We often visit some of the better known birding destinations along the Cape Garden Route and have posted several reports on our visits to places such as Storms River, Nature's Valley, the Bitou River and Keurboom's estuaries at Plet and the Wilderness National Park. The more western sections of the Garden Route have not received much attention from the birding fraternity, with the result that we were pleasantly surprised about birding at Great Brak River. We spent three nights there as we presented a Flight for Birders course in the village and were able to do a few hour's birding here and there. Conditions were not ideal as it was misty and mostly cloudy on both days.
Our accommodation was in a self-catering cottage in a secluded road deep in a remnant patch of indigenous forest. Being woken by the calls of species such as AFRICAN GOSHAWK, SOMBRE GREENBUL, CHORISTER ROBIN-CHAT, TERRESTRIAL BROWNBUL and BLACK-HEADED ORIOLE was really exciting and made one feel as if we were at Nature's Valley. The vast majority of common species that one would expect in this type of habitat was on offer and in total we were able to positively identify 41 species at the property where we stayed. Great sightings were had of KNYSNA TURACOS, SWEE WAXBILLS, several sunbirds and SOUTHERN BOOBOUS, CHORISTER ROBIN-CHATS, TERRESTRIAL BROWNBUL and others were very confiding and allowed us close-up views from the patio. At various stages we also heard calls of BARN OWLS, AFRICAN FISH-EAGLE and even BLUE-MANTLED CRESTED-FLYCATCHER. All and all great casual forest birding!
Birding along the Great Brak River is outstanding as one is able to get close-up views of lots of waterbirds and for photographic purposes (weather permitting) one would be able to take pictures from both sides of the river. There are huge numbers of ducks and we were particularly pleased to find WHITE-FACED DUCK and masses of CAPE TEALS. KITTLITZ'S and THREE-BANDED PLOVERS patrolled the mudflats and one wonders what this area would produce in summer when the migrants are around. Also interesting that PURPLE HERONS are often seen out in the open away from reed beds. CASPIAN and SWIFT TERNS regularly patrolled the water courses.
Unfortunately, we have never before seen so many free roaming MALLARDS anywhere. These birds must represent a major threat to the vast numbers of YELLOW-BILLED DUCKS and CAPE SHOVELERS in the area. There is a group of birders doing regular monthly CWAC counts along the river and it is hoped that these birders, together with other like-minded people will apply more pressure on local authorities and CapeNature to address this pending environmental disaster.
Eighteen Three-banded Plovers!!!!!!
Local birder Aussie Eybers also volunteered to take us to the Hartenbos sewerage works and what a surprise this was. Access is allowed with permission and this site is a must to visit as it is very close to the N2. Huge numbers of ducks, herons, egrets, cormorants and other birds are available here – alas, zillions of MALLARDS as well.
We certainly did not spend enough time in the Great Brak River region to give a proper introductory overview on the birds there. It is reported that there are good patches of fynbos in the area allowing access to the majority of species that would normally expect to find in such habitats. Also keep in mind that Little Stone Cottage that we had reported on earlier is only 35 km up the road. A next visit to the area (probably in summer) would probably give us a better idea of the birding potential of the area. It is certain though that birding along the Garden Route is much better than previously anticipated and it is clear that there is much more birding opportunities to be investigated in the western sections of this beautiful part of our country. We firmly believe that the Great Brak River region will become another top Western Cape birding destination and are convinced that it should be marketed as such.