can be superb, and birds seen here regularly include Great White Pelican and Giant, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers. Birds can be viewed throughout the year from the area which overlooks the inter-tidal mud flats and salt marshes towards the Riviera Hotel. Look out for Pied Avocet, African Darter, several egrets, Black-headed, Grey and Purple Herons, African Spoonbill, and in summer, vast numbers of waders. Common Greenshank, Grey Plover, Ruff, Curlew and Marsh Sandpipers, Little Stint, Ruddy Turnstone and Common Whimbrel are but a few of the species that can easily be observed and photographed here. Rarities found here in the past include Black-tailed and Hudsonian Godwit, Little Blue Heron, Common Redshank and Lesser Yellowlegs.
The R27 ROAD BRIDGE (S32º 47’19.04” E18º 10’07.91”) (Carinus Bridge) can offer outstanding birding opportunities, although one cannot stop here safely, and it is best to bird on foot. Large numbers of Lesser and Greater Flamingos overwinter here, Black-necked Grebes are often particularly numerous, as are Caspian and Swift Terns.
Two birding sites on the southern side of the Berg River and the Carinus bridge need to be highlighted. FLAMINKEVLEI ‘A’ (S32º 47’56.88” E18º 09’14.76”) is reached from the R199 to Vredenburg. It features a mixed heronry in the blue gum trees between July and December. During spring African Sacred Ibis breed on the islands, and Swift Terns do so in summer. African Marsh-Harrier and Marsh Owls often fly over the reed beds towards evening.
Southern Black Korhaan
SWARTJIESBAAI (S32º 48’10.35” E18º 11’40.30”) on the road towards Hopefield offers Red-necked Phalarope, Common Redshank, African Purple Swamphen, White-winged Tern, Water Thick-knee and more recently Goliath Heron. Look out for Blue Crane, Lanner Falcon, Southern Black Korhaan and Barn Owl along the access road. Permission for entry should be obtained from the owner. (Contact Jan Kotze at +27 022 783 0818). The salt-pans are non-tidal, and amongst others, Chestnut-banded Plover, Red-necked Phalarope, Cape Long-billed and Large-billed Larks and Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler may be found. Hartlaub’s Gulls and Swift Terns have bred here.
Also ensure that the harbour at LAAIPLEK is visited towards the end of day. Most spectacularly, up to 30,000 Cape Cormorants can at times fly over to roost in the salt-pans. More than 100,000 birds have been recorded here.
Velddrif serves as a wonderful base for birding in this central part of the Cape West Coast throughout the year. It lies central to the West Coast National Park, the West Coast Fossil Park, St Helena Bay, Rocherpan, Verlorenvlei, Aurora and Piketberg. The diversity of species to be found at these different birding destinations makes a visit to Velddrif and environs a priority for visiting birders.
The SA RareBirdNews report on 9 February 2015 described sightings of Goliath Heron, Sand Martin, Red-necked Phalarope and Caspian Plover from this area. This is often a real hot spot for vagrant species and a birding destination not to be underestimated.