Birding is a healthy, happy hobby that has more and more South Africans of all ages calling themselves ‘Twitchers’.
Experienced birding enthusiasts know that this pastime is something to twitter about. There is something special about spending your spare time immersed in nature, quietly taking in picturesque rivers and mud plains, beautiful ocean landscapes, lush forests, sweeping grasslands, rugged mountain wildernesses, or rolling rural countryside – all while observing the myriad of feathered friends to be found in these varied habitats, and enjoying their antics as they flit, flutter, forage, feast, nest, swim, wade and sing their way into your sightings records.
Birds of a feather flock together – where to go birding
For those who may be keen to embrace birding, or for the more experienced twitcher who is looking for multiple memorable sightings, a must-visit birding hotspot which is right on Cape Town’s doorstep is the hugely popular West Coast village of Velddrif, which hugs the banks of the Berg River, just a few kilometres from where the river enters the ocean at St Helena Bay.
This lovely town is one of the most popular birding sites in South Africa, with the tidal mudflats and salt marshes presenting more than 250 species of birds – that is 25% of all the bird species that have ever been recorded in the entire Southern African region. The estuary, floodplain, and saltpans cover a large area, extending 40km inland along one of the Cape’s biggest rivers. This area encompasses a wide diversity of habitats, including sandy beaches, mudflats, reed beds, riverine channels, strandveld and floodplain, and it is famously rich in birdlife – with the highest density of waders along the eastern Atlantic seaboard.
“The estuary is the third biggest in SA and is rated as one of the most important birding areas in the world. It has also been declared an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife South Africa and BirdLife International and declared a wetland of importance by the Ramsar Convention (referred to as a Ramsar site),” explains Nomonde Ndlangisa, CEO of Bergrivier Tourism.
“Visitors can expect to spot many resident bird species – with the river and reed beds teeming with bird life. The sight of hundreds of greater and lesser flamingos in a large swathe of pink is always an incredible sight. Egyptian geese, yellow-billed ducks, Cape and red-billed teals, Cape shovelers, red-knobbed coots, spur-winged geese, moorhen, warblers, weavers, southern red bishops, kingfishers, and the African fish eagle are just a very few examples of what can be spotted here.”
Ndlangisa goes on to advise that the iconic Bokkom Laan, the oldest road in the town (and a heritage site) which snakes up the edge of the Berg River is a must-visit for anyone to the area – especially birders. This quaint dirt road is dotted with jetties on the water’s edge and historic fish-drying sheds – many of which have been converted into eclectic coffee shops, restaurants, art galleries and gift shops. Park your car and stroll along to spot greats white pelicans, the African marsh harrier, kingfishers, grey herons and many more different species. You can also visit the ‘’Bokkomhuise’’ and taste bokkoms, pop in at the Riverstudio to see the work of local artist Marina Clunie art, or Die Vishoekie art studio to see Saralize Tolken’s art. Enjoy a meal at the Avoo Health Café which specialises in locally produced produce.
A wonderful way to spot birds on, and alongside, the Berg River – and make memories and have fun – is to book a river cruise with Cracklin’ Rosie River Tours or Knot Xtreme Bergrivier Boat Cruises. Alternatively, you can rent a kayak or small boat from Canoe & Kayak World and take yourself out onto the water of the Berg River for a leisurely birding paddle.
Next to Velddrif, on the border between Laaiplek and Port Owen is Rooibaai – a great birding site where visitors can sometimes be surprised by rare waders at low tide. A wooden walkway nearby takes you closer to the hundreds of Flamingos, as well as the chance to experience the more than 100 000 Cape cormorants flying past Rooibaai just before sunset. Laaiplak harbour is another good birding location that offers a glimpse of kelp, Hartlaub’s and grey headed gulls.
The nearby Rocherpan Nature Reserve is well worth the 25 minutes it will take to drive from Velddrif. One can choose to drive through the reserve or hike along the footpaths. Numerous bird hides and picnic areas offer you the chance to spot birds such as the African black oystercatchers, African hoopoe, kelp gull and so many more – in fact over 180 different species can be spotted at the Rocherpan Nature Reserve.
Another wonderful birding location is the Draaihoek Private Nature Reserve which reaches from the Atlantic Ocean inland to Sandveld’s mountain range and across to the Verlorenvlei, a RAMSAR classified site south of Elands Bay. The coastal border of the Reserve stretches along an undisturbed sandy beach, hugged by rugged dunes and favoured by flocks of birds typical to the West Coast. The uninhabited bay area is frequented by whales, seals and dolphins.
“Velddrif and its surrounds also offer an abundance of water sports and are a foodie’s paradise. Whether your appetite is calling for a hearty breakfast, wood-fired pizza, hamburgers, crispy fresh salads, artisanal baked treats and cakes, vegetarian dishes, traditional country fare or anything in between – this area offers it all, from eclectic and rustic to fine-dining or takeaways enjoyed as a picnic while you watch birds.”
“Like everything else in Velddrif – there is a wealth of accommodation options available to appeal to everyone. Many glorious locations up and down the Berg River provide accommodation which ranges from rustic to luxury, as well as various camping sites which enjoy exceptional views and offer great bird sightings. In the town itself, visitors can choose from self-catering apartments, cottages, and holiday homes, as well as B&Bs, guesthouses, and hotels,” says Ndlangisa.
So, for those starting on their birding journey – buy a bird book, a pair of binoculars and a small pocket notebook to begin cataloguing all of the birds you see when you visit Velddrif and its surrounds. For the experienced twitcher, be sure to purchase a new notebook to make room for the multitude of bird species you will be able to list after a trip to the area. For families wanting to bird-watch together and get the younger members excited and on board, pop in at the tourism offices in Velddrif and pick up a full-colour photographic bird spotting list for the kids to tick off.
For help with where to stay and other things to see and do visit https://bergriviertourism.co.za
Read the story in Responsible Taveller digital mag HERE