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The West Coast National Park is a 27 600 ha reserve situated about 100km north of Cape Town. With a list of over 250 bird species recorded, the park holds two main attractions for both local and visiting birders. The first is of the promise of finding, with relative ease, at least 45 of southern Africa’s endemic or near-endemic species within its boundaries. The second is of huge numbers of migratory waders, sometimes numbering in excess of 50 000 individuals, arriving at the southernmost point of their journey and spending the austral summer on the lagoon.

The best time to visit the park is from August to November. The first of the migrants will be arriving then and the resident birds are all breeding during that period. There is also the added bonus of the spring wild flowers, one of the other aspects that the park is well known for. During August and September, the Postberg Nature Reserve at the tip of the Postberg Peninsula is also open to the public with its huge fields of spectacular wild flowers and small populations of Eland, Blue Wildebeest, Bontebok, Springbok, Gemsbok and Cape Mountain Zebra.

A full day’s birding in the park could quite easily yield in excess of 100 species at any time of the year, but one should remember that early morning is the most productive time for birding and a late start could seriously affect the number of species you are likely to see.

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Specials

Black Harrier, Grey-winged Francolin, Grey-backed Cisticola, Layard's Tit-Babbler, Karoo Scrub-Robin, White-backed Mousebird, Cape Grassbird, Karoo Lark, Large-billed Lark, Cape Penduline-Tit, African Black Oystercatcher, Chestnut-banded Plover, Red Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit and Eurasian Curlew. Fairly 'regular' vagrants include American Golden Plover, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Red Phalarope, Red-necked Phalarope,Black-tailed Godwit, Hudsonian Godwit, Common Redshank, Dunlin, Red-necked Stint and Pectoral Sandpiper, Broad-billed Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper and Baird's Sandpiper.

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Habitats

The reserve comprises large areas of coastal strandveld and a large tidal lagoon, with extensive tidal mudflats, saltmarsh and reedbeds. Additional habitats include a small fresh water pan, rocky and sandy shorelines, and several offshore islands.

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Facilities

A limited network of surfaced and gravel roads reach most areas of the park. There are 3 bird hides at Geelbek in the south, and another at Seeberg in the north. There is a picnic area adjacent the Geelbek Manor House, and a curio shop and braai facilities at Tsaarsbank.

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Birding

1. On entering the park, you immediately find yourself in coastal strandveld which hosts a plethora of bush birds. Driving through this habitat, listen and keep a look out for the tailless Long-billed Crombec, Bar-throated Apalis, Grey-backed Cisticola, Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Layard's Tit-Babbler, Karoo Lark, the diminutive Cape Penduline-Tit, Namaqua Dove, Karoo Scrub-Robin, Yellow Canary and Grey-winged Francolin (especially in the early morning). Raptors overhead might include Black-shouldered Kite and Yellowbilled kite (summer), Steppe Buzzard (summer), Rock Kestrel, Booted Eagle and Black Harrier and if you're lucky, you may even bump into a Black-chested Snake-Eagle. Also keep a look out for falcons such as Eurasian Hobby, lanner and Peregrine Falcon (including the northern race "calidus" during summer). In summer, hordes of European Bee-eater can be seen hawking insects over the bush together with many hirundines including Barn Swallow, Greater Striped Swallow, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Brown-throated Martin, Rock Martin and Banded Martin.

This habitat also has a few mammals although they are difficult to see. Striped Mouse, Bush Karoo Rat, Small Grey Mongoose, Steenbok, Cape Grysbok, Scrub Hare, Bontebok and Caracal are amongst those that you might be lucky enough to see and also keep a look out for the hundreds of Angulated Tortoises that cross the road. Once must be careful when venturing into the bush as besides the common Mole Snake, there are also healthy populations of Cape Cobra and Puffadder. If you ever have the pleasure of being in the park when it is raining, the bush comes alive with the call of the sand Rain Frog (Breviceps roseii).

2. Abrahamskraal Water Hole is the only fresh water in the park that the public have access to. It is one of the few places to find Three-banded Plover and Wood Sandpiper and many of the common waterfowl. The reedbeds hold Lesser Swamp-Warbler and Little Rush-Warbler and many other passerines come here to drink. Pied Starling and Wattled Starling are common and Hottentot Buttonquail has been found in this area. There are also resident water Mongoose here and the reedbeds are riddled with Clicking Stream Frogs (Strongylopus greyii).

3. The rocks along the coast at Tsaarsbank normally host Cape Cormorant, Crowned Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, Bank Cormorant and African Black Oystercatcher. In winter, small flocks of Antarctic Tern roost here. Setting up your scope and looking out to see normally provides views of Cape Gannet, White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Northern Giant-Petrel, Southern Giant-Petrel and Shy Albatross with African Penguin bobbing around on the water. Parasitic Jaeger can be seen chasing terns offshore in the summer and careful scanning might also produce Southern Right Whales, Dusky and Heaviside’s Dolphins.

4. The walk down to Seeberg Bird Hide has a host of bush birds to keep you entertained including those mentioned before as well as White-backed Mousebird, Malachite Sunbird, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and Cape Bunting. The beach in front of the hide is the best place in the park to see Little Tern which is normally hidden in the roosts of Caspian Tern, Swift Tern, Sandwich Tern and Common Tern. In summer, there are normally large numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit and other waders that are normally present here include Grey Plover, White-fronted Plover, Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper, Red Knot and Ruddy Turnstone.

5. The main Geelbek Hide is the most popular and there are resident Cape Grassbird at the beginning of the boardwalk to this hide. Just before one reaches the portion of the boardwalk that has shadecloth sides, keep a look out, especially in the early morning, for African Rail in the reeds. There are also Red-chested Flufftail here but they are more difficult to see. A little further north along the lagoon edge at Bottlerey, the reedbeds are dripping with these flufftails, but unfortunately, this area is not accessible to the public. The waders seen from the hide include all those listed already as well as Little Stint, Common Ringed Plover, Kittlitz's Plover, Marsh Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Ruff, Common Whimbrel and Eurasian Curlew. There are plenty of South African Shelduck around as well as both species of flamingo and Great White Pelican. One should also keep a look out for African Fish-Eagle and Osprey catching fish in front of the hide. Although tides are extremely difficult to predict due to varying winds and other factors, a good rule of thumb is to be in the hide about 4,5 hours after high tide in Table Bay and this should provide the best viewing conditions.

6. south of the Geelbek manor house, the salt marshes play host to most of the same waders but also have Chestnut-banded Plover which are often joined by Red-capped Lark and Large-billed Lark and African Pipit on the salt flats. The best viewing times here are at high tide when most of the waders from the lagoon have moved across to the salt pan to feed. Lastly, at Churchaven, which is unfortunately also not accessible to the public, you are almost assured of finding Greater Sand Plover and Terek Sandpiper on the beaches.

7. And then there is always the Geelbek Manor house for a great lunch with the birds. Geelbek represents south Africa's equivalent of Australia's Ivy Cottage at Paluma where the birds come and eat out of your hands. Only the Macleay's Honeyeater is replaced by Cape Weaver and the Australian Brush Turkey is replaced by Cape Spurfowl. Other visitors to your table could be House Sparrow, Yellow Bishop, Laughing Dove, Common Fiscal and Hartlaub's Gull.

8. If one is fortunate enough to spend a night in the park, you will almost certainly find Spotted Eagle-Owl, Barn Owl and Marsh Owl as well as Fiery-necked Nightjar and may even be lucky enough to see Caracal, Small Spotted Genet, Black-footed Cat or Cape Fox.

9. From a local perspective, the park also generates a lot of interest due to its uncanny ability to attract vagrant birds. These range from regional vagrancies like Montagu's Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Ludwig's Bustard, Black-winged Pratincole, Roseate Tern, Grey-headed Kingfisher and Black-headed Canary to birds of a national rarity level. Many extremely rare waders have occurred in the park and scouring through large flocks of common waders has produced birds like American Golden Plover, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Red Phalarope and Red-necked Phalarope, Black-tailed Godwit, Hudsonian Godwit, Common Redshank, Dunlin, Red-necked Stint, Pectoral Sandpiper, Broad-billed Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper and Baird's Sandpiper. If one ever got bored with looking at waders, one could always turn your attention elsewhere as other national rarities have included African Hobby Falcon, Eleonora's Falcon, Australian Gannet, Franklin's Gull and Brown Noddy.

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General

The park is open all year round. From October to March the gate times are 06h00 to 20h00 whilst from April to September, they are open from 07h00 to 18h30. Postberg Game/Flower Reserve is only open from August to September and gate times are from 09h00 to 17h00. From a birding point of view, summer is the best time to visit as there are many waders around then.

Leaving Cape Town, travel on the Table Bay Boulevard (N1) north, until you reach Paarden Eiland, where you take the Marine Drive (R27) turnoff. This will pass through Milnerton and Table View and then north up the west coast. Shortly after passing the Yzerfontein-Darling intersection, you will see the entrance to the park on your left hand side. It is roughly 90km from Cape Town. There is also an entrance at the southern end of Langebaan village which is useful for people travelling from the north e.g. Veldrif

Tariffs: Out of flower season: R15pp + R20pp (Conservation Fee), Flower Season: R25pp + R60pp (Conservation Fee)

Speed Limits: 50 km/h on tarred roads, 30 km/h on gravel roads

Accomodation: The park offers boat houses, mooring sites and a cottage. Click here for tariffs and booking information.

Contact Details: Tel: +27 22 772 2144/5, Fax: +27 22 772 2607, email:

SA National Parks Website

Nearest Town: Langebaan

Gate opening times:
1 Apr - 30 Sept: 07h00 - 19h30
1 Oct - 31 March: 06h00 - 20h00
Postberg section: Aug - Sept only) 07h00 - 17h00
Columbine section: 07h00 - 19h00


Trevor Hardaker 2001.

+27 82 780 0376

Afton Grove

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