A winter visit to Bontebok National Park comes highly recommended due to the vast numbers of flowering aloes in the rest camp. Not to mention the incredible range of bird species, as discovered by some members of BirdLife Overberg. By Anton Odendal
Bontebok National Park represents an important foraging and breeding site for the vulnerable black harrier (Circus maurus). The last bird list for Bontebok was published in 1981, listing 186 bird species. Since 2009, frequent BIRP (Birds in Reserves Project) lists have been completed and sent to the Animal Demography Unit and new species are being observed regularly and added to the checklist, which is now standing at 234 species. When members of BirdLife Overberg visited in August 2015, we were eager to see how many of the species on the checklist we would see.
The new entrance gate makes access to the park more comfortable and practical. From here you can reach the picnic site at Die Stroom far more easily and this should have a positive impact on visitor numbers. Further good news is that the SANParks’ Kids in Parks project is up and running again – a busload of children was camping at Die Stroom during our visit. We drove from reception to Die Stroom and then along the magnificent Breede River and on towards the offices at the old entrance gate.
The area between the old entrance gate and the rest camp consists of Overberg Coastal Renosterveld, where birds that are in trouble such as the Denham’s bustard and southern black korhaan are relatively easily found. We were delighted to find grey-winged francolin, black harrier and secretarybird. This also represents LBJ (little brown job) heaven and all of the area’s cisticolas, larks and pipits have been recorded here in the past. These include Agulhas long-billed lark, Cape clapper lark and large-billed lark, all endemics. Besides these, visitors could find both the Cape longclaw and capped wheatear.
We retreated to the rest camp at Lang Elsie’s Kraal along the banks of the Breede River to have lunch. On the way we spotted black harrier, jackal buzzard, African stonechat, yellow canary and more malachite sunbirds, a wide variety that highlights the diversity of the birdlife in the area.
The rest camp at Lang Elsie’s Kraal is very well appointed and the gardens are beautifully maintained. The chalets are comfortable and well equipped and the view from the patios is something to behold. From here you could explore one of the available hiking trails along the river bank and there are good numbers and diversity of species in the dense riverine thickets. Hundreds of rock and brown-throated martins often skim the water and fair numbers of African black ducks could be encountered.
Most of the ducks and kingfishers to be found in the region have been recorded here and groups of South African shelducks fly about regularly. Most of the common warblers and several waders are also available. The thickets along the river are particularly productive and here one can find a variety of birds that one doesn’t expect in the Ruens country. Think of fairy flycatcher, terrestrial brownbul, olive bush-shrike, forest canary, blue-mantled crested flycatcher and Knysna woodpecker to namedrop a bit.
Birds that you could have close encounters with in the rest camp include cardinal, olive and Knysna woodpeckers, acacia pied barbet, southern tchagra, brown-hooded kingfisher, swee waxbill and bar-throated apalis.
Our BIRP list for the park totalled 58 species and we added a further 20 along the way. Of these a whopping 24 species are endemic or near-endemic to Southern Africa. Not only does the park offer a 40% discount for pensioners during off-peak season, it is also a useful base for other exciting bird-watching destinations in the area such as Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve, Tradouw Pass and Barrydale, Malgas, Potberg and De Hoop Nature Reserve.