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January 04, 2013

Birding in the West Coast National Park

African black oystercatcher. Photo by Flickr group member Logan Kahle

A birding holiday in South Africa would be incomplete without a visit to the 27 600-hectare West Coast National Park, where a mix of coastal strandveld, salt marshes, tidal lagoon, mudflats, reed beds, a freshwater pan, rocky and sandy shorelines and offshore islands provide sanctuary for a wide variety of endemic and exotic birds.

BirdLife International has acknowledged the importance of the West Coast National Park as a birding hotspot, with more than 250 recorded bird species. Of these, 45 are endemic to South Africa while the balance comprises migratory waders avoiding the Northern Hemisphere winter.

Standout species to be seen here include the black harrier, grey-winged francolin, Layard’s tit-babbler, Karoo scrub-robin, Karoo lark, grey-backed cisticola, white-backed mousebird, Cape grassbird, Cape penduline-tit, large-billed lark, African black oystercatcher, chestnut-banded plover, red knot, bar-tailed godwit and Eurasian curlew.

Bar-tailed godwit. Photo by Flickr group member Eaglestein

Visiting birds well worth keeping an eye out for include the American golden plover, Eurasian oystercatcher, red phalarope, red-necked phalarope, black-tailed godwit, Hudsonian godwit, common redshank, dunlin, red-necked stint, pectoral sandpiper, broad-billed sandpiper, white-rumped sandpiper and Baird's sandpiper.

The park is at its birding best between August and November, when resident birds are breeding and migrants begin arriving in their thousands.

As every birder knows, early morning is the most opportune time for spotting. By making a really early start, it is possible to see 100 bird species by nightfall.

Well-positioned bird hides at Geelbek, Seeberg and Abrahamskraal provide good cover and make for excellent photographic vantage points.

Grey-backed cisticola. Photo by Flickr group member Logan Kahle

Bird-watching can be a little sedentary, so it’s worth taking time out to enjoy more energetic pursuits such as mountain biking, cycling and hiking along park trails. Water-based activities include kiteboarding and kayaking at Kraalbaai.

Other West Coast National Park highlights worth considering when planning a holiday here are the August to November whale migration viewing at Tsaarsbak, and the colourful profusion of spring flowers that carpet the ground from August to October in the Postberg Reserve.

Apart from flora species, this sanctuary is also home to eland, blue wildebeest, springbok, gemsbok, bontebok and Cape mountain zebra.

To get to the park, take the Table Bay Boulevard (N1) north from Cape Town to Paarden Eiland. Take the Marine Drive (R27) turnoff, passing Milnerton and heading up the west coast. Just after the Yzerfontein-Darling intersection the park entrance is on the left, a total distance of 100km from Cape Town.

The park is bounded by Yzerfontein in the south and the Langebaan Lagoon in the north.

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