The Uilenkraals Valley is reached by turning off the R43 between Stanford and Gansbaai towards Grootbos Private Nature Reserve at 34°32’30.37”S, 19°24’12.39”E and continuing along the gravel road in an easterly direction.
The first recommended birding site in the valley is the area around the river in the poplar plantation at Witkrans (34°33’28.58”S, 19°27’38.48”E). This is reached by turning off to Flower Valley at 34°33’42.67”S, 19°27’17.67”E. This site is very popular in birding circles and has developed a reputation for delivering on woodpeckers as the Cardinal, Knysna and Olive Woodpeckers are all found here regularly. Also look out for the Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Bais, Southern Boubou, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Lemon Dove, African Dusky and Fiscal Flycatchers, African Goshawk, Sombre Greenbul and Cape Spurfowl. Witkrans is however best known for sightings of important target species not to be found easily in other parts of the Cape Whale Coast. Here species such as the Olive Bush-shrike, Tambourine Dove, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher and Buff-spotted and Red-chested serve as examples. These species are notoriously difficult to find as they are secretive – knowledge of their calls is essential in locating them. It is best to look for these birds at the first light of day, because the dawn chorus here can be spectacular. Also expect to find migrants such as the Diderick and Red-chested Cuckoos, Spotted Flycatcher, African Paradise Flycatcher, Black Sawwing and Barn, Greater Striped and Pearl-breasted Swallows in summer. The area immediately around Witkrans is also very good for birding as there are good patches of Fynbos giving access to most of the endemic species associated with this habitat type.
Platbos (34° 34’03.81”S 19° 27’38.78”E) is a very short distance from Witkrans. It is a privately owned patch of indigenous forest and probably the best example of this habitat type along the entire Cape Whale Coast – Africa’s southernmost indigenous forest. Expect to find similar species as those described for Witkrans. Significant however that previous visits by members of BirdLife Overberg produced ‘regional specials’ such as the Olive Bush-shrike, Tambourine Dove, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher and BBuff-spotted Flufftail. One visit further produced two bird parties – the one consisting mostly of Cape Batises and the other mostly of African Paradise Flycatchers. In both cases there were tens of these birds messing around in close proximity of the birders – a remarkable experience. The quality of birding and walking the various hiking trails in this truly enchanted forest is simply superb. A “Forest Information Sheet” supplies a wealth of knowledge about the forest ecosystem. Trees are labeled along the way to help one with identification. The most impressive feature of Platbos is that quality accommodation is available further enhancing the experience of this wonderful forest. Reservations are essential to avoid disappointment. Casual visitors are asked to phone ahead for reservations to enter. Exact directions to the forest will then be given.
Birding along the gravel road running through the Uilenkraals Valley should not be underestimated. Endemic species recorded here regularly include the Bokmakierie, Cape Bulbul, Blue Crane, Cape Grassbird, Cape Sugarbird and Orange-breasted Sunbird, together with the other sunbirds to be expected in the region. Other abundant species are the Bar-throated Apalis, Acacia Pied Barbet, Fork-tailed Drongo, African Hoopoe and African Olive Pigeon. This area is also known for sightings of the ever-popular Southern Tchagra. Birds of prey common in the area include the Jackal Buzzard, Verreaux’s Eagle, African Goshawk, Black Harrier and Rock Kestrel. Expect to find large numbers of Common Buzzards and Yellow-billed Kites during the summer months.
A T-junction is reached at 34°34’32.26”S, 19°28’07.78”E and here one can choose to travel to the Uilenkraals estuary and the Danger Point peninsula. Alternatively one can travel east to Baardskeerdersbos (34°35’20.12”S, 19°34’13.91”E), Elim (34° 35’28.62”S 19° 45’34.45”E), the Agulhas National Park and the other top birding destinations of the Cape Agulhas region. Driving east from this spot is an excellent option as outstanding bird-watching opportunities are on offer. This newly resurfaced road, together with the circle routes around Papiesvlei and Wolvengat (34° 40’01.94”S 19° 41’49.94”E) are of the best in the Cape Whale Coast to find the interesting species normally associated with the Overberg Wheatbelt. This rambling country road threads its way through an ever-undulating tapestry of changing colours and hues. Waterbirds are abundant during wetter spells, but this is Blue Crane country. It is not uncommon to come across flocks of several hundred of these birds in winter with breeding pairs predominant in summer. One can also expect to find Denham’s Bustard and Black Harrier, while large numbers of White Storks, Lesser Kestrels and Common Buzzards occur in summer. The Amur Falcon is also found occasionally. Watch out for the Capped Wheatear, Cape Clapper Lark, Agulhas Long-billed Lark, Large-billed Lark and Cape Longclaw and a variety of birds of prey. This is a very good area to practice one’s identification skills on “Little Brown Jobs” as all of the region’s larks, pipits and cisticolas are found – the beauty of this though is that this road can be traveled safely and at leisure.
A few excellent birding spots along this road deserve to be mentioned. A bridge over the Uilenkraals River is reached within a short distance at 34°34’28.81”S, 19°28’29.55”E. A group of BirdLife Overberg members had very good birding experiences at this bridge during a previous summer. Several members were able to photograph an active Cardinal Woodpecker nest and were able to compare the identification features of the White-throated Canary and Streaky-headed Seedeater. The same applied to the Brimstone Canary and Yellow Canary. Other species that allowed for good photographic opportunities included the Brown-throated and Rock Martins, African Olive Pigeon and Three-banded Plover. Summer migrants on show were the Black Sawwing and Barn, Greater Striped and Pearl-breasted Swallows.
Farm 215 Nature Retreat and Fynbos Reserve is reached at 34°34’30.11”S, 19°29’29.33”E. “Guides take one into the mountains and into the mountain catchment of the “Koueberge” in this 800 ha reserve with pristine Fynbos. Furthermore, the deep riverine valleys with indigenous forest and waterfalls host a huge diversity of bird species. Lunch can be arranged at the lodge of the retreat.”
The road from Stanford connects with the road to Elim at a T-junction at 34°34’57.63”S, 19°38’15.22”E. This general area is simply outstanding for waterbirds, particularly during wet spells. It is advised that ample time be spent in this area as birding can be superb. This is a known site where one can listen for the distinctive call of the Common Quail during summer months.
The Sandberg Nature Reserve is reached just before Elim. “Accredited field guide Gerard van Deventer takes you on a tour on this 900 ha fynbos reserve in the plains just before the Moravian mission village of Elim and in the Geelkop Nature Reserve near Elim, home to a very special and localised fynbos habitat: Elim Fynbos”.