Port Elizabeth Nature on your Door Step - Bird Flamboyance

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Wednesday, 19th August 2020

Article and photos by Marguerite Smit

“I think the most important quality in a birdwatcher is a willingness to stand quietly and see what comes. Our everyday lives obscure a truth about existence - that at the heart of everything there lies a stillness and a light.” ― Lynn Thomson

Not many cities can boast about several large “green lungs” running through the heart of their concrete jungle. Nelson Mandela Bay is a metropolitan city that can. Mostly known for its industrial manufacturing, it is also home to a lush, green mecca in the middle of the city – the Baakens Valley. The green lung starts with Settlers Park Nature Reserve that lies just a few kilometres from the harbour and river mouth and is an absolute bird magnet! We are unbelievably lucky to have easy access to this gem of a reserve!


Bird watching in Port Elizabeth


Birdlife Eastern Cape runs a public bird walk through the park on the first Saturday morning of the month that is well worth joining. Combining experts and total beginners, its structured to ensure everyone fits in well.

Birds in the park include Half-collared Kingfisher, Knysna Woodpecker, Grey Sunbird, Peregrine Falcon, Thick-billed Weavers and Black Cuckooshrike. And to top it all off, I was personally surprised by the number of beautiful Knysna Turacos present in the park!


Bird watching in Port Elizabeth


From Settlers Park, you can continue up along Baakens Valley all the way to Hawthorne Avenue in Sunridge Park. You will pass through the bottom of Alcock Road in Walmer and venture past Dodd’s Farm, following a trail through fynbos, riverine forest and some alien stands that is well marked, thanks to the local cycling club, Fat Tracks, who do a phenomenal job maintaining trails.

Often heard in this area are Buff-spotted Flufftail and easily spotted are Dusky Indigobirds, Half-collared Kingfisher and African Black Duck. The source of the Baakens River is near Rowallan Park, where Red-winged Francolin can be spotted. The vegetation at this source, grassy fynbos is a highly endangered biome.


Bird watching in Port Elizabeth


Not to be limited to only the city bounds, visiting birders also have easy and safe access to the Cape Recife Nature Reserve on the “wild side” of the Bay, which is a fantastic place to spot Rare Terns! There is a small entrance fee, alternatively you can also purchase an annual ticket for about R300.

Starting from the picturesque heritage lighthouse, if you walk to the point during high tide, you will find Terns that are forced up onto the beach and a lot easier to identify! Otherwise you will need a telescope in this area.

Here you may also be likely to spot the Roseate Tern, Antarctic Tern and Damara Tern. Bridled Tern and Sooty Tern have also been seen here. The point is excellent for waders like Bar-tailed Godwit and Red Knot, along with all the common ones. The settling ponds offer refuge to freshwater birds like Franklin’s Gull! Also keep an eye out for the Lesser Black-backed Gull at the point. Cape Gannets and Sub Antarctic Skuas are also to be seen here. There has even been one record of a Red-Footed Booby at the point! If your luck is really running, you may even spot an African Penguin on the rocks.

If not, SANCCOB is located close to the entrance to the park and certainly well worth a visit to see first-hand the great rehabilitation work taking place. SANCCOB is a great resource to learn more about African Penguins and Cape Gannets. This outing makes for a fun filled day, and children especially love the long beaches and opportunity to get up close and personal with the penguins.


Bird watching in Port Elizabeth


There are so many other prime birding spots in and around Nelson Mandela Bay. The stunning Swartkops Estuary (a prospective RAMSAR site) will allow you endless hours of watching flamboyances of Greater and Lesser Flamingo’s. It is an Important Bird Area, and offers plenty opportunity to see the less common estuarine waders and terns. With thousands of summer visitors, there are over 200 recorded species in the lower Swartkops Valley and you’re likely to encounter the Black-necked Grebe, Cape Cormorant, South African Shelduck, Cape Teal, African Black Oystercatchers, Terek Sandpipers, and the Bar-tailed Godwit amongst others.

The Addo Elephant Park is also always a special place to visit. The southern sector reached from the Matyholweni gate near Colchester is best for birding, although the rest camp is also excellent. The southern sector is filled with grassland and some forest, whereas the rest of the park consists of dense bush making bird spotting a bit more tricky. Special birds in this area include Eurasian Roller, Red-billed Oxpecker, Marsh Owl, Spotted Eagle Owl, Lesser Grey Shrike, Bokmakierie which are in abundance throughout the park and if you’re lucky, the Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk!

Alexandria Forest, which is now part of Addo is the best place locally for forest birds. At the Langebos hut you can often spot Narina Trogon, arguably South Africa’s most beautiful bird! Chorister Robin-Chat, White-starred Robin and Trumpeter Hornbill are often spotted in this area. In the grassveld surrounds of the forest you can see birds like Black-winged Plover and Fan-tailed Widowbird. Long-Tailed Widowbird are also spotted here as well as Southern Ground Hornbill.


Bird watching in Port Elizabeth


The Eastern Cape offers such diversity for birders. If you are up for a drive, you can visit Cotswold Quarry, Eastern Baviaanskloof, Elands River Road, Gamtoos River Mouth, Kabeljous River Mouth, the Groenendal Wilderness area and adjacent Cockscomb Mountain, the Lady slipper Mountain, Sleepy Hollow, Sunday’s River Mouth, or Tankatara/Mackay Bridge just to name a few great birding spots in relatively close proximity to the Bay.

If you venture a bit further, Mountain Zebra National Park in the Karoo offers a totally different selection of birds to the ones we get along the coast. Birdwatching has an amazing way of cultivating patience, but most importantly it allows us to be present in the moment, inhaling the quiet spaces filled by song. It enables us, at least for a moment to find joy in the observation of small creatures going about their bright, oblivious-to-us business which in turn reminds us of how insignificant our worldly problems are.


Bird watching in Port Elizabeth


“Birds will give you a window, if you allow them. They will show you secrets from another world– fresh vision that, though it is avian, can accompany you home and alter your life. They will do this for you even if you don't know their names– though such knowing is a thoughtful gesture. They will do this for you if you watch them.”

― Lyanda Lynn Haupt


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