East London – Kei Mouth

About the Birding

Kei Mouth is situated at the southern boundary of the Wild Coast and the Transkei, roughly 90Km to the north of East London. The area is widely renowned for its beauty – featuring extensive pristine beaches, the rich estuary on the Great Kei River and lush evergreen forests altogether hosting a plethora of interesting species. A ferry over the Great Kei River is also one of the last remaining pontoon ferries in South Africa, adding a novel experience for visitors to this remote area of the coast.

To the South of Kei Mouth is the little village of Morgan Bay, which includes the scenic Double Mouth Nature Reserve. At least two days are recommended to explore this rich area and dedicated birders should easily produce lists of 200+ species including several notable South African endemics.

Patches of evergreen forest flanking the Great Kei River and in the coastal strip below Double Mouth Nature Reserve support a rich assemblage of species. The uncommon Knysna Woodpecker is present throughout and is best detected by its high-pitched shrill call. Knysna Warbler can also be seen in the area, though patience and knowledge of call are essential to locating this shy and reclusive species. Other forest species include the Knysna Turaco, Narina Trogon, Olive Bush-shrike, Common Square-tailed Drongo, Cape Batis, both Red-capped and Chorister Robin-chats, Brown Scrub-robin, Black-backed Puffback, Dark-backed Weaver, Olive Sunbird, and Black-bellied Starling. Green Twinspot and Magpie Mannikin are present in small numbers. Mangrove Kingfisher has been seen in forests along the Great Kei River and near Double Mouth, though the species is irregular here. Buff-spotted Flufftail is fairly common in dense forest undergrowth though luck and patience are required to see this species. Yellowwood Forest (just as you enter Morgan’s Bay on dirt road from Kei Mouth) has a wonderful trail through indigenous lowland and riverine forest that offers excellent birding for the likes of Mangrove Kingfisher (seasonal), Half-collared Kingfisher, Mountain Wagtail, Narina Trogon, Lemon Dove, Terrestrail Brownbul, Brown Scrub-robin, Olive Bush-shrike and African Firefinch amongst others.

The mouth of the Great Kei River often supports impressive numbers of coastal seabirds. A large tern roost usually forms at high tide on the northern banks of the river. The roost is best viewed from the southern bank with a telescope, or by crossing the river on the ferry and walking downstream to the extensive sandspit. Swift (Great Crested) and Sandwich Terns are most numerous though the Common (summer), Roseate (winter), Damara (summer), Little (summer), and Antarctic (winter) Terns have all been reported. Lesser Crested Tern is occasionally sighted during the summer months, though the species remains a rare visitor to the Eastern Cape coast. A few pairs of African Oystercatcher (present year-round) and impressive numbers of Palearctic migrant waders attend to the extensive mudflats. Though the main wader flocks are present only in the summer months, fair numbers remain throughout the year. Common species include the Common Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Common Ringed and Grey Plovers, Terek Sandpiper, Little Stint, Ruff, Sanderling and Curlew Sandpiper.

Away from the river, particularly near Double Mouth Nature Reserve and Morgan’s Bay, the gently undulating landscape is blanketed in rich grassland. Time spent exploring this habitat should yield the African Yellow Warbler, Fan-tailed Grassbird (Broad-tailed Warbler), Croaking Cisticola, both Cape and Yellow-throated Longclaws, and the African and Plain-backed Pipits. Grey Crowned Crane are present in fair numbers and are especially noticeable on the Morgan Bay Golf Course. The highly nomadic Black-winged Lapwing is also common throughout. The Southern and Black-crowned Tchagras prefer areas of scrub and thicket at the ecotone with grasslands.

Kei Mouth is widely regarded as one of the top sites in South Africa for vagrant species. Recent records include Sooty Gull, White Tern, Broad-billed and Pectoral Sandpipers, and Pacific Golden Plover. Birders should remain mindful of out-of-range species when visiting this site – particularly during the summer months.

Key species:

Knysna Woodpecker, Knysna Warbler, Red-headed Quelea, Magpie Mannikin, Knysna Turaco, Red-capped Robin-chat

About the Birding Site

The city of East London is one of the most accessible ports of entry into the Eastern Cape, sandwiched between the Buffalo River to the east and the Gonubie River to the west. Its Settler ancestry is incredibly evident, and the city has a distinctive old-fashioned charm about it. Traffic congestion is the exception to the norm, the endless swathes of beaches imply year-round enjoyment without large crowds, and the natural history of the surrounding areas is truly something to behold; altogether providing a refreshingly and incredibly pleasant holiday experience for all.

‘Slummies’ – as the city is locally known – also serves as the gateway to the Amathole mountains as well as both the Wild and Sunshine coastlines.

East London’s climate is distinctly tropical, contrasting from Port Elizabeth and other regions to the south, implying that many bird species reach their southern distribution limit here. As such, it is one of the richest birding routes in the province with several notable hotspots featuring many range-restricted species. Top among the birding sites are the East London Coastal Nature Reserve, Gonubie area, and the Nahoon Nature Reserve and Estuary. Specials to look for in the area include both the Knysna Woodpecker and Knysna Warbler, Red-headed Quelea, White-backed Night Heron, Magpie Mannikin, and Red-capped Robin-chat among others. Several days are recommended in the area, to cover all sites, though visits to East London are best combined with explorations into the nearby Amathole Mountains or the Wild Coast.

Key species:

Knysna Woodpecker, Knysna Warbler, Red-headed Quelea, Magpie Mannikin, Knysna Turaco, Red-capped Robin-chat

Other Related Information

Morgan’s Bay and Kei Mouth are accessible by following the N2 north from East London in the direction of Mthatha. Shortly before the village of Ziphunzana, turn to the east along the recently re-paved R349 to reach Kei Mouth. Morgan’s Bay is sign-posted roughly 3Km before Kei Mouth. Double Mouth Nature Reserve is reached by following Beach Road through Morgan’s Bay in the direction of East London, past the Morgan Bay cliffs.

Other related information:

Facilities and access:
Note that a pontoon ferry is available to cross the Great Kei River. The ferry runs between 07:00 and 17:30 and a levy of R90 is charged per vehicle as a return fee. However, note that the ferry is not operational during rough sea conditions and when the river is in flood. You can also use the ferry to cross on foot to explore the north bank of Kei River and mouth at R1 per person return.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
No Birder Friendly Establishments are currently available in the wider East London and Kei Mouth area. However, a diverse array of accommodation options are available throughout East London to suit all budgets and requirements.

Recommended options include:

1. Nahoon Mouth Guest House:
Tel: (+27) 079 072 4200
Email: nahoonmouth@mweb.co.za
Website: www.nahoonmouth.co.za

2. Ebenhaeser Guest House:
Tel: (+27) 043 748 4220
Email: bookings@ebgh.co.za
Website: www.ebenhaesergh.co.za

3. https://www.keimouth.co.za/accommodation/aloe-cottage/

Aloe Cottage is owned and run by Gareth Yearsley (also responsible for www.keimouth.co.za). He seems to be a knowledgeable birder in area and it is a nice spot for a couple

4. https://www.keimouth.co.za/accommodation/tuck-inn/

John and Pixie Tuck have a nice self-catering cottage and have stayed here myself. Very helpful and might be interested in becoming a Birder Friendly establishment although not knowledgeable birders. They are really pleasant hosts and went out of their way to please…

5. https://www.keimouth.co.za/accommodation/benmore-lodge/

Perhaps worth contacting owner of Benmore Lodge too. We birded a bit on his property…

6. http://www.yellowwoodforest.co.za/

Expect an unpretentious & rustic experience with self-catering accommodation, camping and a dormitory, just 1.5 km from the Morgan Bay beach. The Pizzeria/ Bar/ Tea Garden serves great food, awesome pizza, good coffee and local craft beer too. A great spot just to take a break from birding. The owners (Sean) are also very environmentally conscious, and I see on the bottom of their homepage they are a Birdlife Birder Friendly establishment too? Currently not listed on the Birdlife website.

Several accommodation options are also available in the villages of Kei Mouth and Morgan’s Bay. For more information, visit:
or contact: tourism@keimouth.co.za

Local guide information:
No Birder Friendly Tour Operators or local guides are currently available in the wider East London area.

Text prepared by:
Daniel Keith Danckwerts (Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures) and Martin Benadie.

Key species:

Knysna Woodpecker, Knysna Warbler, Red-headed Quelea, Magpie Mannikin, Knysna Turaco, Red-capped Robin-chat

Contact details:

Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency

17-25 Oxford Street
East London CBD
Tel: (+27) 043 492 0081
Email: info@ecpta.co.za

For more information on Kei Mouth specifically, visit:

or contact: tourism@keimouth.co.za