A (very) brief visit to Lambert’s Bay and Bird Island

LAMBERT’S BAY, SOUTH AFRICA

Justin Hawthorne

A Cape Gannet, its piercing blue eyes unmistakable, swoops in gracefully, causing a raucous among thousands of birds in spectacular organised chaos. The air is filled with fresh wet salt, rotting kelp and the gannet guano adds a pungency while the old smokey oil – perhaps from the deep fryers of the local seafood cafes – complements the mix to the senses, shouting “quayside“! We’re on Bird Island – our last stop in Lambert’s Bay before heading out of town after a brief single-night stay along the Jakkalsrivier at a marvelous little cottage rooted on the farm Kookfontein. 

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As the orange-flamed fire crackled the kameeldoring away in the bathtub-cum-fire pit we decanted crisp and fruity Sauvignon Blanc which has its origins in the vineyards surrounding us. Another relaxed winter braai was on the cards – certainly our method of choice for a South African road trip dinner. Sunset was soft pinks and purples seen through the stable door of our modernly kitted out cottage. As the evening drew on the temperature dropped as expected in the valley near the sea. We moved inside to end the day wrapped in thick winter blankets on antique living room chairs, mug of tea in hands, reflecting on a wonderful time on the road.

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We had found ourselves in Lambert’s Bay, a more picturesque option for our mid-journey stop between Nieuwoudtville and Cape Town during late-winter. Our time was centered around exploring Namaqualand, slowly making our way home with little detours governed by the goal of ‘chasing wildflowers’. Coming from the flower spectacle around Nieuwoudtville we then hiked to the pretty – dry – waterfall at the farm, Ouberg Waterval Resort, followed by adventuring on roads less travelled: Ouberg & Gifberg passes – the tough way OVER the Matzikamma. The Matzikamma (mountain of plenty water) is the majestic flat-topped mountain just outside Vanryhnsdorp which is an iconic sight when travelling on the N7. 

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Crispy air on the nose hit me as I stepped out the front door with a morning brew. Birds chirping, an infrequent motorist whizzing by and a burst of short-lived warm sunshine on the cheek completed the patio scene. It was, unfortunately, time to move on.

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We were off to visit an important breeding site of Cape Gannets (Morus capensis) or the Malgas in Afrikaans. Bird Island Nature Reserve, under the authority of Cape Nature, the provincial conservation body, is home to thousands of beautiful gannets – here for one thing: to breed. The island has been connected to the mainland by means of a short concrete walkway – or rather, a breakwater. This allows for unique human access and as such there is a fairly developed presence on the tiny island in the forms of a bird hide, information centre, unused aquarium/penguin rehab, office, etc.

Cape Gannets have specially designed skulls to absorb the massive force the impact of their yellow-crowned heads hitting the water as they dive up to 100km/h. They are fairly large birds at 85 cm and with wingspans of  180 cm, their plumage is white and black, and they have pale blue-grey bills. Cape Gannets’ diet consists of pelagic fish such as pilchards, anchovies or sardines – this is simply the reason why they are listed as vulnerable (human driven fish stock depletion – i.e. overfishing). Walking to the island you’ll spot Kelp Gulls and Cape Cormorants, and while observing the Gannets you may get lucky with a sighting of endangered African Penguins. At the far end of the island, covering the rocky shoreline, Cape Fur Seals have a colony. The Gannet population is constantly monitored and data collected for scientific purposes by Cape Nature, along with monitoring of interaction between the Kelp Gulls and Cape Fur Seals with the Cape Gannets – both natural predators of the species. 

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After a little wander around town we progressed through Elands Bay, passing the Ramsar site (a wetland site designated to be of international importance) of Verlorenvlei which was showing signs of low rainfall from around the region. Cruising through the farmlands and coastal fynbos we eventually reached our afternoon objective of exploring the wonderful West Coast National Park. Situated around the turquoise waters of Langebaan Lagoon, this park is a birders paradise with a number of bird hides to spend endless time at. Greater Flamingos steal the show, however among them are many other species including Black-winged Stilts, Grey Herons, Pied Avocets and Blacksmith lapwings. On the coastline the African Black Oystercatcher with its bright orange-red bill, orange eye ring, pink legs & feet and jet-black plumage is striking!

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I shall be back to explore this lovely region of the West Coast more, especially in the cool months and when the spring flowers start showing their faces!

 

Useful information for your Lambert’s Bay visit:

Kim & Chris of The Unconventional Route passed through and visited neighboring Fryers Cove – check out their blog for some more travel inspiration in the area!

Check out the awesome family visit to Bird Island blog by Gijs Hardeman at Next Destination!

This blog by Georgia East of East After Noon totally sums up the homely Kookfontein stay!

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