Amathole Mountains Route – Katberg–Redsdale Forest Complex

About the Birding

The Katberg – Readsdale forest complex comprises roughly 20 000 hectares and lies along the eastern edge of the Winterberg Mountain range, close to the Amathole Mountains. The area is characterized by large pockets of indigenous Afromontane forest interspersed with pine or Eucalypt plantations, set in a spectacular landscape of waterfalls, clear streams and exposed grassy summits. A number of high peaks dominate the area including Katberg (1 828 m) and Devil Bellow’s Neck (1 726 m), which in winter are often dusted with snow.

Katberg – Readsdale forest complex has been rated as an IBA as it supports a number of endemic or near-endemics bird species. Species of special significance include the Cape Parrot, Black harrier, Knysna woodpecker, Drakensburg rockjumper, Ground woodpecker, Buff-streaked chat and Bush Blackcap.

As you approach the Katberg Pass from the low-altitude rolling grasslands around Mpofu Game Reserve look out for grassland species including Burchell’s Courser, Black Harrier, and Black-winged Lapwing in any fallow fields or short grasslands. Denham’s Bustard and both Grey Crowned and Blue Cranes are all regular. Cape Parrot occur further along in the forested area, and an early morning or late afternoon drive up the Pass is your best chance of seeing these birds. Stop at any points where you have a view over the forest canopy and listen for their distinctive harsh calls, or scan any exposed perches above the canopy. A short walk through the forest, either from the Katberg Hotel or the forest station, should reveal an interesting selection of forest specials. Knysna Turaco, Orange Ground Thrush, Bush Blackcap, Knysna Woodpecker, Forest Canary, Brown Scrub-robin and Chorister Robin-chat are all fairly regular. As you reach the higher altitudes at the top of the Pass, where barren rocky slopes become prominent, look for Ground woodpecker, Drakensburg Rockjumper, Buff-streaked Chat and Sentinel Rock-thrush.

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:

Cape Parrot, Drakensburg Rockjumper, Ground Woodpecker, Orange Ground Thrush, Burchell’s Courser, Blue and Grey Crowned Cranes

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:

Cape Parrot, Drakensburg Rockjumper, Ground Woodpecker, Orange Ground Thrush, Burchell’s Courser, Blue and Grey Crowned Cranes

Other Related Information

From Grahamstown: Travel north on the R67 to Fort Beaufort. Continue through Fort Beaufort and keep on the R67, passing Tidbury’s Toll. Look for a signed gravel road, the R351, to Katberg on your left, or follow signs to the Katberg Hotel. Beyond the hotel is the summit of the Katberg Pass. 4×4 is recommended.

Notable points of interest include:
Katberg hotel: -32.4910, 26.6800
Katberg forestry station: -32.4837, 26.6858

Other related information:

The nearest towns to Katberg are:
Fort Beaufort: 41Km
Adelaide: 77km
Alice: 64Km
Whittlesea: 54Km

Recommended accommodation nearby:
No Birder Friendly Establishments are currently available in the greater Katberg area, though there are several accommodation options in Fort Beaufort. The nearby Mpofu Game Reserve includes 3 lodges, all restored farmhouses, that are all fully equipped for self-catering visitors. Alternatively, the Katberg Eco Golf Estate hold a number of accommodation options from a hotel to self-catering units.

Reservations for Katberg Hotel: + 27 (0) 43 743 3433

Reservations for Mpofu Game Reserve: + 27 (0) 43 705 4400 / +27 (0)86 111 3320
Fax: +27 (0)86 111 1623/4

Local guide information:
No Birder Friendly Tour Operators or local guides are currently active in the Katberg area.

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

Key species:

Cape Parrot, Drakensburg Rockjumper, Ground Woodpecker, Orange Ground Thrush, Burchell’s Courser, Blue and Grey Crowned Cranes

Contact details:

Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency

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

For more information, contact the Katberg Hotel:

Reservations for Katberg Hotel:
Tel: + 27 (0) 43 743 3433