Ever heard of top birding destinations such as Ratelrivier, Springfield, Brandfontein, Soutpan and Voëlvlei? Well, the Honoray Rangers of the Agulhas National Park had some real surprises up their sleeves for participants when they organised the first SASOL Agulhas National Park birding weekend between 17 and 19 October 2008. Glendower whiskey was the other anchor sponsor. Eddie Cassani and his team came up with the novel idea of presenting the weekend in the historical village of Elim thus allowing some of the benefits of the weekend to flow back to the local community. The weekend's official activities started with a guided walk through this historical village ably led by local residents. The local brass band set the stage for Ian Sinclair to give a delightful talk on birds in sub-Saharan Africa and Janine Temmers and her team presented a great seafood potjie as main course.
A range of exciting options was available for the Saturday: Birders could go birding with Chris van Gass, Ian Sinclair or Neil Smith and this enabled participants to bird with the experts – this is an activity that is in high demand and proved to be highly successful and popular. Others joined Flip van Staden on a guided walking trail that mostly focused on fynbos and flowers. The more adventurous could go kayaking with Gielie de Kock or enjoy a 4X4 trail with Samantha Schröder. Others went birding at leisure and tried to get photographs of the area's lovely birds and landscapes.
The area in and around the Agulhas National Park host a variety of habitat types and this brings about great biodiversity as far as birds are concerned. The most important veldtypes are Overberg Dune Strandveld, Freshwater Wetlands, Cape Inland Saltpans, Elim Ferricrete Fynbos, Agulhas Sand Fynbos, Agulhas Limestone Fynbos and agricultural land, e.g. wheatfields and canola. Large expances of coastal fynbos allowed birders access to species such as Cape Sugarbird and Orange-breasted Sunbird, and the patches of renosterveld host large numbers of Black Harriers. Most of the groups that went out birding reported having seen these birds at regular intervals. The weekend also gave the experienced birders and guides the opportunity to introduce novices to the intimidating world of Little Brown Jobs: all of the cisticulas, larks and pipits of the region were reported and several individuals commented on how close they could get to these birds. Large groves of milkwood trees are scattered throughout the park and here one can expect to find Southern Boubou, Southern Tchagra, African Paradise-Flycatcher, African Olive Dove, Lemon Dove and a variety of goshawks and sparrowhawks. The various old (and mostly abandoned) homesteads in the reserve create different habitats and from here several doves, sparrows, chats, weavers and sunbirds were reported.
The wetlands and marshes at places such as Soetendalsvallei, Nuwejaarsrivier and Voёlvlei are in fantastic condition after the heavy recent rains and most of the ducks, herons and egrets to be found in the area were reported. Participants were particularly excited about other species such African Rail, African Fish-Eagle, African Snipe, Black Crake and a variety of kingfishers that were seen. The quality and quantity of waders seen at Voёlvlei and Soutpan was impressive as was reflected on the lists submitted. Common Ringed -, Chestnut-banded -, Grey – and Tree-banded Plovers, Common Whimbrel and Common Greenshank, Ruff and several sandpipers and terns were prolific. To top this all the De Mond Nature Reserve managed by CapeNature is only a thirty minutes drive from the eastern boundary of the Agulhas National Park – this is wader heaven! The coastal belt along the eastern edge of the reserve further allows access to most of the seabirds that one would normally expect to find along the Western Cape coastline. In total 170 species were positively identified on the Saturday and this while people were also investigating flowers, fynbos, the rich archaeological and colonial history of the park (and trying to stay afloat while kayaking).
The entertainment for the evening was once again very well organised. Members of BirdLife Overberg donated several bird books and other educational resource material to the Agulhas National Park and Peter Ginn gave a compelling illustrated slide show on the birds of the Western Cape. Janine Temmers and her team again excelled with great food – this time a traditional Cape “skaapbraai”. The evening ended with a dance and great fun was had by all.
On the Sunday morning most birders used the last opportunity to explore the birding delights of the park and the weekend was ended with a brunch and prize giving. The Agulhas Honorary Rangers managed to give every single participant a wonderful gift hamper and several won a sponsored weekend breakaway. Eddie Cassani and his team should be congratulated with a job very well done and should be commended particularly for allowing members of the Elim community to benefit directly from the weekend's proceedings. We are awaiting the dates for next year's event with keen anticipation.
The weekend certainly introduced the birding community to a great new destination on the Overberg Birding Route. An added advantage of the Agulhas National Park is that birders can now travel from the birding hotspots of the Overstrand such as Rooiels, Fernkloof and Danger Point via the park on their way to De Hoop and De Mond. Also keep in mind that the hamlet of Napier, the Shipwreck museum in Bredasdorp and the southernmost point in Africa should be visited when one visits the “deep south”. Construction of accommodation establishments in the park has commenced, with the result that birders do not have to race through the Overberg along the N2 – visit the southern Overberg and enjoy the leisurely lifestyle and our great endemic birds.
(Details of available accommodation establishments that could be utilised while visiting the park will be posted on this website shortly).(Also check out the photo galery on the weekend soon)