Port Elizabeth and surrounds – Cape Recife Nature Reserve

About the Birding

Cape Recife Nature Reserve is located adjacent to the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and is within easy distance for any birder visiting Port Elizabeth, however briefly. Between 2 and 3 hours are recommended to cover all habitats, though note that some species are distinctly seasonal.

The entrance road, passing Pine Lodge, is worthwhile exploring. Drive slowly and listen for the song of Dark-backed Weaver and Knysna Woodpecker, particularly in the vicinity of the Eucalyptus trees as one turns off Marine Drive.

Karoo Prinia prefers scrubby vegetation and Black-winged Kites hunt from the telephone wires. Upon reaching the entrance boom, one has the option of walking or entering by vehicle. However, note that a permit is required when using your vehicle. From there, a paved road runs parallel to the coast, passing the SANCCOB Seabird rehabilitation centre, before eventually teetering out near the Cape Recife Lighthouse where ample parking is provided.

The road between the entrance boom and the lighthouse supports the near-endemic Burchell’s Coucal, both Red-faced and Speckled Mousebirds, Southern Tchagra, Cape Robin-chat and Brimstone Canary. After roughly 1km, shortly after the seabird rehabilitation centre, one reaches a narrow parking space to the left. From here, a short trail leads inland to a bird hide on a well-vegetated pond. The pond holds White-breasted and Reed Cormorants, African Darter, South African Shelduck, Cape and Red-billed teal and Cape Shoveler. Black-headed, Purple and Grey Herons are usually in attendance though the Little Bittern, African Swamphen and African Rail require much patience. Red-chested Flufftail call from the dense reedbeds in summer.

The point beyond the lighthouse hosts a large tern roost – perhaps the major attraction at Cape Recife Nature Reserve. Swift (Greater Crested), Sandwich and Caspian Terns and present year-round; roughly in decreasing order of abundance. Between the months of September and April, Common Terns arrive in abundance and can be seen in several different plumage stages – testing even the most well-versed birders. The beautiful Roseate and Antarctic Terns are present from about March through October, with Roseate Tern numbers peaking in September once breeding on the nearby Bird Island is terminated. Small numbers of the diminutive Damara Tern are sometimes also present and this species is usually seen sitting away from the main flock. Arctic Tern are only irregularly reported. The point additionally provides the opportunity to scan for foraging Cape Gannets and African Penguins, from the nearby St Croix and Bird Island colonies, as well as pelagic species during high seas and south-west winds.

Sandy beaches between Pine Lodge and the Lighthouse support small numbers of Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit, and African Oystercatchers. Gulls should be checked carefully as Hartlaub’s and Grey-headed Gulls co-occur.

Cape Recife Nature Reserve has delivered a number of extremely rare vagrant species in recent years. A Bridled Tern – an extremely rare vagrant to South Africa – visited annually between about 2001 and 2015, usually between the months of April and August. Birder should remain mindful of any dark-backed terns as Sooty Tern is also an annual visitor to the Eastern Cape coast. Other notable mentions include Red-footed Booby, Rosy Bee-eater, American Golden Plover, and both Franklin’s and Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Key species:

Roseate, Damara, Swift (Greater Crested), Common, Caspian, and Sandwich Terns, Cape Gannet, African Penguin, African Rail

About the Birding Site

Port Elizabeth, an idyllic coastal city, is perhaps the most accessible port of entry into the Eastern Cape. Known as the ‘Friendly City,’ Port Elizabeth offers a superb value-for-money holiday base with a diverse selection of attractions, within easy reach, including a number of scenic nature trails, historic heritage, cultural experiences and several bird and wildlife viewing hotspots. Perhaps most important are the core section of Addo Elephant National Park and the Baviaanskloof Wilderness Complex; both under 1hr drive from the city’s international airport.

Other notable hotspots within easy reach are Settler’s Park, the Swartkops Estuary, Tankatara Road, Cape Recife Nature Reserve, and the Island Forest Reserve.

Key species:

Roseate, Damara, Swift (Greater Crested), Common, Caspian, and Sandwich Terns, Cape Gannet, African Penguin, African Rail

Other Related Information

Cape Recife is accessible by turning off Marine Drive, heading south, in the direction of Pine Lodge Resort and Conference centre.

Access and facilities:
Vehicle access to Cape Recife Nature Reserve requires a permit. Permits can be obtained from Pine Lodge, immediately before the entrance boom to the reserve itself. Permits are either issued on a weekly (@R68.00) or annual (@R344.00) basis and prices are subject to change. Note that Birdlife South Africa membership is no longer accepted.

Other related information:

A visit to the SANCCOB seabird rehabilitation centre is recommended. A 9Km circular walking trail is also available, beginning at the entrance gate and passing the bird hide, the light house and an old military observation post. Roughly 3-hours are required to complete the trail.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
No Birder Friendly Establishments are currently available in the Port Elizabeth area though countless accommodation options are available to suit all budges and requirements.
Recommended accommodation includes:
Pine Lodge: https://pinelodge.co.za/

Local guide information:
Local birding tours within the wide Port Elizabeth area can be organised through:
Bird & Eco-tours
Tour/guiding/free information service in the Port Elizabeth area
Tel: +27 (0)41 466 5698

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

Key species:

Roseate, Damara, Swift (Greater Crested), Common, Caspian, and Sandwich Terns, Cape Gannet, African Penguin, African Rail

Contact details:

Pine Lodge

Phone: +27 (0)41 583 4004
Email: enquiries@pinelodge.co.za

Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism

Tel: +27 (0)41 581 7540 / +27 (0)42 582 2573
Fax: +27 (0)42 581 7544 / +27 (0)41 582 2573
Email: info@nmbt.co.za
Website: www.nmbt.co.za