Western Cape Tourist AttractionsFlamingo Birding Route
The West Coast stretches from Cape Town's northerly Atlantic suburbs to the coastal wetlands of the Olifants River. Whilst spring flowers have received the focus of tourism to this part of the coastline, it is birding that is now slowly coming to the fore as one of the major reasons to visit the West Coast.
The West Coast Flamingo Birding Route is one of six birding routes in the Western Cape, and fairly new to the region.
Highlights include Lambert's Bay, the Langebaan Lagoon - registered as a wetland of international importance for birds in 1988, a couple of the West Coast's seaside villages, and the Rocherpan Nature Reserve - 15 km north of Velddrif.
Despite its focus on flamingos, the Flamingo Birding Route is not only about these pink feathered water birds. A myriad other birds also enjoy the West Coast.
Highlights of the Flamingo Route for bird spotting:
West Coast National Park
Within this reserve is the Langebaan Lagoon, a wetland of international importance for the thousands of sea birds that use the lagoon's islands (Jutten, Malgas, Marcus and Schaapen), salt marshes and beaches. This is an excellent space in which to spot flamingos and water birds – over 35 000 in summer. The lagoon is 15 km long and 3 km wide with mudflat, sandflat and saltmarsh in the southern reaches that flood periodically. The lagoon and islands support Cape cormorant, greater flamingo, pied avocet, grey plover, gulls, terns, sandpipers and red knots, African penguin, African black oystercatcher, cormorants, and black harrier. The five Saldanha Bay islands serve 250 000 coastal seabirds. Four bird hides are accessible from Geelbek Manor House.
Lying 9 km offshore of Yzerfontein this IBA ranked 273 hectare island is the second largest offshore island after Robben Island. Despite man's obvious presence (there is a lighthouse and several man-made structures), the island does not accept visitors but boat trips to just offshore of the island to see the birds are possible, and include the possibility of spotting whales, seals and dolphins. The island supports breeding colonies of African penguin, crowned and bank cormorants and African oytercatchers. It is also one of only two sites where great white pelican breed.
Lower Berg River
Along the lower reaches of the Berg River are the towns of Laaiplek, Port Owen and Velddrif, with its mouth at St Helena Bay. Because the river is tidal and navigable for many kilometres inland, birders have access to a plethora of birds from the bow of a boat. There are also ephemeral pans, intertidal mudflats and saltmarsh associated with the Berg River that give access to further birds. Combined the estuary and floodplain of the lower Berg River support 20 000 birds. This number increases during summer. Birds include the curlew sandpiper, little stint, Caspian tern, chestnut-banded plover, swift tern, kelp and Hartlaub's gull, great white pelican, grebes, shelduck, Cape teal, Cape shoveller, red-knobbed coot, and yellow-billed duck. The bird hide off Voortrekker Road overlooks mudflats and saltmarsh where there are duck, stilts, greater and lesser flamingo, and other water birds.
This huge estuary and lake system stretches between Eland's Bay and Redelinghuys. It is one of South Africa's largest freshwater lakes, one of few coastal freshwater lakes and rated as an IBA - supporting over 5 000 birds regularly and 20 000 birds occasionally. See ducks, great crested grebe, red-knobbed coot, gulls, cormorants, African marsh harrier, great white pelican, African black oystercatcher, red-chested flufftail, moorhens, and swamphens.
This three hectare rocky outcrop lies just off Lambert's Bay – one of the most accessible Cape gannet colonies in the world with its entrance along a concrete causeway. From within a huge glass viewing hide visitors can watch Cape gannet, African penguins, cormorants, kelp gulls and the occasional swift tern. What makes it so popular is the access it provides to the unique mating dances of the Cape gannet and the proximity to thousands of birds (you are fortunately spared most of the overwhelming smell of guano and the noise).
Olifants River Estuary
Bordered by the seaside village of Papendorp, far north on the West Coast, the Olifants River estuary supports a major saltmarsh, so much so that the locals still gather salt on its southern banks. The estuary and its surrounds has IBA status as it protects nine Nama-Karoo bird species (Karoo korhaan, grey tit, black-headed canary, long-billed and Karoo lark, tractrac, Karoo and sickle-winged chat and Namaqua warbler) and regularly supports well over 15 000 waterbirds, including the Cape teal, ducks, shovellers, plovers, sandpipers, lots of greater and lesser flamingo, and gulls. There are boards at the estuary about the birds.