Endemic Codes: E = South African endemic nE = SA near endemic SLS = endemic to South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland
The West Coast National Park, proclaimed in 1985, lies 120 km north of Cape Town, bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on its western side and the R27 coastal freeway to the east. The coastal towns of Langebaan and Yzerfontein lie to the north and south of the park respectively. The WCNP is 32 000 hectares in size, with the Langebaan Lagoon, proclaimed a Ramsar Site (a wetland of international importance) in 1975 as its main feature. The park and its islands have also been identified as an IBA (Important Bird Area). The Postberg Reserve in the north western corner of the park boasts a spectacular display of wild flowers in spring drawing large numbers of visitors, but it is only open to the public for the months of August and September.
Large numbers of Palaearctic migrants arrive in the park in late spring from their northern breeding grounds, and in summer the park is the prime site for wader enthusiasts in the Western Cape with species such as Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Common Greenshank, Ruff, Red Knot, Common Whimbrel, Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Sanderling, Common Ringed Plover and others relatively easily seen. Species such as Eurasian Curlew, Terek Sandpiper and Lesser Sand Plover require a little more luck. A number of rare migrant waders including Common Redshank, Broad-billed Sandpiper and Great Knot have been recorded and these sightings have wader-watchers coming back regularly to scan the tidal flats and sandbars. Resident waders such as Kittlitz’s, White-fronted, Three-banded and Chestnut-banded Plovers are also present, although Chestnut-banded is not always easy to locate
The park however also offers excellent bush birding, with key target species being Black Harrier (nE), Southern Black Korhaan (E) and Grey-winged Francolin (SLS). Five lark species can be found, with Red-capped, Large-billed (nE) and Karoo Larks (nE) being common residents. Cape Clapper (nE) and Cape Long-billed Larks(E) are rather more difficult to see. White-backed Mousebird (nE) is the most common of the three species on the West Coast, but Red-faced and Speckled also occur in the Park. Cape Bulbul (E), Cape Spurfowl (nE) and Karoo Scrub-Robin (nE) are common and Cape Grassbird (nE) is fairly widespread. Yellow and White-throated Canaries are likewise common, Yellow Canaries (and Cape Bunting) being easily seen coming to drink at the Abrahamskraal waterhole in the south, the only permanent source of fresh water in the park. Species such as Larklike Bunting, Namaqua Dove and Black-headed Canary may also surprise at the waterhole when very dry conditions farther north cause these species to move south. A number of other species also utilise this water source with its extensive reedbeds, with Black Crake and African Rail being the main birding draw-cards. A bird-viewing hide has been constructed here, and African Marsh Harrier and Black Harrier can often be seen in the vicinity. Cape Weavers (nE) breed in the reed-beds, as do Lesser Swamp Warblers and Little Rush Warblers. White-throated Swallows have in recent years regularly bred inside the viewing hide. Species such as African Sacred Ibis, African Spoonbill and South African Shelduck (nE) in addition to Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveler, Red-knobbed Coot, Common Moorhen and Little Grebe are generally present.
Other bird viewing hides are situated at Seeberg in the north-east of the park near the exit to Langebaan, and at Geelbek homestead, the park headquarters. At the Seeberg hide, which is best visited slightly before or after high tide, roosting waders are complemented by a mix of tern species including Common, Sandwich and Little Terns in summer. Flocks of both Greater and Lesser Flamingos are also frequently present, as are African Black Oystercatchers (nE).
Around the Geelbek Manor House birds of interest are African Hoopoe, Cardinal Woodpecker and frequently Lesser Honeyguide, as well as the resident Rock Kestrels and Black-shouldered Kites. Karoo Thrush (nE) can be found around the Geelbek restaurant, where patrons guard their meals from Cape Weavers and Yellow Bishops. In the bush nearby, as elsewhere in the park, birders keep their eyes open for small groups of Cape Penduline-tits. African Fish Eagle can be seen and heard over the lagoon, and in summer Western Ospreys are a relatively common sight. Pale Chanting Goshawks are being seen more frequently in the park, and in summer breeding migrant Yellow-billed Kites are common. Sadly, Pied Crows are also becoming fairly common, probably to the detriment of small breeding birds and the abundant angulate tortoise population.
The two Geelbek hides produce a rich mix of waders when the incoming or receding tides expose the tidal mud-flats. Timing here is crucial, and the best time would tend to be about 4.5 hours after high tide in Table Bay, when the water at the hides recedes and the waders move in to feed. However, conditions such as strong north-westerly winds blowing down the lagoon can influence the conditions and make this a tricky calculation.
Heading up the western side of the park, the busy picnic site at Kraalbaai on the lagoon is worth exploring for bush birds such as Grey Tit (nE). Hole-nesters such as Pied Starling (nE), Banded Martin and European Bee-eater have bred in the adjacent sandbanks.
Although Postberg in the north-western sector of the park is only open during the spring flower season, there is access to the Atlantic coastline at Tsaarsbank, a popular picnic area. Here Crowned Cormorants (nE) are generally present on the rocks, as are African Black Oystercatchers and waders such as Ruddy Turnstone in summer. Looking out to sea, streams of Cape Cormorants (nE) can be seen commuting from Vondeling Island just offshore, where there are large numbers of Cape fur seals. The occasional dead seal attracts pelagic bird species such as Southern Giant Petrel close inshore, and in addition to Cape Gannets offshore, African Penguin (nE) may be seen in the swells as well as the occasional White-chinned Petrel.
The islands in the lagoon, generally not accessible to the casual visitor, hold good numbers of breeding cormorants and Malgas Island has a large breeding population of Cape Gannets, with the occasional Australian Gannet also being recorded. The African Penguin population on these islands has sadly undergone a large decline in recent years.
With more than 250 bird species on its list, the chance of exciting wader watching during the summer months, all-round good bush birding, several threatened and/or vulnerable species such as Black Harrier and Southern Black Korhaan on offer, spectacular floral displays during the spring months, easy access, a selection of large mammals as well as difficult to see species such as the elusive caracal, several good accommodation options in the park and in the nearby towns of Langebaan and Yzerfontein, the West Coast National Park really does have a great deal to offer both local and visiting birders.
The park is run and managed by SANParks. An entry fee is payable with the entry free increased during August and September when Postberg is open. Valid Wild Card holders have free entry (this includes Postberg during the flower season).
News Flash September 2022
After several years of asking, the bird hide at Seeburg has now been renovated with an extra extension on top, giving fantastic all-round views. See the image below.