Top Tips For Where To Go Bird-Watching In The Bergrivier Region
Bird-watching is a healthy, happy hobby that has more and more South Africans of all ages calling themselves “Twitchers”.
Experienced bird-watching enthusiasts know that this pastime is something to twitter about. There is something special about spending your spare time immersed in nature, quietly taking in picturesque rivers and mud plains, beautiful ocean landscapes, lush forests, sweeping grasslands, rugged mountain wildernesses, or rolling rural countryside – all while observing the myriad of feathered friends to be found in these varied habitats, and enjoying their antics as they flit, flutter, forage, feast, nest, swim, wade and sing their way into your sightings records.
Birds of a feather flock together – where to go bird watching
For those who may be keen to embrace bird-watching, or for the more experienced twitcher who is looking for multiple memorable sightings, a must-visit birding hotspot which is right on Cape Town’s doorstep is the hugely popular West Coast village of Velddrif, which hugs the banks of the Berg River, just a few kilometres from where the river enters the ocean at St Helena Bay.
This lovely town is one of the most popular bird-watching sites in South Africa, with the tidal mudflats and salt marshes presenting more than 250 species of birds – that is 25% of all the bird species that have ever been recorded in the entire Southern African region. The estuary, floodplain, and saltpans cover a large area, extending 40km inland along one of the Cape’s biggest rivers. This area encompasses a wide diversity of habitats, including sandy beaches, mudflats, reedbeds, riverine channels, strandveld and floodplain, and it is famously rich in birdlife – with the highest density of waders along the eastern Atlantic seaboard.
The estuary is the third biggest in SA and is rated as one of the most important birding areas in the world. It has also been declared an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife South Africa and BirdLife International and declared a wetland of importance by the Ramsar Convention (referred to as a Ramsar site).
Visitors can expect to spot many resident bird species – with the river and reedbeds teeming with bird life. The sight of hundreds of Greater and Lesser Flamingos in a large swathe of pink is always an incredible sight. Egyptian Geese, Yellow-billed Ducks, Cape and Red-billed Teals, Cape Shovelers, Red-knobbed Coots, Spur-winged Geese, Moorhen, Warblers, Weavers, Southern Red Bishops, Kingfishers, and the African Fish Eagle are just a very few examples of what can be spotted here.
The iconic Bokkom Laan, the oldest road in the town (and a heritage site) which snakes up the edge of the Berg River is a must-visit for anyone to the area – especially birders. This quaint dirt road is dotted with jetties on the water’s edge and historic fish-drying sheds – many of which have been converted into eclectic coffee shops, restaurants, art galleries and gift shops. Park your car and stroll along to spot Greats White Pelicans, the African Marsh Harrier, Kingfishers, Grey Herons and many more different species. You can also visit the ‘’Bokkomhuise’’ and taste Bokkoms, pop in at the Riverstudio to see the work of local artist Marina Clunie art, or Die Vishoekie art studio to see Saralize Tolken’s art. Enjoy a meal at the Avoo Health Café which specialises in locally produced produce.
Places to stay in Velddrif include Happy Campers on the Berg River with campers enjoying their own private jetty’s; the Kliphoek River Resort with a slip way to launch your boat; Knorvarkie, another gem on the banks of the Berg River; Kuifkopvisvanger, also on the banks of the river; the Stywelyne Beach Resort in Laaiplek right next to the beach; as well as the Dwarskersbos Beach Resort, right on the beach in Dwarskersbos. Many glorious locations up and down the Berg River offer accommodation which ranges from rustic to luxury. In the town itself, visitors can choose from self-catering apartments, cottages, and holiday homes, as well as B&B’s, guesthouses, and hotels.
A wonderful way to spot birds on, and alongside, the Berg River – and make memories and have fun – is to book a river cruise with Cracklin’ Rosie River Tours or Knot Xtreme Bergrivier Boat Cruises. Alternatively, you can rent a kayak or small boat from Canoe & Kayak World and take yourself out onto the water of the Berg River for a leisurely bird-watching paddle.
Next to Velddrif, on the border between Laaiplek and Port Owen is Rooibaai – a great bird-watching site where visitors can sometimes be surprised by rare waders at low tide. A wooden walkway nearby takes you closer to the hundreds of Flamingos, as well as the chance to experience the more than 100 000 Cape Cormorants flying past Rooibaai just before sunset. Laaiplak harbour is another good bird-watching location that offers a glimpse of Kelp, Hartlaub’s and Grey Headed Gulls.
The nearby Rocherpan Nature Reserve is well worth the 25 minutes it will take to drive from Velddrif. One can choose to drive through the reserve or hike along the footpaths. Numerous bird hides and picnic areas offer you the chance to spot birds such as the African Black Oystercatchers, African Hoopoe, Kelp Gull and so many more – in fact over 180 different species can be spotted at the Rocherpan Nature Reserve.