Birding Routes in Darling and Yzerfontein, West Coast
A really good time for birding around Darling and Yzerfontein is during the flower season, from August to the end of September – not only are the flowers a beauty to behold, but many species are active in the flower fields. The summer is also very productive and you can always cool down at lunch, with a glass of wine at one of the great wine estates.
Darling Hills Gravel Road
Most birders agree the 12km along the Darling Hills gravel road, that turns inland off the M27 at the Grotto Bay sign is a good place to start. It can also be reached by travelling for 8.8 km from Darling to Atlantis and turning right towards the Groote Post Wine Cellar, a good lunch stop.
Take a slow drive checking the surrounding fields for Blue crane, Capped wheatear, Spurwing goose, Familiar chat, Pied starling, African pipit, Cape sparrow, Red-capped & Large-billed lark and coveys of Grey-winged francolin.
Southern masked weaver, Cape weaver, Southern red bishop and Yellow bishop are found in the trees and reeds around the pans and small streams. In the summer months look for European bee-eaters and listen for Diederik cuckoo, as this parasite cuckoo uses both weavers and bishops. At the river bridge watch out for White-throated swallow, and in the riverine bush you may spot Fiscal flycatcher and Acacia pied barbet.
Once you reach the tarred road (R307) turn left towards Darling and scan the fence posts and power lines for Jackal buzzard. Continue on the R307 towards Darling and visit the Waylands Wildflower Reserve and the Oudepost Flower Reserve, both very good for birding and wild flowers. They are only open to the public during August and September.
From the junction of the R307 and the R315 there are two choices. Turn right towards Malmesbury to bird the Cloof Dam gravel route or turn left towards Yzerfontein to bird the Tienie Versveld Wildflower Reserve, the Gypsum Mine and Yzerfontein.
The Cloof Dam Route
Directions: Take the R315 from the Oudepost Flower Reserve and continue 12.6km and turn right at the Darling Cellars. LBJ’s are commonplace on this route when the fields have been ploughed. Look for African pipit, Red-capped and Large-billed Larks, Cape Longclaw & the Plain-backed Pipits and groups of Blue Crane in the fields. Check out the Cloof Dam. Cloof Wines could be a good lunch stop.
Continue down the road to the Burgherspost farm. The area is well known for its large flocks of European Bee-eaters during summer. It is also recommended, as most of the ‘fynbos specials’, together with species such as Bokmakierie, Cape Bunting, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and Chestnut-vented Tit-Babbler, Pippits and Larks can be found here. The Rhenosterveld section could yield the Cape clapper lark.
The Yzerfontein Route
Continue through Darling along the R315 for 12km towards Yzerfontein, and look for the Tienie Versfeld Nature Reserve on the left.
This reserve is well known for its massive displays of flowers during spring. It provides excellent birding throughout the year.
It represents a unique remnant of grassland, fynbos and a seasonal wetland within the vast agricultural fields of the Swartland. Park on the roadside, climb over the stile and wander along the network of trails – there are no facilities here.
This little flower reserve is best known for its Western Cape subspecies of Cloud cisticola, but you’re also likely to find Cape longclaw, Spur-winged goose, African pipit, African stonechat and Bokmakierie. In summer most of the martins, swallows and swifts can be found, with European Bee-eaters being particularly numerous. Quail Finch and Common Quail are often flushed. Look for African Snipe in wet cycles.
The Afmine Gypsum Mine (S33º 20’18.82” E18º 11’55.21”) is signposted along the R315 to Yzerfontein, 4 km past the junction with the R27 and is on the edge of a vast salt-pan. Obtain permission from the mine office and proceed to the edge of the pan on foot. The pan is surrounded by coastal strandveld and fynbos, and has salt marshes around the edges. Greater and Lesser Flamingos and Great White Pelican can occur in huge numbers when conditions are suitable. It is the closest breeding site to Cape Town for Chestnut-banded Plover.
At Yzerfontein the network of roads along the coast, beaches and harbour areas is excellent for birding throughout the year.
Sabine Gull, vast numbers of African Black Oystercatchers, Little Tern and a recent vagrant Lesser Crested Tern are the highlights found here.
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