(We have received this old document from Emmerentia de Kock of the Agulahas National Park - it certainly gives one a good introductory overview of the birding potential of this area. - Ed.)
The Nuwejaars Wetland system is an area of immense biodiversity and conservation value. 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 noteable of which are Zoetendalsvlei and Voëlvlei and is inhabited by a large variety of avian and aquatic species, some of them extremely rare and endangered and some endemic to the area alone. The conservation value of the system is further enhanced as it ultimately feeds into the Heuningnesrivier on which is situated the De Mond Estuary, already listed as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance.
The headwaters of the Nuwejaars River are in the south-facing slopes of the Bredasdorp Mountains, the Koueberge to the west, the hills to the south of Elim and the north-facing slopes of the Soetanys Mountains. The five tributaries of the Nuwejaars River are the Koue, Wolwegatskloof, Jan Swartskraal, Boskloof and Uintjieskuil. The length of the Nuwejaars River from its western most source, through Soetendalsvlei to the confluence of the vlei’s overflow channel with the Kars River is 55km. From this confluence it flows as the Heuningnesrivier for 15 km to De Mond and into the sea.
The very low gradients in the south-eastern plain result in significant wetland development, and create the second largest lacustrine wetland in South Africa, Soetendalsvlei. The Agulhas region is unique in terms of the wide variety of wetlands (freshwater springs, rivers, estuaries, lakes, vleis and endorheic pans) that occur within a relatively small area.
This wetland system makes Agulhas National Park and its neighbours a significant part of three Important Bird Areas: De Hoop (SA 119), Heuningnes River and Estuary (SA 121), and Overberg Wheatbelt (SA 115) (Barnes 1998). These areas hold the largest populations of Blue Cranes (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 270 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 (P. Ryan, pers comm.). The project area is home to the endangered Cape Vulture (Gyps coprotheres) and significant populations of the Red listed Striped Flufftail (Sarothrura affinis). De Hoop vlei is one of the few localities where Greater Flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber) have successfully bred in South Africa. 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).