The West Coast village of Velddrif, which hugs the banks of the Berg River, is a must-visit birding hotspot right on Cape Town’s doorstep for those who want to embrace bird-watching or for the more experienced twitcher looking for multiple memorable sightings.
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Spending your free time in nature, quietly taking in views of rivers and mud flats, beautiful ocean landscapes, lush forests, wide grasslands, rugged mountain wildernesses or rolling rural countryside has a certain appeal. As does observing a variety of feathered friends flit, flutter, hunt, eat, nest, swim, wade and sing their way into your sightings records.
This lovely town is one of the most popular bird-watching destinations in South Africa, with the tidal mudflats and salt marshes presenting more than 250 bird species—that is 25% of all bird species ever recorded in the Southern African region.
The estuary, floodplain and saltpans extend 40 kilometres inland along one of the Cape’s largest rivers. This area contains a wide range of habitats, including sandy beaches, mudflats, reed beds, riverine channels, strandveld and floodplains, and it is well-known for its abundance of 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),” explains Nomonde Ndlangisa, CEO of Bergrivier Tourism.
“Visitors can expect to spot many resident bird species, with the river and reed beds teeming with bird life. The sight of hundreds of Greater and Lesser Flamingos in a large swath 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 few examples of what can be spotted here.”
Ndlangisa goes on to say that the iconic Bokkom Laan, the town’s oldest road, which snakes up the Berg River’s edge, is a must-see for anyone visiting the area, especially birders. This charming dirt road is peppered with waterside jetties 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 take a stroll to see Great White Pelicans, African Marsh Harriers, Kingfishers, Grey Herons and many other species. You can also taste Bokkoms at the “Bokkomhuise,” see the work of local artist Marina Clunie at the Riverstudio and Saralize Tolken’s art at Die Vishoekie Art Studio.
A river cruise with Cracklin’ Rosie River Tours or Knot Xtreme Bergrivier Boat Cruises is a great way to see birds on and along the Berg River, as well as make memories and have fun.
Alternatively, you can rent a kayak or small boat from Canoe & Kayak World and take a leisurely bird-watching paddle down the Berg River.
Rooibaai is a great bird-watching spot near Velddrif, on the border between Laaiplek and Port Owen, where visitors can be surprised by rare waders at low tide. A nearby wooden walkway brings you closer to the hundreds of flamingos, as well as the chance to see over 100,000 Cape Cormorants fly past Rooibaai just before sunset.
Laaiplak Harbour is another good bird-watching spot where you can see Kelp, Hartlaub’s and Grey-Headed Gulls.
The 25-minute drive from Velddrif to the nearby Rocherpan Nature Reserve is well worth it. One has the option of driving through the reserve or hiking along the footpaths.
Numerous bird hides and picnic areas allow you to see birds like the African Black Oystercatcher, African Hoopoe, Kelp Gull and many more—in fact, the Rocherpan Nature Reserve is home to over 180 different species.
The Draaihoek Private Nature Reserve, which stretches from the Atlantic Ocean inland to the Sandveld mountain range and across to the Verlorenvlei, a RAMSAR-classified site south of Elands Bay, is another excellent bird-watching location. The Reserve’s coastal border stretches along an undisturbed sandy beach, surrounded by rugged dunes and favoured by flocks of West Coast birds.
“Velddrif and its surrounds also offer an abundance of water sports and are a foodie’s paradise. Whether your appetite is calling for a hearty breakfast, wood-fired pizza, hamburgers, crispy fresh salads, artisanal baked treats and cakes, vegetarian dishes, traditional country fare, or anything in between, this area offers it all, from eclectic and rustic to fine-dining or takeaways enjoyed as a picnic while you watch birds.”“Like everything else in Velddrif, there is a wealth of accommodation options available to appeal to everyone. Many glorious locations up and down the Berg River provide accommodation that ranges from rustic to luxurious, as well as various camping sites that enjoy exceptional views and offer great bird sightings. In the town itself, visitors can choose from self-catering apartments, cottages, and holiday homes, as well as B&Bs, guesthouses, and hotels,” says Ndlangisa.
So, if you’re just starting out, pick up a bird book, a pair of binoculars and a small pocket notebook to start cataloguing all of the birds you see when you visit Velddrif and its surroundings.
Purchase a new notebook for the experienced twitcher to make room for the plethora of bird species you will be able to list after a trip to the area. If you want to go bird watching with your family and get the younger members excited, stop by the tourism office in Velddrif and pick up a full-colour photographic bird spotting list for the kids to check off.
Picture: @bergriviertourism / Instagram