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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.

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Specials

In summer, Palaearctic waders are the primary attraction, including Terek Sandpiper, Common Whimbrel, Greater Sand Plover, Red Knot, Bar-tailed Godwit and Eurasian Curlew. General waterbirds include Pink-backed Pelican, Woolly-necked Stork, Osprey, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Caspian Tern, Lesser Crested Tern. Vagrants include Red-tailed Tropicbird, Common Redshank, Common Black-headed Gull, and Slenderbilled Gull. Purple-banded Sunbird and Mangrove Kingfisher (winter) occur in the mangroves.

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Habitats

The Heritage Site comprises the last substantial patch of mangroves in the Bay and an adjacent expanse of tidal flat. It is the latter that is of importance to waterbirds and few aquatic birds enter the mangroves themselves (with the important exception of the Mangrove Kingfisher). The mangroves provide habitat for nesting Black Sparrowhawk and, with luck, Black-throated Wattle-eye may be located there.multiple

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Facilities

The Heritage Site has a hide overlooking the tidal flat, a charming boardwalk winds through parts of the mangroves, and a fenced parking area.

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Birding

The best birding areas in the Bay are the Heritage Site and the extensive Centre bank tidal flat in the middle of the Bay. The latter, however, is largely inaccessible and most birding is done at Bayhead. The majority of the birds that feed on the Centre bank also move to Bayhead when the tide rises and therefore a well-timed visit to the Heritage Site will ensure that most of the species present in the Bay will be encountered. 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.

1. 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.

2. Small numbers of Pink-backed Pelican are resident. White-breasted Cormorant are common, Reed Cormorant less so and Cape Cormorant are rare and erratic winter visitors usually only found in the deep-water parts of the Bay. The two common aquatic herons are Grey Heron and Little Egret, and a few pairs of Goliath Heron are resident and breed in the Heritage Site. Up to half a dozen Woolly-necked Stork are regularly present. Both African Fish-Eagle (typically close to the mangroves) and Osprey (perched in the open on poles or on the ground on the tidal flats) can usually be found. Kittlitz's Ploverare often common but their numbers vary widely on an apparently unpredictable basis. The two common gulls in the Bay are Kelp Gull (most abundant in winter) and Grey-headed Gull (most abundant in summer). Lesser Black-backed Gull and Hartlaub's Gull are occasionally present in ones or twos. The Bay supports a wide diversity of terns, with small numbers of Caspian Tern (all year), Lesser Crested Tern (late summer), Sandwich Tern (summer), Common Tern (all year) and large numbers of Swift Tern (especially in early summer). One or two Mangrove Kingfisher are present in the mangroves every winter.

3. 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.

4. During winter to spring (June-October) a visit to the North Pier at the mouth of Bay is likely to yield Cape Gannet and Subantarctic Skua, and, if the wind is blowing, distant White-chinned Petrel, Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross and possibly even a Shy Albatross.

5. As a coastal estuary, Durban Bay also attracts a regular stream of exciting vagrants. Examples in recent years have included Red-tailed Tropicbird, Common Redshank, Common Black-headed Gull and southern Africa's only record of Slender-billed Gull.

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General

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.

Contact information: Tel: +27 31 361 8796 (Public Affairs Dept) Fax: +27 31 361 8835 email:

SA Ports Website

David Allan 2001



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