Amathole Mountains Route – Catchart and Queenstown

About the Birding

Situated in the rain shadow on the northern flanks of the Amathole Mountains, the Catchcart and Queenstown areas are some of the best grassland birding sites anywhere in the Eastern Cape. Grassland ecosystems support limited species diversity; however, several notable species can be found in this region in impressive numbers. A full day should be sufficient to cover this area and visits are best combined with other sites in the Amathole district, notably Stutterheim and/or Hogsback.

Larger terrestrial birds thrive in these extensive grasslands with notable mentions including both the Grey Crowned and Blue Cranes, White Stork in the summer months, Secretarybird, Blue Korhaan and occasionally Southern Bald Ibis. Other characteristic species include the African Pipit, Cape Longclaw, Rufous-naped Lark, Wing-snapping Cisticola, Spur-winged Goose, and Red-winged Francolin. Drainage seeps hold the occasionally Dark-capped (African) Yellow Warbler and mixed colonies of bishops, weavers and widowbirds. The Whittlesea area is perhaps one of the best places to search for Yellow-crowned Bishop in the Eastern Cape. The Yellow-breasted Pipit has recently been discovered in the Cathcart area and occurs in small numbers within its preferred microhabitat, while the critically endangered Rudd’s Lark is also suspected to occur. Grasslands nearer Queenstown are noticeably drier and occasionally support small flocks of Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark; a rare species in the Eastern Cape.

Isolated forest patches, including non-native plantations, support small numbers of the endemic Bush Blackcap. Other forest species include the Olive and Knysna Woodpeckers, Knysna Turaco, Olive Bush-shrike, African Olive Pigeon, and Dark-backed Weaver. Rocky areas support Ground Woodpecker and Buff-streaked Chat and, on large cliff faces, the occasional pair of Verreaux’s Eagle.

Key species:

Blue Korhaan, Grey Crowned and Blue Cranes, Bush Blackcap, African Yellow Warbler

About the Birding Site

The Amathola Mountain range consists of a series of montane forest blocks, including several State forests, the Mpofu and Fort Fordyce nature reserves, surrounding fragmented urban and rural areas and montane grassland. The forest complex runs from Fort Fordyce Nature Reserve and Katberg State Forest in the west to Kologha State Forest and Fort Cunningham in the east and includes large State-owned forest blocks such as Katberg State Forest, Fort Fordyce Nature Reserve, …

… Auckland Forest, Auckland Nature Reserve, Hogsback State Forest, Pirie Forest, Cwencwe Forest, Isidenge State Forest, Kologha State Forest and Kubusi State Forest, as well as smaller patches that provide continuity between the larger blocks, especially in the Keiskammahoek area. These patches include Wolf River Main Forest, Malan Forest, Cata Forest, Lenye Forest, Lotutu Forest, Gongoo Forest, Mt Thomas Forest, Abafazi Forest, Quza Forest, Mt Charybois Forest and Izelene Forest, and other small forest fragments adjoining them.

The route itself is centred around the small town of Keiskammahoek and is roughly bounded by the towns of Stutterheim, Hogsback, Alica and Dimbaza. A number of high peaks dominate the overall geography including the Katberg (1 828 m a.s.l.) and Devil Bellow’s Neck (1 726 m a.s.l.) on the western boundary, Elandsberg (2 016 m a.s.l.) and Gaika’s Kop (1 963 m a.s.l.) in the centre of the complex, and Kubusi (1 662 m a.s.l.) and Dohne (1 454 m a.s.l.) peaks in the Kubusi State Forest in the east. The areas at highest altitude, particularly in the rain-shadow, are characterised by a mixture of montane grassland and fynbos heath. Further south, the topography becomes gentler, characterised by lower peaks such as Murray’s Krans (927 m a.s.l.) in Pirie Forest. Much of the area comprises steep cliff-faces, with numerous perennial and non-perennial streams. The largest of these, the Buffalo River, feeds the Maden and Rooikrantz dams, which supply water to the greater King William’s Town/Bisho District. The area receives rainfall mostly in summer and autumn, ranging from 800 mm per annum at the lowest altitudes to 2 000 mm per annum at the highest points.

Owing to this incredible habitat diversity, the region boasts a high diversity of bird species including nationally significant populations of several endemic and threatened species. Among these are the endangered Cape Parrot, localized Orange Ground Thrush, Bush Blackcap and Drakensburg Rockjumper. Perhaps the most accessible areas to explore are the Hogsback and Stutterheim areas that, together, share a similar species diversity and several days are recommended in the area to maximise chances at all species. Outer-lying sites on the Amathole Mountains Route include Cathcart and Queenstown areas, the Fort Fordyce Nature Reserve, King William’s Town, and Readsdale Forest Complex.

Key species:

Blue Korhaan, Grey Crowned and Blue Cranes, Bush Blackcap, African Yellow Warbler

Other Related Information

From Hogsback – continue along the R345 towards Cathcart. From there, follow the N6 from Cathcart to Queenstown, or take the R351 from Cathcart to Whittlesea.

Access and facilities:
Note that gravel road conditions are variable within the area and a vehicle with high clearance is recommended. Much of the area is privately owned and birding should be done entirely off the main roads, unless prior permission is obtained from farmers.

Other related information:

Recommended accommodation nearby:
No Birder Friendly Establishments are currently available in the wider area. Birders are advised to stay in the nearby village of Hogsback, and explore the surrounding forests and grasslands from there.

Local guide information:
No Birder Friendly Tour Operators or local guides are currently available for the wider area. However, guided outings can be arranged with from Hogsback with Dr. Kate Carstens and Cassie Carstens. Walks can be arranged at or by visiting the Hogsback Tourism offices in the centre of Hogsback village.

Text prepared by:
Daniel Keith Danckwerts (Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Tours)

Key species:

Blue Korhaan, Grey Crowned and Blue Cranes, Bush Blackcap, African Yellow Warbler

Contact details:

Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency
17-25 Oxford Street
East London CBD
Tel: +27 (0)43 492 0081

Hogsback Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)83 458 3414