WEEKLY FEATURE 4: WILDERNESS NATIONAL PARKPosted on the 26th January 2015
The WILDERNESS NATIONAL PARK is considered the flagship birding destination in the Eden District municipal region. The Wilderness-Sedgefield Lakes Complex is an Important Bird Area (IBA SA114) and is registered as a RAMSAR site. This double registration emphasises the importance of this area not only as a birding site, but also as a critical conservation area. The IBA includes the entire Wilderness National Park, under the management of SANParks; in addition to Sedgefield and the Goukamma Nature Reserve, under the management of CapeNature. The area incorporates three Lakes systems: the Wilderness lakes system; Swartvlei and its estuary at Sedgefield; and the landlocked Groenvlei. In the west the Wilderness lakes system is linked by a natural channel, the Serpentine, which connects the Touw River estuary to the lakes at Eilandvlei, Langvlei and Rondevlei. Birding here is simply superb!
|Wilderness boardwalk on a rainy day|
|Diverse habitats at Ebb & Flow|
The village of Wilderness offers birders access to coastal birding along its pure white beach, waterfowl along the Touw River and the Serpentine, and the best of forest birding. One experienced birder managed to identify thirty species in an hour during breakfast at Kingfisher Country House. The quality of some of the birds seen is astounding: Terrestrial Brownbul, Olive Bush-Shrike, Forest Canary, Chorister Robin-Chat, Red-necked Spurfowl and Knysna Turaco. Lemon and Tambourine Doves, Buff-spotted Flufftail and Knysna Warbler also feature in this garden. The boardwalk at the lagoon along Waterside road leading Fairy Knowe should also be investigated. From here, sections of the Pied Kingfisher Trail along the railway line leading to the sewerage works can also produce many exciting species. THE EBB AND FLOW (S33º 59’27.13” E22º 36’30.03”) rest camp is reached off the N2 and features Afromontane forests, the Touw River estuary and the Serpentine with its extensive reedbeds. What a delight to awaken here to the calls of Black-crowned Night-Herons coming in to roost and the cry of African Fish-Eagles in the distance. The passage of thousands upon thousands of cormorants, ducks, egrets and herons is breath-taking. A recent outing by the Lakes Bird Club produced the following parade of top species: Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Collared Sunbird, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, Scaly-throated Honeyguide and Narina Trogon. There are several hiking trails within both forest and wetland habitats, giving access to even more exciting species: Green-backed Camaroptera, Black-backed Puffback, Green Wood-Hoopoe, and Olive and Knysna Woodpeckers, and all of the region’s kingfishers can be found fairly easily. The lawns and gardens of the rest camp add most of the garden birds to be expected in this area - sunbirds are numerous, and in summer many cuckoos, including African Emerald Cuckoo are present. Ebb and Flow is a unique experience.
|Immature Little Bittern|
|Pied Kingfisher (All four images from Malachite Kingfisher hide)|
Birding in the Wilderness National Park does not end with the hiking trails and canoeing available at Ebb and Flow. Ample time should be spent driving along DIE VLEIE ROAD (S33º 59’15.38” E22º 37’55.41”) that is accessed from the N2 (S33º 59’49.19” E22º 36’37.04”) on the road to Hoekwil. In optimal conditions this is waterfowl heaven, although many interesting terrestrial species can also be found along here. Look out for species such as Bar-throated Apalis, Southern Boubou, African Dusky Flycatcher, Streaky-headed Seedeater and a selection of cuckoos in summer. Die Vleie Road first reaches EILAND VLEI (ISLAND LAKE) even though the waterfowl are often in the distance - a spotting scope is usually needed here. The MALACHITE KINGFISHER HIDE (S33º 58’59.37” E22º 40’36.06”) along northern shores of LANGVLEI deserves an extended stopover. There are large concentrations of Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveler and all three grebes. Other ducks can include Maccoa and White-backed Ducks, Southern Pochard and all three teals. Grey and Purple Herons are often encountered, together with African Spoonbill and a variety of cormorants, egrets and kingfishers. African Fish-Eagles are commonly seen and Western Osprey less so, with African Marsh-Harrier regularly patrolling the area. The reedbeds should be observed carefully as secretive species such as Little Bittern, Baillon’s Crake, African Rail and African Purple Swamphen can be found. The calls of Lesser Swamp-Warbler, Little Rush-Warbler and African Reed-Warbler (summer) can be heard continually. Bird photographers spend many hours at this hide. From here travel to RONDEVLEI , but ensure that the reedbeds along the crossing of the channel are studied carefully. This area can be very productive. The hide at Rondevlei (S33º 59’17.70” E22º 43’3.07”) can produce exceptional birding, although the water here often tends to recede away from the hide, making bird spotting and photography fairly difficult. The forested mountains towards the interior and north of the lakes system should also be investigated. There is a circular route, often called the Seven Passes Road, that starts at the N2 2 (or outside George), and takes the visitor through breath-taking landscapes to return eventually to the N2 between Sedgefield and Knysna. The BIG TREE AT HOEKWIL (S33º 56’8.45” E22º 38’44.04”) has a picnic site and a wonderful circular walk. Look for Cape Batis, Grey Cuckooshrike, White-starred Robin, Grey Sunbird and Green Wood-Hoopoe and many other species associated with indigenous forests. Further along this road places of interest include Karatara, Rheenendal and the Homtini and Phantom Passes. Birds of prey along this route could include Forest Buzzard, African Crowned Eagle, African Goshawk, African Cuckoo Hawk, African Harrier-Hawk, and Black and Rufous-chested Sparrowhawks. Spend at least three days at the Wilderness National Park: one for Wilderness village and Ebb and Flow, one for Die Vleie Road and one for the Seven Passes Road and the Big Tree at Hoekwil.
|African Dusky Flycatcher|