What is the Strandfontein Birding Area?
Bird watching at a sewage work? Really! Why would you voluntarily visit a notoriously smelly place to identify birds? I thought that the first time I heard about the Strandfontein Birding Area (SBA). However, people kept on recommending it and talking about the diversity of birds that were present. While doing my B Tech degree in nature conservation, my lecturer suggested comparing the research I did at Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve with the results of another student’s research completed at Strandfontein Birding Area (more about this later). Consequently, it was time for a visit.
The (SBA) was established in 1922 on an area previously known as Tomato vlei which comprised of a series of seasonally flooded marshes and temporary ponds. Strandfontein consists of 319.6 ha of aquatic and 57.5 ha of terrestrial habitats. The aquatic habitats can be further delineated into five significant aquatic habitats. Namely, 280.1 ha of permanent open ponds, 30.0 ha of the sewage works seasonal open ponds, 5.0 ha of canals with aquatic vegetation, 3.0 ha of reed beds and 1.5 ha of sludge beds. The aquatic habitats include 30 interconnected ponds and canals that were historically used as waste maturation pans for the filtering of effluent materials. After introducing chemical cleansing, the pans are now used for emergency water treatment only; however, they still contain a high nutrient load. The permanent open ponds are further characterised into deep and shallow open ponds, seasonal open ponds and seasonal vegetated ponds dominated by Bulrushes Typha capensis and Common reed Phragmites australis. Bird numbers and water levels at Strandfontein vary widely depending on the year and season. There is mostly a high nutrient content in the pans, which in turn attract numerous bird species.
Where is Strandfontein Birding Area?
The (SBA) falls within the False Bay Nature Reserve, which is about a twenty-minute drive from Cape Town. To enter the Strandfontein sewage works from the Cape Town, take the M5 free-way southwards from Cape Town and turn left into Ottery Road at the Ottery turn-off; continue for 4.5 km until the junction with Strandfontein Road (M17); turn right here, and continue (southwards) along Strandfontein Road for 4 km; turn right again at the ‘Zeekoeivlei’ sign. Strandfontein can thus conveniently be visited after Sir Lowry’s Pass. The poorly marked entrance to the works is adjacent to a derelict building at the south end of Zeekoeivlei, where African Fish Eagles are often seen roosting in the trees to the west.
My research concerned the comparison of these two sites, namely Zandvlei Estuary Nature and (SBA) in regards to population trends of waterbirds over 42 years. The research found a total of nine species that are decreasing significantly at both sites, namely the Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta the Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea, Little Stint Calidris minuta, Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos, Common Tern Sterna hirundo and the Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola. Kittlitz’s Plover Charadrius pecuarius, White-Breasted Cormorant Phalacrocorax lucidus, Southern Pochard Netta erythrophthalma, and the Great white Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus. One bird species increased at both sites being the Pied Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta.
As for the importance of (SBA) in the greater conservation area in Cape Town, it couldn’t be more critical. It offers a sanctuary to a diverse range of birds, which are not very common to other nature reserves around the Western Cape. These birds include African Jacana Actophilornis africanus, white stork Ciconia ciconia and black-necked grebe Podiceps nigricollis. Another reason for its importance is that some bird species populations are increasing at this site and need to be protected. In the same breath, many bird species populations are decreasing and need help; more research is needed in regards to this problem.
The day I visited (SBA) turned out to be quite an overcast miserable day and so I don’t think I got to see half the birds and the area in all its spender. Strandfontein Birding Area is a great morning out for the local and international twitcher. You can cross a few birds off the list by visiting this somewhat smelly but advantageous birding area. I will be back.
Strandfontein Sewage Works – CapeBirdingRoute. http://www.capebirdingroute.org/Cape_Peninsula_Strandfontein.htm