In the heart of the Garden Route nestled between Knysna and Wilderness, a series of five coastal lakes are strung out between two parallel fynbos shrouded fossil dunes.
Straddling the village of Sedgefield, the coastal lakes extend along an East / West axis wedged between the Outeniqua Mountains to the north and the Indian Ocean to the south.
With a diversity of habitat varying from Afromontane Forest, fynbos, wetlands and dune thicket, the lakes region offers ideal birding for twitchers visiting the Garden Route.
For a morning outing, setting out at sunrise, a perfect departure point is from the Rondevlei Bird Hide. Perched on the northern shore of this circular lake (the shape is derivative of the Afrikaans name of the lake), the bird hide is well placed for both sightings and photography of approximately 25 species of birds. Most rewarding are African Purple Swamphen, Malachite Kingfisher, African Snipe, African Marsh Harrier, African Fish Eagle and African Rail.
From the hide a slow drive in a westerly direction on the gravel lakes road will bring you to a channel which links Rondevlei to Langvlei. A quick scan up the channel on both sides of the road can expose either a multitude of birds or merely a shimmering stretch of water. If lady luck shines on you, Pied Kingfisher, White Throated Swallow, African Spoonbill, Glossy Ibis and Red Chested Flufftail make for a worthwhile delay in your journey.
Moving on, turn left at the T-junction in the hamlet of Rondevlei and proceed to the Malachite Kingfisher Hide south of the road. Overlooking Langvlei, this hide justifies it’s name by offering some of the best chances to photograph this magnificent Kingfisher species. Also photogenic when present are African Darter and Reed Cormorant as they sunbathe on the dead branch in front of the hide.
The next stop is at the Half Collared Kingfisher Trail, approximately 2km West of the hide. A meandering hiking trail which writhes along within course of the Duiwe Rivier (Dove River), it passes two massive Broom Cluster ficus trees, both of which, when laden with fruit, attract droves of forest birds.
The first tree is positioned 50m before the first river crossing and has a picnic bench beneath it. Patience and a craning neck will reward you with glimpses of Knysna Turaco, Yellow Throated Woodland Warbler, Grey Cuckoo-Shrike and Paradise Flycatcher in summer.
Crossing the river lookout, or rather, listen for Knysna Warbler in the thicket and low shrubs before the second river crossing. Lemon Doves and Olive Thrush forage on the forest floor after the third river crossing.
As you break out of the forest tunnel you should see the second ficus in the river bed. With binoculars or a spotting scope you should tick off no less than 15 species darting through the canopy as bird parties forage for fruit and insects. Listen for a Scaly-throated Honeyguide – a male has a calling station close by.
Driving West you skirt the northern shore of Island Lake with the potential of close up sightings of Greater Crested Grebe close to the reed bed. At the T-junction with the tar road,out of tourist season, you can turn right and head for the northern section of the Ebb and Flow rest camp of the Garden Route National Park. A leisurely stroll to the boundary of the camp site offers close ups of forest birds and sunbirds.
In season, turn right at the T-junction and ascend the slope to bypass the village of Hoekville and proceed to the Woodville Big Tree which is managed by SANParks.
From the parking area look out for some friendly Chorister Robins which during nesting season will forage on the fleeing insects around your feet as walk.
Beneath the towering trees of this closed canopy Afromontane Forest, again be alert to Knysna Warbler skulking in the undergrowth. The focus of this forest walk is an ancient Outeniqua Yellowwood tree (Podocarpus falcatis). Approximately 800 years old, this tree dominates the area and is a perfect place to watch out for both Knysna and Olive Woodpecker, Narina Trogon, Forest Buzzard, Olive Bushshrike, Forest Canary, Cape Batis and White-backed Puffback. Luck, more than powers of observation, will also give you a brief glimpse of the rare Knysna Dwarf Chameleon hidden on the expansive trunk of the colossal tree.
From the tree you can drive eastwards and turn right onto a gravel raod which traverses the Rondevlei heights before a steep descent to a lakes through the Hamlet of Rondevlei. En route scan for Denham’s Bustards and Black-winged Lapwing, both of which move around depending on the length of the vegetation in the pastures.
On an average day, depending on weather and conditions, a check list of 65 birds is possible. On a good day between 85 and 90 is achievable.
For a Garden Route bird list and other recommended birding sites in the region visit www.gardenroutebirding.co.za