Introducing the Flamingo Birding Route Show details
The Flamingo Birding Route, along the Cape West Coast in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, is internationally renowned as a tourist destination. What more can one ask for than the world’s greatest spring flowers show, spectacular land- and seascapes, acclaimed wines, an interestingly diverse population and wonderful seafoods? In addition to these attractions, the Cape West Coast hosts an amazing range of sought after and often endemic bird species, including Bank, Cape and Crowned Cormorants, Cape Gannet, African Black Oystercatcher, African Penguin, Orange-breasted Sunbird, Victorin’s Warbler, Protea Seedeater, and Cape Siskin. There are also several underutilised and ecologically varied birding destinations such as the Langebaan lagoon, the Berg River estuary, Rocherpan Nature Reserve, Verlorenvlei, Bird Island at Lambert’s Bay, the Olifants River estuary, the Knersvlakte, and the Cederberg Wilderness Area. Birding around the towns of Porterville and Piketberg also deserves exposure to a rapidly growing bird-watching fraternity. Many exciting birding opportunities already exist, of which the migratory waders visiting the West Coast National Park are probably the most famous. This birding brochure, developed by Anton Odendal on behalf of BirdLife Overberg, and sponsored by WESGRO, introduces visitors to some of the special birds of the region, and describes locations where they can be found. The reference numbers on the map are reflected in both the text and index. GPS reference points and the contact details of tourism offices are provided. Detailed descriptions are regularly updated on the Birding Routes section of the Flamingo Birding Route pages of www.westerncapebirding.co.za. The brochure places strong emphasis on the West Coast National Park as the flagship birding destination of the region, and then describes birding opportunities in the five local municipal areas. These descriptions are aimed at assisting visiting birders to gain easier access to birding sites in each municipal area, even though some birders will prefer to travel along either the coast or the N7 freeway.
- THE WESTERN CAPE AS A TOP BIRDING DESTINATION
- GOOD WEST COAST BIRDING
- ENDEMIC BIRDS OF THE WESTERN CAPE
- TEN GREAT DAYS OF BIRDING IN THE WESTERN CAPE
- A DAY TRIP ALONG THE WEST COAST (MARCH 2011)
- GREAT SIGHTINGS IN THE WESTERN CAPE DURING 2012
- GREAT SIGHTINGS ALONG THE WEST COAST (JAN 2009)
- HOW TO FIND INFORMATION ON PARTICULAR BIRDING HOTSPOTS
- THE DEMAND FOR BIRDING IN THE WESTERN CAPE
Birds and Birding along the West Coast Show details
A visit to the Cape West Coast where the fynbos biome with its exotic sugarbirds passes into the Succulent Karoo and Nama Karoo biomes will afford the visitor a celebration of diverse peoples, landscapes, culinary delights, internationally recognised wetlands and spectacular spring wildflower displays. This arid region offers splendid white beaches and coastal plains, dominated by Strandveld fynbos and studded with picturesque granite outcrops. Inland, the Cederberg Wilderness Area is seen as one of the best examples of the Cape Fold Mountains. The tourism infrastructure is well developed at quaint fishing villages along the coast and inland country towns. Tourist attractions vary from famous eco-tourism destinations such as the West Coast Fossil Park, the West Coast National Park, Bird Island at Lambert’s Bay, the Lower Berg River Wetlands and the Olifants River estuary, to upmarket facilities at places such as Club Mykonos, Paternoster and Port Owen.
The Cape West Coast offers a variety of top birding destinations, with no less than seven Important Bird Areas (IBA’s) registered with BirdLife International. The registration of two wetland systems as RAMSAR sites emphasizes the importance of the region for waterfowl. Applications for another two have been submitted. The wealth of the region’s terrestrial species is often overlooked, as the region has the reputation for producing sightings of rare and vagrant migratory waders during summer. South African birders have encountered near mythical species such as Dunlin, Black-tailed and Hudsonian Godwits, Red-necked and Wilson’s Phalaropes, Eurasian Oystercatcher, and Baird’s, Pectoral and Broad-billed Sandpipers.
The Cape West Coast is best known for the annual display of wild flowers which burst into sight from late July to early October. Birding and flower viewing enhance each other and form perfect partners. The viewing of flowers is at its best during the hottest time of day between 11h00 and 15h00. For the latest flower reports visit: www.tourismcapetown.co.za A flower hotline is also available at +27 071 320 7146.
The West Coast National Park: Geelbek and Surrounds Show details
The WEST COAST NATIONAL PARK (S33º 14’643” E18º 12’145”) is an Important Bird Area (SA 105) and a RAMSAR site. The Park includes the beach and dune land between the villages of YZERFONTEIN and LANGEBAAN, the beautiful lagoon and the Saldanha Bay Islands. More than 300 bird species have been identified here, and the Park is probably best known for the thousands of migratory waders in summer. Terrestrial birding should, however, not be underestimated. The Rhenosterveld (a type of fynbos) of the Park represents of the last large remnants of this habitat type, and hosts good numbers of the vulnerable Black Harrier. Other sought-after species include White-throated Canary, Grey-winged Francolin, Karoo Lark, White-backed Mousebird, Karoo Prinia, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Grey Tit and many more.
Birding around the Geelbek area is superb. The TWO GEELBEK HIDES (S33º 11’417” E18º 07’477”) are situated in close proximity to the historic GEELBEK HOMESTEAD AND RESTAURANT. (S33º 11’43.22” E18º 07’23.15”) These hides overlook salt marshes and mudflats and are the best spots to view waders. The hides are best visited at ebb tide - four and a half hours after high tide and two hours after low tide in Table Bay. Do not underestimate the boardwalks to these hides, as these offer very good birding and photographic opportunities. In summer expect to find Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Greenshank, Red Knot, Grey Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Ruff, Sanderling, Curlew and Marsh Sandpipers, Little Stint, Ruddy Turnstone and Common Whimbrel. Special birds seen here in recent years include Common Redshank, Terek Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers and Black Tern. Look out for resident species such as African Fish-Eagle, Greater Flamingo, Purple Heron, African Marsh-Harrier, Osprey, Great White Pelican, Kittlitz’s Plover, African Spoonbill and African Purple Swamphen. Also take a fifteen minutes walk from the homestead to the TWO HIDES IN THE SALT MARSHES (S33º 12’21.69” E18º 07’24.50”) where the waders go when it is high tide at the two Geelbek hides. This can be very rewarding, with interesting birds along the way.
The area at and around the trees leading to the Geelbek homestead brings another suite of species into play: look out for Cape Batis, African Hoopoe, Rock Kestrel, Black-shouldered Kite, Southern Black Korhaan, Cape Longclaw, Cape Penduline Tit and Cardinal Woodpecker. It is also worthwhile to take in tea or lunch at the homestead, as a variety of garden birds is on offer here: Yellow Bishop, Cape Bunting, Rock Martin, Wattled Starling, Cape Wagtail, Cape Weaver and the usual doves and sparrows are often plentiful.
This panel clearly emphasizes that the diversity of species to be found within walking distance of the Geelbek homestead is simply outstanding, making this one of the main birding hotspots in the Western Cape Province. It is worth participating in the annual ‘Wader Bash’ that is presented here by the SANParks Honorary Rangers.
The West Coast National Park: The Outlying Areas Show details
The SEEBERG HIDE, (S33º 09’509” E18º 03’637”) with its new boardwalk, is situated about 1km from the LANGEBAAN ENTRANCE (S33º 07’057” E18º 03’308”) to the Park and the best viewing here is at high tide. Several hundreds of Greater Flamingos can be viewed here in winter, and summer produces vast numbers of terns and waders. Vagrants viewed at the hide in recent years include Black-tailed and Hudsonian Godwits, Eurasian Oystercatchers, Lesser Sand Plover and Broad-billed, Terek and White-rumped Sandpipers.
The ABRAHAMSKRAAL HIDE (S33º 13’857” E18º 08’136”) is always worth a visit as the area holds the only accessible fresh water in the Park. Expect to find species such as Black Crake, Little Grebe, African Rail, African Spoonbill, African Purple Swamphen and Lesser Swamp and Little Rush Warblers. Also look out for Yellow-billed Duck, SA Shelduck, Cape Shoveler and Cape and Red-billed Teals. Large numbers of martins and swallows, together with Wood Sandpiper are to be seen in summer. Black Harrier and African Marsh-Harrier often quarter past here, and White-throated and Yellow Canaries, Cape Longclaw and Cape Wagtail are often seen at the water. The access road to the hide often produces species such as Bokmakierie, Grey-backed and Levaillant’s Cisticola, Grey-winged Francolin, Wattled Starling, White-backed Mousebird and Namaqua Sandgrouse.
TSAARBANK ( S33º 08’900” E18º 00’105”) on the Atlantic seaboard should be visited, as Bank, Cape and Crowned Cormorants, Hartlaub’s and Kelp Gulls, African Black Oystercatcher and several terns are found here. Occasionally pelagic species also pass by, particularly during stormy weather. Spotting scopes are needed to look for African Penguins and other interesting species on the distant Vondeling Island. Whales are often to be seen between May and November. Access is allowed to the privately owned POSTBERG NATURE RESERVE (S33º 08’675” E18º 00’227”) during the flower season in spring and it is generally regarded as the best venue to see flowers reasonably close to Cape Town. Bird and game viewing here is good, and most of the larks and pipits to be expected in the region are normally on view. A visit here during spring gives the visitor the best of both the flowers and birds of the West Coast.
The JUTTEN, MALGAS and SCHAAPEN ISLANDS are of critical conservation importance to the tens of thousands birds that breed here. Bank, Crowned and Cape Cormorants, Cape Gannet, African Black Oystercatcher and African Penguin abound. Access to these islands is, unfortunately, but understandably, not allowed.
Self-catering accommodation is available at DUINEPOS. (S33º 11’701” E18º 08’289”). This facility is managed by a group of local ladies, and birding around the chalets is simply superb. Terrestrial species such as Bokmakierie, Karoo Scrub-Robin and Grey Tit are often found. It is within easy walking distance of the Geelbek complex. (Reservations: +27 022 707 9900 or email@example.com)
- FLOWER SEASON IN THE WEST COAST NATIONAL PARK
- KITE SURFER PROBLEM AT THE WCNP
- BIRDING IN THE WCNP
- BIRDING AT ABRAHAMSKRAAL (AUGUST 2012)
- BIRDLIFE OVERBERG AT DUINEPOS (SEPT. 2010)
- EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHER AT SEEBERG (AUGUST 2012)
- KELP GULL TAKING SA SA SHELDUCK CHICK
- SUNDAY MORNING AT SEEBERG HIDE
- BIRDLIFE OVERBERG AT DUINEPOS (MARCH 2012)
The Swartland Local Municipal Region: Malmesbury, Hopefield and Moorreesburg Show details
Most birders might not regard the Swartland as good for birding, as the roads pass through what are known as ‘wheatbelts’. In addition, the N7 carries a lot of traffic; and the R315 between Malmesbury and Darling has few safe spots where one can turn off the road to bird. All is not lost, however, as birding along less busy roads such as the R45 between Wellington and HOPEFIELD, (S33º 50’69.40” E25º 63’69.75”) via MALMESBURY, (S33º 27’06.87” E18º 43’18.73”) and R311 between RIEBEEK WEST and MOORREESBURG (S33º 09’00.00” E18º 39’59.89”) can produce exceptional birding opportunities. KALBASKRAAL, (33º 33’42.40” E18º 38’51.21”) to the south of Malmesbury also often produces reports of very good sightings.
This is the best area reasonably close to Cape Town where species associated with wheatbelts can be seen. The area features large numbers of Blue Cranes, and both species of flamingo move through the region nomadically. Also expect to find Denham’s Bustard and Southern Black Korhaan, as well as Steppe Buzzard and Lesser Kestrel in summer. There are still patches of Rhenosterveld habitat left in the area where sightings of Black Harrier and Secretarybird are possible. Overwintering White Storks are sometimes reported from this area. This is also a very good area to practice one’s identification skills on LBJ’s, as most of the region’s cisticolas, larks and pipits can be found along the roads in the Swartland. Expect to find Karoo, Large-billed and Red-capped Larks, Cape Longclaw, African Pipit, African Stonechat and Capped Wheatear.
Ensure that you inspect the dams in the area as large numbers of waterfowl are present when conditions are suitable. Malachite Kingfisher, SA Shelduck and Cape Shoveler are of the specials here, and most of the region’s ducks, grebes and teals are on offer. Expect to find large numbers of Red-knobbed Coot, Egyptian and Spur-winged Geese, Blacksmith Lapwing and Kittlitz’s Plover. Plenty of Great White Pelican are often seen. Migratory waders are also easy to find in summer and here one can spot Ruff, Curlew and Wood Sandpipers and Little Stint. Raptors may include Jackal Buzzard, Black-shouldered Kite, Lanner and Peregrine Falcons and the occasional Black-chested Snake-Eagle, and in summer Steppe Buzzard, Booted Eagle, Lesser Kestrel and Yellow-billed Kite. The Swartland should certainly not be underestimated as a birding destination.
There are several good birding options to the west from here at DARLING. DARLING CELLARS ( S33º 26’21.00” E18º 31’20.0”) are reached along the R315 from Malmesbury, and from here the road to the CLOOF WINE ESTATE (S33º 28’58.1” E18º 31’23.4”) often produces very good birding. The two dams along this road can, in season, produce good waterfowl numbers. The area is recommended for its diversity and its abundance of LBJ’s and Blue Cranes. The area can produce exceptional birding, and the award-winning wines of the region can be sampled.
The Swartland Local Municipal Region: Darling and Yzerfontein Show details
DARLING FARM LANDS
The highly underrated area around Darling and Yzerfontein includes a number of birding sites and great wine estates. The DARLING HILLS ROAD can be reached by either turning inland at the GROTTO BEACH turnoff (S33º 30’02.28” E18º 19’58.73”) along the R27, or by travelling for 8.8 km from Darling to Atlantis and turning right towards the GROOTE POST WINE CELLAR. (S33º 48’27.78” E18º 41’05.56”). The Oudepost Flower Reserve (1.7 km outside Darling on the road to Atlantis) and the Waylands Wildflower Reserve (3.5 along the same road), are both very good for birding and wild flowers. Both are only open to the public during August and September. Also try the BURGHERSPOST FARM ROAD which is reached 0.5km outside Darling on the R315 to Yzerfontein. Offering a variety of bush and open country species, the area is well known for its large flocks of European Bee-eaters during summer. It is also recommended as most of the ‘fynbos specials’, together with species such as Bokmakierie, Cape Bunting, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler can be found here. The TIENIE VERSVELD WILDFLOWER RESERVE (S33º 20’03.02” E18º 16’27.76”) is found 12 km outside Darling on the R315 and is well known for its massive displays of flowers during spring. It provides excellent birding throughout the year. It represents a unique remnant of grassland, fynbos and a seasonal wetland within the vast agricultural fields of the Swartland. A network of trails gives easy access to a wide selection of LBJ’s. In summer most of the martins, swallows and swifts can be found, with European Bee-eaters being particularly numerous. Quail Finch and Common Quail (summer) are often flushed. Look for African Snipe in wet cycles. The flowering bulbs in spring should not be missed.
THE AFMINE GYPSUM MINE (S33º 20’18.82” E18º 11’55.21”) is signposted along the R315 to Yzerfontein, 4 km past the junction with the R27 and is on the edge of a vast salt-pan. Obtain permission to enter from the mine office and proceed to the edge of the pan on foot. This ephemeral pan, surrounded by coastal strandveld and fynbos, has salt marshes around the edges. Greater and Lesser Flamingos and Great White Pelican can occur in huge numbers when conditions are suitable. It is the closest breeding site to Cape Town for Chestnut-banded Plover. At Yzerfontein the network of roads along the coast, beaches and harbour areas is excellent for birding throughout the year. Sabine Gull, vast numbers of African Black Oystercatchers, Little Tern and a recent vagrant Lesser Crested Tern are the highlights found here.
DASSEN ISLAND lies just offshore and has been registered as an Important Bird Area (SA 109). It is unfortunately not open to the public as it serves as a critical breeding site for many threatened coastal birds, most notably the Great White Pelican and African Penguin.
The Saldanha Bay Local Municipal Region: Langebaan and Surrounds Show details
LANGEBAAN, considered the holiday Mecca of the Cape West Coast, is known for its top class accommodation, restaurants and kite surfing. Birding here should not, however, be overlooked. Open areas of fields within and around the town often produce sightings of species such as Southern Black Korhaan, Karoo and Large-billed Lark, Karoo Prinia, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Pied Starling, Grey Tit and the occasional Black Harrier. The steep hill at the northern gate of the West Coast National Park should be explored as a variety of canaries, Acacia Pied Barbet, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Rock Kestrel and Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk are often encountered. Spotting scopes are needed to study coastal and seabirds around SCHAAPEN ISLAND. Birds to look out for include Bank, Cape and Crowned Cormorants, Hartlaub’s and Kelp Gulls, African Black Oystercatcher, White-fronted Plover, together with most of the terns to be expected in the region. In birding circles Langebaan is perhaps best known for the pair of breeding Verreaux’s Eagles at the LANGEBAAN QUARRY (33º 03’17.47” E18º 03’13.84”). Visitors are urged not to disturb these birds during the winter breeding season. This site often produces Peregrine Falcon, Rock Kestrel and Ground Woodpecker. Langebaan can be used very effectively as a base to explore the birding delights of destinations such as the Lower Berg River Wetlands, the West Coast National Park and the West Coast Fossil Park.
The WEST COAST FOSSIL PARK (S32º 52’51.29” E18º 00’22.32”) is accessed from the R45 and is open to the public between 10h00 and 16h00 on weekdays and 10h00 and 13h00 over weekends. Covering a large area, it has fascinating excavated fossils on display. The West Coast Fossil Park offers one of the richest fossil bird deposits in the world. In scientific literature the site is known as Langebaanweg and it represents a time period of about ten million years to about two million years ago. About 200 fossil taxa have been identified, of which roughly 80 are birds. Most of the modern Orders are well represented and the park offers fascinating insights into ancient avifauna. It offers quite a different dimension to birding experiences on the Cape West Coast. A large dam, complete with hide, attracts many waterfowl. Open veld species abound, and the identification of LBJ’s can be very challenging. Birds often found here include Acacia Pied Barbet, Jackal Buzzard, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Barn Owl, SA Shelduck, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Cardinal Woodpecker and a variety of LBJ’s, martins and swallows.
The R45 to Hopefield also deserves some attention. Good numbers of Blue Cranes are often encountered and Bokmakierie, Black-shouldered Kite, Karoo Lark, Pied Starling and Capped Wheatear are common. In summer, large numbers of Steppe Buzzards, European Bee-eaters and Yellow-billed Kites can be found. European Rollers are also reported occasionally.
Saldanha Bay Local Municipal Region: Saldanha to Velddrif Show details
The SAS SALDANHA NATURE RESERVE ( S33º 02’02.95” E17º 54’42.52”) is managed by the SANDF and approval for entry is required. There is a variety of hiking trails that can be used seven days a week. The best time of year to bird here is after good rains in winter and until the middle of summer. In addition to coastal species, there is a fair diversity of terrestrial species, notably LBJ’s, and good numbers of birds of prey available. Look out for most of the egrets, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Namaqua Sandgrouse and Cape Penduline Tit.
The two coastal villages of JACOBSBAAI (S32º 58’07.77” E17º 53’26.62”) and MAURITZBAAI (S32º 57’18.79” E17º 52’54.07”) are also worth investigating. The access roads often produce Sickle-winged Chat, Southern Black Korhaan, Long-billed Pipit and Cape Penduline Tit, but these villages are best known for their large day roosts of terns. In summer many Common, Sandwich and Swift Terns can be found, but look carefully for Roseate Terns as these are sometimes present. Expect to find large numbers of Antarctic Terns in winter.
The VREDENBURG/ SALDANHA GOLF COURSE, ( S32º 92’18.80” E18º 05’57.40”) where permission for entry should be obtained from the Club Manager, has a bird hide on the northern side of the course. Access is from the R45 and it is well worth a visit. Specials here can include Black-crowned Night-Heron, Greater Painted-snipe, Black Sparrowhawk and a selection of swallows, swifts and martins during summer.
The PENINSULA DRIVE that takes one from Vredenburg to Velddrif via Paternoster and St Helena Bay comes highly recommended for birders. In late winter Burchell’s Courser can be found in sparsely vegetated fields and look out for Greater Painted-snipe at dams. Bokmakierie, Sickle-winged Chat and Capped Wheatear are often found on roadside fences and the area is well known for its birds of prey. Even Pale Chanting Goshawk and Greater Kestrel, normally associated with Karoo habitats, occasionally occur. Also look for roosting Spotted Eagle-Owl amongst the large granite domes. The Cape Columbine Nature Reserve, just west of Paternoster, is also very good for terns. Large numbers of Antarctic Terns occur in winter. Ruddy Turnstone are also common in summer. Terrestrial species along here can include White-throated and Yellow Canaries, Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Prinia, Wattled Starling and Grey Tit. Breeding Pied Avocets can sometimes be found along the road to the east of Paternoster. Locals at St Helena call Britannia Heights ‘Five Larks Country’. There is a steep road to the top of the hill near the reservoir; here birders can look for Cape Clapper, Cape Long-billed, Large-billed and Red-capped Larks and Grey-backed Sparrowlark. This represents quite a challenge for novice birders. Also expect to find Acacia Pied Barbet, Blue Crane, Ant-eating Chat and Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler.
The Berg River Local Municipal Region: Porterville to Velddrif Show details
There are several excellent birding options in the PORTERVILLE area (S33º 00’41.67” E18º 59’36.21”). There is a Blue Crane Route that is well worth the detour east of the N7. Travel from Porterville along the R365 and follow the Cardouw road along the base of the Olifants River Mountains and back to the R365 and Porterville. Blue Cranes often occur here in large numbers, particularly in winter, and also expect to find Familiar Chat, African Stonechat, Secretarybird, Capped Wheatear and most of the LBJ’s to be expected along the Cape West Coast. The Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area lies 33 km east of Porterville and is found from the Cardouw road. It features interesting hiking trails, astonishing landscapes dominated by sandstone formations and many rock paintings. Be on the lookout for Verreaux’s Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Cape Rock-jumper, Protea Seedeater and Ground Woodpecker. (www.capenature.co.za)
PIKETBERG (S32º 54’21.04” E18º 45’20.37”) is yet another of the towns along the N7 that needs to be investigated by birders, as it affords birding in wheatfield and mountain habitats and gives access to the Berg River. At the lodge where we stayed, we found Familiar Chat, Lesser Honeyguide, Cape Rock-Thrush and Cardinal Woodpecker, together with Booted and Verreaux’s Eagle, Lanner and Peregrine Falcons, African Goshawk and African Harrier-Hawk. DIE BRUG (S32º 59’47.33” E18º 46’42.76”) (The Bridge) is historically very interesting, and the selection of waterfowl found here is exceptional. The highlight of birding in this district, however, is at PIKET-BO-BERG (S32º 48’10.92” E18º 39’42.31”). The mountain top habitats are unique to the West Coast. The area has abundant water and is a well-known fruit-growing region. This is reminiscent of what is to be expected in the Cederberg. Visit the Farmers Market at Kruistementvlei on the last Saturday of each month while birding in the area. More information on birding in the area can be found at: www.piket-bo-berg.co.za/bird.html. Piketberg can be used very effectively to explore the birding delights of the interior of the Cape West Coast. To the south of Piketberg lies KORINGBERG (S33º 01’10.12” E18º 40’26.40”) and the area around this village also deserves thorough investigation.
The R399 between Piketberg and Velddrif takes one through a variety of landscapes and most of the species mentioned in the description of Piketberg can be found along this road. As this road is particularly good for LBJ’s and raptors slow birding is advised.
To the north of the R399 lies AURORA, (S32º 42’01.00” E18º 28’59.64”) yet another little hamlet that would repay investigation by serious birders. This mountainous area gives access to many of the Western Cape specials. One report describes sightings of Booted and Verreaux’s Eagle, Cape Grassbird, Cape Rock-jumper, Streaky-headed and Protea Seedeaters, Cape Siskin, Cape Sugarbird, a vagrant Palm-nut Vulture and Ground Woodpecker. (Visit www.mountainmist.co.za)
The Berg River Local Municipal Region: The Lower Berg River Wetlands Show details
Once the Lower Berg River Wetlands at Velddrif are reached, the first birding hotspot along the R399 is DE PLAAT. (S32º 48’05.62” E18º 12’53.45”) These mudflats are ideal for viewing waders and is best visited 3.5 hours after high tide, or 1 hour after low tide in Table Bay.
This Important Bird Area (IBA SA 104) stretches from Cloeteskraal and Kruispad in the east, Varkvlei in the south, and the salt-pans along the R27, towards Dwarskersbos in the north. 127 waterbird species and 93 terrestrial species have been recorded here. These include 25 species of national importance and at least 5 Red Data listed species. An application for this wetland system to be awarded RAMSAR status is being considered. The area of the Lower Berg River which includes a variety of habitat types is well known as a hotspot for rarities.
Excellent birding is to be had at various spots along the river. The estuary is saline and tidal, and interesting at all tidal stages. Between October and April many migratory waders visit the area. It has been shown that the mud banks along the river support the highest diversity of waders along the Atlantic seaboard.
The next site to be visited after De Plaat is Bokkom Alley, which is clearly signposted along the R399. A stopover at the traditional fishing businesses is worthwhile. Birding here can be superb, and birds seen here regularly include Great White Pelican and Giant, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers. Birds can be viewed throughout the year from the area which overlooks the inter-tidal mud flats and salt marshes towards the Riviera Hotel. Look out for Pied Avocet, African Darter, several egrets, Black-headed, Grey and Purple Herons, African Spoonbill, and in summer, vast numbers of waders. Common Greenshank, Grey Plover, Ruff, Curlew and Marsh Sandpipers, Little Stint, Ruddy Turnstone and Common Whimbrel are but a few of the species that can easily be observed and photographed here. Rarities found here in the past include Black-tailed and Hudsonian Godwit, Little Blue Heron, Common Redshank and Lesser Yellowlegs.
The R27 ROAD BRIDGE (S32º 47’19.04” E18º 10’07.91”) (Carinus Bridge) can offer outstanding birding opportunities, although one cannot stop here safely, and it is best to bird on foot. Large numbers of Lesser and Greater Flamingos overwinter here, Black-necked Grebes are often particularly numerous, as are Caspian and Swift Terns.
Two birding sites on the southern side of the Berg River and the Carinus bridge need to be highlighted. FLAMINKEVLEI ‘A’ (S32º 47’56.88” E18º 09’14.76”) is reached from the R199 to Vredenburg. It features a mixed heronry in the blue gum trees between July and December. During spring African Sacred Ibis breed on the islands, and Swift Terns do so in summer. African Marsh-Harrier and Marsh Owls often fly over the reed beds towards evening.
The Berg River Local Municipal Region: Laaiplek & Rocherpan Show details
SWARTJIESBAAI (S32º 48’10.35” E18º 11’40.30”) on the road towards Hopefield offers Red-necked Phalarope, Common Redshank, African Purple Swamphen, White-winged Tern, Water Thick-knee and more recently Goliath Heron. Look out for Blue Crane, Lanner Falcon, Southern Black Korhaan and Barn Owl along the access road. Permission for entry should be obtained from the owner. (Contact Jan Kotze at +27 022 783 0818). The salt-pans are non-tidal, and amongst others, Chestnut-banded Plover, Red-necked Phalarope, Cape Long-billed and Large-billed Larks and Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler may be found. Hartlaub’s Gulls and Swift Terns have bred here.
Also ensure that the harbour at LAAIPLEK is visited towards the end of day. Most spectacularly, up to 30,000 Cape Cormorants can at times fly over to roost in the salt-pans. More than 100,000 birds have been recorded here.
Velddrif serves as a wonderful base for birding in this central part of the Cape West Coast throughout the year. It lies central to the West Coast National Park, the West Coast Fossil Park, St Helena Bay, Rocherpan, Verlorenvlei, Aurora and Piketberg. The diversity of species to be found at these different birding destinations makes a visit to Velddrif and environs a priority for visiting birders.
ROCHERPAN NATURE RESERVE, (S32º 37’03.16” E18º 17’52.38”) managed by CapeNature, is found along the R27 just north of LAAIPLEK and DWARSKERSBOS. This ephemeral pan usually fills in winter and becomes dry in late summer. Excellent photographic opportunities are to be had at the bird hides when conditions are suitable. Large flocks of flamingos, together with African Spoonbill, all three grebes, and a variety of ducks, including Maccoa Duck, SA Shelduck and Cape Shoveler are on display in wetter cycles. The entire suite of the migratory waders that visit the West Coast during summer can be found, depending on water levels. The extensive reed beds around the pan produce many warblers, Black Crake, African Rail and African Purple Swamphen. Vast numbers of martins, swallows and swifts are found in summer. The Strandveld vegetation surrounding the pan is also very good for birding and birders can expect to find a variety of canaries and larks, Grey Tit, as well as European Bee-eater and cuckoos in summer. It is also interesting that both Namaqua and Rufous-eared Warblers are found here on the southern limits of their distribution range. Grassland habitats host Blue Crane, Secretarybird and bustards in winter. Raptors include Black Harrier, and Steppe Buzzard and Yellow-billed Kite in summer. The dunes and extensive beaches also produce many coastal birds. Cottages are now available here, allowing birders the opportunity to overnight in this exciting reserve. Visit www.capenature.co.za.
The Cederberg Local Municipal Area: Cederberg Wilderness Area Show details
The CEDERBERG WILDERNESS AREA that forms part of the Cederberg-Koue Bokkeveld IBA (SA 101) is rugged, with surreal landscapes, broken rocks and balancing boulders. The area has an international reputation for its spring flowers, numerous rock art sites and many hiking trails. The area covers the wild territory between the Middelberg Pass from Ceres and the Klipbokberg Pass from Kagga Kamma in the south and Pakhuis Pass between Clanwilliam and the Tanqua Karoo in the north. All three of these passes can produce exceptional birding, and vehicles with a high clearance are needed when exploring the region. The Pakhuis Pass is regarded as the best for birding in the Cederberg as it is in close proximity to Clanwilliam and convenient picnic sites allow for comfortable bird-watching. The SUMMIT OF THE PASS (S32º 08’06.70” E19º00’07.60”) where the Heuningvlei trail starts is particularly recommended. Many species associated with fynbos habitats can be found. They may include Cape Rock-jumper (on higher rocks), Protea Seedeater, Cape Siskin, Cape Sugarbird, Orange-breasted Sunbird and Victorin’s Warbler. Also expect to find Cape Batis, Cape and Sentinel Rock-Thrushes and Ground Woodpecker. Birding along the roads towards Wupperthal, and between Clanwilliam and the Algeria Forest Station can also be exceptional. The wetlands along the latter route can be particularly productive and an African Rail was recently reported from here. The ALGERIA FOREST STATION (S32º 22’27.24” E19º 03’37.24”) (www.capenature.co.za) can be used by more active birders to access the many exciting hiking trails in the central Cederberg zone. The Maltese Cross, the Wolfberg Cracks and the Wolfberg Arch are some of the most famous and popular hikes to attempt, though birding at these sites is seldom reported on. All six of the fynbos endemics, together with Booted and Verreaux’s Eagle are regularly found. Several accommodation options are available at SANDDRIF. ( S32º 30’14” E19º 15’28”) (Visit www.cederbergwine.com) Towards the east in the Driehoek, Dwarsrivier and Matjiesrivier valleys, the species associated with Karoo landscapes appear. The Matjiesrivier Nature Reserve, where accommodation is unfortunately not available, is particularly good for these arid zone species. Lower lying plains can produce Karoo and Southern Black Korhaan, and, astonishingly, all of Karoo, Karoo Long-billed, Large-billed and Spike-heeled Larks, Karoo and Tractrac Chats and Namaqua and Rufous-eared Warbler. Acacia thickets along river courses and drainage lines can produce Pririt Batis, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Fairy Flycatcher, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler and Namaqua Warbler, while Grey Tit and Layard’s Tit-Babbler can be found in the scrubs along the slopes. Other birds of prey to be found in the Cederberg can include Cape Eagle-Owl, Peregrine Falcon, Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Greater and Rock Kestrels, and occasionally Martial Eagle and Black Harrier.
The Cederberg Local Municipal Area: Citrusdal to Verlorenvlei & Elandsbaai Show details
CITRUSDAL, (S32º 35’22.03” E19º 00’52.22”) situated to the south-west of the Cederberg Wilderness Area, can be used very effectively to explore the natural wonders of the region. Several scenic drives are on offer and birding here can be very exciting. Most species mentioned in the discussion of the Cederberg Wilderness Area are accessible along these routes. The CITRUSDAL WARM BATHS are very popular with birders as several species normally associated with forest habitats can be found. Cape Batis, African Dusky Flycatcher, African Goshawk, African Olive Pigeon, Swee Waxbill and Olive Woodpecker have been recorded, and a surprising sighting was that of a Eurasian Golden Oriole.
Also try an outing via the PIEKERNIERSKLOOF PASS and EENDEKUIL to REDELINGHUYS and discover the delightful waterfowl at Verlorenvlei. This drive takes one through a variety of habitat types and slow birding here could allow sightings of the vast majority of specials in the region. VERLORENVLEI (S32º 19’038.43” E18º 22’14.06”) (SA 103) is registered as both an Important Bird Area and a RAMSAR site confirming the need to protect this crucial conservation area. Prospecting and mining applications in the area could threaten the future of one of South Africa’s few fresh water lakes. The diversity and abundance of waterfowl are simply superb: the vast majority of ducks, all three grebes, African Fish-Eagle, African Harrier-Hawk and Osprey are present and Rallidae include high densities of Baillon’s Crake, Red-chested Flufftail, African Rail and African Purple Swamphen. The Goliath Heron is a fairly recent arrival and significantly large numbers of Little Bittern and Caspian Tern are often present. The vegetation in the surrounding hills also supports species such as Cape Clapper, Cape Long-billed, Karoo and Large-billed Larks and many other arid habitat species: a total of 179 species was recorded in a single pentad in the bird atlasing project. A few rocky outcrops also support Verreaux’s Eagle, Rock Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon and Ground Woodpecker. The sheer numbers of birds are dramatically increased in summer, when the waders, bee-eaters, and martins, swallows and swifts arrive. The estuary mouth situated at Elands Bay is a popular area for Chestnut-banded Plover and African Black Oystercatcher. All of the region’s cormorants often occur here in large numbers. Verlorenvlei has in the past been rather inaccessible for birders, and the recent formation of the Vleikraal Contract Nature Reserve, as part of the CapeNature stewardship program within the Greater Cederberg Biodiversity Corridor, has addressed this situation to some degree. This Contract Nature Reserve gives access to the water and some of the surrounding hills. (Contact Marieta Schoeman at +27 022 9721341. For accommodation contact Fred van Zyl at +27 022 9721718).
Cederberg Local Municipal Area: Clanwilliam to Lambert Show details
CLANWILLIAM is best known for its wildflowers and as the gateway to the Cederberg and the birding delights in the Pakhuis Pass. The truly spectacular annual Clanwilliam Wild Flower Show is unmissable. Birding in the town and surroundings can be exceptional. Ensure that the Clanwilliam Dam is explored, as waterfowl abound and Whiskered Tern are often present in large numbers.
Try an interesting alternative when travelling from Clanwilliam to Lambert’s Bay: Roughly 10km south of Clanwilliam along the N7 a gravel road (signposted as Paleisheuwel) turns west to KRANSVLEIPOORT. (S32º 27’54.99” E18º 51’25.94”) It soon follows a narrow gorge, and a slow stroll here is well worthwhile. Well known for its canaries, the area is regarded as one of the best spots to find Protea Seedeater. There is a breeding pair of Verreaux’s Eagle, and Ground Woodpecker is often found on rocky outcrops. Be on the lookout for Namaqua Warbler in the reed beds along the river, and Long-billed Crombec, Fairy Flycatcher and Layard’s Tit-Babbler in scrubs along the hillsides. Travel from here via Paleisheuwel and Leipoldtville to Lambert’s Bay.
BIRD ISLAND NATURE RESERVE (S32º 05’ E18º 18’) at Lambert’s Bay is yet another Important Bird Area (SA 100) along the Cape West Coast and certainly one of the highlights along the Flamingo Birding Route. The island is linked to the shore by a harbour wall and causeway from which many interesting species can be observed and photographed. Species here include most of the cormorants (Cape Cormorants being particularly numerous), African Black Oystercatcher, several species of tern and a variety of waders. Pelagic species such as Northern Giant Petrel, Sooty Shearwaters and White-chinned Petrels can sometimes be observed from the causeway, mostly during stormy weather. Bird Island is, however, world renowned for its breeding flock of Cape Gannets. A convenient hide that allows for viewing through windows gives one the opportunity to watch the antics of the gannets from close quarters. JAKKALSVLEI (S32º 05’24.01” E18º 19’33.71”) is a seasonal pan on the northern edge of Lambert’s Bay that is accessed through the caravan park. Birding here can be exceptional as the pan hosts many waterfowl when conditions are suitable. WADRIF SALT-PAN, (S32º 12’12.69” E18º 19’52.28”) an ephemeral pan 10 km south of Lambert’s Bay, is worth a visit, particularly after good winter rains and during spring. It normally dries out in summer. The Sishen-Saldanha railway line was unfortunately built through the pan in the 1970’s and has resulted in three pans now being available. The pans can be viewed from either the main road from Elands Bay to Lambert’s Bay (spotting scopes required here), or from the railway service road. Pied Avocet, Maccoa Duck, both flamingos, Chestnut-banded Plover, SA Shelduck and Cape Teal are often found here. A vagrant Baird’s Sandpiper caused a sensation a few years ago.
- MIGRANTS AND FLOWERS AT CLANWILLIAM
- 100 years of Cape Gannets at Lambertsbay
- WHISKERED TERNS AT CLANWILLIAM DAM
- ON CLIMATE CHANGE & CAPE GANNETS
- ON BIRD ISLAND NATURE RESERVE
- GENERAL TOURISM INFO: CLANWILLIAM
- GENERAL TOURISM INFO: LAMBERT'S BAY
- EUROPEAN BEE-EATERS AT CLANWILLIAM DAM
- FEEDBACK FROM AN ITALIAN BIRDER
The Matzikama Local Municipal Region: Olifants River Estuary Show details
The OLIFANTS RIVER ESTUARY is an Important Bird Area (SA 099), where more than 200 bird species have been recorded. This includes more than 60 waterfowl and the estuary often supports more than 15,000 individual birds. The extent and salinity of the Olifants River estuary can change dramatically over seasons, as rainfall in winter flushes the system with fresh water, and in summer seawater penetrates the estuary. Saline water is often recorded deep into the interior. This results in a huge variety of bird species and different suites of birds utilise the estuary during different times of the year. There are bird hides near the guest house at PAPENDORP, (S31º 41’43.87” E18º 12’43.53”)and at the lapa near the estuary mouth. There are outstanding opportunities for bird-watching by boat along the river closer towards the mouth.
Important species recorded here in large numbers include Lesser and Greater Flamingos, African Marsh Harrier, African Black Oystercatcher and Caspian and Swift Terns. Damara Tern can be found occasionally, and significant numbers of Hartlaub’s Gull, Curlew Sandpiper (summer) and SA Shelduck have been recorded. The sighting of a single vagrant Little Blue Heron some years ago caused great excitement in birding circles. The area also boasts important breeding sites for Cape Cormorants and Swift Terns. Most importantly, the mudflats and shorelines are used as a critical staging and foraging ground for migratory waders and flamingos moving between the north, and the important overwintering wetlands to the south and east.
Birding in the surrounding areas and vegetation along the river can be exceptional as three biomes are found here and to the north: Fynbos, Nama Karoo and Succulent Karoo. The species diversity here is therefore outstanding. Look for Karoo, Sickle-winged and Tractrac Chats, Karoo Korhaan, Karoo, Large-billed, Red-capped and Cape Long-billed Larks, Grey Tit and Namaqua and Rufous-eared Warblers. The fynbos dominated hills and mountains hold most of the species associated with this habitat type at the north-western extreme of its distribution range. The area also hosts good numbers of Black Harriers that breed here. To the south of Papendorp, the villages of DORINGBAAI and STRANDFONTEIN offer very good coastal birding and the vast majority of terrestrial birds to be expected in the region. The gravel road that follows the railway line from here to LAMBERT’S BAY can also be investigated as many exciting species have been recorded along it. The area is also well known for the Crayfish Hiking Trail which stretches from Elandsbaai to Ebenhaezer along the coastal cliffs. It offers a variety of birds and plants, as well as spectacular views of whales in season. Birding along the river from KLAWER (S31º 46’19.69” E18º 37’32.15”) to LUTZVILLE (S31º 33’21.67” E18º 20’43.09”) can similarly be very good and waterfowl abound.
The Matzikama Local Municipal Region: Vanrhynsdorp and the Knersvlakte Show details
To the north-east of VREDENDAL (S31º 39’52.00” E18º 30’21.03”) lies VANRHYNSDORP, (S31º 36’40.36” E18º 44’24.88”) where a tourist information hub is available. From here the N7 leads to Namibia, but many Western Cape birders also take the R27 for birding excursions to the Augrabies National Park and the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Beyond the Vanrhyns Pass, with magnificent views over the Knersvlakte, are NIEUWOUDTVILLE (S31º 22’35.31” E19º 06’45.34”) and the OORLOGSKLOOF NATURE RESERVE, (S31º 27’40.25” E19º 04’33.63”) which lie in the Northern Cape Province. A visit here is strongly recommended. Nieuwoudtville is world renowned for its flowering bulbs during spring, and Oorlogskloof offers hiking trails of varying levels of difficulty. The deep ravines formed by the river lie on the transition zone between fynbos and Karoo biomes, and are recommended for a visit by anyone interested in birds, plants and astonishing landscapes.
The KNERSVLAKTE is in the extreme north of the Western Cape Province and is in the centre of the semi-desert Succulent Karoo Biome. It is home to a third of the world’s dwarf succulents, which contains the largest population of endangered plant species. We spent a few days at LANKVERWACHT GUESTFARM (S31º 30’18.24” E18º 54’57.49”) along the R27 on the edge of the Knersvlakte between Vanrhynsdorp and Nieuwoudtville. This is an ideal spot to experience this part of the Karoo firsthand. The self-catering cottages are well appointed, and there were Rock Martins and Grey Tits breeding on the patio, with Freckled Nightjars calling at night.
We found Ant-eating, Familiar, Karoo, Sickle-winged and Tractrac Chats, as well as Capped and Mountain Wheatears. To these were added Cape Clapper, Karoo, Large-billed, Red-capped and Spike-heeled Larks and Grey-backed Sparrowlark. Of all the places that we visited, this is one of the best places to study LBJ’s.
The Acacia dominated river courses and drainage lines produced Acacia Pied Barbet, Bokmakierie, Cape and Red-eyed Bulbuls, Long-billed Crombec, Fairy Flycatcher, Red-faced, Speckled and White-backed Mousebirds and Chestnut-vented and Layard’s Tit-Babblers.
The dams in the area also host a good selection of waterfowl, most notably Maccoa and Yellow-billed Duck, SA Shelduck and Cape Shoveler. Waders regularly include Pied Avocet, Three-banded Plover and Black-winged Stilt.
Ludwig’s Bustard and Karoo Korhaan were seen a few times, and raptors included Jackal Buzzard, Verreaux’s Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, African Harrier Hawk, Greater and Rock Kestrels and Secretarybird. Birding here is simply superb!