North Coast – Tugela Estuary

About the Birding

The Tugela River estuary is located at the extreme northern limit of the North Coast birding route, just to the north of KwaDukuza. The river itself is the largest river in KwaZulu-Natal and is one of the most important river systems in all South Africa. The estuary and its associated floodplain support a plethora of interesting freshwater and coastal species and serve as an incredibly rewarding birding site, particularly in the early mornings.

While many species are common across all other estuarine environments in KwaZulu-Natal, this site often delivers rare and out-of-range species and has played host to several national rarities.

The beach holds small numbers of African Oystercatcher and a small tern and gull roost. The roost regularly holds both the Grey-headed and Kelp Gulls, along with the Swift (Greater Crested), Common (summer), Lesser Crested (late summer), Sandwich, and Caspian Terns. The extensive tidal mudflats are host to diverse shorebirds with the resident populations being supplemented by in the influx of Palearctic migrants in the summer months (September-April). Look in particular for the Eurasian Curlew (irregular), Common Whimbrel, Bar-tailed Godwit, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Ruff, Ruddy Turnstone, Curlew and Marsh Sandpipers, Common Greenshank, and Little Stint.

The riverbanks are flanked by Giant Sycamores as well as rich and productive wetlands. These areas may yield the Red-faced and Rufous-winged Cisticolas, and the Lesser Swamp Warbler. Watch overhead for the Western Osprey, African Fish Eagle and Palmnut Vulture (occasional). Large heronries form during the summer months.

Key species:

Rufous-winged Cisticola, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, African Oystercatcher, Palmnut Vulture

About the Birding Site

The North Coast – frequently also referred to as the Dolphin Coast – extends from the city of Durban to the Tugela River mouth, located immediately to the south of Richard’s Bay. With its distinct subtropical climate, pristine and extensive beaches, and the warm waters of the Indian Ocean – the region is extremely popular among holiday makers. In addition to the rich beaches, the area offers diverse cultural attractions, magnificent golf courses, and extensive nature reserves.

Further afield, the north coast (particularly Durban) is the gateway to the rest of KwaZulu-Natal offering easy access to the Drakensberg mountains, temperate midlands, and Zululand. While much of the region has been transformed into extensive sugarcane fields, the route offers several key sites of interest to birders visiting the area and an impressive checklist of birds including several of South Africa’s most sought-after specials. Among these species are the globally threatened Spotted Ground Thrush, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Buff-spotted Flufftail, African Finfoot, Red-headed Quelea, and Southern Bald Ibis. Wetland sites on the route also play host to rarities on an annual basis, offering exciting prospects for birders. Key sites along the route include the Dlokwane Forest, SAPPI Tranquila, Otimati, and the St. Kitts Wetlands.

Key species:

Rufous-winged Cisticola, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, African Oystercatcher, Palmnut Vulture

Other Related Information

Tugela Mouth is located roughly 90km to the north of Durban following the N2 Freeway. Shortly after crossing the Tugela River, take the sign-posted exit and continue south towards the coast towards the Tugela Mouth.

Notable points of interest include the:
Tugela River Mouth: -29.2222, 31.5007

Access and facilities:
Limited shopping facilities and a fuel station are available in the small settlement on the northern bank of the Tugela Mouth.

Other related information:

Recommended accommodation nearby:
A number of accommodation options are available at the Tugela River Mouth including a caravan park and campsite, a backpackers and numerous self-catering options. The nearest Birder Friendly Establishments can be found in the nearby towns of Eshowe and Mtunzini.
For more information, view:
Diverse accommodation options are also available in nearby coastal towns including Shaka’s Rock, Umhlanga, Ballito and within Durban itself.

Local guide information:
The nearest BirdLife Community Guides operate out of Mtunzini and Eshowe. For more information, please visit:

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

Key species:

Rufous-winged Cisticola, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, African Oystercatcher, Palmnut Vulture

Contact details: