Transkei – Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve

About the Birding

This Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserves previously comprised two adjoining reserves on the north-eastern Pondoland coast, one on either side of the large mBashe River. The two reserves have now been combined into a single protected area, although they are separated by the river. The combined reserve contains 20 km of pristine coastline and coastal forest. The topography rises step-wise from the coast to 300 m a.s.l. and is composed of Karoo sediments, Ecca shales and sandstones.

The area is drained by a number of rivers, the most important of which is the mBashe River. The climate is humid and temperate. The reserve receives an average rainfall of 870 mm p.a., which falls mostly in spring and early summer. The annual average minimum and maximum temperatures are 15 °C and 20 °C respectively. Because of the maritime influence, there is little diurnal or seasonal variation in the temperature.

Biogeographically, Dwesa–Cwebe is situated in the Indian Ocean Coastal Belt, which extends along the eastern seaboard of Africa from south-eastern Somalia to Port Elizabeth. Growing on well-drained but poor soils derived from tillite, the vegetation here is typical of edaphic coastal plateau sour grasslands that constitute part of the Tongaland–Pondoland Mosaic. The grasses are low in nutrient content and are of little agricultural value to commercial or subsistence farmers. Small forest patches exist in the river gorges and on the coastal sand dunes. The coastal zone is situated at the southern limit of the East African mangrove belt, which is quite extensive along the coast.

More than 200 bird species are known from the Dwesa & Cwebe Nature Reserve. The region is ranked as an IBA for the global conservation value of a breeding population of Spotted Ground Thrush, as well as a population of Red data listed African Black Oystercatcher and Knysna Woodpecker. The coastal mangroves support the only protected breeding population of Mangrove kingfisher, though they migrate north for the winter. The best time to see Mangrove kingfisher here is thus in summer, with the added benefit that the birds are very vocal from September – April, making them easier to find! Also vocal during the summer are the migrant cuckoos, with African Emerald & Black Cuckoos being especially noticeable. Other forest specials include the Trumpeter Hornbill, Narina Trogon, Knysna Turaco, Chorister Robin-chat, Grey Cuckooshrike, White-starred Robin, Brown Scrub-robin, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Common Square-tailed Drongo, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Olive Bush-shrike, Swee Waxbill and Forest canary. The road to the Dwesa office is most productive, though the forest around the chalets and campsites is also worth exploring!

Look carefully along the banks of quiet stretches of river for Mountain Wagtail, African Finfoot and the beautiful Half-collared Kingfisher – the Mbanayana River causeway in Cwebe is a good place to stop. Crowned Eagle and Narina Trogon occur in the vicinity of the causeway. African Wood Owl can often be heard in the early evenings. Along the forest edges or in grassy clearings look for Barratt’s Warbler, Forest Canary, Southern Tchagra, Olive and Grey Sunbirds, Red-backed Mannikin and Swee Waxbill.

As you move away from the coast and into the grasslands, in particular the moist grasslands to the east of the campsite, look for Croaking Cisticola and the resident pair of Grey Crowned Cranes. Swamp Nightjar is suspected to occur. Other grassland to look for include the Denham’s Bustard and Southern Ground Hornbill. A walk around the grassy areas at Dwesa office should reveal Plain-backed Pipit, Wailing Cisticola, Broad-tailed Warbler (Fan-tailed Grassbird) and Yellow-throated Longclaw.

Mammals that can be seen in the reserve include the Common Eland, Blue Wildebeest, Red Hartebeest, Common Warthog, Cape Clawless Otter and Cape Buffalo. Other notable species include the coastal forest–grassland mosaic may support the South African endemic Giant Golden Mole, Zulu Golden Mole, Forest Shrew and the Least Dwarf Shrew, all of which occur within the general vicinity. The South African endemic Natal Black Snake and Southern Brown Egg Eater are known to occur in the reserve. The area is also particularly rich in highly localised endemic frogs and Yellow-striped Reed Frog, Forest Tree Frog, Plaintive Rain Frog and Kloof Frog have all been recorded in the reserve. Knysna Leaf-folding Frog, Natal Chirping Frog and Bush Squeaker all occur along this coastal strip and possibly also in Dwesa–Cwebe.

Key species:

Knysna Woodpecker, African Finfoot, Narina Trogon, Spotted Ground Thrush, Mangrove Kingfisher, Yellow-streaked Greenbul

About the Birding Site

Until very recently, the vast Transkei has been the least explored region of the Eastern Cape province – extending from Kei Mouth to as far as Port Edward at the boarder of the KwaZulu-Natal province, and bound to the north by the Drakensburg Mountains. Many parts remain difficult to access, given that the region was considered as an unrecognised state for ‘separate development’ until as recently as 1994. Post-Apartheid, the Transkei was reclassified as part of the Eastern Cape though the region remains almost totally under-developed.

The Transkei convers an estimated area of 45 000Km2and includes several notable river systems, though is otherwise a generally rugged landscape blanketed by extensive grasslands and isolated forests. Large areas are of agricultural significance, mainly of a subsistence nature, and many parts suffer from decades of over-grazing. However, the region remains ecologically important for several notable reasons.

The many remnant forests along the Transkei coast are of ecological significance in that they support many localized and threatened species. Among these are the Cape Parrot, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, African Barred Owlet, Mangrove Kingfisher, and Spotted Ground Thrush. As such, most forests on the Transkei are characterized as ‘State Forests’ and have been included into provincial nature reserves. Sites of particular importance include the Manubi State Frest, Hluleka Nature Reserve, Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve and Mkhambathi Nature Reserve. Intact grasslands and wetlands further support large populations of the Wattled Crane, Yellow-breasted Pipit, and the critically endangered Rudd’s Lark. Further exploration in the region will likely deliver other exciting finds – perhaps even a relic breeding population of Egyptian Vultures!

Visits to the Transkei typically for the dedicated birder requiring considerable inside knowledge, some forethought and planning, and a level of self-reliance. However, though those willing to venture into this exciting region will certainly be rewarded with an impressive species list.

Key species:

Knysna Woodpecker, African Finfoot, Narina Trogon, Spotted Ground Thrush, Mangrove Kingfisher, Yellow-streaked Greenbul

Other Related Information

From Mthatha: Dwesa Nature Reserve has 6 entrance gates, directions are to entrance gate 2. Head south along the N2 from Mthatha towards East London. At the town of Dutywa turn left onto the R408 to Willowvale and travel for 30.6 km’s. Travel through Willowvale and at km 30.6 turn left. Stay on the main gravel road and follow the signs to Dwesa Nature Reserve.

The nearest towns are:
Willowvale: 48Km
Idutywa: 100Km
Mthatha: 160Km

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
There are no fuel or shop facilities at Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve and visitors should be fully equipped and are required to be entirely self-sufficient.
Gate opening and closing times:
All year: 06h00 – 22h00
Entry Fee: Vehicle N/A
Day visitors: Adults R15
Access between the reserves is limited and the shortest route through is only possible with a guide (R45 p.p). The alternative is a very long drive around!

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Accommodation in Dwesa Nature Reserve includes a campsite with 40 stands and communal ablution facilities, fully equipped self-catering forest chalets sleeping between 2 and 4 people each.

For reservations, contact the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency:
Reservations: + 27 (0) 43 705 4400 / +27 (0)86 111 3320
Fax: +27 (0)86 111 1623/4

Alternate accommodation at Cwebe is available through the fully equipped Haven Hotel. Meals are provided.

For reservations, contact:
The Haven Hotel
Tel: +27 (0)47 576 8904

Local guide information:
No Birder Friendly Tour Operators or local guides are currently available for the Dwesa-Cwebe Nature Reserve.

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

Key species:

Knysna Woodpecker, African Finfoot, Narina Trogon, Spotted Ground Thrush, Mangrove Kingfisher, Yellow-streaked Greenbul

Contact details:

For more information, contact the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency at:

Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency

17-25 Oxford Street
East London CBD
Tel: +27 (0)43 492 0081

Reserve contact details:

Tel: +27 (0)87 286 6537 (office hours only)