5 best bird-watching spots

Settlers Park
Go with a ranger for safety if you go birding at Settlers Park Picture: Mike Holmes
Birdlife Eastern Cape vice-chairman Andy Nixon gives twitchers the inside track on where best to spot birds in and around Nelson Mandela Bay Holiday fun guide logo

SETTLERS PARK

It is best to organise a ranger to go with you via Morgan Griffiths at the Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (Wessa), as it is dodgy to go on your own.

There are lovely forest, bush and river birds and specials include: half-collared kingfisher, giant kingfisher, Knysna turaco, Knysna woodpecker, collared sunbird, grey sunbird, black-bellied starling, peregrine falcon and black sparrowhawk.

CAPE RECIFE

Cape Recife hasn’t been a problem for about five years now, so I view it as safe. Pay at Pine Lodge office for a permit and you will find great tern and wader viewing at the point beyond the lighthouse. It is a beautiful atmospheric spot but not good in windy conditions and you will see the terns best at high tide.

Also visit the settling ponds nearby: sign the visitors’ book at the office there first, then drive to the ponds through the big gate.

Specials include damara tern, Antarctic tern, roseate tern, bridled tern, sooty tern, Subantarctic skua, red knot and bar-tailed godwit.The ponds have mostly ducks of various species and, rarely, franklins gulls and bridled and sooty terns.

THE ISLAND

The Island near Seaview is secure but go on a weekday when there are fewer visitors as on weekends there often are noisy parties.

The Island has a lovely picnic and braai area on a lawn in the middle of thick dune forest, and you pay at the office.

There is a water feature on the edge of the picnic area so park your car next to the water feature, keep still and don’t talk – then the forest birds will come down to the water to drink and wash.

This is a fantastic opportunity to see shy forest birds out in the open and you will have good photographic opportunities too.

Specials include the Knysna turaco, blue-mantled crested-flycatcher, little sparrowhawk, yellow-throated woodland warbler, white-starred robin, tambourine dove, lemon dove, forest canary, olive woodpecker and dark-backed weaver.

birds Sundays River
You are likely to find terns at Sundays River mouth Picture: Mike Holmes

SUNDAYS RIVER MOUTH

Pay at the office for Sundays River Mouth office, which is run by Pearson Park.Park behind the petrol station and walk down to the river for about half-an-hour. Then drive to the office and pay. From there, drive on and turn right to the slipway, which is also a good spot.

Then you may like to drive on to Golden Sands, which is a beautiful spot to have a picnic.

From there, drive along slowly to the mouth, checking for waders and terns along the way, plus bush birds on the left of the road.

At the parking area at the mouth you can walk around to the mouth itself – it is an easy quarter- of-an-hour walk.

Specials here include the little tern, damara tern, half-collared kingfisher, malachite kingfisher, African fish eagle, osprey, horus swift, Knysna woodpecker, terek sandpiper, bar-tailed godwit and black harrier. About 20 years ago two very rare birds appeared there – Crab Plover and European Oystercatcher.

SWARTKOPS ESTUARY

Some areas around the Swartkops estuary are decidedly dodgy so it is best to go in groups and be aware. However, Amsterdamhoek and Tippers Creek are both nice safe areas.

See specials like goliath heron and great egret there.

Driving from Amsterdamhoek to Swartkops before the bridge there are little ponds on your right which are the best place for marsh sandpipers locally in summer.

You can park here and walk up the main mudbank at low tide to the very end where you get very rare waders such as great sandplover, eurasian curlew, red knot and terek sandpiper.

Remember to wear old boots as it is very muddy. The parking area looks dodgy but I have never had problems.

At low tide, the mudflats opposite Swartkops are also good for waders.

Then take the turnoff from Swartkops to Redhouse and just before the bridge over the road, turn left towards the old power station. There is a permanent vlei there which sometimes has southern pochard, white-faced whistling duck and African jacana.

After very heavy rains the temporary ponds on the left are very productive for bird-watchers and a pair of Painted Snipe were once seen there. Then drive under the bridge and on the left are salt pans which are great for greater flamingo, lesser flamingo, hartlaubs gull and osprey.

Just before the next junction on the left, a common redshank has been hanging around at the moment and, despite its “common” moniker, it is a real rarity.

The vleis along the Redhouse to Perseverance road at the robot are also good spots and when there has been very heavy rain a lot of the temporary vleis have water.

However, traffic is very heavy so be careful and preferably go on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday.

Good birds include yellow-billed egret, African jacana, maccoa duck, fulvous duck, black heron and sqacco heron.

Another area good for birds is the saltpans, river and bush between Corobrick and Perseverance.

Public walks

Birdlife Eastern Cape runs a public birding walk through Settlers Park on the first Saturday of each month.starting at 8am in summer and 8.30am in winter.

This is aimed at people who have never been birding or have just started. Security is arranged and the first outing for next year is in February (none in January).

More information from Nixon at e-mail: andynixon@telkomsa.net or visit http://www.easterncapebirding.co.za/guides.html or call 079-587-5110.

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