East London – Umtiza Nature Reserve

About the Birding

The small Umtiza Nature Reserve, situated alongside the bell-shaped Buffalo River, is situated just to the west of the city of East London very near the local airport. The reserve was declared in 1985 and covers some 758 hectares of indigenous forest and exotic plantations. The reserve itself is named after the tree Umtiza listerana, which is known from only two other locations. Birding in the forest is extremely productive with over 150 species recorded.

A morning visit is usually sufficient and should deliver a list of 30 to 40 species including several notable endemic species. Birders should remain mindful at this site given safety concerns though the site is included in the birding route given that it remains intact.

The forested sections of the Umtiza Nature Reserve are one of the better places in the Eastern Cape to search for the beautiful Narina Trogon. The species is present year-round but is easiest to find in the summer months when the birds are most vocal. Knysna Woodpecker is present in fair numbers and is also best detected by high-pitched shrill call. Other forest species include the Brown Scrub-robin, Chorister and Red-capped Robin-chats, White-starred Robin, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Terrestrial Brownbul, Olive Woodpecker, and Knysna Turaco. Green Twinspot and Magpie Mannikin both occur in small numbers, though are not always present.

The Buffalo River, visible from certain sections of the trail, holds good numbers of African Finfoot. Also, the small bridge 2km from the reserve entrance is a good place to watch and wait for this species. Use these vantage points to scan for soaring Crowned Eagle in the Buffalo River valley.

Key species:

Chorister Robin-chat, Brown Scrub-robin, Green Twinspot, Knysna Woodpecker, Magpie Mannikin, Narina Trogon

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 and 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:

Chorister Robin-chat, Brown Scrub-robin, Green Twinspot, Knysna Woodpecker, Magpie Mannikin, Narina Trogon

Other Related Information

Travel south from East London along the R72 past the East London airport. Immediately after the airport, turn to the north along the Buffalo Pass road and follow this road east towards the Buffalo River. The entrance to the Umtiza Nature Reserve is located roughly 1.5Km along this road to the left. The entrance to the reserve is just pas the Maroni Radar at the top of the hill.

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
Gate times are between 07:30 and 16:00 on weekdays. The forest is laid out with a series of trails that vary from 1.5 km up to 6 km. All trails produce birds, but the 6 km walk will produce the greatest variety. There are also picnic and ablution facilities in the parking area near the Nature Conservation offices. Maps of the trails are available in the small hut, also near the offices, as part of self-issue permits. If the permit book has been removed, refer to the map on the signboard in the parking area.

Note that safety is a concern at this site and birders should always remain mindful of this when planning a visit to Umtiza.

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

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 Tours)

Key species:

Chorister Robin-chat, Brown Scrub-robin, Green Twinspot, Knysna Woodpecker, Magpie Mannikin, Narina Trogon

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