Port Elizabeth and surrounds – Tankatara Road

About the Birding

The Tankatara Road, 43km from Port Elizabeth, is widely regarded as one of the Eastern Cape’s top birding sites. A morning visit should be more than sufficient and may produce lists of 60+ species, including chances for rare migrants in the summer months. It is easily combined with a visit to the Swartkops River Estuary, Sunday’s River Mouth, or the core section of Addo Elephant National Park.

Excellent birding can be had on the main access road, leading from the National Highway ‘N2.’ Southern Black Korhaan is resident in areas of dense shrubbery while Denham’s Bustard and Blue Crane prefer the open areas of cropped grassland opposite the main salt pans. Ludwig’s Bustard is occasional, mainly in winter. Sweet-thorn thickets and scrub host Acacia Pied Barbet, Greater Honeyguide, African Firefinch, Karoo Scrub-robin, Grey-backed Cisticola and Southern Tchagra. Seeing the latter requires knowledge of the call as the birds tend to remain hidden in thick vegetation at all times. Red-headed Quelea is sometimes present between the months of July and September, particularly nearer the Sunday’s River.

The Sunday’s River itself supports an isolated population of White-fronted Bee-eaters. Scan from the disused old Mackay bridge for the birds nesting in the vertical banks on the eastern side, or check the Eucalyptus trees where the birds frequently hawk insects. Species often seen on the river itself include the Caspian, Sandwich, Greater Crested and Common Terns, African Swamphen, Reed Cormorant, Grey Heron and African Darter.

The Tankatara Salt Pans support impressive numbers of both the Greater and Lesser Flamingos, often side-by-side offering the birder a chance to compare the two species. Impressive rafts of Black-necked Grebe are frequently also present, though views are often distant from the main gravel road. Waders are present in incredible numbers during the summer months including Common Whimbrel, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Ruddy Turnstone, Ruff, Sanderling, and the Kittlitz’s, Common Ringed and Grey Plovers with many overwintering. Chestnut-banded Plover is resident in impressive numbers, preferring shallower edges to the salt pans. The site is also justly famous for rarities, having produced the likes of Red-necked Phalarope, American Golden Plover, Black Tern and South Africa’s first Little Ringed Plover. Grey-headed, Hartlaub’s and Kelp Gulls move between here, the Sunday’s River and the nearby village of Colchester.

Raptors are prevalent in the Tankatara area. Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk can usually be seen perched on the tops of shrubs and Black-winged Kites hunt from the power lines. Transient visitors include Martial Eagle, Jackal Buzzard, Lanner Falcon and Black Harrier.

Key species:

Chestnut-banded Plover, White-fronted Bee-eater, Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Ludwig’s Bustard, Southern Black Korhaan

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:

Chestnut-banded Plover, White-fronted Bee-eater, Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Ludwig’s Bustard, Southern Black Korhaan

Other Related Information

When travelling from Port Elizabeth, and about 3Km before the bridge over the Sunday’s River, take the disused road to the left towards Uitenhage. Turn immediately to the right and follow the road parallel to the national highway ‘N2’ until you reach the old Mackay Bridge over the Sunday’s River. Note that this bridge is closed to traffic but one can still use it to scan either side of the river. The road to the salt pans is roughly 1km before the bridge, on the left hand-side.

Other related information:

The nearest towns area:
Colchester: 15Km
Port Elizabeth: 38Km
Uitenhage: 40Km
Grahamstown: 102Km

Note that access to the salt pans is strictly prohibited and birding is exclusively done from the main access roads.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
No Birder Friendly Establishments are currently available in the Tankatara area. However, a variety of accommodation options are available in the village of Colchester ranging from budget camping sites through to luxurious B&Bs.

Some options include:
Sundowner Guest House: 041 468 0173 (No website available)
Dungbeetle River Lodge: https://dungbeetle.co.za/
Pearson Park Caravan Park and Camping Site: https://www.pearsonpark.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:

Chestnut-banded Plover, White-fronted Bee-eater, Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Ludwig’s Bustard, Southern Black Korhaan

Contact details:

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