Western Cape – Stilbaai

About the Birding

Birding in and around Stilbaai offers many diverse opportunities and habitats but birding is normally the best when focused on the following eight most popular birding areas:

• Stilbaai Waste-Water Treatment Works and the Roland Rudd Bird hide
• Gardens and hiking trails at the Palinggat Information and Tourism Centre
• Hiking trails along the Goukou Riverbanks, and the adjoining estuary wetlands
• Morris Point and Skulpiesbaai tern roosting sites
• Skulpiesbaai Nature Reserve (Feetjiesbos) hiking trails
• Pauline Böhnen Fynbos Nature Reserve hiking trails
• Geelkrans hiking trail
• Olive Grove Dam

The Roland Rudd bird hide is located at the oxidation ponds at Stilbaai WWTW at GPS -34.3924˚ S, 21.4131˚ E. Access to the hide is open to visitors for birding at any time. A short 2 to 3 hours visit to the site of the WWTW and the bird hide including a visit to the adjoining Skulpiesbaai or Bosbokduin Point tern roosting sites and the adjacent Skulpiesbaai Nature Reserve with its own short hiking trails (Feetjiesbos trails) that traverse the Milkwood Forest, can easily yield 50 to 60 local bird species. A total of 114 different bird species have been recorded at the bird hide and surrounding area. The Skulpiesbaai Nature Reserve (Feetjiesbos) hiking trails run amongst the coastal dunes and cross through dense Milkwood stands with very old trees and provide for good broad-leaved vegetation birding where special birds such as Southern Tchagra, Cape Batis, Cape White-eye, Karoo Chat Robin, and Olive Bush-shrikes can often be found.

Special birds to be on the lookout for at the WWTW and the bird hide are Black Crakes and Black-crowned Night Herons that breed on the island at the hide, whilst Black-winged Stilt, Purple Heron, Water Thick-Knee, African Darter, Levaillant’s Cisticola, as well as Lesser Swamp- and Little Rush Warblers are regularly reported from the hide. Black-necked Grebe, Common Ringed Plover, Whiskered Tern, African Spoonbill, and Pied Avocet are all irregular visitors to the ponds. During the summer months almost all the local Swallow, Martin, and Swift species that occur in the area can be seen overflying the ponds, like Greater Striped-, White-throated-, Barn- and Pearl-breasted Swallows, Rock-, Brown-throated- and Common House Martins, White-rumped-, Little- and with some luck even Palm Swifts.

The Palinggat Information and Tourism Centre is located at GPS -34.3720˚ S, 21.4090˚ E. A small archaeology museum is housed in the Information Centre and excellent artifacts from bygone eras are on display, as well as the findings of ongoing archaeological research which is still conducted at the world-famous Blombos Cave archaeological site. The Blombos Cave where the research is conducted is unfortunately not open to visitors. Blombos beach is located approximately 16km to the West of Jongensfontein.

The Information Centre is open to visitors during normal working hours. A nominal fee is payable to enter the archaeology museum. A booklet compiled by U de V Pienaar on Stilbaai Birding is on sale at a nominal cost at the Information Centre.

Adjoining the Information Centre, a natural fountain and pond houses tame eels. The eels can be viewed daily at 11h00 in season when the staff feed the eels but is closed on Sundays during off-peak periods. A R20 fee per person is payable at the Information Centre for entrance to the eel feeding area. Cape Clawless Otters are sometimes spotted close to the eel ponds where they try to scavenge on the eels.

Birding in the gardens surrounding the Information Centre is normally quite good. Most of the local garden birds can be observed in the gardens. Typical species include Olive Thrush, Knysna Woodpecker, Malachite-, Southern Double-collared-, Amethyst-, and Greater Double-collared Sunbirds, Pied Kingfisher, Cape White-eye, and African Hoopoe. Fiery-necked Nightjar is often seen at dusk near the eel pond.

A 1,2km long picturesque circular walking trail leads from the Information Centre to the Goukou River where it meets up with the Goukou River hiking trails described in the next section. The trails pass through very dense reed beds where hundreds of Cape Weavers, Southern Red Bishop and a few Yellow Bishops nest. Levaillant’s Cisticola and Lesser Swamp Warbler are easy to locate in the reed beds. The reed beds thin out into typical dense coastal broad-leaved thickets and wild-fig trees growing along streambeds.

Some special birds can normally be located along this walk. Birds like Cardinal-, Knysna- and Olive Woodpeckers, Olive Bush-Shrike, Southern Tchagra, Cape Robin-chat, Terrestrial Brownbul, Knysna Warbler, African Paradise-, Dusky- and Blue-crested Flycatchers as well as Cape Batis are regularly seen. Buff-spotted Flufftail is regularly heard calling after dusk or very early in the mornings but has only been spotted in the riverine thickets by very patient birders.

Two hiking trails follow the banks of the Goukou River between the bridge across the Goukou River and the river’s mouth.

The concrete walking trail that follows the western bank starts at the jetty which is located at GPS -34.3650˚ S, 21.4122˚ E. This trail can be hiked all the way to Morris Point (a 7km return walk from the jetty) or up to the mouth of the river, which is a 3,6km long return walk. Birding along the trail normally produces good viewing of birds that temporarily rest on the sandbanks within the river at low tide when hundreds of terns often come in at dusk. Swift- and Common Terns are the most abundant species, but Sandwich-, Arctic- and Caspian Terns are also regularly reported. Kelp Gull is the most common Gull species but Grey-headed- and Hartlaub’s Gulls have also been spotted along the estuary. African (Black) Oystercatchers, Whimbrels and Grey Plovers are easy to locate. Grey Plovers are often seen in full breeding plumage in early Spring. Great Crested Grebes are seen at irregular intervals.

The trail that follows the eastern bank of the Goukou River starts at the Brugmark site near the Goukou River bridge at GPS -34.3596˚ S, 21.4171˚ E and ends at the river mouth alongside the caravan park at GPS -34.3760˚ S, 21.4234˚ E. The eastern trail presents good viewing opportunities onto the salt marshes that stretch along the entire length of the path along the estuary, depending on the tide levels. Special bird species that can be seen within the marshy areas include Purple Heron, Little Egret, Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Ringed-, Kittlitz’s-, White-fronted- and Grey Plovers, Malachite Kingfisher, Whimbrel, Sanderling as well as African Fish Eagle, Giant Kingfishers and Western Osprey flying overhead. During summer months Common Greenshank, Common Sandpipers, Sanderlings and Curlew Sandpipers are often located on the sandbanks where they feed on crabs.

The best sites to observe terns and other ocean-going birds are located at Morris Point at GPS -34.3923˚ S, 21.4279˚ E and Skulpiesbaai at GPS -34.3941˚ S, 21.4136˚ E. At both sites all the local Tern and Gull species can easily be seen along with African (Black) Oystercatchers, Ruddy Turnstone, Curlew Sandpiper, White-fronted Plover, Sanderling, Whimbrel, Pied–, Giant- and Malachite Kingfishers, Little Egret as well as Cape- and White-breasted Cormorants. It is quite easy to walk along the sandy shoreline between these two sites.

During strong onshore windy conditions, it is advisable to brave the conditions and pay a visit to any one of these two sites to spot some offshore seabirds as they are driven closer to the shoreline by the strong winds. Birds that have been seen from here include Cape Gannet, Southern Giant- and White-chinned Petrel, Cory’s- and Sooty Shearwaters as well as Shy- and Yellow-nosed Albatrosses. Single African Penguins have also been recorded but they are infrequent visitors to the region.

These sites are both popular sites from which to enjoy local whale watching in late winter and early springtime. Seals and Bottle-nosed Dolphins are regularly spotted from these two vantage points.

The Skulpiesbaai parking area provides a very good point to inspect the ancient fish traps (“visvywers”) that were constructed hundreds of years ago in the inter-tidal area between Skulpiesbaai and Bosbokduin. These semi-circular fish traps were constructed by the indigenous people who lived in the area hundreds of years before and have been remarkably good preserved and are well worth a visit.

Both the areas are open to free access at any time.

A well-maintained network of short (1 – 2km long) hiking trails were developed in the Skulpiesbaai Nature Reserve. The trails provide good access into the Milkwood forests that line the dune streets where they are more protected against the onslaught of the fierce prevailing winds. A few picnic tables have been installed along these trails and are very well used in season. The ancient Milkwood trees create their own microclimates in the deep shadows underneath their dense canopies.

Birding along these trails is quite challenging but special species that can be observed are Olive Bush-shrike, Cape Batis, Cape Robin-chat, Red-faced- and Speckled Mousebird, Southern Tchagra, Southern Boubou, Bokmakierie, Karoo Prinia, Cape Francolin, Cape Bulbul and Long-billed Crombec.
Access to the trails can be gained at various points in the reserve but the most used access points are located near the whale lookout point at GPS –34.3863˚ S, 21.4226˚ E as well as at –34.3855˚ S, 21.4264˚ E. Access into the reserve is free. The reserve and hiking trails can be entered at any time.

The Pauline Böhnen Fynbos Nature Reserve was proclaimed to protect the natural occurring Fynbos species of the Stilbaai region. Entrance to the reserve is free and the reserve can be entered at any time. The entrance to the Nature Reserve is located at GPS -34.3645˚ S, 21.4198˚ E.

The area is well managed, and a few hiking trails are available for walking through the best Fynbos areas. The main circular trail that skirts the outer boundary of the reserve provides a 7km long trail, but a few shorter trails are also on offer. These trails provide an ideal opportunity during early springtime to observe the diverse Fynbos plant specials of the area as well as to conduct good Fynbos birding.

Special bird species that are normally observed include Grey-backed Cisticola, Neddicky, Red-faced- and Speckled Mousebirds, Karoo Scrub Robin, Fork-tailed Drongo, Karoo Prinia, Bar-throated Apalis, Cape Grassbird, Yellow Bishop, Cape Francolin, Pin-tailed Whydah, Cape-, Yellow-, Brimstone- and White-throated Canaries, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Jackal Buzzard, Peregrine Falcon, and Rock Kestrel.

At the local gravel airstrip that is located within the reserve, species such as Crowned Lapwing, African- and Plain Backed Pipits, Large-billed Lark, Red-winged Starling, Helmeted Guineafowl, and Pied Crows can often be seen.

The walking trail that starts in the Kloof Industrial area at GPS -34.3626˚ S, 21.4223˚ E and ends on the gravel access road to the airstrip, provides a good opportunity to observe other local specials like Cape Batis, Sombre Greenbul, Olive Bush-shrike, Terrestrial Brownbul, Cape Robin-chat, Olive Thrush, Olive- and Cardinal Woodpeckers, Southern Boubou, Cape Bunting, and Common Waxbill.

The area around the runway and hangars are not accessible to the public.

The start of the Geelkrans circular hiking trail is at GPS –34.1661˚ S, 21.4550˚ E at Preekstoel Beach. The Preekstoel name is derived from a rock “Pulpit Rock” that still is in existence at Preekstoel Beach. The approximately 8km long trail can be hiked in any direction but the section along the beach should only be attempted at low tide. It is advisable to plan your hike at such a time to hike the coastal section at low tide to enjoy the sculptured sand cliffs along that coastline. Fossilized sand dunes which are sculptured by wind, rain, and wave action form very interesting cliff formations and small natural columns of sand that look like typical sand-dripping castles. First-time visitors to the cliff faces are normally awestruck by the natural beauty of these cliffs. A visit to these cliffs in the company of an experienced archaeologist will reveal many natural surprises, including ancient elephant tracks in the cliff faces!

The coastal shelf is exposed at low tide which reveals lovely pools where octopus is often found. Pods of bottle-nosed dolphins and the odd seal is often noted along this stretch of beach. African (Black) Oystercatchers, Ruddy Turnstone, Little Egret, Caspian-, Swift-, Sandwich-, and Common Terns, White-breasted- and Cape Cormorants, Kelp Gull, Cape Gannet, and White-fronted Plover are the most common bird species along the beach.

The inland section of the trail runs behind the coastal dunes and is somewhat protected from the prevailing winds. Birding along this part of the trail may yield Cape Grassbird, Grey-backed Cisticola, Neddicky, Red-faced- and Speckled Mousebird, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Cape Sugarbird, Bar-throated Apalis, Karoo Prinia, and various Canary Species.

Entrance to the trail is free but a “self-issue” permit needs to be completed upon entry into the reserve.

The Olive Grove freshwater dam is located at GPS –34.3393˚ S, 21.4092˚ E. A small jeep track runs along the south-eastern shores which are best explored on foot.

Special bird species that may be encountered at the dam include African Fish Eagle, Western Osprey, African Sacred Ibis, Red-billed- and Cape Teal, Cape Shoveler, African Black Duck, Great Crested- and Little Grebe and African Spoonbill.

Access to the dam is located on private farms but the trails on the south-eastern side of the dam are well used by local fishermen. Parking is recommended at the kennels at the entrance to the area from where a short steep road (right-hand side road at the turnoff) takes you to the dam. Please respect the privacy of the farm homesteads that overlook the dam from the top end of the access road.

When water levels in the dam drop, the gravel shorelines get exposed and wader species are then present in summer. Typical wader species that can be encountered include the Common Sandpiper, Three-banded Plover, Little Stint, Common Ringed Plover, Common Greenshank, Kittlitz’s Plover, and Grey Plover.

About the Birding Site

The popular town of Stilbaai is located about 30km south of the N2 between Riversdale and Albertinia at the mouth of the Goukou River. The marine tidal influence on the river’s water levels extends for about 15km upstream from the coast and this creates good year-round wetland birding on the associated salty marshes. Stilbaai is surrounded by coastal dunes, large stands of Fynbos, Milkwood forests, Renosterveld and the dry dune veld. Birding within the town boundaries as well as in the adjoining developed agricultural areas is very rewarding and species that can be observed are distinctly different from birding in the adjoining drier dune veld and agricultural areas.

The greater Stilbaai area has a current bird list of at least 230 individual bird species. A single day visit is likely to yield a birding list of at least 90 bird species, but a 5 day stay in the area can produce a list of 120 species in summertime with slightly smaller numbers in winter when the migrants are not here.
Migrants start returning from mid to end August and normally stay until somewhere in April.

Other Related Information

Most of the walking trails in Stilbaai are not readily accessible for persons with disabilities.  Stilbaai however developed an indigenous botanical garden called “Tuin op die Brak” which is located at GPS -34.3676˚ S, 21.4179˚ E.  A “Braille” trail has been developed through the garden whereby visually impaired people can appreciate the plants, the texture of their stems and leaves, their names, and appreciate the beautiful smells and aromas.  The trails are also accessible for the disabled and persons with restricted mobility.  These trails therefore present an ideal opportunity for the handicapped to appreciate nature and the associated birds.

Local guide information:
There are no community bird guides available for the Stilbaai area.

The Stilbaai U3A Bird Group hosts regular early morning (1 to 2 hour long) walks to the interesting birding spots detailed here. Prior arrangement to participate in any of these walks is however required. Further information and details in this regard can be obtained from Francois Furstenburg at 082 578 6933.
The Stilbaai U3A Bird Group manages a WhatsApp group (Stilbaai/Hessequa Birding) where interesting local bird sightings in the Hessequa Municipal Area, or close by its borders, are communicated to the WhatsApp group members. Anyone interested in joining the WhatsApp group should contact Francois Furstenburg directly at 082 578 6933.

The Hessequa Local Municipal area is however actively atlassed as part of the national SABAP2 bird atlassing project whereby each of the 75 pentads in the Hessequa Municipal Area is regularly atlassed in a systematic approach. Stilbaai lies at the heart of the Hessequa Municipal area. This bird atlassing process is managed by a local resident, Johan van Rooyen. Johan has a very good knowledge, database and understanding of all 75 pentads located within Hessequa. He can be contacted for further birding related information regarding the region surrounding Stilbaai as well as further afield within the boundaries of the Hessequa Municipal Area. Johan van Rooyen can be contacted at 082 808 5652.

Text prepared by:
Francois Furstenburg, Stilbaai U3A Bird Group

Key species:

African Black Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone, Common Ringed Plover, Knysna Warbler, Olive- & Knysna Woodpeckers, Great Crested Grebe, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Tambourine Dove & Blue-crested Flycatcher

Contact details:

Stilbaai

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