Amathole Mountains Route – Fort Fordyce Nature Reserve

About the Birding

Fort Fordyce Nature Reserve covers an area of roughly 2 136 hectares, supporting large areas of intact montane grassland and indigenous forest. Some 175 bird species have been reported from the park though there are several notable differences with other birding sites on the Amathole Mountains Route. Cape Parrot, for example, is only rarely reported whereas both Orange Ground Thrush and Bush Blackcap appear more common.

The southern flanks of Fort Fordyce are blanketed in indigenous montane forest supporting an extremely high diversity of forest specials. Orange Ground Thrush is regular in deeply incised forested gulleys, particularly in the vicinity of streams, while the near-endemic Bush Blackcap prefers the canopy and forest edge. Both species are quite common in the reserve, however knowledge of their calls is essential to locating them. Other notable forest interior species include the Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Olive Bush-shrike, Chorister Robin-chat, Cape Batis, White-starred Robin, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Dark-backed Weaver, Swee Waxbill and Barratt’s Warbler. Mountain Wagtail prefer turbulent streams and can be seen in the vicinity of the overnight huts in the forest. African Emerald Cuckoo and Buff-spotted Flufftail are regularly heard in the summer months, though seeing the latter species requires much luck and patience. Cape Parrot is only rarely reported in the forests here, though significant numbers occasionally visit the Baddaford Farm Stall closer to Fort Beaufort. Forest Buzzard and Crowned Eagle are regularly seen soaring over the forest canopy while flocks of Trumpeter Hornbill fly between feeding and roosting areas in the early morning/late afternoon.

The montane grassland and scrub on the plateau supports Black Harrier, Black-winged Lapwing, a resident pair of Secretarybird, and occasionally Denham’s Bustard. Thornveld at the base of the reserve holds Chinspot Batis, Golden-breasted Bunting, and occasionally Common Scimitarbill.
In comparison to other large forest tracts further west, between Port Elizabeth and George, this area supports a considerably greater proportion of threatened and endemic vertebrate species. Notable mentions include the Tree Dassie, Samango Monkey, Blue Duiker and Giant Golden Mole. Leopard and Honey Badger are also reportedly present. The Amatolas are the only home to the extremely range-restricted Amatola Toad and they also support Hogsback Chirping Frog, which is endemic to these mountains. The South African endemic Amatola Flat Gecko is another inhabitant of the Amatolas, as are Southern Dwarf Chameleon and an isolated population of Natal Black Snake. The tributaries of the Kieskamma and Buffalo river systems, hold two endemic threatened and highly localised fish species: the Eastern Province Rocky and Border Barb.

Key species:

Orange Ground Thrush, Bush Blackcap, Chorister Robin-chat, Forest Buzzard

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:

Orange Ground Thrush, Bush Blackcap, Chorister Robin-chat, Forest Buzzard

Other Related Information

Fort Forydce Nature Reserve is set near the little community of Blinkwater on the Post Retief road roughly equidistant between the villages of Adelaide and Fort Beaufort. Access is strictly for 4×4 vehicles only, as road conditions are variable.
Notable points of interest include:
Baddaford farm stall: -32.7339, 26.5771
Fort Fordyce entrance: -32.7158, 26.5869
Fort Fordyce main reception: -32.6799, 26.4890

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
Several trails, of differing intensity and length, run through the reserve including a two-day 25km hike with overnight accommodation set within the forest. Note that a small conservation fee (R11/adult per day, R6/child per day) applies for both day and overnight visitors. Gates are open 24-hours.
The nearest towns are:
Fort Beaufort: 17Km
Adelaide: 20Km
Katberg: 27Km
East London: 180Km

Recommended accommodation nearby:
No Birder Friendly Establishments are currently available in the vicinity of Fort Fordyce Nature Reserve. However, overnight accommodation is available through the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency at extremely affordable prices.

Local guide information:
No Birder Friendly Tour Operators are currently available for Fort Fordyce, though local guides can be arranged through the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency.

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

Key species:

Orange Ground Thrush, Bush Blackcap, Chorister Robin-chat, Forest Buzzard

Contact details:

Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency

17-25 Oxford Street
East London CBD
Tel: +27 (0)43 492 0081

Reserve contact details:

Office: +27 (0)46 684 0729
Reserve manager: +27 (0)79 496 7818