The West Coast is a twitchers’ dream, where you can tick off numerous wetland species. The most rewarding viewing time is just after flower season in early summer, which heralds the arrival of around 750,000 migrants on their annual pilgrimage from the northern hemisphere, many from as far off as the Arctic Circle. They spend about eight months fattening up on delicacies from the tidal mudflats before their arduous journey back to their breeding grounds. Langebaan in the West Coast National Park is the best place in the country for such sightings and is considered the fifth most important wetland in the world, hosting over 250 bird species, more than a quarter of South Africa’s total. The Berg River estuary and saltworks at Velddrif are another vital feeding ground for waders.
The coastal lake of Verlorenvlei, meaning “the lost marsh”, is one of the most important wetlands in South Africa; it stretches 13.5km from its mouth at Eland’s Bay (25km south of Lambert’s Bay) to its headwaters near Redelinghuys. Look out here for the purple gallinule, a colourful, shy wader, and the African marsh harrier, a raptor that may be declining in numbers. Here species more fond of arid conditions merge with the waders, and there have been some rare sightings including a black egret and a palm-nut vulture. At Bird Island, Lambert’s Bay, a sunken hide makes it convenient to view the garrulous behaviour of the breeding colony of Cape gannets.