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Leaving Cape Town: Waterbirds and Rietvlei

The main arterial road running up most of the western shoreline is the R27, which can be reached from the N1 national road just north of Cape Town. It begins in the coastal suburb of Milnerton, where it is initially known as Otto Du Plessis Drive. As you pass through Milnerton, scan the lagoon that lies between the R27 and the conspicuous Woodbridge Island lighthouse on your left. A number of widespread waterbird species are often found here, most notably Little Egret, Grey-headed Gull (uncommon), Caspian and Swift Terns, and Pied Kingfisher.

Continuing a few kilometres further north, the road swings to the left. Here, a number of large waterbodies are visible on your right. Initially, the non-perennial pan of Rietvlei (dry and dusty in late summer) can be seen in the distance. During the winter and spring, the pan supports an excellent diversity and abundance of waterbirds, and these can be viewed from the bird hide on the opposite side of the pan (see below for directions). Birders visiting at the right time of year and with time to spare will find a visit to Rietvlei rewarding. However, most of its birds are more conveniently found elsewhere on this route. Continuing along the R27, the deep waters of Flamingo Vlei come into view on your right after a short while. This lake is used mainly for watersports and birdlife is less diverse, although White Pelican and Darter can often be seen here.

At the third set of traffic lights beyond the lighthouse (after 6.4 km), there is a series of pans surrounding the road: one lies to the left (Pan 1), another to the right (Pan 2), and one to the left beyond the traffic lights (Pan 3). These ‘Dolphin Beach’ pans can be birded from the roadside, and support a remarkable diversity of waterbird species, including Dabchick, Yellow-billed Egret, Glossy Ibis, Cape Shoveller, Yellow-billed Duck, Red-knobbed Coot, Moorhen, Purple Gallinule, Ethiopian Snipe, Three-banded Plover, Black-winged Stilt, and in summer, Little Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Ruff and White-winged Tern. The localized White-backed Duck is invariably present on Pan 3. The scarce and very local Painted Snipe is also occasionally found here, especially in the grassy edges of Pan 1. Scan the reedbeds for Cape Reed Warbler, and the vegetation along the edges of the pans for the conspicuous Levaillant’s Cisticola and Common Waxbill. Brown-throated Martin and White-throated Swallow hawk insects overhead, and African Marsh Harrier can often be seen over the reedbeds.

To enjoy panoramic frontal views of Table Mountain, turn left at the traffic lights towards Bloubergstrand. Check the rocks along the beach here for Crowned Cormorant and African Black Oystercatcher (p.32*).

Returning to the R27, continue northwards. Should you wish to visit Rietvlei, turn right at the first set of traffic lights (after 0.7 km) beyond the roadside pans, take first right again (Pentz Drive) and continue for just over a kilometre until you reach the SANCCOB seabird rehabilitation centre on your right. This very worthwhile organization deserves a quick visit as there are always recovering seabirds on site (see p.32). From SANCCOB, turn right at the first four-way stop and inquire at the Aquatic Club for access to the bird hide. There is a 15 minute walk to the hide, and a small fee is payable.

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4 Crassula Way, Pinelands, 7405, Cape Town, South Africa

27/09/09: Dalton Gibbs reports back from Gough Island! Read the blog!

26/09/09: New Cape Town Pelagics trip report from trips of 12 and 19 September 2009.

30/08/09: British Birdwatching Fair at Rutland Water proved very successful, with sunny weather and over 20,000 visitors. Callan's "Birding Namibia and the Okavango" was the most highly-attended lecture on the Saturday, with over 240 people. Congratulations to the winners of the Birding Africa competition and the African Bird Club raffle that we helped sponsor!

12/08/09: New Cape Town Pelagics trip reports from August and July 2009. Highlights: Little Shearwater and more!

07/08/09: The sub-adult Black Sarrowhawk visits our garden again! Read on about Raptor Research in the Western Cape.

27/07/09: Cape Town's Verreauxs' Eagle Chick has grown! And its sibling never had a chance to hatch. See the pictures of the chick, its nest and the breeding pair. Find out more about the Western Cape Raptor Research Programme.

27/07/09: To follow modern nomenclature and systematics, we've adopted the IOC World Bird List, Version 2.1.

13/07/09: The 8th African Bird ID Challenge has launched! Win a 50% discount on a Cape Town Pelagics trip, a copy of Southern African Birdfinder, or African Bird Club membership for 1 year.

6 July 09: Cape White-eye research in our garden.

2 July 09: Cape Town's Verreauxs' Eagle Chick has hatched! See the pictures of the chick, its nest and the breeding pair. Find out more about the Western Cape Raptor Research Programme.

2 July 09: Campbell Fleming, a Cape Town scholar, avid birder and photographer, joined Birding Africa last month as an intern. Click here, to see what he got up to.

2 July 09: New pelagic trip reports from the Cape Town Pelagics trips in June 2009. Highlights: Slenderbilled Prion and Leach's Storm Petrel

30 july 09: Our latest Cape Fynbos and Karoo trip reports feature Hottentot Buttonquail, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler and other fynbos and Karoo endemics...

26 June 09: Tungsten mining threatens RAMSAR site, South Africa's Verlorenvlei. Read the Media Release.

22 June 09: Claire Spottiswoode, one of the Cape Birding Route founders, was part of the exploratory team at Mount Mabu. The mountain is part of the newly discovered largest rainforest in Southern Africa.

11 June 09: A colour-ringed Black Sparrowhawk visits the Birding Africa office garden. Read why it's a 10 months old male!

14 June 09:
Wildlife at the office of The Cape Birding Route, Birding Africa and Cape Town Pelagics.

31 May 09:
Michel Watelet wins the 7th African Bird Club & Birding Africa ID Challenge. Test your African birding skills and WIN a Birding Africa Cape town day trip or a copy of the Birdfinder!

30 May 09: A tragedy unfolds at Kommetjie south of Cape town as 44 beached False Killer Whales were shot. Click here for more details and pictures.

14 March 09: Raptor Watch in Cape Town on 14 March 09