Bluff Nature Reserve
Bluff Nature Reserve is a 45-hectare protected pan and forest in the suburb of The Bluff, Durban, South Africa. The park was proclaimed in 1974, making it Durban’s oldest nature reserve, the pan section of the park contains the remnant of a large swamp that once covered the area, while the forest section comprises a small patch of coastal lowland forest.
The Bluff Nature Reserve is well worth a visit for its freshwater pan, wetlands and patch of coastal lowland forest. In the reserve is a diverse plant life as well as a large number of water birds that include the common purple gallinule and rare lesser jacana.
Even though everyone knows the Bluff and its accompanying beaches, particularly Brighton Beach and Anstey’s, it is one of the most underrated areas of the city. Most of the headland (bluff) lies on the remains of a huge coastal dune system that formed on this shoreline around five million years ago.
The nature reserve has bird watching facilities which overlook the pan. Providing reed beds for roosting and breeding of waterfowl, herons and egrets, even if Egyptian and spur-winged geese, swamp hens and coots tend to dominate the scene.
Open daily from 07h00 to 17h00
There is a self-guided trail throughout the reserve. Follow the trail that leads through coastal bush remnants and reed beds to the elevated hides that overlook the vlei.
Burman Bush is a 50-hectare tract of coastal forest that overlooks the Umgeni River and is maintained in pristine condition. Species that are often seen include Southern Boubou, Tambourine Dove, Ashy Flycatcher, Red-backed Mannikin, Klaas’s Cuckoo, Lesser Honeyguide, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Square-tailed Drongo, Grey Sunbird, Southern Tchagra, Black Sparrowhawk, Lanner Falcon and in winter, Spotted Ground-Thrush. A number of trails wind through the forest, varying in length, but none longer than 2 hours. From a birding perspective though, it is probably wisest to stick to the private road that runs through the centre of the reserve, as the fringes will provide the best views of the species that frequent the area.
Bayhead Natural Heritage Site
Bayhead Natural Heritage Site protects some of the last remaining, and most accessible, estuarine tidal flats in Durban Bay. Despite lying in the centre of a major city, the area boasts a good selection of waterbirds. An astonishing 120 or so species of aquatic birds have been recorded in Durban Bay, and a single visit is likely to reveal about 30-50 species. At least one hour, and preferably half a day, are recommended to cover the site.
The best time to visit is when the birds assemble in large numbers when the tide is either just starting to recede, or preferably is coming in. A low tide visit is less rewarding as many of the waders will be feeding either far off from the hide or on the distant Centre bank. A peak high tide visit, when the entire area is inundated, is a waste of time. In addition, the situation of the hide dictates that a morning visit is best as this is the time when the sun is behind you when viewing the tidal flat. The use of a scope is highly recommended.
Palaearctic waders are the primary attraction. The most abundant of these in summer are Common Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Ruddy Turnstone, Terek Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Curlew Sandpiper, and Common Whimbrel. Less frequently present are Greater Sand Plover, Marsh Sandpiper, Red Knot, Little Stint, Sanderling, Ruff, Bar-tailed Godwit and Eurasian Curlew. Adjacent to the tidal flats is a natural area of grassland and mangroves. A trail leads through the grassland to a boardwalk through the mangroves. Mangrove Kingfisher is usually present from April to September. Purple-banded Sunbird is usually heard calling from the tree-tops.
The Heritage Site is well signposted from Bayhead Road, which skirts the southern edge of the Bay. Bayhead Road is accessed from Maydon Road, which in turn skirts the western edge of the Bay. The site is open from sunrise to sunset. Access is unrestricted and free of charge. The area is owned and controlled by the port authority (Portnet). For security reasons it is probably best to visit in a group and not to leave your vehicle unattended for a lengthy period. Note that the surrounding area is an industrial harbour, and there is a fair amount of pollution along the shoreline.
Glenholme Nature Reserve
Glenholme Nature Reserve is a 42-hectare privately managed area of grassland, scarp and swamp forest in Kloof, outside of Durban, South Africa. A small stream in the reserve leads to a waterfall and gorge which forms one of the headwaters of the Umbilo River. There are many walking trails ranging from short easy strolls to more challenging longer routes recommended for those with reasonable fitness.
A number of the reserves offer guided walks with local experts and these can turn an ordinary walk into an experience of discovery and knowledge and are all highly recommended.
Pigeon Valley Nature Reserve
One of the best local birding spots for rare forest birds in particular, Pigeon Valley Nature Reserve is a Natural Heritage Park in the heart of Glenwood in Durban. The 10-hectare reserve has its entrance on Princess Alice Avenue and is open daily to locals who walk the reserve’s trails and explore the over 110 species of trees, almost all of which are indigenous to the area.
Pigeon Valley is one of the few places where the endangered spotted ground-thrush, a forest bird that enjoys scratching in thick leaf litter, is reliably spotted well into winter, arriving in late March and staying until September. It is also the site of two of South Africa’s rarest trees: the Natal elm and the forest loquat.
Other birds often spotted in the reserve are the Narina trogan, green twinspot and buffspotted flufftail.
Shongweni Resources Reserve
Shongweni Dam and the surrounding nature reserve is one of the better birding spots in the greater Durban area. The 1700 Ha includes the dam, surrounding cliffs, riverine bush and valley bushveld. The bird list is over 250 species, and one can expect to see between 50 and 100 of these in a full mornings birding.
Around the dam Hamerkop, African Fish-Eagle, African Black Duck, Giant Kingfisher and Pied Kingfisher are regular. African Pygmy-Kingfisher (summer) and Brown-throated Martin (winter) breed in the sandbanks, while White-backed Night-Heron have bred occasionally and African Finfoot are vagrant. The White-backed Night-Heron is best searched for by inspecting overhanging vegetation from a canoe.
Shongweni Dam is about 30 km from Durban off the N3 to Pietermaritzburg. Entry is from 5am to 6pm and an entry fee is payable
uMgeni River and Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve
Our main bird watching service in Durban is the Finfoot Loop, a self-drive loop (with an experienced local nature guide) that takes birders along the uMngeni River, from the shores of the Indian Ocean, deep into the rural river gorges and cliffs of the eNanda Dam.
As the loop’s name implies, this is one of the best spots around KwaZulu-Natal to be searching for the rare and elusive African Finfoot. This enigmatic species is highly sought after by birders to add to their “life lists” due to its fussy habitat requirements and highly secretive habits.
The Finfoot Loop can take anything from a few hours to a full day, depending on your birding enthusiasm. For enthusiastic birders looking for the full experience and wanting to spend time searching for unusual species such as African Finfoot, we recommend at least a half day (6 hour) experience.
Beachwood mangroves on the seaward side of the M4 have several short walks through the system; one of the easiest places to see the square-tailed nightjar.
There are 3 trails in the reserve, taking you to the bird hide & to the swamp, where waders come to feed. Visitors can look forward to viewing birds such as the curlew, the Natal nightjar, dikkop and the mangrove kingfisher. There is a picnic site and thatched gazebo. Several interesting walking routes have been laid out. There is also a raised boardwalk into the mangrove forest so tides will not worry you as you wind to the mud flats. You can take a self-guided option or go on a guided tour, which is arranged when you arrive.
Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve
This KwaZulu-natal Wildlife reserve, situated at the edge of the holiday town of Umhlanga rocks, is a refuge for many wetland and coastal forest birds, animals and plants. The birdlist comprises of some 208 species, with 60 species possible on a single visit in summer, while a winter visit should produce 40 species. Three hours are necessary to do this small reserve justice. From the car park, a single path leaves and crosses a short boardwalk. Here the path forks, the right-hand trail crossing the reed bed and climbing along the primary dune to a viewing area overlooking the lagoon. From here, Kelp Gull, White-fronted Plover and a variety of terns can usually be seen on the sand bar, while Goliath Heron is often seen at the end of the lagoon. Black Crake may be seen and heard while passing through the reed bed, and Red-capped Robin-Chat, Green Twinspot and Dark-backed Weaver can be found along the dune crest.
The left-hand path passes through a stand of Wild Hibiscus and enters the forest proper. Here one can find Crested Guineafowl, the southernmost occurrence of this species, and Brown Scrub-Robin, while in winter Spotted Ground-Thrush forages in the leaf litter on the ground. Search the trees for Black-throated Wattle-eye and Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, which are regular here. The path forms a loop, from which Green Malkoha may be seen in the tangled canopy. A short path from this loop leads to a boardwalk that crosses the lagoon through the reed beds, in which southern Southern Brown-throated Weaver breed in summer, together with Yellow Weaver and Thick-billed Weaver. The path then climbs steeply up the primary dune to meet the first path, and one can return to the car park via this way. From the M4 north, take the Portland Drive exit, turn right at the T-junction and then immediately right again. Continue under the highway until Lagoon Drive. Turn left along Lagoon Drive, at the end of which is the entrance to this reserve, entrance to which is free.
Virginia Bush Nature Reserve
This 38-hectare reserve consists of coastal bush; unfortunately a large portion of the vegetation is alien. This was once natural grassland, but now only a few small patches of grassland remain. Virginia Bush is a birder’s paradise; the bush birds are easily spotted. Some of the bird species to be seen are the green twinspot, grey waxbill, Natal robin, whitebrowed robin, boubou shrike, bush shrike, flycatcher and bluebilled firefinch. The circular route around the reserve is about 1.5 kilometers long; a shorter variation is about 1 kilometer long. There is no fee; the reserve is open from 7:30am to 4pm.