Birding in and around Stanford

Stanford is situated inland along the R43 between Hermanus and Gansbaai. (34°26’28.25”S 19°27’31.42”E). This quaint, well-wooded village lies on the banks of the Klein River offering traditional Cape countryside experiences and exuding the charm of years gone by. Stanford is a bird-watching destination of note and is well known for various habitat types in and around the village hosting a huge diversity of bird species.

A Pied Kingfisher scans the water of the small pond for fish.
Willem Appel se Dam (Anton Odendal)

Willem Appel se dam is certainly one of the best birding spots in the entire Cape Whale Coast region and is found on the southern end of the village. Turn left out off Queen Victoria Street (the main road running through the village) into Longmarket Street. This takes one to the dam. The main feature of birding here is the excellent bird hide that had been erected by members of the Stanford Bird Club (34°26’34.81”S 19° 27’13.74”E). The key to the hide can be collected from the Tourism Office in the main road. Dry tree trunks for perching birds have been placed conveniently close to the hide and this allows for superb photographic opportunities, particularly early in the morning and later on in the afternoon. The Malachite and Pied Kingfishers and White-throated Swallow (in summer) are often good photographic subjects on these tree trunks and the open water host a diversity of ducks. Common species include the White-backed and Yellow-billed Ducks and Cape Shovelers, while the African Black, Maccoa and White-faced Ducks are recorded less frequently. The Cape and Red-billed Teals are usually present in good numbers, while the Blue-billed Teal occurs rarely. The two common cormorants, the African Darter and Purple Heron are regularly on view. Species to be found in and amongst the reed beds include the Levaillant’s Cisticola, Red-knobbed Coot, Black Crake, Cattle Egret, Common Moorhen and African Swamphen. The calls of the Little Rush Warbler and Lesser Swamp Warbler come from the reeds continually. Occasional sightings of more secretive species such as the Little Bittern and Black-crowned Night Heron are also reported.

The excellent birding at Appel se Dam does however not end here. A casual walk to ‘Die Ou Krale’ picnic site comes highly recommended. Walk in an easterly direction from the bird hide and cross the bridge along the extension of Bezuidenhout Street. The reed beds along the bridge often produce spectacular sightings of many of the species mentioned earlier. The picnic site is situated in a grove of Milkwood trees just after the bridge on the southern side of the dam. (34° 26’38.62”S 19° 27’15.27”E). This area gives access to a variety of forest species normally associated with such habitats. The Cardinal Woodpecker is spotted regularly, with the Knysna Woodpecker and Olive Woodpeckers being located far less often. Common endemic species include the Cape Batis, Southern Boubou, Cape Bulbul, Fiscal Flycatcher, Cape Longclaw, Southern Double-collared Sunbirds and Cape White-eye.

Do not underestimate garden birding in the village. The well-marked Stanford ‘wandelpad’ is the best option to explore the area as it basically takes one along an often damp and well-wooded vlei past beautiful houses with lush gardens before eventually ending up at the Kleinrivier. This trail starts at 34° 26’25.89”S 19° 27’00.23”E to the west of the bird hide along De Bruyn Street. A gentle stroll along the trail can produce excellent sightings of the Southern Red and Yellow Bishops during breeding season and expect to find the Cape Bunting, African Dusky Flycatcher, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Amethyst Sunbird, Cape Weaver, Common and Swee Waxbills, Pin-tailed Whydah and most of the species associated with thickets discussed earlier. It is further not uncommon to find secretive birds of prey such as the African Goshawk, African Harrier-Hawk and Black Sparrowhawk along the trail. Be on the lookout for the migrant cuckoos and swallows, swifts and martins as most of these are fairly abundant during summer months. A vagrant Cut-throat Finch was also recorded here once, but this was probably an escapee from a local aviary. The Black-bellied Starling represents yet another vagrant species recorded previously.

Another excellent birding spot along the trail is reached at ‘The Bend’ at the end of King Street (34° 26’13.56”S 19° 27’24.46”E). To reach this site by vehicle travel west along Queen Victoria Street and turn right into Longmarket Street. Turn left into King Street at the Police station and this narrow gravel road takes one to a parking area on the banks of the Klein River. The calls of the region’s cuckoos, honeyguides and woodpeckers often ring out from the surrounding vegetation and patience is needed to locate these often difficult-to-find birds. This spot is however best known for sightings of the Brown-hooded, Giant, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers, as well as the African Fish Eagle. Most of the region’s herons and ducks are often on view and in summer expect to find large numbers of swifts, particularly on misty and cloudy days.

Another outstanding feature of birding in Stanford is that a variety of boat trips on the Klein River is on offer. There are several operators that take clients on cruises down the river often allowing for fantastic birding and photographic opportunities. Contact the local tourism office for details and reservations. Imagine drifting down the river studying a large heronry and looking for species such as the Little Bittern, Black Crake, African Darter, Little Grebe, Purple Heron, Giant, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers and African Swamphen. The African Fish Eagle, African Harrier Hawk and Western Osprey are often on view, but keep a keen lookout for more difficult-to-find raptors such as African Goshawk and Black and Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawks. Spectacular vagrant species seen here recently include Goliath Heron, Squacco Heron and African Jacana.

Stanford is hugely underrated as a top birding destination and it should be explored seriously. The village can further be used as an ideal base from which to explore surrounding destinations such as the Klein River estuary, the Danger Point PeninsulaKleinbaai and the Papiesvlei loop road.

Contact Peter Hochfelden of the Stanford Bird Club at 082 443 7867 to book cruises on the Lady Stanford or to get advice on birding conditions in the vil

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