Birding hotspots along the Cape West Coast: West Coast National Park
(This article is one of four written by Keith Harrison that he originally prepared for “Cape Odyssey”. - Ed.)
`For any birding tourist to the Western Cape a visit to the West Coast National Park at Langebaan is a ‘must’, being an international Important Bird Area (IBA SA 104) and a Ramsar site conserved for the nation. However, to gain the best of the WCNP, birders must realize that it is tidal and it is essential to understand the conditions required to see birds, and to calculate times from ‘High or Low tide at Cape Town’, and where to visit when conditions are not suitable on the lagoon.
Seeberg Hide Area – is a ‘high tide’ roost where birds wait for their feeding areas to become uncovered, therefore best time 1 hour 30 mins. either side of high tide, when Bar- tailed Godwit, Common Greenshank, Red Knott, Terns and Gulls are seen. But also remember to look in the salt marsh behind for small waders. Often over looked in the rush to get to the hide from the car park are the ‘Bush birds’ or LBJs. Leaving, a visit to the Seeberg Lookout is worthwhile for species, which prefer higher ground, as one turns up the track often there is a covey of Grey-winged Francolin. In the ‘flower season’ awesome panoramic views of the WCNP.
Geelbek Area – in front of the two hides are the core feeding areas for the thousands of visiting waders during the summer months, in winter the waders seen are juvenile birds who spend their first year here before they return to the Arctic in their second year. State of the tide is paramount, best is 4 hours. 30 mins. ’after high tide Cape Town or 2 hours ‘after low tide Cape Town’ the preferred time is as the water drops, because the birds come in order of size and length of legs. First the long legged waders like Grey Plover, followed by medium legged waders like Curlew Sandpiper followed as the water recedes by the short legged waders like Little Stint. Again often overlooked is the boardwalk to the hides, in the reed beds African Purple Swamphen and Purple Heron are seen. When the water covers the mud flats the waders ‘wait out’ the time in the Wader Pans a short walk from Geelbek along which dry land and grassland species of larks, pipits and Cape Longclaw are seen, over the salt marsh Swallows, Martins and a flock of resident Wattled Starling. Around the Geelbek Complex, a rest area which holds numerous species. There is a heronry behind the stables, at the restaurant weavers and yellow bishops, on the lawns African Hoopoe and along the tar road Flycatchers, Tit-babblers and Cape Batis.
Abrahamskraal Hide – is special because this is the only fresh water in the WCNP, therefore African Spoonbill, Black Crake, African Rail and ducks are seen. Also being fresh water dry land species Namaqua Sandgrouse, White-throated Canaries and Larks visit for water.
For coastal and shore birds there is Tzaarbank, offshore is Vondeling Island where many endemic species breed. The full range of cormorants, African Black Oystercatcher, Cape Gannets, sometimes White-chinned Petrels and African Penguins are seen offshore.
The WCNP has a large range of raptors often seen while driving along the roads, the signature species is the Black Harrier which comes to breed, other species seen African Fish Eagle, Osprey and African Marsh-Harrier. It must be stressed that speed limits are adhered to, because in poor light Marsh Owls and Fiery-necked Nightjars sit on the roads. Therefore, with planning the visiting birder can experience a full and satisfying day in the West Coast National Park.