A malachite kingfisher. Wynand Grobler
A malachite kingfisher. Wynand Grobler

Twitch on down to the South Coast

By Staff Reporter Time of article published Nov 6, 2021

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Bird-watching is one of the fastest-growing pastimes in the world, say naturalists, and the long lockdowns and social distancing have caused people to slow down and notice the small things in their environments.

For twitchers, as bird watchers are known, the KZN South Coast has a plethora of safe viewing spaces and a multitude of birds.

“The diversity of our natural landscape on the KZN South Coast provides homes for a such a wide variety of South African bird species,” said CEO of Ugu South Coast Tourism (USCT), Phelisa Mangcu. “Bird watching is a great way to get back into nature and discover a previously unknown world. We’re very excited to welcome travellers starting out on the birdwatching journey, as well as those who are looking to tick off those truly unique bird species. The KZN South Coast has it all.”

These are some of the top birding spots on the KZN South Coast

AN African fish eagle. Wynand Grobler

TC Robertson Nature Reserve (Scottburgh)

A 60ha coastal reserve on the south bank of the Mpambanyoni River near the mouth. Established in 1989 and named after the famed author, ecologist and conservationist Dr Thomas Chalmers Robertson, visitors can view African fish eagles, terrestrial brownbuls, Barratt’s warbler, yellow-throated longclaws and the green malkoha. Contact: 062 002 5190 or [email protected]

A palm-nut vulture. Wynand Grobler

Crocworld Conservation Centre (Scottburgh)

There are more than 200 wild bird species at this beautiful conservation centre, including nesting palm nut vultures, African fish eagle and six species of kingfishers. Within the centre, there’s a great variety of bird species including the African eagle owl, jackal buzzards, Eurasian eagle owls, Harris hawk and even white mute swans.

“I have lived in Joburg all my life and have been on the KZN South Coast for almost two years now,” said Ryne Ferguson, Crocworld bird curator. “To me, this is one of the best birding areas in the country. The diversity of birds and wildlife is absolutely amazing.” Contact: 039 976 1103 or [email protected] or www.crocworld.co.za

Umdoni Park Trust Golf Club & Nature Reserve (Pennington)

Named for the water berry tree found along the estate’s water courses and swamp areas, this is a wonderful place to start a birding adventure. There are extensive trail networks, starting from the club house, overnight or parking area which offer visitors the chance to see the spotted ground thrush, purple-crested turaco, olive woodpecker, ashy flycatcher, southern tchagra and narina trogon. Contact: 039 975 1615 or www.umdonipark.com

Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve (Umzinto)

Established in 1973, this coastal reserve is just 13km inland of the sea and has beautiful grassland, forest, and wetland habitats. This variety provides shelter for about 300 bird species recorded in the reserve, among them grey crowned cranes, martial eagles, ground hornbills, secretary bird, lazy cisticola, lesser honeyguide and short-tailed pipit. Contact: 039 974 2222 or [email protected]

Lake Eland Game Reserve (Oribi Gorge)

For those wanting a bit of birding and wildlife viewing, then Lake Eland Game Reserve is a great stop. The ecosystems consist of bushveld and grassland interspersed with coastal forest and wetland. Catch sightings of local birdlife at the picnic or braai sites, while enjoying a relaxed game drive, or go hiking or biking through the reserve. Contact: 039 687 0395 or www.lakeeland.co.za

A giant kingfisher. Darrin Ulyate

Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve

This is one of the most scenic birding spots on the 24km stretch of gorge along the Mzimkulwana River. There have been more than 350 bird species recorded here, with guided tours arranged if required. Get to the gorge to check out the African broadbill, African finfoot, African wood owl, African pygmy kingfisher and Knysna turaco. Contact: 039 845 1000 or www.kznwildlife.com

From the Oribi Vulture Viewing Hide, you can get close enough to see a Cape vulture feeding its chick without disturbing the birds. Michelle Pearson

Oribi Vulture Viewing Hide

Considered one of the world’s best vulture viewing spots, this site has more than 200 resident Cape vultures and is easily accessible by car and foot. There are no 4x4 or hiking requirements to witness this spectacle of vultures soaring along ridges, flying overhead and below, just metres from visitors. Tours are held on a Saturday and advanced booking is essential.

Oribi Vulture Viewing Hide project co-ordinator Andy Ruffle said: “The coastal stretch has an interesting variety of wild bird species which aren’t found inland or in other parts of the globe. The vulture viewing site is something very special and a really unique experience for visitors.” Contact: 072 893 3794 or [email protected]

Weza-Ngele Forest (Harding)

This is one of the most accessible tracts of this Afromontane mistbelt forest, found 80km inland of the coast with a great system of trails to go birdwatching. There are shorter trails for a quick hike or a half-day circular loop through the upper forest. Here visitors can see orange ground thrush, Cape parrot, bush blackcap, chorister robin chat, Cape batis, African dusky flycatcher and double-collared sunbird. Contact: 039 553 0600 or www.anewhotels.com

Skyline Nature Reserve (Uvongo)

Renowned for its incredible collection of indigenous coastal and exotic tree species, Skyline Nature Reserve is also home to a really diverse variety of bird species. Birds and other local wildlife can be viewed by hiking along the many trails, roughly an hour in length. Contact: 039 315 0112 or www.kznwildlife.com

A pied kingfisher. Wynand Grobler

River Valley Nature Reserve (Margate)

This is a much smaller reserve, just 28ha in total, with walking trails along the banks of the river into the riverine forest which is home to many interesting birds. In River Valley, twitchers can look out for the green-backed heron, tambourine dove, grey or purple-banded sunbird, grew waxbill and brown scrub robin. Contact: [email protected] or www.rivervalleynaturereserve.co.za

Ventures by Sweetdale (Margate)

There are 120ha of coastal nature here, consisting of exciting biking trails and hiking trails for spectacular bird watching. For the more experienced, there’s the challenging “alpine” hiking trail to try, or the 9.5km biking trail. Contact: [email protected] or www.sweetdale.com

Mpenjati Nature Reserve (Trafalgar)

This beautiful riverine reserve encompasses the Mpenjati River Estuary and is the perfect space for novice or experienced birders. There are well laid out walking trails with boardwalk observation platforms to enjoy views of the river lagoon, wetlands, forests, grassland, and coastline. Some special sightings could include the half-collared kingfisher, swift tern, African black oystercatcher, Kittlitz’s plover, giant kingfisher and water thick-knee. Contact: 039 313 0531 or www.kznwildlife.com

Red Desert Nature Reserve (Port Edward)

Combine birdwatching while ticking “world’s smallest desert” off the bucket list at Red Desert Nature Reserve. Just 200m in diameter, the desert appears to be a miniature version of America’s Arizona Desert, but it’s in the surrounding coastal forest that you’ll find some great birds. There are a range of habitats, including a protected grassland area, with more than 480 plant species and 200 bird species recorded here. Contact: 039 695 0460 or [email protected]

Umtamvuna Nature Reserve (Port Edward)

The southernmost nature reserve in the province includes the beautiful Umtamvuna River, coastal forests, bushveld, cliffs and riverine forests. There are well-developed hiking trails to wander in search of Gurney’s sugarbird, malachite sunbird, pale-crowned cisticola, common cuckoo or rufous-winged cisticola. Contact: 039 311 2383 or www.kznwildlife.com.

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