Birders and photographers love bird hides for the chance to quietly spy on their subjects. These three hides take it even further with specialist structures and a unique take on birding. By Arnold Ras
Want to experience birding with a twist? Then head to one of these three hides in the Western Cape. Visit an island to view vulnerable gannets, combine hiking and birding at an estuary, or head deep into a forest for a hide high above the ground.
Feathers in the forest
With a tick list of almost 200 bird species, Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve and its indigenous afromontane forest offer ample opportunities to spot and photograph your favourites. Although the reserve has two bird hides on offer, the three-storey hide along Bosbokrand is quite something. Accessible via the Bushbuck Trail, the elevated structure gives birders the opportunity to feel like a bird themselves. This vantage point, high up in the canopy, allows you to get a closer look at forest-dwelling species such as narina trogon and forest canary. Be sure to take binoculars, a camera and something to drink – you’ll have a hard time leaving this hide and its many feathered neighbours.
These enchanted woods are sure to transport you and your family into a scene straight from the pages of The Lord of the Rings. – Jacques Marais
Special ticks: striped flufftail, Layard’s tit-babbler, francolin, black and booted eagles, and various sunbirds and sugarbirds
More information: +27 (0)28 722 2412
An orchestra of seabirds
If you love the West Coast, you’ll adore Lambert’s Bay Bird Island Nature Reserve. Here, a bird hide overlooks an enormous gannet colony sure to leave you gobsmacked. Situated some 100m off the shore of Lambert’s Bay and accessed by a causeway, the reserve provides a safe haven for thousands of seabirds to nest and rear their chicks. What makes the island so incredibly special, is that it’s one of only six sites on Earth where Cape gannets breed.
The hide has been clad on the outside to make it look like West Coast boulders, giving you a secret view of the raucous colony. This is your chance to view the mating dances of these hauntingly beautiful birds and watch them tend to their young from an enviably close position. With birds soaring, squawking, strutting and canoodling all around, a visit to Bird Island is a euphoric experience. The island is also home to the African penguin, Cape fur seal, African black oystercatcher and cormorants.
Fast facts: Cape gannets are monogamous and are vulnerable due to fish shortages – they mostly eat anchovies and sardines. At Bird Island, the gannet colony is monitored daily. Even eggs stolen by gulls are recorded.
More information: +27 (0)71 657 5651
Kogelberg Nature Reserve might be considered the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom, but it’s not just about flowers. The Bot River estuary with a variety of waterbird species will not disappoint. Head out on the boardwalk (it’s also wheelchair-friendly) for gorgeous views of the estuary and ticks including blacksmith lapwing, little egret, Caspian tern and South African shelduck. Designed by architect Vernon Head, himself a passionate birder, the hide has four angles from which to view the birds and arm rests specious enough to accommodate birding books and binoculars.
The hide is just the beginning of a memorable outing – why not combine birding with a scenic stroll? Tackle the easy 5km Rooisand Ramble at Rooisand Nature Reserve – with a duration of two hours – leading to the estuary’s picturesque northern side. Take note that a raincoat is advisable during the Cape’s winter months and don’t set off later than 15:00. Since Rooisand is only an hour’s drive from Cape Town, city slickers have no excuse not to visit this gem of a spot. Rooisand Nature Reserve is situated approximately 38km from Kogelberg.
Some of the specials that will excite keen birders are African openbill, European oystercatcher, African grass owl and Hottentot buttonquail. – Romi Boom, Wild magazine editor
Travel tip: Transform your birding experience into a weekend getaway and spend a few nights at one of Kogelberg’s idyllic eco-cabins.
More information: +27 (0)28 271 5138