BIRDING in PORT ALFRED AND SURROUNDING AREAS:
Port Alfred and surrounding areas has some superb birding spots – some of them are well-known and some of them are a little more tucked away. There is a wide variety of habitats, nature reserves, hiking trails and private game farms where one can see some Eastern Cape specials. Of course, one cannot forget this coastal area has estuaries that provide feeding ground for waders, many of which visit our shores from the Northern hemisphere. Common Whimbrel, Curlew Sandpiper, Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Little Stint and Grey Plover mingle in with the resident Three-banded and Kittlitz’s Plovers, Blacksmith Lapwings and Black-winged Stilt. Occasionally, Bar-tailed Godwit, Terek Sandpiper and Eurasian Curlew are seen, but not as often as the “regulars”. Ruddy Turnstones frequent the rocky outcrops along the seashore, as do African Black Oystercatcher, Sanderling, Kelp Gull and various species of Tern.
The Kowie River meanders up to and beyond the historic village of Bathurst, where there is an abundance of birdlife in the wooded valleys below. However, there is more to this place than just breathtaking scenery. African Crowned Eagle breed here and they can be seen performing their undulating display overhead. The forest and valley bushveld along the river is home to Knysna Turaco, Scaly-throated Honeyguide and Olive Bush Shrike. In summer, the hoarse, mournful hoot of the Narina Trogon can be heard – and with a bit of skilful watching, the bird can be seen. Beyond Bathurst the various gravel roads wind through a variety of habitats – grassland, thornveld, dense scrub, farm dams and pans, riverine bush and cliffs abound. Birds to be seen in the more open areas scattered with Acacia trees include Rufous-naped and Red-capped Larks, Denham’s Bustard and Crowned Lapwing to name a few.
Nearer the farm dams, in the Southwell area, African Stonechat is often seen, while Cape Longclaw and Long-tailed Widow display overhead in the breeding season. Red-winged Francolin, however, are more easily heard than seen. In the taller dense scrub, Fiscal Flycatcher keeps a watchful eye from the top of a bush, while Southern Tchagra skulks in the matted undergrowth and thicket. Where the roads wind down into the wooded valleys and cross the rivers, the habitat becomes suitable for upstream birds such as Mountain Wagtail, Half-collared Kingfisher, Tawny-flanked Prinia and, if one is observant, with a little luck, African Finfoot, although this is a shy bird and sightings are not guarenteed.
At some of these crossings, majestic cliffs tower above the streams, providing nesting sites for raptors such as Rock Kestrel, Lanner Falcon and Booted Eagle, while Cape Rock Thrush and Mocking Cliff-chat are some of the “smaller” species to be seen here. Some of these gorges and rocky outcrops hold small populations of Striped Pipit, scarce here, as it is the edge of their range. All in all, there is much to be seen, but one just has to get to the right spots to see the right birds and the Eastern Cape has a charm of its own to offer. To enhance your birding along these routes and venues even further, it will help to hire a bird guide to show you other special spots that not everybody normally gets to see.