Western Cape – Goukou River Causeway

    About the Birding

    The Goukou River causeway can be reached from the South from Stilbaai along the gravel district road that runs along the western bank of the Goukou River. This road closely follows the riverbank and small farms along its entire length. In addition, the road winds through a multitude of small stream gullies which are densely overgrown with broad-leaved shrubs and trees. Many of these streams are constantly flowing and a few small dams are located along the way. Diverse birding is possible within the dense vegetation in the gullies, the scattered cultivated areas, the river and its pools, and the adjoining reed beds.

    The causeway can also be reached from the north-east using a gravel access road off the R305 (Stilbaai tarred access road). This road that turns westwards, is signposted Melkhoutkraal/Klipfontein. This road crosses through mainly cultivated areas which are excellent for finding all the local terrestrial bird species.

    Other alternative access routes are either from the North-West (Riversdale) or from the South-West (Jongensfontein) via another gravel district road. This link road crosses through an area where intensive wildflower cultivation and harvesting (mainly pincushions) is practised. This area is good for finding larger birds like Secretary Birds, Southern Black- and Karoo Korhaans, Jackal Buzzard, Pale Chanting Goshawk, Common Quail, Cape Longclaw, African Pipit, Large-billed and Agulhas Long-billed Larks, African Stonechat, etc.

    About the Birding Site

    The Goukou River runs from the Langeberg Mountain range towards Stilbaai and flows into the sea at Stilbaai. The total length of the river is approximately 50km from its source to the mouth. The river constantly has a trickle of water flowing to the coast and thus provides good wetland birding in the adjoining reed beds and permanent pools of water. At a point approximately 18km from its mouth a concrete causeway is located at GPS -34.2715˚S, 21.2993˚E.

    At first glance, when arriving at the causeway, the area may appear almost sterile of birds, but when a couple of minutes are spent at the causeway a couple of bird species can be observed. The outing to the causeway however presents very good birding along the approach roads to the causeway, irrespective of from which side you approach.

    To date, 149 different bird species have been recorded in the area surrounding the Causeway. A typical 2 to 3 hour visit in summer to this area will likely yield between 75 and 90 bird species.

    The Southern Access Road which follows the Western Bank of the Goukou River from Stilbaai starts at the bridge over the Goukou River in Stilbaai at GPS -34.3579˚S, 21.4150˚E. The first 5km is a paved road whereafter it proceeds as a winding gravel strip.

    At around the 1,7km mark at GPS -34.3464˚S, 21.4040˚E a dense popular grove is reached on the river’s side of the road. This grove is one of the easiest spots to identify the ultra-skulking Knysna Warbler. Familiarise yourself with the song of this bird beforehand and patiently wait for the bird to appear from within the deep foliage. Other special bird species to be on the lookout for at this stop are African Paradise- and Dusky Flycatchers, Greater- and Lesser Honeyguides, Terrestrial Brownbul, Cape Batis, Bar-throated Apalis, Olive Thrush, as well as Knysna-, Cardinal and Olive Woodpeckers.

    It is also worth the effort to turn left at a small gravel road that grants access to a few smallholdings. Along this short cul-de-sac road, you will be able to identify Bokmakierie, Southern Tchagra, Karoo Scrub Robin, Cape-, Brimstone-, White Throated- and Yellow Canaries, Cape Bunting, Grey-backed Cisticola and Neddicky.

    The rest of the gravel section of the road is narrow, and extreme caution is advised when driving around the sharp bends along the route.

    The road crosses many small streams in deeply incised gullies which are well covered in dense broad-leaved shrubs and trees. This provides for excellent habitat to find Olive Bushshrike, Cape Batis, Southern Boubou, Burchell’s Coucal, Tambourine Dove, African Olive Pigeon, and Black Saw-wings.

    The natural range of the Long-crested Eagle is currently (2023) expanding in a rapid westward direction. This road currently marks the known western boundary of their range as a few sightings of them occurred in this area during the last year. Martial Eagle and Black Sparrowhawks are infrequently encountered on the farms along this area as well.

    Giant-, Malachite and Pied Kingfishers, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Common Waxbill, Western Osprey and African Fish-Eagle are often spotted flying up and down the Goukou River or in the reedbeds.

    On the route to the causeway just beyond the Kransfontein Olive Farm Deli a small thatch roofed cottage can be observed on the Eastern bank of the Goukou River. This cottage is the place where the famous South African novelist, Wilbur Smith, wrote most of his novels.

    The last approximately 15km long river stretch down to the ocean is impacted by the tidal influence of the sea and hence the water up to that point is still extremely salty.

    At approximately the 18,5km mark a turnoff to the right to Klipfontein takes you to the Goukou River Causeway.

    The turnoff to the west from the R305 tarred access road that leads to Stilbaai is located at GPS -34.2381˚S, 21.3695˚E. The causeway is located approximately 8,5km from the R305. This gravel road crosses intensely developed cultivated areas where it is normally easy to spot special bird species such as Denham’s Bustard, Blue Crane, Large-billed-, and Agulhas Long-billed Larks, African- and Plain-backed Pipits, Cape Longclaw, Capped Wheatear, and Bokmakierie. Pied-, Common, and Red-winged Starlings, Grey-headed Sparrows, Black-headed Heron, Sacred- and Hadeda Ibises, Helmeted Guineafowl, and Cape Spurfowl are common birds surrounding homesteads.

    Dusk and early mornings are good times to spot Spotted Eagle Owl, Western Barn-owl, and Fiery-necked Nightjars.

    Search for Cape-, Brimstone-, White-throated- and Yellow Canaries on the ground or fence lines as well as for Streaky-headed Seedeaters and Pin-tailed Whydahs.

    Raptors that may be observed in this area include Common- and Jackal Buzzards, Yellow-billed- and Black-winged Kites, Pale-chanting Goshawk, and Booted Eagle.

    All the secondary farm roads turning out from this road provide similar habitats as described in this section and are worth driving if any of the special birds mentioned are not encountered along the road.

    The causeway is sometimes flooded after good rains have fallen on the Langeberg Mountain range and caution should be exercised when crossing the weir under flooded conditions. The safety bollards which indicated depth of flow across the causeway have unfortunately been removed.

    The turnoff to the Goukou River Causeway from the Riversdale to Blombos gravel road is located at GPS -34.2703˚S, 21.2259˚E. The causeway turnoff (signposted Klipfontein) is located approximately 6,3km along this road. This turnoff can be reached either from the Riversdale side or from the Blombos side.

    The northern access road from Riversdale crosses intensely developed cultivated areas where all the local Pipit, Lark and other seed eating species can easily be observed. Bird species such as African-, Long-billed and Plain-backed Pipits, Red-capped-, Large-billed- and Agulhas Long-billed Larks, Capped Wheatear, Bokmakierie, Common Quail (easy to hear but difficult to see), African Stonechat, Yellow-, Cape-, Brimstone- and White-throated Canaries, Streaky-headed Seedeater, and Pin-tailed Whydah are all quite easy to locate along this northern access road.

    Coming from the south from the Blombos direction totally different habitat is encountered. This area is covered with low growing shrubs and some protea species. Birds often encountered along this road are Cape Sugarbird, Black Harrier, Southern Tchagra, Southern Boubou, Bokmakierie, Karoo Scrub Robin, Cape Robin, Southern Double-collared-, Greater Double-collared-, Malachite-, and Orange-breasted Sunbirds, as well as Karoo Prinia, Neddicky and Grey-backed Cisticola.

    From the turnoff to the Causeway mentioned in the first paragraph, the 6,3km long gravel road, crosses a farming area where wildflowers and special fynbos species are grown and harvested. Special bird species that can be seen along this road are Denham’s Bustard, Blue Crane, Secretary Bird, Southern Black- and Karoo Korhaans, Large-billed-, and Agulhas Long-billed Larks, African- and Plain-backed Pipits, Cape Longclaw, Capped Wheatear, and Bokmakierie. Pied-, Common and Red-winged Starlings, Grey-headed Sparrow, Black-headed Heron, Sacred- and Hadeda Ibises, Helmeted Guineafowl, and Cape Spurfowl are common birds surrounding homesteads.

    Common- and Jackal Buzzards, Black-winged Kites, Pale-chanting Goshawk and Booted Eagle are the raptor species that are likely to be seen.

    The causeway is sometimes flooded after good rains have fallen on the Langeberg Mountain range and caution should be exercised when crossing the weir under flooded conditions. The safety bollards which indicated depth of flow across the causeway have unfortunately been removed.

    A low-level concrete causeway across the Goukou River is located at GPS -34.2715˚S, 21.2993˚E. The causeway can be flooded after heavy rains in the Langeberg and caution is advised against crossing the causeway when flooded as the safety bollards at the side of the causeway have all unfortunately been removed.

    As was mentioned in the introduction, birding opportunities at the causeway may at first glance appear to be very limited. Make the effort to stop on either end of the concrete causeway and spend a little quiet and relaxing time at the site. You will hear Levaillant’s Cisticola, Little Rush Warbler, Black Crake, Common Moorhen, Common Waxbill, Southern Masked- and Cape Weavers, and with luck African Fish Eagle. Western Osprey is often seen flying overhead as well as Yellow-billed Kite. Forked-tailed Drongo and Dusky Flycatchers normally are present as well as African Paradise Flycatchers in summer.

    The biggest and most sought-after bird species that can be located at this site is the Red-chested Flufftail that regularly breeds amongst the reedbeds adjoining the weir. These Flufftails are notoriously difficult to spot running on the mudbanks along the rat tracks amongst the thick reedbeds. The Flufftails are however often heard calling from within the thick reeds in the breeding season. Very early morning visits to the causeway is the best time to try and locate them as they are quite active at dawn. You should however be prepared to patiently (motionlessly) wait for at least two to three hours to force your luck of observing them. Immediately after hearing their distinct and rather unique calls, pay careful attention for the next couple of minutes to any openings within the reed thickets at ground level because they normally utter their calls when they start moving around

    Other Related Information

    Driving conditions on the gravel roads are normally quite good albeit probably slightly corrugated and dusty. Any type of vehicle can be driven on these roads which are all considered safe to travel.

    Best birding conditions are normally encountered early mornings after sunrise when most birds are active, and the wind is not blowing. Winds tend to pick up speed towards midday and in the afternoons which cause many bird species to go into hiding in the thickets.

    Mid-mornings in good warm and sunny conditions present the best opportunity to view especially the Pipits and Larks.

    Text prepared by:

    Francois Furstenburg, Stilbaai U3A Bird Group

    Key species:

    African Fish Eagle, Agulhas Long-billed-, and Large-billed Larks, Black Crake, Cape Longclaw, Common Quail, Paradise Flycatcher, Red-chested Flufftail, Secretary Bird, Southern Black-, and Karoo Korhaans, Western Osprey, and Yellow-billed Kite

    Contact details:

    Goukou River Causeway

    Stilbaai Tourism Bureau: +27 (0)28 754 2602

    Email: stilbaaiinfo@easycoms.co.za

    Web: www.stilbaaitourism.co.za

    Stilbaai U3A Bird Group

    Krysia Stenvert: +27 (0)83 287 5227

    Francois Furstenburg: +27 (0)82 578 6933

    Email: krysiasolman@gmail.com or ffur@icloud.com