Posted on the 30th July 2010

The Swellendam area in the Overberg region of the Western Cape is highly underrated as a bird-watching destination. The town is in close proximity to the Grootvadersbosch, Marloth and De Hoop nature reserves, all managed by Cape Nature, the Bontebok National Park and the Tradouw pass. These reserves host a diversity of habitats and afford the visiting birder a great variety of birds to be seen. Most of these destinations gives access to the so-called Western Cape specials such as Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Victorin's Warbler, Cape Siskin, Black Harrier and Southern Tchagra to mention a few.

We are currently busy with the development of birding resources for environmental education centres in the Overberg through a grant from the Roland and Leta Hill Trust. We visited the Bontebok National Park near Swellendam as this will become one of the project's pilot sites. The weather was really bad, but this did not stop a magnificent adult Black Harrier from quartering right in front of our vehicle's windscreen as we traveled the 4, 5 km from the entrance gate to the rest camp. What a welcome to the Park! The rest camp at Lang Elsie's Kraal along the banks of the Breede river is very well appointed and the gardens are beautifully maintained. The chalets are comfortable and well equipped and the view from the patios is something to behold.

Brown-hooded Kingfisher

In the late afternoon we decided to explore one of the available hiking trails along the river bank and found good numbers and diversity of species in the dense riverine thickets. Hundreds of Rock and Brown-throated Martins were skimming the water and we were delighted with the numbers of African Black Ducks that we encountered. Most of the ducks and kingfishers to be found in the region have been recorded here and we were particularly impressed by the groups of South African Shelducks that were flying about. It was unfortunately to wet to walk through the long grasses along the river's edge but the Park's checklist clearly indicates that most of the common raliens and warblers and several waders are also available.

The thickets along the river are particularly productive and here one can find a variety of birds that one doesn't expect in the Ruens country. Think of Fairy Flycatcher, Terrestrial Brownbul, Olive Bush-shrike, Forest Canary, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher and Knysna Woodpecker to namedrop a bit. And all of this in a two hour period before dark with really low clouds and drizzly weather. The birding for the day was ended with a Fiery-necked Nightjar calling nearby – I don't care where one travels in southern Africa, this remains one of the outstanding calls of Africa.

All hell broke loose at dawn – the volume of the dawn chorus on both mornings reminded us of Kruger, or Ndumu, or Mkuzi. The African Goshawk's characteristic call from above was first to feature, but was soon followed by Cape Robin-Chats, Southern Boubous, Bar-throated Apalis, Karoo Prinias and several woodpeckers, canaries and doves and pigeons. Once outside we immediately noticed that the star attractions in the rest camp at this time of year are the hundred of Aloes (mostly Marloth's) that are currently in full bloom. It was very interesting to see what species utilize this food source and not uncommon to see up to five different species on one plant at one time. This also made for a potential identification nightmare as there were “Orange-faced” Mousebirds, “Orange-faced” Drongo's, many types of “Orange-faced” Canaries, well, Orange-faced You-name-it. Birds that we had close encounters with in the rest camp included Cardinal, Olive and Knysna Woodpeckers, Acacia Pied Barbet, Southern Tchagra, Brown-hooded Kingfisher and Swee Waxbill. A winter visit to the Bontebok National Park comes highly recommended due the vast numbers of flowering aloes in the rest camp. One wonders whether the huge numbers of birds in the rest camp will drop once the aloes have stopped blooming.

Denham's Bustards

Birding in this reserve does not end here though. The area between the entrance gate and the rest camp consists of Overberg Coastal Renosterveld where birds that are in trouble such as the Denham's Bustard, Black Harrier, Southern Black Korhaan, Agulhas Long-billed Lark and Secretarybirds are all relatively easily found. This also represent LBJ heaven and all of the area's cisticolas, larks and pipits have been recorded. We were also delighted to find both the Cape Longclaw and Capped Wheatear in this area. We did not have the time to visit the two lookout points towards the western border of the reserve and suspect that this will host some other types of birds.

A whole range of other birds and some of the “Cape specials” are to be found in the gardens in the area at the reception offices. We did not spend much time here, but easily picked up Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Sugarbird, Cape Bunting, Cape Spurfowl and Cape Weaver – this place is a hotspot for Western Cape endemics.

Southern Black Korhaan

So why speed along the N2 when traveling between Cape Town and the Garden Route, or between Hermanus, or the southern most tip at Agulhas or De Hoop and Route 62? Plan your trip to visit this reserve as birding at the Bontebok National Park is most rewarding and represents one of the quickest “summaries” of western Cape birding – way over 200 species in an area merely 3475 ha big. To crown it all it is in very close proximity to prime birding spots such as Grootvadersbosch, Marloth, Tradouw pass, Suurbraak and Barrydale. One hopes that our involvement in this area will at least lead to the development of Site Support Groups for these magnificent birding hotspots.

- Text and photos by Anton and Elaine Odendal.



Bontebok in Fynbos.  Credit: SANParks


Breede river through Fynbos.  Credit: SANParks













Die Stroom picnic site.  Credit:  SANParks


Rest camp along the Breede river.  Credit: SANParks











No current posts. Be the first to post a comment