Monday, 1 April 2013

West Coast National Park, Cape Town, March 2013

This trip to Cape Town has come about after my scheduled roster was disrupted. Had the original itinerary been achieved, I might have been sitting by a bay in New York with a northerly wind whipping the water into whitecaps. The contrasts with Langebaan Lagoon 100kms north of Cape Town were marked.



West Coast National Park can be found off the R27 (Google Earth ref; 33°14'37.87"S 18°12'15.66"E) which runs north from Cape Town. It comprises an area of costal scrub with sand dunes and a large, shallow lagoon. I only had the morning, but the tide times were well suited to that. The perfect time to visit the hides on the lagoon is as the tide begins to recede. I couldn’t wait that long, but had great views as the tide came in, pushing hundreds of Curlew Sandpipers, Grey Plovers and even a couple of Red Knot towards me.



The coastal scrub plays host to a few highly desirable bird species such as Black Harrier that was seen very shortly after entering into the park. Many of the other specialties were missed, but I suspect that most of the birds were staying low out of the wind.

Cape Bulbuls were common as were the Yellow Canaries. I saw as many Ostriches today as I have ever seen.

My first port of call was at Abrahamskraal, a freshwater pond and hide which can be seen at Google Earth ref;  33°13'55.04"S 18°8'8.66"E. A pair of Common Kestrels hovered beyond the hide.



In the distance, a Bokmakerie whistled from its perch just beyond a duiker. On the small freshwater pond, Cape Shoveler, Purple Swamphen, Sacred Ibis and a Black Crake were seen.

Geelbek hide can be found at Google Earth ref; 33°11'24.73"S 18° 7'25.91"E.  It is reached along a boardwalk which has been slightly raised above the saltmarsh to protect this fragile environment. Little Stint and Kitlitz’s Plover were seen well on the approach.

High water at this point is usually about 4 hours behind the tide at Cape Town and the prime time for viewing here is as the water begins to ebb. I was going to miss the top of the tide, so I enjoyed the spectacle of hundreds of feeding birds on the mud flats that stretched out into the bay. Eventually the rising waters pushed them into range and I could see that many of the birds were taking on their summer plumage in anticipation of their flight north.

Greater Flamingos were dotted widely across the bay. They were feeding or trying to keep a low profile in the strong wind that is so popular with the kite surfers further up the lagoon.



A tatty Osprey flew over the hide and settled on a post further along. Although none of the other birds had seemed to be disturbed by the Osprey, a couple of Hartlaub’s Gulls took it upon themselves to harass it and chivvy it along.

Seeberg Hide, Google Earth ref; 33° 7'35.26"S 18° 3'30.88"E, is further north towards the village of Langebaan. It is reached along a boardwalk through the coastal scrub. The hide is very low to the ground giving an interesting viewing angle. Three sand bars have been built by the wind and water currents, providing roosting spots for many gulls and shorebirds. Sanderlings tried to shelter from the wind by crouching on the back slope in the lee of a sand bar.



A flock of Common Terns also contained a few Swift (Great Crested) Terns. White-fronted Plovers sheltered in what looked like footprints in the sand. The area in front of the hide should be protected from human interference which makes me wonder if the little plovers dig their own shelters. Anyone?



A nice flock of Bar-tailed Godwits mixed with some Grey PloverWhimbrel, Red Knots and a single Eurasian Curlew.

I would have loved to have been able to stay on much longer.  The hide at Seeberg is a real pleasure to watch birds from and I was very loathe to leave such an inspiring place, but time was pressing and I had to start back towards Cape Town.

As I left the hide a tiny creature moving on the salt marsh caught my attention. I became spellbound by a pair of tiny White-fronted Plover chicks dashing about under the relaxed care of their parents.

Seeberg Overlook is the large chunk of granite rising above the lagoon, this has been a reliable place in the past to find Southern Black Korhaan (Bustard). 
Having spent a few last moments trying to get arty with the cottage at the top of the rock, I was treated to a close encounter with the bustard as I eventually decided to make tracks and head back to Cape Town.



Birds seen; 67

Ostrich 90, Egyptian Goose 15, South African Shelduck 2, Cape Shoveler 8, Helmeted Guineafowl 12 Cape Francolin 50, Little Grebe 1, Greater Flamingo 2000, Great (White-breasted) Cormorant 8, Grey Heron 1, Little Egret 23, Black-crowned Night-heron 1, Sacred Ibis 30, Osprey 1, Black-shouldered Kite 3, African Marsh Harrier 2, Black Harrier 2, Jackal Buzzard 2, Eurasian (Rock)Kestrel 3, Black Bustard 3, Black Crake 1, Purple Swamphen 1, Eurasian Moorhen 3, Red-knobbed Coot 2, Blacksmith Plover 180, Kitlitz’s Plover 3, Common Ringed Plover 35, White-fronted Plover 30, Black-winged Stilt 50, Pied Avocet 12, Common Greenshank 40, Whimbrel 40, Eurasian Curlew 1, Bar-tailed Godwit 40, Ruddy Turnstone 2, Red Knot 50, Sanderling 300, Little Stint 60, Curlew Sandpiper 300, Ruff 8, Hartlaub’s Gull 8, Kelp Gull 60,  Common Tern 120, Great Crested Tern 2, Sandwich Tern 8, Little Swift 25, Speckled Mousebird 10, Bokmakierie 4, Common Fiscal 2, Pied Crow 8, Plain Martin 2, Barn Swallow 40, White-throated Swallow 2, Cape Bulbul 60, Karoo Prinia 4, Karoo Scrub-robin 10, Cape Robin-chat 4, African Pied Starling 30, Southern Double-collared Sunbird 2, Cape Wagtail 8, Orange-throated Longclaw 1, Cape Bunting 3, Yellow Canary 80, Cape Sparrow 8, Cape Weaver 6.