Wild Coast birds

Birding on the Wild Coast

The Wild Coast is renowned more for its rugged natural beauty than it's birds, which may be more easily seen elsewhere in South Africa. Despite this and the inaccessibility of the area, the experience of birding in stunning surroundings makes a trip well worthwhile. A number of birding areas are dotted down the coast, most of which share a similar avifauna, and a minimum of two days at a selected site is recommended to justify the effort of getting there.

Bird habitats on the Wild Coast range from dams, marshes, rivers, estuaries and coastline to coastal bush and forest. Dwesa & Cwebe Nature Reserves have many great forest species and there is a Vulture hide and colony at Mkambati Nature Reserve.

What to look out for:

Forest Buzzard, Delegorgue's Pigeon, Cinnamon Dove, Cape Parrot, Knysna Lourie, Green Coucal, Halfcollared Kingfisher and Mangrove Kingfisher, Knysna Woodpecker, Yellowstreaked Bulbul, Spotted Ground Thrush, Chorister Robin and Brown Robin, and Broadtailed Warbler and Knysna Warbler.

Two localities are dealt with in detail below and reflect the range of birding opportunities.

Crowned Cranes

Mbotyi

Mbotyi's main attraction is the pristine coastal forest that cloaks the hills overlooking the sea, the most extensive patch on the entire Wild Coast. A weekend spent birding this forest and surrounding areas should produce over 100 species. Additional habitats include open grassland dotted with Acacias, cliffs and gorges, estuaries and lagoons with limited stands of mangroves, and sandy and rocky coastline.

Birding Areas:

1). Bird the last stretch of road before the coast or any of the numerous indistinct tracks leading into the forest for Olive Woodpecker, Yellowstreaked Bulbul and Terrestrial Bulbul, Chorister Robin and Forest Weaver. Knysna Lourie and Trumpeter Hornbill and Crowned Hornbill are common and conspicuous but listen carefully for the canopy calls of Delegorgue's Pigeon, Emerald Cuckoo, Narina Trogon, Scalythroated Honeyguide and Olive Bush Shrike. Sounds of scratching in the leaf litter may reveal the presence of a Cinnamon Dove, Spotted Ground Thrush or Brown Robin. Scan over the forest canopy for Cuckoo Hawk, Longcrested Eagles and Crowned Eagles, Forest Buzzard and Cape Parrot. Longtailed Wagtail and Halfcollared Kingfisher frequent forest streams, whilst both Wood Owl and (rare) Barred Owl may be heard calling at night.

2). Check forest edges for Rednecked Francolin, Knysna Woodpecker, Barratt's Warbler, Southern Tchagra, Greater Doublecollared Sunbird and Swee Waxbill, and surrounding grassland for Crowned Crane, Wailing Cisticola and Croaking Cisticola, and Plainbacked Pipit and Striped Pipit.

3). The estuaries and their fringing mangroves support Water Dikkop and various Kingfishers including Halfcollared Kingfisher and Mangrove Kingfisher (rare).

Sunbird

Dwesa Nature Reserve

Dwesa Nature Reserve protects a range of habitats similar to those at Mbotyi, and forms the southern limit of the ranges of a number of birds typical of the East Coast. Despite the similarity, certain species are easier to see here than at Mbotyi, including the rare Mangrove Kingfisher. Dwesa and neighbouring Cwebe Nature Reserve are ranked as an IBA for the global conservation value of a breeding population of Spotted ground-thrush, as well as a population of Red data listed African black oystercatcher and Knysna woodpecker. The coastal mangroves support the only protected breeding population of Mangrove kingfisher, though they migrate north for the winter.

Birding Areas:

1) A good selection of forest birds may be seen within the camp including Green Coucal, Knysna Lourie, Knysna Woodpecker, Brown Robin, Knysna Warbler, Grey Cuckooshrike and Forest Canary. Orange Ground Thrush, Starred Robin and Yellowthroated Warbler are altitudinal migrants to the coast in winter and are more readily seen at this time.

2) Halfcollared Kingfisher is common along the wooded streams and Mangrove Kingfisher has bred here.

3) Grassland species are similar to those at Mbotyi, though Broadtailed and Yellow Warblers are easier to see in moist habitat here. Check the area behind camp.

4) The coastline here and at Mbotyi may produce African Black Oystercatcher and roosting terns, whilst Shy Albatross, Blackbrowed Albatross and Yellownosed Albatross, Whitechinned Petrel and Cape Gannet may be seen from shore, particularly in bad weather.

Collywobbles Vulture Colony

The Collywobbles vulture colony is set in one of the most spectacular locations of any of South Africa's Cape vulture colonies - the 300m sheer cliffs of the Mbashe gorge. Located roughly 60 km's south of Mthatha, the site is set in a rural location along the convoluted meanderings of the Mbashe River and can be quite tricky to get to! The colony is about 5 km's from the Collywobbles store and has been in existence since at least the 1890's.

Other Wild Coast Birding spots

Other birding spots on the Wild Coast include Mkambati Nature Reserve (Ground Hornbill and Halfcollared Kingfisher) and Hluleka Nature Reserve (similar to Dwesa). In fact, Mkambati Nature Reserve is ranked as an IBA for the presence of key birds: Spotted ground-thrush, Knysna woodpecker, Buff-streaked chat and a breeding colony of Cape vulture. The Mtentu colony of Cape vulture is one of the largest remaining colonies in the Eastern Cape, and is one of the few protected sites in the world.

Did you know?

- The only endemic Southern African birds found on the Wild Coast are the African Black Oystercatcher, Brown Robin Chat, Bush Blackcap, Cape Cormorant, Cape Glossy Starling, Cape Parrot, Cape Shoveller, Chorister Robin Chat, Forest Canary, Knysna Turaco (Loerie), Knysna Warbler, Olive Bush Shrike and the South African Shelduck.

- Crowned Cranes are protected by Xhosa superstition, for it is believed that a person's entire family will die if one of these beautiful birds is killed.

- The Xhosa armies, during the frontier wars of the 18th and 19th centuries, were known as the "Warriors of the Blue Crane Feathers" because their leaders wore Blue Crane feathers in their hair.

- Impundulu is the mythical Lightning Bird of Xhosa Culture. He stands about the height of a man and has either white or black feathers with red legs, sharp talons and a hooked red beak. It is said that when he flaps his wings he makes thunder and when he spits he makes lightning. His power is unlimited, but his weakness is women and witches use him to carry out their evil plans.