Posted on the 2nd November 2014

(This article first appeared in the November 2014 edition of the Agulhas National Park e-Newsletter. - Ed.)
One of the key intentions in establishing Agulhas National Park was to protect a unique wetland system. The Agulhas plain is unique in that a wide variety of wetlands (freshwater springs, rivers, estuaries, floodplains, lakes, vleis and pans) occur in the area. This contributes to a high diversity of wetland plants and aquatic invertebrates. These wetlands attract over 60 water bird species and over 21,000 migrant and resident wetland birds annually. The avifauna of the region is diverse with 230 bird species being recorded, of which 11 are Red Data species. Significant populations of Blue Cranes and, to a lesser extent, the vulnerable Denham’s Bustard, breed on the inland plains. (Agulhas National Park Management Plan, 2013-2023)

Agulhas Long-billed Lark
Denham's Bustards












Top 10 bird species in Agulhas NP as identified by Dr Wim De Klerk
Hottentot Buttonquail
Agulhas Long-billed Lark
Denham's Bustard
Yellow-billed Kite
Lanner Falcon
Cape Sugarbird
Caspian Tern
Orange-breasted Sunbird
Cloud Cisticola
African Purple Swamphen

Orange-breasted Sunbird
Lanner Falcon













Birding spots in Agulhas

The Nuwejaars Wetland system, an area of immense diversity and conservation value, provides unbelievable birding opportunities. It consists of rare and endemic natural fynbos and wetlands, which are all interlinked by the streams and rivers of the Nuwejaars wetland ecosystem. This system drains the Southern Agulhas Plain forming a number of annual and permanent water bodies or vleis, the most notable of which are Soetendalsvlei and Voëlvlei. These vleis are inhabited by a large variety of avian and aquatic species, some of them extremely rare and endangered and some endemic to the area. This wetland system makes Agulhas National Park and its neighbours a significant part of three Important Bird Areas: De Hoop, Heuningnes River and Estuary, and Overberg Wheat Belt. These areas hold the largest populations of Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradiseus) in the world, and significant numbers of Denham’s Bustard (Neotis denhami), White Stork (Ciconia ciconia), Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) and Black Harrier (Circus maurus). Over 230 bird species have been documented in the Agulhas region. The Agulhas Long-billed Lark is endemic to the plain and near threatened. Genetic and vocal analyses also confirm that a second species, the Agulhas Clapper Lark, is endemic to the plain. The coastline supports a rich marine and intertidal life, with breeding sites of endangered and rare bird species, such as the African Black Oystercatcher (Heamatopus moquini) and the Damara Tern (Sterna balaenarum). (SOURCE: Wetland documents.)

The Saltpan at Springfield was the largest pan in the Strandveld and the largest producer of salt. Here, diluted brine was pumped from boreholes, wells and trenches sunk into the floor of the pan into large concentration ponds, where the liquid was allowed to concentrate into saturated brine. This saturated brine was then led into shallow crystallisation ponds to evaporate. Production ceased in the 1960s. The remains of the concentration and crystallisation ponds, production plant and manager’s homestead are now part of the cultural heritage in the ANP and a famous birding spot.

Melkbospan is situated in the western section of the Park and is perceived as one of the smaller pans which are strongly saline to hyper saline. It is fed from the surrounding hills and keeps its water for most of a year and longer in exceptionally wet years. It is a favourite congregation spot for flamingos, depending on the water level. Milkwoods grow on the eastern side of the pan forming a natural bird-hide. Nearby is a big Milkwood stand with exceptional birdlife of its own.

Cape Grassbird
African Purple Swamphen Image: Richard Masson












Agulhas birders reveal

Birding highlights – Sharon Brink
One of the highlights of our visits to the ANP was the most unexpected visit by a Black Harrier to the coastline, we often see them over the fields but never on the coastal strip. Another stunning surprise was a Spotted Eagle Owl on the signpost Southernmost Point just below the Lighthouse. We had gone early for sunrise photographs and there was the owl sitting quite happily 'showing' the way to the southernmost point. The narrow bit of vegetation below the road that goes to Suiderstrand always seems to produce an unusual abundance of birdlife and here I am not referring to seabirds, but much rather your land-based birds such as Grassbirds, Cape Bulbul, Canaries, Cisticolas, Prinias and many more.

Dr Wim De Klerk, Birder
Best sighting: Hottentot Buttonquail in the Rietfontein area. Favourite birding spot: Rietfontein area.

Louise Walsh, Birder
Best sighting: Hottentot Buttonquail in the Rietfontein area. Favourite birding spot: Rietfontein se Baai pentad.

Len Wolhuter, Birder
Best sighting: Orange-breasted Sunbird in the Rietfontein area. Favourite birding spot: Entrance road to Rietfontein section and Melkbospan.

Sharon & Heine Brink, Photographers
Best sighting: Black Harrier at Southernmost Tip; Marsh Harrier in Agulhas wetlands.
Favourite birding spot: Southernmost Tip coastal zone.

Chris Van Gass, ANP Honorary Ranger
Best sighting: Hottentot Buttonquail in the Suiderstrand area; Black Harrier in his coastal “garden”.
Favourite birding spot: Melkbospan and surrounds.

Angela and Eddie, ANP Honorary Rangers
Best sighting: Over 100 Glossy Ibis in the wetlands on the Struisbaai/Elim road. Favourite birding spot: Rietfontein, both in and around the werf. 

Hottentot Buttonquail  Image: Dr Alan Lee

















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