Western Cape – Riversdale Birding Sites

About the Birding

Birding in the area is mainly focussed in either the cultivated areas or alternatively in the Langeberg Mountain range foothills and kloofs.

The following are considered to present the best birding areas in the cultivated zone, namely:

  • Klein Kruisrivier vleys
  • Novo Road (small district road to the east of the R323 road to Garcia Pass and Ladismith
  • District roads to Albertinia and Herbertsdale

Birding in the Langeberg Mountain foothills is discussed under different pins on the GoBirding website. Garcia Pass, and the associated Langeberg Hiking Trails are detailed in the pin for Garcia Pass on the GoBirding website, whilst the Korentepoort Dam and the northernmost link road between Riversdale and Heidelberg are included and detailed in the Gysmanshoek Pass pin on the website.

The Klein Kruisrivier, a tributary of the Goukou River, and it’s associated vleys and wetlands, lying to the north-east of Riversdale, provide arguably the best birding opportunity close to Riversdale. The start of the Klein Kruisrivier circular loop road is located at GPS -34.0833˚S, 21.2683˚E. To get to the starting point exit Riversdale to the east along Main Street and drive past the old historical jailhouse. The Jailhouse has been beautifully restored and is operated as a museum which is worth a visit of its own.

164 different bird species have been observed along this route. A 2 to 3-hour drive in summer should yield between 85 and 90 species of birds.
About 600m after crossing over the bridge at the last houses take a left turn onto a road signposted “Novo/Kruisrivier”. This section of road has dense reedbeds to its side where Levaillant’s Cisticola, Southern Red Bishop, Cape Weavers, Common Waxbill, African Stonechat, Black-winged Kite, Blacksmith Lapwing, Black-headed Heron, and Sacred Ibis are plentiful.

The noted GPS point indicating the start of the Klein Kruisrivier Vleys loop road is located about 0,55km to the north of this road junction. At the GPS location noted above as the start of the route, turn right onto the tarred road signposted “Klein Kruisrivier/Kruisrivier”. Drive another 1km and then turn left onto the gravel district road signposted “Klein Kruisrivier”. The total length of the circular drive back to the original GPS location is approximately 24,5km and can easily be completed within a 2-hour period, but intensive birding along the route may mean that the drive may take up to 4 hours to complete.
Birding along the loop road is diversified. At the start of the loop road section be on the lookout for terrestrial birds. Common quail, Cape Spurfowl, Large-billed-, Red-capped- and Agulhas Long-billed Larks, African Pipit, Crowned Lapwing, Cape Grassbird, and Bokmakierie should all be present. The road slowly ascends the foothills of the Langberg Mountain Range and the habitat changes from cultivated fields to undisturbed open shrublands. In these more arid areas bird species like Denham’s Bustard, Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Prinia, Neddicky, Southern Double-collared- and Malachite Sunbirds should be encountered along with Karoo Scrub Robin, Cape Robin-, and Familiar Chats, with Jackal- and Common Buzzards perched on the electrical power line pylons. Amazing vistas open along the streambeds and onto the overlooking mountain range.

The road eventually turns more eastwards and skirts the foothills of the Langeberg Range. Dense foliage along the streambeds in summer conceal the likes of Red-chested-, Black-, Diederick- and Klaas’s Cuckoos, Fork-tailed Drongos, Lesser- and Greater Honeyguides, as well as Olive Bush Shrikes. Cape Batis, Bar-throated Apalis, and Terrestrial Brownbul can easily be spotted or heard calling from within the thickets.

The road thereafter turns in a southerly direction through intensively developed cultivated lands. The small irrigation dams along this section of the road will likely yield Levaillant’s Cisticola, Lesser Swamp- and Little Rush Warblers, Cape-, and Southern Masked Weavers, Southern Red- and Yellow Bishops and possibly also a Cape Reed Warbler. Black Crake, Little Grebe, Red-knobbed Coot, Yellow-billed- and African Black Ducks, Cape Shoveler, and Black-headed Heron.

A T-junction is reached around the 15,5km mark. To complete the last 9km long leg of the short Klein Kruisrivier loop road, turn right at this junction and return to Riversdale, or alternatively, a similar circular loop road drive can be undertaken by turning left at this T-junction and then drive the 28km Kruisrivier Loop Road back to the original pin position. Birding along the Kruisrivier loop road that runs around the Kruisrivier (Broomvlei) Nature Reserve is very similar to that along the Klein Kruisrivier loop road.

The return leg of the Klein Kruisrivier loop road crosses through highly developed farming areas with a few dairy farms. At the dairy farms check out for Pied Starling, Sacred- and Hadeda Ibises, Kittlitz’s- and Three-banded Plovers, Speckled-, and African Olive Pigeons, Capped Wheatear, and African Pipit.

The start of the Novo Road is located at GPS -34.0833˚S, 21.2683˚E which is the same starting point as from where the Klein Kruisrivier Loop Road starts. Only the first 400m of this road is tarred, whereafter it proceeds as a district gravel road. This road is approximately 8,3km long up to the point where it joins back into Road 323 (Garcia Pass Road) with a further 6km to reach the outskirts of Riversdale.

Birding this short stretch of road in early morning light is normally quite rewarding. Two distinct habitats are encountered namely intensively developed agricultural smallholdings and open undisturbed hillside landscapes covered in typical renosterveld shrubbery. 164 different bird species have been observed in the area surrounding and along this short road section. A short 1-hour morning drive in summer should easily yield between 40 and 50 species of birds.
Special birds to be on the lookout for include Spotted Eagle- and Western Barn Owls, Blue Crane, Denham’s Bustard, Klaas’s-, and Diederick Cuckoos, Karoo Scrub Robin, Common Quail, Large-billed-, and Agulhas Long-billed Lark, Cape Grassbird, Bokmakierie, Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Prinia, Orange-breasted-, and Malachite Sunbirds, Pin-tailed Whydah, Familiar Chat, Speckled-, and Red-faced Mousebirds, Cape Rock Thrush, Cape-, Brimstone-, Yellow-, and White Fronted Canaries, as well as Streaky-headed Seedeaters, and Cape Bunting.

At around the 3,7km mark a good vantage point is to the left of the road at the stie of an old worked out quarry. A brief stop at this lookout point is recommended as excellent views onto the farming areas along the river valley below are possible from this point. Spending a couple of minutes here is recommended as it also provides opportunity to hear the bird chatter and observe some of the birds obscured in the adjoining shrubbery on the hillside at close quarters.

The best birding routes along the foothills of the Langeberg Mountain Range that runs eastwards from Riversdale towards the small hamlet of Herbertsdale is indicated on the attached image. The indicated roads are not the only available roads to travel, but the highlighted ones provide best opportunity to locate diverse bird species. The further away from the foothills you travel, there more montane the environment becomes due to extensive cultivated lands that cover most of the area. The close you go to the foothills the moister the landscape become whereas more arid zones are encountered further away from the mountain range.

The approximate distance between the two towns is between 50 and 60km depending on which roads are selected. These minor district roads are generally signposted and numbered, but privacy of farmers should be respected, and all gates should be return to the status you found them in.

The small streams that are crossed at many places provide for excellent opportunity to locate species diverse from those encountered in the cultivated lands. Birding in the cultivated lands also vary according to the season and whether the lands are lying fallow or are covered in lush green growth. The ploughing and planting seasons also see an influx of bird species not on view in the area at other times.

Birding along the foothill roads are quite varied and special bird species to be on the lookout for are Blue Crane, Denham’s Bustard, African Spoonbill, Spotted Thick-knee, Booted Eagle, African Harrier Hawk, Rufous-breasted-, and Black Sparrowhawks, Rock Kestrel, Red-chested-, Diederick-, Klaas’s- and Black Cuckoos, Cape Grassbird, Large-billed-, Red-capped-, and Cape Clapper Larks, African-, and Plain-backed Pipits, Common Quail, Capped Wheatear, Bokmakierie, Burchell’s Coucal, Zitting Cisticola, and Swee Waxbill.

Birding in these areas is difficult from within a moving vehicle as many LBJ species abound. Frequently stop and carefully scan the areas with shorter or no grass cover. Although at first glance these open areas may appear to be devoid of birds, patient scanning of the landscape from a stationery position and careful listening to identify bird calls will almost always yield immediate results.

A good spot to stop is at the Gouritz River bridge as indicated on the above image. The riverbed normally contains pools of water where bird species such as Reed- and White-breasted Cormorants, African Darter, Pied-, Malachite- and Giant Kingfishers, Little Rush Warbler, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Yellow-billed-, African Black Duck, South African Shelduck, Cape- and Red-billed Teals, White-faced Whistling Duck, Little Grebe, Burchell’s Coucal, Common Waxbill, and Yellow Bishop can be found.

During periods of above normal rainfall large pans form on either side of the road immediately to the east of the riverbank. In these perennial pans special bird species like Avocet, Black-winged Stilt, Kittlitz’s- and Three-banded Plovers, Water Thick-Knee, Purple Heron, Little Egret, African Spoonbill, African Marsh Harrier, Blacksmith Lapwing, and Whiskered Tern are usually present. African Snipe should be searched for along the pond edges in the moist grass areas.
The respective pentads covering these routes on average yield between 150 and 160 individual bird species. A 2-hour visit to any specific pentad should yield about 60 species on average in summer.

About the Birding Site

Riversdale is located on the N2 highway between Swellendam and Mosselbay. Riversdale is surrounded by cultivated areas, the upper reaches of the Goukou River (Kruisrivier Valley) which forms excellent marshes and vleys where good birding can be conducted all year round as well as the foothills of the Langeberg Mountain Range to the North with the associated wooded kloofs, fynbos and protea habitats on especially the south facing mountain slopes. Riversdale is also in easy reach of Klein Karoo birding destinations that lie on the northern side of the Langeberg Mountain range.

To date 168 different bird species have been recorded in the area surrounding Riversdale. A typical 2 to 3-hour visit in summer to this area will likely yield between 90 and 100 bird species.

Other Related Information

Recommended accommodation nearby:
There are several guesthouses on the farms in the area between Riversdale and Herbertsdale, or near Albertinia, as well as other accommodation types which are available through booking sites. Currently, there are no Birder Friendly Establishments listed for this area.

Local guide information:
There are no community bird guides available for this area

Text prepared by:
Francois Furstenburg

Key species:

African Spoonbill, Agulhas Long-billed-, Red-capped and Large-billed Larks, Cape Longclaw, Common Quail, Booted Eagle, Olive Thrush, Cape Sugarbird, African-, and Plain-backed Pipits, Blue Crane, and Denham’s Bustard

Contact details:

Riversdale Birding Areas

Hessequa Tourism:
Tel: +27 (0)28 713 7953
Email: info@explorersgardenroute.co.za

Francois Furstenburg:
Cell phone: +27 (0)82 578 6933
Email: ffur@icloud.com