Grab your binoculars and go bird watching in the Bay

  • 23 May 2018 | By Anje Rautenbach

About 8% of the world’s bird species can be found in South Africa thanks to the diverse range of birding habitats and Nelson Mandela Bay is no stranger to biological diversity. The Bay is the meeting point for 5 of the 7 biomes, and also the place where a rare sighting – the little ring plover – was spotted in South Africa for the first time in 2017.

It is no wonder that bird-watching enthusiasts are often drawn to our shores.

But  where do you go and who do you go with if you are interested in bird watching?

Bird Life Eastern Cape promotes the enjoyment, understanding, study and conservation of birds and their environment; they arrange birding trips in the Bay and the rest of the Eastern Cape throughout the year with outings to places like Settlers Park, Parsonsvlei, Sundays River Mouth, the Alexandria Forest and Addo Elephant National Park. In the past there has also been a bird identification course (with SANParks Honorary Rangers Addo Region). Whether you’re a bird watching pro, a beginner or an enthusiast, visit the Bird Life Eastern Cape’s Facebook page to see what’s happening next. Plus, there are also a few tour operators and birding experts in the Bay offering visitors the chance to dust off their binoculars and go bird watching.

6 Birding Spots in Nelson Mandela Bay

Island Nature Reserve

The Island Nature Reserve comprises 480 ha of indigenous Alexandria coastal forest and pathways and trails (such as the 16 km Bushbuck trail) are a bird watcher’s delight. There is a picnic and braai area, as well as a restroom.

Possible sightings to look forward to: Knysna Turaco, Black-headed Oriole, Black-bellied Starling, Cape Batis, Brown Scrub-Robin, Yellow-breasted Apalis and African Emerald Cuckoo.

Settlers Park Nature Reserve

Settlers Park Nature Reserve lies along the banks of the Baakens River and offers wide diversity of birds and habitats with an 8km walking trail, the Guinea Fowl Trail.

Possible sightings to look forward to: Swee Waxbill, African Firefinch, Greater Double-collared, Southern Double-collared Sunbirds, Knysna Turaco, Cape Bulbul, Black-headed Oriole, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatchers, Little Rush-Warbler and Black-bellied Starling.

Cape Recife Nature Reserve

Cape Recife Nature Reserve is home to SANCCOB, a hiking trail, some of the Bay’s best beaches and views with its rocky outcrops and natural dune vegetation. There is a bird hide at one of the two reclamation ponds and a restroom at SANCCOB.

Possible sightings to look forward to: Jacobin Cuckoo, Burchell's Coucal, Red-faced and Speckled Mousebirds, Pied Kingfisher, Neddicky, Malachite and Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Bar-tailed Godwit and Sanderling.

Swartkops Estuary

The Swartkops Estuary is situated to the north of Port Elizabeth and is made up of intertidal banks, salt marches and salt pans; one can expect to pick up approximately 100 species in a morning birding. The Swartkops Estuary has been classified as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA), and over 200 bird species are known to occur within the estuary. 

Possible sightings to look forward to: Terek Sandpiper, Greater Sand Plover, Bar Tailed Godwit and Eurasian Curlew.

Tankatara Road

Home to the rare sighting of the Little Ring Plover in 2017, Tankatara Road is excellent for birding but the turn-off from the N2 can often be missed; 3km before the Sundays River take the road to the left towards Uitenhage and turn right at the first road to the right. This road leads to the old Mackay Bridge over the Sundays River (closed to traffic). The road to Tankatara is to the left before reaching the old bridge.

Possible sightings to look forward to: Southern Black Korhaan, Denham's Bustard, Blue Crane, Anteating Chat, Acacia Pied Barbet, Karoo Scrub Robin, Grey Backed Cisticola, Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Martial Eagle, Jackal Buzzard, Black Harrier and Black Shouldered Kite.

Addo Elephant National Park

Addo Elephant National Park is home to more than just elephants and stretches all the way to the Alexandria Forest that is home to Coral trees, Yellowwoods, Wild plum and the largest untouched dunefield in the Southern hemisphere. The islands off the coast of Port Elizabeth, where the largest breeding population of African penguins can be found, is also part of the park.

Possible sightings to look forward to: Southern Tchagra, Bar-throated Apalis, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Fiscal Flycatcher, Fork-tailed Drongo, Martial Eagle, Black Korhaan, Blue Crane, Denham's Bustard, Black-headed Heron, Secretarybird, Knysna Turaco, Black Cuckoo and Cape Gannet.

Visit for a comprehensive review of each birding spot mentioned. 

Download a Birding App

The Newman’s Birds app is R239.99 (there is a smaller free version as well) includes 975 bird species with detailed descriptions (illustrations and photos), 800 bird calls with multiple call type and you will download the full app so no need to have internet connectivity. 

Then there is also the Sasol eBirds app at R394.99 (often described more detailed and accurate than other apps) with 950 bird species, audible calls and a smart search function. 

Beginners can get the Sasol Birds for Beginners app (free) that provides quick facts, photos and videos of 46 common southern African birds.

Please note: Birds call/songs have different meanings; whether it is to defend territories, announce danger or attract another winged beauty. When you use the birds calls in your app to attract birds it can confuse the feathers of a bed and actually have damaging repercussions.

5 Bird Watching Tips

  • Don’t wear any bright colours.
  • Early morning is the best time for bird watching (and then late afternoon).
  • Don’t disturb the birds’ natural habitat; stay on the paths to avoid interfering or stepping on eggs or juveniles.
  • Be patient.
  • Be quiet.

“Sometimes I think that the point of bird watching is not the actual seeing of the birds, but the cultivation of patience. Of course, each time we set out, there’s a certain amount of expectation we’ll see something, maybe even a species we’ve never seen before, and that it will fill us with light. But even if we don’t see anything remarkable – and sometimes that happens – we come home filled with light anyway.”
– Lynn Thomson, Birding with Yeats: A Mother’s Memoir

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