It was a cool pre-dawn Autumn morning. There was not a breath of wind. I was sitting in the dim light of the Rondevlei Bird Hide, flanked by two avid birders both armed with professional camera equipment (leaving me with a serious case of lens envy). Suddenly the gentleman on my left focused his 600mm lens towards a juvenile Fish Eagle, panning slowly as it swooped down towards the water's glassy surface, talons outstretched, on a mission to get some breakfast. Unluckily for the young raptor, it was the fish that got away, but the series of images taken of its attempt were amazing.
And if birding is your thing, or even if it is not - I’m new to it myself - amazing is exactly the word I would use to describe this humble hide.
In the stillness of that early morning, as we sat quietly observing the many different species of birds doing what birds do, the sun rose, spilling its golden light across the broad sweep of the lake. The distinctive chatter of the Cape Bulbuls rang out from the thick reed-bed which surrounds the hide. A number of Black-winged Stilts - resident waders with long stick-like legs - stood feeding in the still, shallow water. White-breasted Cormorants perched, some with their wings open, warming up after fishing, on the various dead tree stumps with broken branches placed in front of the hide.
Five Pied Kingfishers were very busy catching fish. Two of them got into a squabble, and the birder next to me said he had never seen such a ferocious altercation between two Pied Kingfishers in all the years he had been birding. The Pied Kingfishers were joined by the much smaller but brilliantly-coloured, Malachite Kingfisher.
A bird lover’s haven; the scene which unfolded before me was both tranquil and uplifting.
Part of the Wilderness Lakes System, Rondevlei is a very special natural asset, and one of three interconnected lakes linked to the Indian Ocean. All of the three lakes support such an amazing variety of bird species, that the system was designated a Ramsar site in 1991; meaning that it has been acknowledged as a wetland of international importance and thus worthy of special protection.
The reed-fringed lakes surrounded by indigenous bush and Fynbos are connected to the ocean. They are one of only a few warm temperate coastal lake systems in Southern Africa. The Ramsar site incorporates a lagoon and the flood plain of the Touws River - linked by a natural channel called the Serpentine- to the three lakes: Island Lake, Langvlei and Rondevlei, and the nearby Swartvlei Lake.
Wetlands boast an interconnected web of life and are among the world's most productive of habitats. They are cradles of immense biodiversity, supporting high concentrations of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrate species. They play an important ecological role, such as providing nursery areas for fish, and feeding and staging areas for significant populations of resident and migratory birds.
The day I visited this hide, I also was blessed with sightings of Yellow Wagtails, Greater-crested Grebes, Red-knobbed Coots (which apparently can number here in their thousands) - Purple Herons, Blacksmith Plovers, Purple Swamphens, and in the far-off distance there was even a small flock of Greater Flamingos feeding on the southern shore.
Other birds seen here include the seasonal roosting of the African Spoonbill, and the Malachite Kingfisher, (this bird is a resident which is very often seen at the hide as it fishes from the dead stump). Other highlight of this small pan includes both the Black-eared and Great Crested Grebes, (the former is relatively rare, the latter nest on this pan and may be seen in fishing flocks of up 50, where they drive shoals of fish into the shallow water for capture.)
Bird hides are places of quiet reflection and observation, and those that venture there must be mindful of this fact. Spending time here will also instil a greater appreciation of our incredibly beautiful natural world.
The bird hide is located about 5km from Sedgefield and is accessed via Wilderness National Park Research Laboratory at Rondevlei.
(I was assisted with certain facts for this article by Peter Ginn, (helped grammatically by his wife Irene) author of the “The Ultimate Companion for Birding in Southern Africa, which takes bird books as we know them to a whole new level with his incredible insight, specialist bird knowledge and exceptional photography.” Generously, through “The Unlimited Child, 100% of the profits from this book will be used to get educational toys into underprivileged crèches throughout South Africa. Specially designed to give children the stimulation they need to achieve their potential in life, you will be helping us to develop the leaders of tomorrow.”) For more information visit http://www.birdbook.co.za/
For more information on the hide call Sedgefield Tourism: 044 343 2658