Published: 05 December 2012
An early morning walk along the Uilenkraal Estuary grants one a soul enriching and almost sacred engagement with nature's exquisite species at the crack of dawn. The sun's first rays, reflected from the mountains and sea, break the day like a prism into a cacophony of colour, sound and activity. Myriads of animals - from land, sea and sky - abandon their night shelter to greet the day.
A bird's eye view of daybreak at the Uilenkraal Estuary
The estuary is a twitcher's utopia and attracts up to 125 bird species - from estuarine waders and gulls to summer migrants - to the rich supply of fish, molluscs, crab and other amphibian creatures that abound in and around the water. More than a good camera is needed to truly capture the awe-inspiring sight of a solitary Blue Crane or Kingfisher as they majestically manoeuvre the air currents, etched against a rising sun.
Catching an African Spoon Bill on film as it forays for food with its characteristic long grey spatula-shaped bill is not an easy feat. These graceful long-legged waders hunt in shallow waters for various fish, molluscs, amphibians, crustaceans, insects and larvae by dipping their open bill into the water and swishing it from side-to-side to "catch" their prey. In flight, they are unmistakeable by the way they fly with their necks outstretched.
Walking along the water's edge or paddling a canoe brings one into close proximity of tens of different bird species easily identifiable by their distinctive colour, shape, size and sound. The estuary is also the homing ground for other long-legged waders such as egrets and herons, while cormorants and the red-billed teal are equally at home here. The latter dabbling ducks are a gregarious bunch outside the breeding season and form large flocks near freshwater habitats. The displaying male has a whzzt call, whereas the female has a soft Mallard-like quack.
The Uilenkraal Estuary is one of many renowned birding sites (IBA) in and around Gansbaai, which makes this area a sought-after bird watching destination. The nearby Dyer Island is a world-renowned bird sanctuary for seabirds and shore birds, managed by CapeNature, where amongst others, the African Penguin, Roseate Tern and African Black Oystercatcher breed.