The Table Bay Nature Reserve is managed by the City of Cape Town and consists of seven parts: Rietvlei Wetlands, Milnerton Lagoon, Milnerton Beach, Milnerton Racecourse, Zoarvlei Wetlands, Diep River, and the Parklands Fynbos Corridor.
This approximately 880-hectare reserve comprises a variety of permanent and seasonal wetlands, and is surrounded by Cape Flats dune strandveld and Cape Flats sand fynbos vegetation.
The Rietvlei Wetland is in the floodplain of the Diep River between Milnerton and Table View. The river drains into Table Bay via the Milnerton Lagoon. The wetland offers a variety of habitats including a permanent freshwater lake, shallow marshes that flood in winter, reed beds, a river, and an estuarine lagoon with salt marshes that is open to the sea. A strip of coastal dunes links the reserve to Table Bay.
Bird watching facilities, including boardwalks and two bird hides, are provided in the Rietvlei Section. The “Old Friends Hide” looks out over the seasonal pans while the “Sunset Hide” looks out over the southern deep water lake.
Many common water birds occur throughout the year and often in large numbers, a rewarding spectacle. These include Red-knobbed Coot, Common Moorhen, Little Grebe, Great White Pelican, Lesser and Greater Flamingo, Spur-winged and Egyptian Goose, White-breasted and Reed Cormorant, African Darter. Grey, Black-headed and Purple Heron, Little Egret, Cattle Egret and Yellow-billed Egret. Hadeda, Sacred and Glossy Ibis, along with African Spoonbill feed in the shallows, as do Pied Avocet and Black-winged Stilt.
Common duck species are represented by Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Teal, Red-billed Teal and Cape Shoveller. Southern Pochard and Maccoa Duck are less common. Great Crested Grebe inhabit the open water particularly in the southern section.
Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gull are usually present in large numbers, Grey-headed Gull can often be spotted among these flocks.
During the summer, migrant Palearctic waders are abundant including Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Ruff, and Common Greenshank in good numbers. Marsh, Common and Wood Sandpiper are less common, but often more regularly seen here than elsewhere in the south western Cape.
Terns are represented by Swift, Sandwich (in summer) and Caspian Tern. Common and White-winged Tern can also be particularly abundant.
Pied and Malachite Kingfisher can be found throughout Rietvlei, but Giant Kingfisher is restricted to the riverine habitat upstream where the Diep River enters Rietvlei. This area, in the dense reeds, is also one of the better places to find Marsh Owl close to Cape Town.
Raptors include African Fish Eagle which come to hunt, and Black-shouldered Kite. African Marsh Harrier have bred in the reedbeds, Peregrine Falcon regularly visit to hunt.
The full checklist stands at around 166 species which includes many other common and less common passerines, hirundines and waders.
Birding is generally good at all times of the year, especially in spring and early summer when migrants are present and the system holds much water from winter rains, even during the most recent (2017) drought.
Rare vagrants have occurred in the past, the most notable being a Black Skimmer (2012) and a Common Cuckoo (2014). Most recently, in September 2020, the Western Cape’s first Long-toed Lapwing was spotted near the Old Friend’s Hide in the Reserve and was seen by many birders over the next couple of weeks.
Birding can also be done below the R27 bridge over the Diep River from along Otto du Plessis Drive. However, limited parking along this road does restrict places to stop.
One place is next to a brick block house where photographers often sit to capture good shots of birding activity. Another is over the Woodbridge Island bridge, below the old wooden bridge, where good parking is available and from here one can walk to view birds, particularly on the island just above the bridge, where many water birds roost.
Further downstream the river flows into Milnerton Lagoon and out to sea. At various times of the year the exit to the sea is blocked, which in winter, after rains, creates high water levels in the river.
The Rietvlei Water and birding area is open daily from 07:30 to 16:00, and visitors have to exit the reserve by 17:00. Limited parking is available inside the reserve. Entrance fees are adjusted annually.
Address: 10 Sandpiper Crescent, Table View 7441
Telephone: 021 444 0315
Koos Retief, Mel Tripp
A visit to the SANCCOB seabird rehabilitation centre is also worthwhile. This is just a short distance away, before one reaches the entrance gate at the Table Bay Nature Reserve.