Six BirdLife Overberg members visited the Bontebok National Park on 6th August. Birding was very difficult initially as thick mist was encountered from Akkedisberg Pass to Swellendam and lasted until 11h00.
The Bontebok National Park protects some of the largest intact portions of what is generally referred to as Renosterveld. The vegetation is very unique and formally described as Swellendam Silcrete Fynbos, of which 4% of all remaining vegetation of this kind is protected in the Park. Due to the virtual destruction and extremely fragmented nature of Renosterveld this vegetation type is regarded as critically endangered and Bontebok National Park is thus of critical importance to national conservation efforts. Bontebok National Park represents an important foraging and breeding site for the Vulnerable Black Harrier (Circus maurus). The last bird list for BNP was published in 1981, listing 186 bird species. Since 2009, frequent BIRP lists have been completed and sent to the ADU and new species are being observed regularly and added to the checklist, which is now standing at 234 species. A revised checklist is currently in production.
(l) Aloe flowers, (image by Jane McMorran); (m) the new entrance gate, (image by Anton Odendal; (r) Cape Weaver, (image by Riaan Jacobs).
The new entrance gate makes access to the Park far more comfortable and practical. From here one can reach the picnic site at Die Stroom far more easily and this should have a positive impact on visitor numbers. Further good news is that the SANParks 'Kids in Parks' project is up and running again – a busload of children was camping at Die Stroom.
We drove from reception to Die Stroom and then along the magnificant Breede River and on towards the offices at the old entrance gate. The area between the old entrance gate and the restcamp consists of Overberg Coastal Renosterveld where birds that are in trouble such as the Denham's Bustard and Southern Black Korhaan are relatively easily found. We were delighted to find Grey-winged Francolin, Black Harrier and Secretarybird. This also represents LBJ heaven and all of the area's cisticolas, larks and pipits have been recorded here in the past. These include Agulhas Long-billed Lark, Cape Clapper Lark and Large-billed Lark, all endemics. Besides these visitors could find both the Cape Longclaw and Capped Wheatear.
Secretarybird, (both images by Riaan Jacobs).
A whole range of other birds and some of the “Cape specials” are to be found in the gardens in the area at the old reception office. Expect to find Orange-breasted Sunbird, Cape Sugarbird, Cape Bunting, Cape Spurfowl and Cape Weaver – this place is a hotspot for Western Cape endemics. Other great sightings yesterday included large numbers of Spur-winged Geese, with African Stonechats and Malachite Sunbirds being very prominent.
We then went to the restcamp at Lang Elsie's Kraal along the banks of the Breede River where we had lunch. On the way we spotted Black Harrier, Jackal Buzzard, African Stonechat, Yellow Canarie and more Malachite Sunbirds, a wide variety which highlights the diversity of the birdlife in the area.
Black Harrier, (image by Charles Naude).
(l) Yellow Canarie, (image by Charles Naude); (r) Malachite Sunbird, (image by Riaan Jacobs).
The restcamp at Lang Elsie's Kraal 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. From here one could explore one of the available hiking trails along the river bank and there are good numbers and diversity of species in the dense riverine thickets. Hundreds of Rock and Brown-throated Martins often skim the water and fair numbers of African Black Ducks could be encountered. Most of the ducks and kingfishers to be found in the region have been recorded here and groups of South African Shelducks fly about regularly. Most of the common 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.
Cape Weaver, (image by Jane McMorran).
(l) Fiscal Flycatcher, (image by Charles Naude); (r) Common Fiscal, (image by Jane McMorran).
Birds that one could have close encounters with in the rest camp include Cardinal, Olive and Knysna Woodpeckers, Acacia Pied Barbet, Southern Tchagra, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Swee Waxbill and Bar-throated Apalis. A winter visit to the Bontebok National Park comes highly recommended due the vast numbers of flowering aloes in the rest camp.
(l) Aloes in flower at the rest camp, (image by Anton Odendal); (r) Cape Weaver feeding on aloe blooms, (image by Riaan Jacobs).
Our BIRP list for the Park totalled 58 species and we added a further 20 along the way. Of these a whopping 24 species are endemic or near-endemic to Southern Africa. I would like to suggest that we consider doing a midweek outing there in future. It is close by, they offer 40% discount for pensioners in off season and have chalets and a great camping area. Mostly, it can be used as a base to bounce to other exciting bird-watching destinations in the area such as Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve, Tradouw Pass and Barrydale, Malgas, Potberg and the De Hoop Nature Reserve. The Bontebok Nature Reserve is hugely underrated as a top birding destination.
Anton, Riaan, Jane, Jill & Charles at the view point overlooking the Breede River, (image by Peter McMorran).