Betty’s Bay Wetland Birding

I’ve neglected Betty’s Bay’s wetlands on previous visits so this past weekend was spent scouring Grootwitvlei, the central of the three unique black water lakes in the area. Of the three lakes, from a birding perspective, Rondevlei and Malkopsvlei (Bass Lake) can largely be ignored because most of the action is typically at Grootwitvlei.

Vleis reduced

There is a network of roads that circle the vlei, but the easiest access point is from the south, as marked on the map above. The “entrance” is not obvious (there are no signs) so keep an eye out for a parting in the bushes opposite the lake’s central island. I usually leave my shoes in the car because it can be quite wet, especially in winter.

Middle Vlei

This weekend the vlei was rather dry so walking around the perimeter was easy going. The vlei is a well-known roosting site for gulls and terns (usually Swift and Sandwich), especially when the water level is low enough to allow for rock exposure. Interestingly, there weren’t any terns in attendance this weekend, but the usual Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gulls were abundant. There were a few fishermen on the northern side of the vlei and I wonder if the terns are perhaps less tolerant than gulls?

Water ThickneeWater Thicknee flight

It was nice to see good numbers of Water Thicknee this visit – there were at least 10 birds roosting on the southern shore. I don’t often take photos of non-birding subjects, but the “specimen” below did catch my eye. What we have here is, I believe, Cape Clawless Otter droppings, which is very exciting. You can clearly see the shell and crab carapaces in the dropping. Some of you may have read my previous post here about my otter sighting on Betty’s Bay main beach – an individual that likely lives in Malkopsvlei so I’d assume this to be a different individual.

Cape Clawless Otter

Grootwitvlei is surrounded by Phragmites reeds, which hold Levaillant’s Cisticola’s, Lesser Swamp and Little Rush Warblers. Black Crake and Red-chested Flufftail, although uncommon, have also been recorded in these reed beds, but require a bit (perhaps a lot!) of luck. The Levaillant’s Cisticola in the image below was enjoying an easy meal fishing trapped insects from a spiders web.

Levaillant's Cisticola

Typical of water bodies in this region, Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, Little Egret, Reed Cormorant and White-breasted Cormorant were all in attendance. The vlei is also very good for African Snipe – they can be very difficult to see on the ground, but when walking along the shore edge you are almost certainly guaranteed to flush one. I did manage to snap one dodgy image of a snipe feeding…

African Snipe

Below are a few other random photos from the weekend. I believe the middle image is a Cape Grysbok spoor, a relatively common species of antelope in the area – the spoor was imprinted in the soft vlei mud.

Cape Francolin1Cape GrysbokBlack-shouldered Kite

For those also interested in amphibians, you probably know this already, but Betty’s Bay’s vleis are also well known for the occurrence of the rare Micro Frog (Micro-batrachella capensis). I’ve personally never found them here, but when looking have bumped into Arum Lily Frog, a very cool little amphibian that hunts from the flower of the Arum Lily.

David Winter.

Bird list for the weekend (Grootwitvlei and environs):

Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, Little Egret, Sacred Ibis, Hadeda Ibis, Blacksmith Plover, Water Thicknee, Hartlaub’s Gull, Kelp Gull, Swift Tern, White-fronted Plover, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Little Rush Warbler, Fiery-necked Nightjar, Red-chested Flufftail, White-necked Raven, Cape Bulbul, Cape Spurfowl, Black-shouldered Kite, African Snipe, African Marsh Harrier, Cape Turtle Dove, African Shelduck, Yellow-billed Duck, Red-winged Starling, Common Starling, Cape Rock Thrush, African Black Oystercatcher, Cape Wagtail, Cape Sugarbird, Cape Robin-chat, Swee Waxbill, Speckled Pigeon, Fiscal Flycatcher, Malachite Sunbird, Egyptian Goose.

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