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Richards Bay is one of South Africa's largest estuaries, home to vast numbers of resident waterbirds and a magnet to migrants down the East Coast. Despite increasing industrialisation, the area still offers excellent birding in a variety of habitats: a day here in summer easily produces over 100 species. Although this is probably sufficient to cover most of the sites, the dedicated vagrant-hunter will certainly require more time to do this huge area justice.



Include African Pygmy-Goose, Baillon's Crake, Lesser Jacana, Greater Sand Plover, Red Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Collared Pratincole, Lesser Crested Tern, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Black-throated Wattle-eye and Yellow Wagtail. For the tern and wader enthusiast, Richards Bay is hard to beat. In summer, the mudflats teem with shorebirds including a number of species that are difficult to see elsewhere on the east coast: Greater Sand Plover, Red Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit and Eurasian Curlew. Lesser Sand Plover and Broad-billed Sandpiper are annual in small numbers, and Crab Plover have been seen regularly in recent years. Other rarities have included Common Redshank, Buff-breasted Sandpiper (the first South African record) and Eurasian Oystercatcher.



The main habitats are aquatic: the extensive tidal mudflats and mangroves of the bay, and the freshwater lakes and pans, with their fringing vegetation of reeds, papyrus and swamp forest. Patches of dune forest and the few remaining areas of natural coastal grassland provide additional interest.



The excellent hide at Thulazihleka Pan is accessible without permit. A variety of accommodation and food is available in the town of Richards Bay.



1. The area south of the Berm wall, traditionally the best spot to view shorebirds, has lost some of its mudflats to mangrove regrowth, making it necessary to wade to reach most of the birds. The effort is well worth it for the numbers of shorebirds present and for the large flock of terns which regularly gathers here: Caspian Tern, Swift Tern, Lesser Crested Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Little Tern and White-winged Tern. Vagrants have included Gull-billed Tern and White-cheeked Tern. Mangrove Kingfisher remains a rarity to the area, despite the extensive mangroves.

2. Thulazihleka Pan is the most accessible of the freshwater pans, its reed-fringed borders sheltering a wide variety of water-associated species. Scan the open water carefully for White-backed Duck and African Pygmy-Goose and the edges of the reedbeds for Little Bittern, Baillon's Crake and Lesser Jacana. Moist grassland adjacent to the pan is favoured by Collared Pratincole and Yellow Wagtail in summer, whilst large numbers of Blue-cheeked Bee-eater may be seen hawking insects overhead. The reedbeds in summer are also excellent for warblers that include Great Reed-Warbler, African Reed-Warbler and Sedge Warbler. A Basra Reed-Warbler mist netted here in 1984 represented the second Southern African record of this species. Check flocks of "bishops" carefully for the uncommon Red-headed Quelea.

3. Dune forest in and around the town supports a wide range of forest species including Green Malkoha, Scaly-throated Honeyguide and Black-bellied Starling, whilst patches of swamp forest are home to Black-throated Wattle-eye. The coastal grasslands north of the airport have produced the localised Swamp Nightjar.



All directions begin on the road (R34) from Empangeni\N2 to Richards Bay.

1) To the Berm wall and main harbour area: take the first harbour turn-off at the traffic lights and continue to the checkpoint. ACCESS to the harbour area is restricted but permits may be obtained from the Port Manager. Continue straight to the Berm wall, which divides the estuary, and bird the area south of the wall. It is best a few hours before high tide. The large spit which projects northwards from the western edge of the Berm wall is also excellent and is accessible from the western edge of the bay. National Ports Authority (NPA) Tel: +27 35 905 3440

2) Thulazihleka Pan is reached by taking the second harbour turn-off and proceeding to the checkpoint. Just before the gate, turn right onto a sandy track with the pan on your right. The hide is 1.5 km along this track.

Jonathan Rossouw 1997.

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