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Strandfontein Sewage Works

Although the uninitiated will often turn up their noses at the idea of voluntarily visiting a sewage farm, such places are often exceptionally rich in birdlife. This is especially true of the extensive Strandfontein sewage works, arguably the best waterbird locality close to Cape Town, whose existence is under threat from a new motorway. The abundant and diverse birdlife makes it an ideal destination for the beginner and serious twitcher alike, and it is possible to see more than 80 species on a summer morning. A major advantage is the opportunity to bird from the comfort and security of your car, which can be used as a moving hide. The vast network of reed-fringed pans which radiate out from the sewage plant buildings is connected by good gravel roads, but beware of occasionally treacherous sandy patches, especially along the southern coastal road.

To enter the Strandfontein sewage works from the Cape Town side, take the M5 free-way southwards from Cape Town and turn left into Ottery Road at the Ottery turn-off; continue for 4.5 km until the junction with Strandfontein Road (M17); turn right here, and continue (southwards) along Strandfontein Road for 4 km; turn right again at the ‘Zeekoeivlei’ sign (1 on site map, opposite) within a stand of gum trees just after a petrol station and opposite Fifteenth Avenue. To enter the works from the False Bay side, turn north onto Strandfontein Road from Baden Powell Drive, 6.8 km east of the Muizenberg traffic circle, and you’ll reach the Zeekoeivlei turn-off after 4.1 km.

Baden Powell Drive (R310) follows the False Bay coast westwards to Muizenberg and Simon’s Town, and eastwards to the N2 highway near Somerset West. Strandfontein can thus conveniently be visited after Sir Lowry’s Pass (p.60).

The poorly marked entrance to the works is adjacent to a derelict building at the south end of Zeekoeivlei (2), where African Fish Eagles are often seen roosting in the trees to the west. Bird numbers and water levels at Strandfontein vary widely depending on the year and season, and the route suggested below is intended as a general guide to the most productive areas.

Continue along the tar road towards the plant buildings, and check the deep pans on both sides of the road (3 and 4) for Black-necked Grebe, Maccoa Duck, Southern Pochard, and Cape Teal. Here too you will see the first of various other waterfowl species that are common throughout the sewage works, such as Cape Shoveller, Yellow-billed Duck and Red-billed Teal, while Purple Gallinule stalk along the reed-lined edges. Levaillant’s Cisticola is very common in long grass fringing the pans, and agitated birds draw attention to themselves with their characteristically frenetic calls. White-throated and European Swallows (summer) and Brown-throated Martin dart low overhead.

Where the road meets the sewage plant itself, continue to the left of the buildings, and scan pan 5 for a good variety of waterfowl. The adjacent small, muddy pan at 6 often host somewhat scarcer species such as Southern Pochard and Wood Sandpiper. The road between the two pans is regularly used in summer as a roost by large numbers of White-winged Terns, which can be seen flying over pans throughout the area.

At this point, retrace your route and continue to the pan at 7. This pan, and the small, reed-enclosed pond at its northern end, are usually also productive. At the ‘hub’ of the wheel of large pans, turn left. Pan 8, on your right, invariably holds good numbers of birds, notably Black-necked Grebe, White Pelican, Greater Flamingo and Maccoa Duck.

The western and northern corners of pan 9 are always worth investigating. The former often has an exposed beach frequented by waders (including Avocet); the latter is good for scarcer ducks such as Cape Teal and South African Shelduck, and occasionally Hottentot Teal. Continue around the northern apex of pan 9 and head south past pan 0. The reeds in this vicinity are particularly good for African Sedge Warbler, Cape Reed Warbler and, in summer, African Marsh Warbler. Very much more evident in the alien thicket are Cape Francolin and Cape Bulbul. Pan 0 itself usually offers great birding, providing a good selection of waterfowl and wading birds in its northern reaches.

Options are now limited by sandy roads, so we suggest that you retrace your route and turn left along the southern border of pan 9. This is an especially good area for African Marsh Harrier, which is virtually guaranteed to be seen flying low over the alien thicket and adjacent reedbeds. Head south again, and cast a glance over pan A for African Black Oystercatcher. Turn right where the road meets the coastal dunes, where Swift and Sandwich Terns and Little Stint (summer) often roost. Spare a moment to look up from your telescope and enjoy the splendid view over False Bay and its embracing mountains!

Good numbers of waterbirds can reliably be found on pan B. Cape and White-breasted Cormorants, White Pelicans and miscellaneous waterfowl roost on the large, sandy island and on the pan edge (C on map), while rafts of assorted ducks bob on the usually choppy water. A pair of South African Shelduck often frequents this pan, as do flocks of Greater Flamingo.

Having absorbed all pan B has to offer, continue past a series of relatively unexceptional pans before re-entering the central wheel at E. The small pan at D is often productive, as is E. Before leaving, you might find it worthwhile to check pan F for Great Crested Grebe.

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