There are many excellent birding spots along the Garden Route between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, offering up quite easy access to an enormous variety of birds through a chain of National Parks and Nature Reserves. But if you are in Knysna with a few minutes to spare, there is a spot in town that will not be on most people’s list of birding spots. The Woodbourne Trust Nature Reserve and Bird Sanctuary, a private vlei that adjoins the Woodbourne Resort.

The vlei lies alongside the road leading to the Knysna Heads and, in spite of the very prominent “Keep Out” sign, the area is quite open, and birding can be enjoyed from the edge of the road making it well worth a short stop.

A surprising variety of birds

This small tidal vlei attracts a surprising number of waders and ducks, but also a good assortment of insect-eaters, seedeaters and, of course, kingfishers.

When spring arrives, a variety of breeding birds take advantage of the good conditions in the vlei to raise their young.

The tide washing in and out of the vlei twice a day ensures an ongoing rich food supply.

The southern end of the vlei

The southern end of the vlei has a few strategically placed branches that provide ideal perches for fishing birds, and Pied Kingfishers, in particular, can often be found here. In the early morning, the sun is nicely positioned to light this end of the vlei.

Other kingfishers found here regularly are Half-collared Kingfishers and Malachite Kingfishers. Giant Kingfishers are not quite as regularly seen.

This end of the vlei is surrounded by quite dense bush, which provides sanctuary for Cape Canaries, Cape Bulbuls, Fork-tailed Drongos,  Southern Masked Weavers and a variety of sunbirds, amongst others.

The northern end of the vlei

The northern end of the vlei is more open and is good in the afternoon sun. There is often a good deal of interaction between different types of birds here, which can be very entertaining. 

Reed Cormorants and White-breasted Cormorants are almost always present, as are Little Egrets, Black-winged Stilts, Pied Avocets, Cape Teals, Cape Shovelers, Cape Wagtails, Kelp Gulls, Grey Herons, Sacred Ibises, Egyptian Geese, Blacksmith Lapwings, White-throated Swallows, and Hadada Ibises.

Occasional visitors to the vlei include African Fish Eagles, Osprey and African Oystercatchers.

The changing water level with the ebb and flow of the tide continually changes the complexion of the vlei, and the birds seem to be more successful in their fishing when the tide is near or at its highest.


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