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Eastern Cape Birding - Tsitsikamma to the Wild Coast Hot

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Fiscal flycatcher by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick.jpg

A broad, glistening white smile greeted me warmly as I arrived at the entrance gate to the Garden Route National Park and Storms River Mouth Rest Camp. After paying my entrance fees I drove into an extremely well maintained reserve with dense ancient coastal forests lining the roadsides where relaxed Bushbuck foraged in the shadows and the constant sound of calling cicadas, grasshoppers and Sombre Greenbuls echoed.

Dropping down from the high ridge towards the coastline, the strong smell of the sea hit my nostrils as the sound of crashing waves pounding against the rugged rocky coastline bombarded my ears and I was awe-struck to see great plumes of water rocket high into the air as the waves made contact with the coastline. In the sheltered lee of a bay, a pair of Egyptian Geese swam and White-Breasted and Cape Cormorants preened and rested alongside a pair of African Black Oystercatchers who tucked their long red bills deep into the wings and tried to catch a snooze. Swift and Sandwich Terns patrolled the surf-zone, occasionally stuka diving into the sea and emerging with a small fish which was swallowed on the wing and before raiding Kelp Gulls could steel it from them.

Sombre greenbul by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

1 of 12. Sombre Greenbul.

Driving past the campsites, Rock Hyrax lazed on the cement tops of the braai’s and Amethyst and Greater Double-Collared Sunbirds probed their curved bills deep into nectar giving Erica’s. Fork-Tailed Drongo used the guy-ropes of visitor’s tents from which to launch aerial attacks against flying insects and in one of the forest corridors, Dotted Border butterflies flittered in the wind and Bar-Throated Apalis’s, Cape White-Eyes, White-Backed Mousebirds, Swee Waxbills and Boubou Shrikes all commuted as a flash of green and crimson color was added by a pair of Knysna Turaco who were chasing one another through the branches.

Sunning Rock hyrax pair by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

2 of 12. Rock Hraxes sunning in the early morning light

A visit to the Storms River Mouth and famous swing bridge is a must as it passes through the undergrowth of dense forest where mushrooms and lichens flourish amongst the damp shade of twisted and knarled trees. At one point a gap in the forest showed a family of lazy Rock Hyrax feeding in the trees while at sea a large pod of Bottlenosed Dolphin fed in the bay. African Paradise Flycatcher called from high in the trees while lower down African Dusky Flycatcher pairs casually watched the throng of passing visitors. At the other end of the camp, the Waterfall Trail leads along a section of the famous Otter Trail and in the numerous streams Clicking Stream Frogs call incessantly and occasional fleeting glimpses of Blue Duiker may be seen as they rush off into the undergrowth. This trail is also an excellent point from which to be on the lookout for Crowned Eagle, African Goshawk and Black Sparrowhawk.

African black oystercatcher adult and chick by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

3 of 12. African Black Oystercatcher adult and chick

Slightly further east up the coastline lies the Addo Elephant National Park which is world famous for its relaxed African Elephant populations. Since its humble beginnings in 1931 the park has expanded considerably to now be one of the most diverse protected areas in the country, extending from the high Zuurberg Mountains through Spekboom thicket down to the rolling Alexandria Dunefields and out into the marine realm and Bird Island. To me, one of the best birding opportunities lies in the campsite itself and while the majority of guests rush around trying to find the wide range of animal species in the park I have found that taking a relaxed stroll through the camp brings huge rewards. The cleverly laid out Spekboom corridors allow corridors for the birds to move through and these are favored by Southern Tchagra, Southern Boubou, Bar-Throated Apalis, Karoo Scrub-Robin and Speckled Mousebirds. During the summer months Cape Glossy Starling, Black-Collared Barbet and African Black-Headed Oriole grace the tree tops and will often come down to investigate the goings on around ones campsite. Southern Masked, Cape and Village Weavers all make morning rounds together with Southern Grey-Headed Sparrows, passing through the various campsites in search of scraps that have been left by departing campers. Vervet Monkeys also visit and as long as you keep a good eye on your belongings, they provide endless entertainment as they frolic and chase one another throughout the day. At night the active Vervets are replaced by shy Small-Spotted Genets who remain amongst the shadows and close to the edges of the thickets, only occasionally darting into the open.

Cape wevaer by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

4 of 12. Adult male Cape Weaver

During August and September when the aloes are in bright orange bloom, plentiful Greater Double-Collared, Malachite and Amethyst Sunbirds move constantly amongst the flowers that also attract huge amounts of insects. These insects in turn provide food for numerous skinks and small Cape Dwarf Gecko’s who leap between the stems as Fork-Tailed Drongos, Fiscal Flycatchers, Long-Billed Crombecs and Karoo Prinias glean the insects. Once the aloes have finished flowering and start to bear fruit and seed, the sunbirds disappear to be replaced by Streaky-Headed Seed-Eaters who make quick work of the hardened seed cases. The small, largely reed-covered dam with adjacent bird hide provides suitable habitat for Malachite Kingfisher, Little Grebes, Common Moorhens and Red-Knobbed Coots and during spring and summer Southern Red Bishop and Southern Masked and Cape Weavers hang their nests in the reed stems.

Bar-throated apalis by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

5 of 12. Bar-Throated Apalis in the Addo camp site

Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve managed by the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Authority is a rather unknown gem of a birding and holiday destination in South Africa. Situated along the Wild Coast, this very special place of beach, estuaries, dune forests and grasslands offers a plethora of birds that are easily viewed in a relaxed atmosphere. The Haven Hotel, situated close to the Bashe River Estuary extends over a wide area and is a constant hive of activity during the summer months when White-Throated and Lesser-Striped Swallows build their mud-pellet nests under any available overhang and Black Saw-Wings hawk insects over the open grasslands as African Pipit feed on fat caterpillars amongst the feet of grazing Burchell’s Zebra. Cape Glossy and Black-Bellied Starling feed in the fruiting trees together with Black-Collared Barbet and the much smaller Red-Fronted Tinker Barbet. Brimstone, Yellow-Fronted and Forest Canary feed on the seeding grasses between the huts together with Pin-Tailed Whydah, the males of which constantly try and display with waving tail plumes to the females. Long-Crested Eagle perch on the forest edges while in the forest itself, Collared Sunbird build their well camouflaged nests and African Paradise Flycatcher, Dark-Backed Weaver, Black-Crowned Tchagra, Black-Backed Puffback and Brubru move around the canopy as Bushbuck and Grey and Blue Duiker crash through the undergrowth amongst feeding Red-Capped Robin-Chat

storms river swing bridge by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

6 of 12. Storms River Swing Bridge

A dawn trip to the nearby beach via the small lagoon is well worth it, especially at dawn when hundreds of Ghost Crabs still scurry around the pristine beaches and flocks of Sanderling run up and down with the tidal seas. On the lagoon Little Egret and Grey Heron hunt in the shallows and Pied Kingfisher balance on waving reed stems while Water Thick-Knee stand motionless on the banks. As the sun rises and the vast majority of birds settle into a less active mode a trip to the top of one of the sand dunes is a rewarding way to pass the day as views further out to sea provide Cape Gannets arrow diving into the water and the very lucky may see passing dolphins or breaching Humpbacked Whales amongst he shoals of writhing sardines as they move northwards up this spectacularly diverse and wild coast.

male swee waxbill by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

7 of 12. Female Swee Waxbill

Season and weather: Addo Elephant National Park lies in a malaria free area with unpredictable but largely summer rainfall, where temperatures can reach within the 30 degrees. Winters are mild and temperatures seldom drop below double digits. The climate at Tsitsikamma is mild & temperate, which holds the possibility of rain throughout the year, with most of it falling at night. Be well prepared at all times and carry liquids, sunscreen, a hat and warm clothing. On the Wild Coast, summers are hot and wet, when afternoon thunderstorms can be expected. This can be problematic when driving on the dirt roads, as they often become slippery

Cape dwarf gecko by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

8 of 12. Cape Dwarf Gecko

Habitats: The Garden Route is well known for its last remaining patches of coastal forest, whilst these are bisected with numerous tannin filled rivers, lagoons and estuaries. Coastal thicket and fynbos are also present. The main and oldest section of the park comprises mainly of sub-tropical thicket with patches of open grassland where old transformed lands occur. Other sections of the recently expanded area vary between Fynbos, Nama-Karoo, Forest, Coastal Dunefields and the marine environment The Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve comprises mainly of coastal grasslands and forest with numerous lagoons and estuaries that flow into the sea

Speckled mousebird by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

9 of 12. Speckled Mousebird

Specials: Crowned Eagle, Knysna Turaco, Lesser-Striped Swallow, Black Saw-Wing, Black-Bellied Starling, Dark Backed Weaver, Forest Canary

Streaky headed seed eater by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

10 of 12. Streaky-Headed Seed-eater

Recommended Viewing Points: Storms River Camp: Storms River Mouth Trail,  Waterfall Trail, Loerie Trail, Blue Duiker Trail: Addo Elephant National Park: The Discovery Trail within the camp, the camping site, Aloe garden within the camp during the aloe flowering season. Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve: Haven Hotel, Bashe River and Estuary Forest Trails close to the Haven Hotel

Addo flightless dung beetle by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

11 of 12. Addo flightless dung beetle

Activities: There are numerous hiking trails within Tsitsikamma and Dwesa-Cwebe and further information regarding these trails can be obtained from the reserve offices. A bird hide is present at Addo Elephant National Park.

Olive thrush by wildlife and conservation photographer Peter Chadwick

12 of 12. Olive Thrush in the forest adjacent to the Haven Hotel

Getting There: Storms River Camp: Situated about an hours drive east of Plettenberg Bay and lying just off the N2 near the Storms River Bridge, the National Park is well signposted. Addo Elephant National Park: Situated 60km’s from Port Elizabeth on the N2 towards Grahamstown. Take the Motherwell/Markham R335 turnoff. Follow the R335 for 53km’sand turn off to the right. Alternatively continue on the N2 towards Cookhouse & Cradock. At Paterson turn left on the R342 towards Addo. The Parks entrance is on the left approximately 22 km’s from Paterson Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve: Dwesa-Cwebe is best reached via the N2, south of Umtata and by taking the turn off near Bityi, through Elliotdale, Alderley and Hobeni and down to the coastline.


Peter Chadwick
Author: Peter ChadwickWebsite: http://www.peterchadwick.co.zaEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
As a dedicated conservationist, Peter Chadwick has 30 years strategic and operational conservation experience in terrestrial and marine protected area management. He has worked within all of the major biomes in southern Africa as well as having provided expert conservation advice at a global level. His conservation and wildlife photography is a natural extension to his conservation work where he has numerous opportunities to capture photographs that showcase the beauty and complexity of the outdoors. Peter’s photography is internationally recognized, with this work appearing globally in a wide range of print and electronic media.