Grahamstown and surrounds – Mountain Drive

About the Birding

Conveniently located on the immediate outskirts of Grahamstown, the Mountain Drive route offers birders access to small patches of indigenous forest and pristine grassland with an associated plethora of interesting bird species. A morning visit to Mountain Drive should deliver an impressive list of birds, though many occur in low density and some perseverance is usually required to see the top specials.

Begin by scanning the rocky sections on the lower reaches for Buff-streaked Chat and Ground Woodpecker. Both are best targeted by following the small track leading from Mountain View Manor into the deep valley to the south of Grahamstown (see below for details). Note that a 4×4 is required to drive down this track and walking is rather recommended, for those fit enough to do so. Common Quail is regularly flushed in the summer months, while Hottentot Buttonquail has irrupted into the area in impressive numbers in some years. Both species prefer short grassland nearer the top, around Mountain View Manor. Black Harrier can sometimes be seen quartering low over the vegetation and both Long-crested Eagle and Rock Kestrel frequently hunt from the powerlines here.

River gulleys and dams on the lower slopes can be productive in the summer months, when Red-chested and Striped Flufftail begin calling. However, seeing either of these species requires much patience and perseverance and is far from guaranteed. Red-collared and Long-tailed Widowbirds abound in the summer months alongside the Yellow, Southern Red, and Yellow-crowned Bishops. Marshy areas could yield the Broad-tailed Warbler (Fan-tailed Grassbird), an uncommon visitor to the Grahamstown area.

Small pockets of montane forest and thicket are surprisingly productive, particularly in the winter months when resident species are supplemented by altitudinal migrants. It is best to arrive in the very early morning when bird song is at its peak. Careful searching should yield both Lemon and Tambourine Doves, African Firefinch, Knysna Turaco, the secretive White-starred Robin, Chorister Robin-chat, Brown Scrub-robin, Olive Bush-shrike, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher and perhaps even Buff-spotted Flufftail. In winter, listen for the song of Bush Blackcap and Barratt’s Warbler. Patches of proteas and red-hot-pokers at the forest edges regularly also host the impressive Cape Sugarbird. Pay particular attention to any sugarbirds you see, as Gurney’s Sugarbird has been sighted nearby.

Key species:

Buff-streaked Chat, Ground Woodpecker, Hottentot Buttonquail, Striped Flufftail, Cape Sugarbird, Broad-tailed Warbler (Fan-tailed Grassbird), Chorister Robin-chat, White-starred Robin, Brown Scrub-robin, Black Harrier

About the Birding Site

The small settler town of Grahamstown, located just 130Km from Port Elizabeth and 158km from East London, has an incredibly rich cultural history and is primely situated at the ecotone between several key habitats in the Eastern Cape. The town itself serves as a fantastic base from which to access forest, grassland, karoo, and thicket habitats and well over 400 species have been recorded from the area.

Key species include the Knysna Woodpecker, Chorister Robin-chat, both Knysna and Barratt’s Warblers, Knysna Turaco, both Eastern and Cape Clapper Larks, Northern Black Korhaan, White-bellied Bustard and Hottentot Buttonquail. Several birding sites are recommended including the Mountain Drive, Botanical Gardens, Mayfield, Quarry and Belmont Valley routes. Two to three days are recommended in the general area and dedicated birders should easily produce a list of over 200 species including many of South Africa’s endemic species.

Key species:

Buff-streaked Chat, Ground Woodpecker, Hottentot Buttonquail, Striped Flufftail, Cape Sugarbird, Broad-tailed Warbler (Fan-tailed Grassbird), Chorister Robin-chat, White-starred Robin, Brown Scrub-robin, Black Harrier

Other Related Information

Directions:
Three routes are recommended for which details are provided below:

  1. The main track leads from the Waainek Water Treatment Works, immediately to the south-west of Grahamstown. Be cautioned for oncoming traffic when turning off the highway ‘N2’ here. Follow the main track for several kilometres as it climbs above Grahamstown. Park besides the electronics store at -33.3281, 26.5016 and locate the small foot path leading down into the forest to the south. This path enters the richest patch of montane forest in the area, where all forest specials can be seen.

Other related information:

  1. The path eventually leads into an open patch of scrub, dotted with proteas, before turning uphill once more to roughly -33.328, 26.4984 where you can rejoin the main road. Those feeling ambitious may alternatively follow the track further downhill and into the untouched valley beyond, where fantastic birding is to be had.Return to your vehicle and continue along Mountain Drive road from the electronics store to Mountain View Manor at -33.3296, 26.5108. Here, a small track turns to the right entering the same untouched valley as previously mentioned. This track is unsuitable for 2×2 and 2×4 vehicles with low clearance. Should you choose to follow this track, park at -33.3340, 26.5019 where you should park and continue by foot. Alternatively, continue further along Mountain Drive road until -33.337, 26.5484 where one can look down onto yet another forest patch. Retracking your steps to -33.3325, 26.5450, turn to the right and follow the track back into Grahamstown passing Grey Dam on the left.
  2. From the Highway ‘N2,’ turn left onto Rautenback Road and immediately left thereafter to pass the Grahamstown prison. Follow this road for several kilometres passing through rich grassland and protea scrub where most grassland specials can be found. At -33.3282, 26.4348, turn to the right to reach the large Jamieson and Milner Dams. Here, it is permissible to walk at will.
  3. The final route begins by turning right onto Rautenback Road, and immediately right again onto the Old Bay Road passing the Grahamstown SPCA. Continue on the small track beyond the SPCA, however be aware that road conditions vary and a 4×4 is recommended if you intend to drive. Alternatively, park at the SPCA and walk from there. The track follows the contour in the direction of Grahamstown, passing two small dams on the right-hand side at -33.3195, 26.5042. Park there and explore the surrounding grassland and thicket patches.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
A variety of accommodation options are available in Grahamstown, to suit all needs and requirements.
Suggested accommodation in the Grahamstown area include:

A Stone’s Throw B&B: http://www.astonesthrow.co.za/
Acorn Cottage: http://acornbnb.co.za/wpacorn/
Ault House: https://auldhouse.co.za/

Local guide information:
No Birder Friendly Tour Operators are currently available for the wider-Grahamstown area. However, birding tours in the general area are available through:

Tim Cockcroft
Website: https://timwcroft.wixsite.com/timcockcroftbirding
Email: timwcroft@gmail.com
Tel: +27 (0) 72 314 0069

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

Key species:

Buff-streaked Chat, Ground Woodpecker, Hottentot Buttonquail, Striped Flufftail, Cape Sugarbird, Broad-tailed Warbler (Fan-tailed Grassbird), Chorister Robin-chat, White-starred Robin, Brown Scrub-robin, Black Harrier

Contact details:

Mountain Drive is located on municipal property and access is admission free.

Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency

17-25 Oxford Street
East London CBD
Tel: +27 (0) 43 492 0081
Email: info@ecpta.co.za

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