From Stanford to the Uilenkraals Estuary and beyond

The R43 between Stanford and Gansbaai is unfortunately fairly narrow and lacks road verges, making it very difficult to watch birds. Birds of prey are however encountered regularly and the Forest and Jackal Buzzards and Black-winged Kite serve as examples in this regard. The Black Harrier sometimes quarters low over the Fynbos vegetation and the Common Buzzard and Yellow-billed Kite occur commonly during summer months. The Grootbos Private Nature Reserve (34°32’18.19”S 19°24’47.63”E) offers a diversity of habitats including Fynbos, Milkwood and Afromontane forests, riverine scrub and mountain slopes. Well-trained guides are available at this five-star destination to enhance the visitor’s experience of the more than 120 bird species associated with the various habitat types in the reserve. The reserve is unfortunately not accessible to casual visitors.

A Eurasian Curlew stands quietly of a sandy beach in the evening.
Eurasian Curlew (Carin Malan)

The Walker Bay Nature Reserve (34°32’47.09”S 19°22’43.59”E) can be reached on foot from an entrance gate at De Kelders near Gansbaai. The 17km coastline stretches from here to the Klein River estuary at Hermanus. Bird-watching in the coastal Fynbos vegetation can be spectacular and a short hike in the area near the entrance gate is recommended. Expect to find terrestrial species very similar to those described under the Danger Point Peninsula. De Kelders and Gansbaai are known for their stupendous whale-watching. A visit to the heritage section at Klipgat Caves is always worth a visit. More energetic birders can consider hiking the spectacular Klipgat Trail (7kms) that meanders along the coast from the Klipgat Cave, past De Kelders and ends at Gansbaai harbour. The entire area offers outstanding strandveld and coastal birding. A somewhat bizarre vagrant sighting at De Kelders some years ago was that of a Southern Carmine Bee-eater.

The area to the east of Gansbaai along the R43 is unfortunately still relatively ‘unchartered’ in birding terms. There are several seasonal water bodies between Gansbaai and the Uilenkraal estuary that can produce excellent waterbirds after good rains. This section of the road has fairly wide road verges and slow birding along here can often be very rewarding, particularly towards the end of winter and during spring. The small Franskraal sewage works (34°36’01.12”S 19°24’38.35”E), just before the estuary is reached, deserves attention as it often produces good birding – watch out for a variety of herons, ducks and teals, as well as the Black Crake, Giant and Pied Kingfishers, African Swamphen and Water Thick-knee. Safe parking along the road further contributes to making this a prime birding spot.

The bridge over the Uilenkraal River Estuary (34°36’11.64”S 19°24’54.36”E) is yet another excellent spot to investigate as numerous coastal birds and waterbirds are on offer throughout the year, with migratory waders being abundant during summer months. Many birders recommend that the estuary be explored from the bridge, from where spotting scopes are needed for decent birding – a word of caution needs to be expressed however. There is very little safe parking close to the bridge and vehicles often go past here at high speeds. Conditions can also be very windy during summer when the south-easterly wind is blowing. Some birders recommend that one enters the Uilenkraal Caravan Park and explore the estuary on foot. The estuary often produces vast numbers of cormorants and gulls, as well as terns and waders in summer. Interesting resident species that are found regularly include the Little Egret, Giant, Pied And Malachite Kingfishers, Blacksmith Lapwing, Caspian and Swift Terns and Kittlitz’s, Three-banded and White-fronted Plovers. The African Fish Eagle and African Marsh-Harrier are also seen occasionally.

Prolific numbers of waders are present in summer. The Common Greenshank, Common Ringed Plover, Curlew and Marsh Sandpipers and Common Whimbrel are usually abundant, with the Red Knot, Grey Plover, Ruff, Sanderling, Common Sandpiper, Little Stint and Ruddy Turnstone present in smaller numbers. Occasional sightings of the Eurasian Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and Terek Sandpiper are also on record. Vagrant species recorded here in recent years include Black-tailed Godwit, Pacific Golden Plover, Greater Sand Plover and African Pied Wagtail. Vast numbers of Common and Sandwich Terns often roost along the water. The site is further well known for its sighting of swifts and expect to find the Alpine, African Black, Little and White-rumped Swifts in summer. Most of the region’s swallow and martins are also present.

Further east Pearly Beach (34°39’36.31”S 19°31’45.46”E), Buffeljagsbaai (34°45’07.51”S 19°36’33.97”E), Quoin Point (34°45’44.63”S 19°38’16.29”E) and Die Dam (34°45’46.39”S 19°41’09.12”E) all have fantastic birding potential. Most of the region’s coastal birds are readily available and whale-watching is outstanding in season. Large patches of remaining Milkwood forest patches produce most of the forest species to be expected along this coast. Also keep in mind that most of these destinations offer extensive fynbos habitats allowing exposure to the majority of ‘fynbos specials’. These villages therefore allow birders access to coastal, forest and fynbos species and certainly deserve to be investigated. The trail through the Milkwood forest at Die Dam and the fynbos herbarium at Pearly Beach, where members of the Pearly Beach Conservation Society are doing excellent work, are of particular interest. All of these destinations will be described in greater detail at some later stage.

Two Pied Kingfishers squabble over a perch.
Pied Kingfishers (Carin Malan)

A slow drive along the Franskraal coastline travelling back towards Kleinbaai can also be very productive, particularly in the morning when one travels westward. The species composition is very similar to that described under the Danger Point Peninsula. Two sites need to be explored along here: There is a small patch of coastal forest dominated by ancient Milkwood trees in Franskraal (34°36’34.91”S 19°23’33.49”E). The recent fire has unfortunately destroyed large parts of the forest, but hiking along the trail can produce exceptional sightings of species associated with forest habitats. Common resident species include the Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Batis, Southern Boubou, Klaas’s Cuckoo, African Dusky and Fiscal Flycatchers, African Goshawk, Sombre Greenbul and Cape Spurfowl. The Cardinal, Knysna and Olive Woodpeckers are all found here regularly, and in summer look for the Diderick and Red-chested Cuckoos, Spotted Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Black Sawwing and Barn, Greater Striped and Pearl-breasted Swallows.

A visit to the Strandveld Museum along the Franskraal coastline is highly recommended. This small privately owned museum is a little gem and used to be the original home of one of the Headman that used to work on Dyer Island. The museum has the largest collection of relics from the HMT Birkenhead wrecked off Danger Point and several other historical items. The owners are local historians and marvellous storytellers who will gladly take one on a trip through time. This description clearly illustrates that there are a variety of excellent birding options available in the greater Gansbaai region. 

This section of coastline represents one of the many sites along the Cape Whale Coast shoreline where the adverse impact of plastics, fishing line and other pollutants on our environment in general and our coastal birds in particular often seem obvious. Birds are regularly severely injured through entanglement with various forms of ocean litter and the negative visual impact of the litter could have detrimental impacts on tourism to the region. The members of BirdLife Overberg recently launched the CleanMarine campaign that features various projects such as regular monthly coastal clean-ups, the erection of bins to collect discarded fishing line and warning placards to inform the public about the presence of African Black Oystercatchers and White-fronted Plovers breeding, or raising their chicks along our beaches and rocky shores. 

Please report all injured or oiled coastal birds and animals to the Cape Whale Coast stranding network at 072 598 7117 immediately. This dedicated service is provided by the African Penguin and Seabirds Sanctuary (APSS) of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust in Kleinbaai.

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