Despite its urban setting, the Swartkops Estuary, with its adjacent salt-pans, is one of the best places in the country to see the less common estuarine waders and terns. It is an important Bird Area, with over 10 000 waterbirds in summer and is one of the “must see” birding venues in Port Elizabeth.
The Zwartkops Valley and Aloe Nature Reserves protect the dense succulent thicket vegetation on the northern escarpment. About 200 species are regularly recorded in the lower Swartkops Valley. Allow 3-hours to bird the estuary (low tide is essential), saltpans and some of the bush from the roads, when 60 species can be expected. To adequately cover all the areas requires a long morning and can produce 100 species in summer.
Specials are mostly widespread species that can nevertheless be difficult to find elsewhere: Black-necked Grebe, Cape Cormorant (winter), Greater Flamingo and usually Lesser Flamingo, South African Shelduck, Cape Teal, African Black Oystercatcher, Greater Sand Plover, Terek Sandpiper, Bar-tailed Godwit, Eurasian Curlew, Hartlaub’s Gull, Little Tern, Caspian Tern, Grey-backed Cisticola and Southern Tchagra. Rarities turn up at the estuary and salt-pans fairly regularly.
Intertidal mud and sandbanks, saltmarshes, salt-pans, freshwater vlei, succulent thicket.
Parts of the estuary and salt-pans can be viewed from public roads at Redhouse, Swartkops and Amsterdamhoek. There are boat slipways at Redhouse and Swartkops. The Aloe and Zwartkops Valley reserves have hiking and mountain bike trails. Rivers Edge Guesthouse is an ideal base from which to explore the surrounding area on foot.
- On the mudbanks in the lower estuary between Swartkops and Amsterdamhoek all the estuarine wader and tern species can usually be seen (low tide is essential). Ideally use a boat, or walk downstream from the single lane road bridge to the main mudbanks (2-3 hrs – muddy). In summer this should guarantee all the specials, even in winter most species are usually present, including Greater Sand Plover. Most species may be observed from the river fronts at Redhouse and Amsterdamhoek, although Terek Sandpiper and Greater Sand Plover are not always visible from the roads.
- The salt-pan in the Zwartkops Valley Nature Reserve holds flamingos, South African Shelduck, Caspian Tern and a variety of waterfowl and waders. Raptors soar above the escarpment and in the bush are Southern Tchagra, Grey-backed Cisticola, Karoo Scrub-Robin and sometimes Knysna Woodpecker (more often heard than seen).
- The salt-pans between Swartkops and Redhouse can be observed from the road. Birds include Black-necked Grebe (on the pan next to the saltpan office), flamingos, waders, terns and waterfowl. There is a freshwater vlei on the right 1 km past the entrance road to Redhouse.
- Early morning along the first few hundred metres (or 2 km short trail) in the Aloe Reserve can produce Southern Tchagra, sometimes Grey Tit and Long-billed Crombec, and in June when the Aloes are in flower sunbirds, weavers, Brimstone Canary and White-throated Canary.
Swartkops and Bluewater Bay are signposted from the N2 15km north of Port Elizabeth harbour. In Swartkops any turn right will lead to the river. To get to Redhouse turn left at the crossroads in the centre of Swartkops. Straight on will cross the single lane bridge, and subsequently first right will take you along Amsterdamhoek. Tippers Creek road links Amsterdamhoek with Bluewater Bay and the Aloe Reserve is at the top of the hill. The Zwartkops Valley Reserve is on the north bank, accessed by a track upstream of the roads and brick factory. Access to the reserves is unrestricted.
Register boats at the Municipal Nature Conservation Office, Tiger Bay, Swartkops tel. +27 41 4660909.
For further information contact the Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism Tel. +27 41 581 7540 / +27 41 582 2575 Fax: +27 41 581 7544 / +27 41 582 2573 email: email@example.com, Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism Bird & Eco-Tours tel. +27 41 466 5698 offers a tour/guiding/ free information service in the Port Elizabeth area.
Published with acknowledgement to Paul Martin 2002. Bird & Eco-Tours, Port Elizabeth, South Africa. firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: +41 466 5698