DK Villas’ Bird Lover’s Guide to the West Coast

The arid Cape West Coast may at first appear an inhospitable place for any wildlife to flourish but upon closer inspection, the region’s patchwork quilt of coastal fynbos, succulent Karoo, estuaries, lagoons, beaches, harbours, mountainous landscapes, and pristine wilderness areas supports a staggering diversity of both animals and birdlife. And it’s in pursuit of the latter that scores upon scores of birding enthusiasts travel from all over the Cape, country, continent, and even world to experience in the (flesh) feathers.

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. Put simply, it is a birdwatcher’s paradise, home to hundreds of species of birds, many of which are endemic or endangered or incredibly rare to sight. Even if you aren’t a birdwatcher, the West Coast’s rich diversity of colourful sunbirds, soaring raptors, and quirky waders might just make a convert out of you.

Here’s a guide for bird lovers visiting our glorious part of the world….

Lower Berg River Wetlands

The Lower Berg River Wetlands around Velddrif (10 to 15 minutes drive south from DK Villas’ beach cottage in Dwarskersbos) is considered a top birding destination along the Cape West Coast. Here, tidal mudflats classified as an Important Bird Area IBA SA 104 are home to an impressive 127 water birds and 93 terrestrial species, of which 25 are of national importance and at least 5 Red Data listed species. The Lower Berg River also features diverse habitats from the afore-mentioned mudflats to salt pans and a saltwater estuary. Rarities found in the area in the past include the black-tailed and Hudsonian godwit, little blue heron, common redshank, and lesser yellowlegs.


Olifants River estuary

Located about an hour’s drive north of the bird colony at Lamberts Bay, lies the Olifants River estuary, one of only four perennial estuaries on the West Coast, which drains the second largest catchment area in South Africa. 127 Bird species have been recorded in the Olifants River estuary with birdwatchers flocking here to witness its variety of rare, threatened species, from lesser and greater flamingos to Caspian terns, African black oystercatchers, and African marsh and black harriers. In addition, great white pelicans from Dassen Island breeding grounds make use of the estuary as a key foraging and roosting area during the non-breeding season.


Bird Island at Lambert’s Bay

The staggering Cape gannet colony of the Bird Island Nature Reserves lies a short 100 m off the shore of Lambert’s Bay, an hour and 15 minutes’ drive Dwarskersbos. Here, visitors are treated to the rare opportunity to see (and, unfortunately, smell) the beautiful blue-eyed and yellow-headed Cape gannets, as well as many other marine bird species, up close and personal. Cape fur seals can be seen sunning themselves on the island’s rocks. The three-hectare island is one of only six breeding grounds in the world for this particular bird species and it is easily accessible to the public. Please do note that there is currently scheduled maintenance work being done on the Bird Island Nature Reserve’s bird hide, which will be reopening again on 13th March 2020.


Cederberg Wilderness Area

Considered one of the best examples of the Cape Fold Mountains, the Cederberg is one of the precious few places on Earth where Fynbos is the reigning floral kingdom. It’s a dramatic landscape of grand scale in both of the axes, with vast plains and boulder-strewn slopes soaring skywards into craggy cliff-faces and rocky pinnacles. Birdwatchers flock here to observe the bird species that are endemic to this biome, such as Cape sugarbirds, orange-breasted sunbirds, and Cape siskin. The area is also home to yellow bishop, Karoo scrub-robin, Karoo prinia, Cape robin-thrush, Cape bunting, and several nesting pairs of Verreaux’s eagles, enormous black raptors that surf the daytime thermals.


West Coast National Park

Sprawling to the south of the coastal town of Langebaan, an approximate 45-minutes’ drive from Dwarskersbos in the north, you’ll discover the West Coast National Park, which pristinely preserves the indigenous flora and fauna of the area. The reserve is sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean to the west and R27 coastal highway to the east and is known and loved for its spectacular display of wild flowers in spring, gorgeous landscapes, array of wildlife, and diversity of birdlife. In late spring, large numbers of Palaearctic migrants arrive in the reserve and in summer the park transforms into a prime site for waders, rarities of which include common redshank, Eurasian curlew, broad-billed sandpiper, Terek sandpiper, great knot, and lesser sand plover.


Rocherpan Nature Reserve

Rocherpan is a coastal nature reserve teeming with birds and colourful wildflowers, particularly in the spring. Part of the Cape Nature Group, the 930-hectare reserve lies 10 km north of Dwarskersbos and consists largely of a seasonal vlei that is usually dry between March and June. During winter, however, it receives the water it needs to host a riveting array of fauna, flora, and birdlife – up to 183 different species thereof! African purple swamphen, black crowned night heron, Cape shoveller, greater flamingo, glossy ibis, and sandwich tern are just a few of the many common, resident species of birds visitors can hope to spot here.


Birdwatching the Cape West Coast

It’s owing to the diversity of landscapes along the Cape West Coast that such an incredible celebration of birdlife can be found here. The coastal areas, lagoons, and beaches are home to marine birds, waders, and even the occasional rare migrant; while the coastal fynbos and semi-arid Karoo biomes support a plethora of smaller bird species and larger raptors. And we here at dk villas encourage you to explore it all!

Just ask us

For more information on Dwarskersbos and its surrounding activities, places to see, restaurants at which to eat, and things to do, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Johann de Kock at info@dkvillas.co.za.