West Coast National Park
Just inland from the secluded harbour of Saldanha Bay one finds the azure waters of the Langebaan Lagoon, focal point of the West Coast National Park. Thousands of seabirds roost on sheltered islands, pristine golden beaches stretch endlessly into the early morning mist and brooding salt marshes are home to vast concentrations of migrant waders from the northern hemisphere.
During the spring the strandveld is embroidered with a tapestry of multi-hued flowers, while in the Postberg section many antelope are to be seen in a setting that is as unique as it is idyllic. The largest concentration of mammals is in the Postberg Reserve, but this is only open to public during flower season. However mammals are found throughout the rest of the reserve. Eland, red hartebeest, Cape grysbok, caracal and rock hyrax are some of the species to look out for. Visitors should also keep an eye on the Atlantic Ocean for passing whales and dolphins.
The park surrounds the Langebaan Lagoon, which is a world Ramsar site (site’s deemed to be of global significance to wetland bird species). Many of the wader species are Palearctic migrants, so summer is the best time to visit the lagoon, particularly in September as species return fatigued from their transcontinental travel, and March when they congregate in large numbers to feed heavily prior to undertaking the reverse journey. In such times, the birds are often changing into or out of their Northern Hemisphere breeding plumage. The best time to observe the lagoon waders is to visit the Geelbek hide from low tide as the tide is coming in.
As the water level rises the waders are forced closer to the hide until eventually they must fly off until the tide has receded once more. The smaller species depart first, with the more long-legged godwits, whimbrels and curlews the last to leave.
Knot, Sanderling, Little Stint, Ruff, Marsh, Terek and Curlew Sandpiper, Turnstone, Ringed and Grey Plover, Greenshank, Whimbrel, Curlew and Bartailed Godwit are present on most occasions, while there is always the possibility of seeing rarer species.
Little Egret and South African Shelduck may be seen alongside the waders. Flamingoes and White Pelican frequent deeper water, and there is chance of seeing Osprey. Another isolated hide west of the Geelbek educational centre overlooks a salt pan that is an excellent place to see Chestnut banded Plover.
The reserve’s fynbos surrounding the lagoon hosts Black Korhaan, Cape and Greywinged Francolin, Southern Grey and Cape Penduline Tit, Anteating Chat, Whitethroated and Yellow Canary, Karoo Lark, Titbabbler, Bokmakierie and Cape Bunting are all easily seen. African Marsh and Black Harrier can often be seen quartering the ground. The coastal islands at the mouth of the lagoon are breeding havens for a number of species such as Kelp and Hartlaub’s Gull, Cape Gannet, and African Penguin. Cormorants and terns are present too.