With dense coastal forests extending right down to the beachfront, expansive misty grasslands and numerous estuaries flowing into the sea, it felt more like I was in some remote West African destination than standing in the middle of a shallow estuary mouth within the Dwesa Nature Reserve on the Wild Coast of South Africa.
This felt even more so, when I looked inland from the estuary mouth in time to see a large three-meter crocodile slide into the murky waters and begin swimming well away from me. On the far bank, Cape Buffaloes grazed and Burchells zebra’s tussled with one another as a pair of African Fish Eagles circled high overhead, calling distinctively with heads thrown backwards over their wings.
1 of 12. Forest Canary
I had arrived at the reserve late the previous afternoon, during a heavy rainstorm that turned the gravel access road into a slippery muddy waterway and that reduced visibility to only a few meters. Fortunately, as I entered the reserve, the rain subsided to be replaced by shafts of sunlight forming colorful rainbows through breaks in the grey cloud. Vervet Monkeys climbed out from the undergrowth, where they had been avoiding the storm, to sit high in the canopy of the forest where the suns rays dried their shaggy wet fur, while closer to ground level, four-striped mice also emerged into warm open patches.
2 of 12. Dwesa Nature Reserve coastal forest.
My accommodation for the next few days was a log cabin cleverly placed on stilts and overlooking a dense forest patch. On my arrival at the cabin, a spider-hunting wasp dragging its rather large hapless victim vertically up a five-meter high pole with just its jaws delayed my entry as I watched in awe! Standing on the deck of the cabin, I looked across the valley where Crowned Hornbills, African Olive Pigeons, African Green Pigeons, Sombre Greenbuls, Black-bellied Starlings and Cape White-eyes were feeding in the treetops and all scattered in fright briefly when a pair of loudly crying Trumpeter Hornbills flew at speed between them. All around, butterflies of countless varieties also appeared in the sunlight and danced above the forest, alighting briefly on a kaleidoscope of flowers sprouting skywards from the treetops. Looking more closely amongst the greenery of the canopy, I spotted a Forest Tree-frog sitting motionless on a leaf, while nearby, kite and bark spiders began to spin their webs in gaps between the leaves and damselflies alighted on the tips of branches and folded their wings to rest.
3 of 12. Vervet Monkey sunning in the tree tops
With one or two hours of light still remaining, I left my cabin and wandered down along a path towards the beach, passing flowering aloes where Collared and Greater Double-Collared Sunbirds fed on the rich nectar produced by the orange flowers. Both Yellow-Throated and Cape Longclaws flew up from the rank grasslands and along the bank of a small stream, a loud splash indicated where a Water Monitor lizard had escaped to cover. Wandering barefoot along the beach, hundreds of ghost crabs scurried away from my approach and disappeared down their burrows dug deep into the soft white sand. Ploughshare snails appeared from under the sand and crawled in a determined mass towards a stranded prawn, clambering over it and beginning to feed on it by sucking the contents of the prawn from within its exoskeleton.
4 of 12. Dwesa Nature Reserve chalets built into the forest canopy
At a small estuary mouth, Three-Banded Plovers fed in the shallows and Mountain Wagtails ran along the bank with bobbing tails, snatching at the small midges that took to flight from the waters surface. Kelp Gulls, Swift Terns and Grey-Headed Gulls flew up from a roost site as I approached and wheeled away to land further up the beach where it was more peaceful. Against a setting sun, I sat and watched a trio of African Black Oystercatchers feeding on the exposed intertidal platforms, where they prized limpet and mussel shells off the rocks.
5 of 12. Western Green Snake feeding on a Forest Tree Frog
Early the next morning I was again on the beach as pinky-purple wavy clouds colored the sky and the last of the night’s stars closed their eyes to sleep the day away. My early arrival surprised a Cape Clawless Otter that was hunting large brown river crabs in the estuary and on seeing me the otter “spoofed” at me loudly and then scurried away. Out at sea, a pod of Bottlenosed Dolphins played amongst the breaking waves, leaping skywards in joyful abandon.
6 of 12. Lesser-Striped Swallow
Heading eastwards along the pristine beach, I walked to the Khoba estuary where White-breasted Cormorants, African Darters, Pied Kingfishers, White Fronted Plovers, Water Thick-Knees and Blacksmith Lapwings were sighted. Wandering inland along the bank of the estuary, I found a flock of Common Waxbills feeding on drooping long grasses and a Malachite Kingfisher darted off upstream like a be-jeweled arrowhead. Thick-billed Weavers and Southern Red Bishops nested in the reed beds with the males of both species displaying prominently. A Burchells Coucal could be heard calling its bubbly call from deep within the reeds. With the aid of my binoculars, I was also able to view an exposed sandbank where Pied and Cape Wagtails, Hadedahs and a lone Grey Heron were feeding.
7 of 12. African Black Oystercatcher feeding on the rocky shoreline
With the early morning excursion behind me, I enjoyed a relaxed breakfast on the deck of the cabin and sat with feet up and binoculars next to me, watching the resident Vervet Monkey troop also breakfasting and dropping half-eaten fruits to waiting bushbucks below. One of the young monkeys started chattering in alarm loudly and when I looked down to where it was staring, there was a Western Green Snake that had caught a large frog and was now in the process of trying to swallow the protesting amphibian.
8 of 12. Damselfly in the forest canopy
Leaving the reptile to its meal, I once again focused on what additional feathered species could be added to my list and by scanning the treetops was able to find forest canary, Black-Collared Barbet, Black-Headed Oriole, Dark-Backed Weavers, a family of cackling Green Woodhoopoes and a Little Sparrowhawk that was perched motionless against a tree trunk. Red-Capped Robin-Chat and Southern Tchagra called from within the forest undergrowth and completed the magical, peaceful setting before me of a location that I am sure is sadly not on many peoples travelling list, but should definitely become a priority for a relaxing escape.
9 of 12. Long-Crested Eagle
Season and weather: Spring and summer are definitely the best seasons to visit the Wild Coast as the vegetation is lush and green. Birds, flowers and insects abound at this time. Summer is the hot and wet season, when afternoon thunderstorms can be expected. This can be problematic when driving the dirt roads, which often become slippery
Habitats: Coastal forest, Coastal grasslands, Sandy beaches, Estuaries, Rocky inter-tidal platforms
10 of 12. Red-Necked Spurfowl
Specials: Mountain Wagtail, Knysna Turaco, Southern Tchagra, Greater Double-Collared Sunbird, Red backed Mannikin
Getting There: Dwesa is best reached via the N2 through the town of Idutya in the Eastern Cape. The turn off is well signposted. Note that the access roads are gravel and can be extremely rough so always allow for extra time to cover the distance.
11 of 12. Black-Bellied Starling
Accommodation & Activities: Walking trails, bird watching or just relaxing on the beach make Dwesa Nature Reserve the perfect escape. Vuyani Jamce (082 539 3283 or 071 344 3986) is the local site guide and has excellent knowledge of the area. There are six chalets, three of which accommodate four people, and four of which accommodate two people. All chalets have gas refrigerators and stoves. Rustic camping is also available.
12 of 12. Forest Tree Frog