Langebaan Lagoon hosts the largest number of migrant shorebirds in South Africa, many of which can be studied at leisure from the excellent hides. By Romi Boom
When & where to go
Seeberg (on the eastern shore) is best visited around high tide, whereas the main hide at Geelbek (at the southern end of the lagoon) works best at mid-tides. At very high tide, the smaller hides on the salt-marsh west of Geelbek are best. This is the only place where chestnut-banded plovers are common.
What to see
Key species include red knot, bar-tailed godwit, terek sandpiper, greater sandplover (on the western shore) and perhaps rarities such as common redshank and lesser sandplover. Black and African marsh harriers are frequent over the marshes, and African rails often feed along the marsh edge at Geelbek, although the “freshwater” hide at Abrahamskraal is best for them. The park also supports a host of strandveld birds, including Karoo lark, Cape penduline tit and white-backed mousebird.
Improving the hides
A volunteer birder who has long been dedicated to improving the birding experience at West Coast National Park is Anne Gray, a member of the Cape Bird Club. Along with her friend, fellow birder and architect, Vernon Head (also chairman of BirdLife South Africa and the Cape Bird Club), Anne had the bright idea of building more hides and a boardwalk at Seeberg, as well as doubling the size of the hide at Seeberg (which she is still hoping to achieve, the necessary timber having been procured). She raised nearly R500,000 and had the hide next to the Restaurant built.
“Although I wanted to have it built at the salt marsh, we ended up putting it where it is on the advice of the late Phil Hockey, because it would have been difficult to allow the builders’ vehicles access to the salt marsh area.”
For a number of years Anne has found the sponsorship (on a two-year cycle) to print 5,000 copies of the bird list for the park, which is availble to birders at the entrance gates. She also championed replacement of the shade cloth on the boardwalk at Geelbek hide, with donor money. As a volunteer, she has met most of the honorary rangers at the West Coast National Park.
Over the last 30 years Anne has been on many birding trips including Ethiopia, Namibia, Botswana, Israel, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, etc. She started organising seabird watching (pelagic) trips, chartering boats out of Simon’s Town and sometimes Hout Bay, as early as 1997 and is still doing it. BirdLife SA awarded her for pioneering efforts in this aspect of avitourism.
“The seabird watching off Cape Point is of the very best in the world,” says Anne. “The overseas visitors in particular come to see the Albatrosses.”
The trip is eight hours and it goes to Cape Point, which is 11 nautical miles from Simon’s Town harbour, then another 25 to 35 nm into the ocean looking for trawlers as the birds follow the fishing vessels. Each trip has a highly qualified guide who will spot and identify the birds. The winter season is the most spectacular as many species migrate north from the Antarctic.