Kariega and Bushmans – Assegaai Trails

About the Birding

Owned by the Ridden family, Assegaai Trails is one of the premier ‘weekend-escape’ destinations in all of the Eastern Cape. Once an active pineapple farm, Assegaai Trails has now been converted into something of a quiet retreat, come wedding venue and conference centre. Suitable for either a weekend getaway, or a casual day trip from Port Alfred, Kenton-on-Sea or Grahamstown, the reserve is revered among birders for its staggering list of over 180 species recorded from the property!

Open grasslands dominate most of the higher-lying areas of the farm, where pineapples were once grown in abundance. Here, it is possible to see Secretarybird, Denham’s Bustard and occasionally the impressive Southern Ground Hornbill; the latter, now an incredibly difficult species in the Eastern Cape. Rufous-naped Lark, Cape Longclaw, Ant-eating Chat, and both African and Plain-backed Pipits are common throughout this habitat. Red-necked Spurfowl is regular by the road sides in the early morning and late afternoon. Remain vigilant for the scarce Red-winged Francolin, which has also been recorded. Common Quail is primarily a summer visitor, sometimes in incredible numbers, and is often also flushed from the roadside. Black Harrier is occasional, usually seen quartering low over the grasslands in search of unsuspecting rodents.

Nearer the Kariega River, the extensive grasslands give way to deeply incised valleys featuring many large rocky kloofs. Here, both the Booted and Verreaux’s Eagles breed; look particularly along the tall cliffs at Rock-Bottom where many of the hiking trails end. Mocking Cliff Chat, Familiar Chat, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, and Striped Pipit share a similar affinity to these rocky sections of the reserve. Where moisture collects to form the small tributaries of the Kariega River, small patches of riverine forest have formed. In this habitat, it is possible to find both Knysna and Olive Woodpeckers, Brown Scrub-robin, Chorister Robin-chat, Olive Bush-shrike, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Narina Trogon, and Knysna Turaco.

Key species:

Verreaux’s Eagle, Knysna Woodpecker, Southern Tchagra, Striped Pipit, Narina Trogon

About the Birding Site

The Bushmans and Kariega Rivers drain two small basins in the Eastern Cape, both entering the Indian Ocean on either side of the small coastal town of Kenton-on-Sea. Both rivers flow permanently across much of their lengths, supporting large agricultural and conservation areas. The Bushmans and Kariega triangle is of ecological significance, supporting several endemic and highly threatened species. This includes the almost mythical nominate race of the African Barred Owlet – which likely constitutes a true species and would thus be endemic to the area – as well as the critically endangered Eastern Cape Cycad (Encephalartos altensteinii).

Large areas in the region have been converted from private farmland into high-end ‘Big 5’ conservation areas, harbouring vast tracts of forest, coastal grassland, succulent thicket, dune thicket as well as isolated patches of fynbos. Among the most important of these are the Kariega Private Game Reserve, Thomas Bains Nature Reserve, and Water’s Meeting Nature Reserve. Other notable hotspots in the area include the coastal strip between Port Alfred and Kenton-on-Sea, Assegai Trails farm, and the Golden Mile farming community. Access to several of these sites is limited to overnight guests only, though most species are common in the area and can be found with 2-3 days to explore public sites.

Key species:

Verreaux’s Eagle, Knysna Woodpecker, Southern Tchagra, Striped Pipit, Narina Trogon

Other Related Information

Assegaai Trails is situated on the R343 between Grahamstown and Kenton-on-Sea. Roughly 25Km from Kenton, heading in a northerly direction, turn to the right at the well-signposted intersection and continue for 5Km along the up-paved road.

The nearest towns are:
Grahamstown: 38Km
Kenton-on-Sea: 30Km
Port Alfred: 53Km

Other related information:

Assegaai Trails offers has 4 well-marked hiking trails, of varying lengths and intensities (ranging from 5Km to 7.5Km), as well as several self-catering accommodation options. The nearest town is Kenton-on-Sea, situated roughly 30Km away, where various shopping facilities and a fuel station are available.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
The nearest Birder Friendly Establishment is located in the small coastal village of Port Alfred.
Pomeroy Lodge offering five luxurious and fully-equipped self-catering chalets overlooking 300ha’s of mixed grassland, thicket and riverine forest. The property includes many well-maintained tracks and paths and is easily accessible for all vehicle types. A total of 130 species are known to occur on this small reserve including Crowned Eagle, Knysna Woodpecker, and Black-bellied Starling.

For more information, refer to:
Address: Pomeroy Lodges, South Seas, 6172, Eastern Cape
Tel: +27 (0)63 268 4549
Email: judith@pmeroylodges.com
Website: www.pomeroylodges.com

Assegaai Trails additionally has 7 fully-equipped self-catering units with en-suite bathrooms, 15 rooms with shared ablutions and kitchen facilities, and a campsite. Guests are required to bring their own bedding and towels. For reservations, contact:

Assegai Trails
Tel: +27 (0)82 445 1042
Email: assegaaitrails@imaginet.co.za
Website: www.assegaaitrails.co.za

Alternatively, a variety of accommodation options are available in Grahamstown, Kenton-on-Sea and Port Alfred to suit all requirements and budgets. These range from a number of large campsites and caravan parks to self-catering and other more luxurious options.

Local guide information:
No Birder Friendly Tour Operators are currently available for the Kariega and Bushamans River Valleys. 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 Worldwide Birding Tours)

Key species:

Verreaux’s Eagle, Knysna Woodpecker, Southern Tchagra, Striped Pipit, Narina Trogon

Contact details:

For more information, contact:

Assegai Trails

Tel: +27 (0)82 445 1042
Email: assegaaitrails@imaginet.co.za
Website: www.assegaaitrails.co.za