Various popular birding spots can be found in the Greater St Francis Area.
The Kromme River and surrounding farmlands sport a wide variety of habitats: riverine with mud and sand banks, salt marshes, coastal scrub, fynbos, open veld, agricultural land, as well as occasional freshwater vlei and pans. Here we find a variety of birds including some of the special and endangered ones, such as the Denham’s Bustard, Blue Crane and White-bellied Korhaan.
Water birds abound on the sand banks in the Kromme especially in summer when the migrants are here. The best time to observe the birds is when the tide is coming in and the water pushes the birds closer to the banks of the river. Evening, provided the tide is right, is best for waders when the setting sun shines on the sandbanks in the estuary and highlights the identification features of the birds with their different sizes, plumages, and bill lengths. The bill lengths differ according to the foods they eat, so they can feed close together in perfect harmony without undue competition.
Watch out for the diminutive White-fronted Plover, Ringed Plover with its bright orange legs and black band across the chest, Common Whimbrel, Curlew Sandpiper, Sanderling, Grey Plover, Ruddy Turnstone and the striking African Black Oystercatcher which are all regulars on the sand banks. Bar-tailed Godwit, Greater Sand Plover and Red Knot also make an appearance at odd times. A boat trip on the river can yield African Fish-eagle and Osprey, as well as a variety of kingfishers and other species in the riverine and coastal bush alongside the river.
Terns found on the estuary, from biggest to smallest include the Caspian Tern (largest one sporting a bright red bill); Swift Tern (yellow bill); Sandwich Tern (black bill and yellow tip – think of it as a blob of butter on a sandwich); Common Tern (grey carpal bar on the shoulder) and the diminutive Little Tern. Roseate Terns with pink breasts and long tail feathers also make an appearance but are not easy to spot.
Cape St Francis and Seal Point are both rocky promontories from which you can see Cape Gannet and terns diving for fish. White-breasted and Cape Cormorant can be seen fishing off-shore or basking on the rocks while Kelp Gulls are continually on the hunt for anything they can scavenge.
Because the St Francis area juts out into the sea, it serves as a resting point for seabirds, which have been blown off course. “Out of Range” water birds such as Slender-billed Prion, Red-tailed Tropic Bird, Lesser Frigate Bird, American Golden Plover and others have landed up on our shores. The possibility of finding vagrants and less common species provides constant interest and excitement. Pelagic expeditions can be organised at the St Francis Sustainable Seas Centre from Port St Francis for birds occurring in the open ocean.
Travel along the gravel roads in the area and you will be pleasantly surprised by the birdlife in the fields and vlei, especially after rain. Park alongside the road and look out for Blue Crane, Denham’s Bustard, White Stork (in summer), Long-tailed Widowbird, Black-winged Lapwing, larks, pipits and cisticolas, and if you are really lucky, White-bellied Korhaan. On the odd vlei visible from the road you may find Common Moorhen, Red-knobbed Coot, Little Grebe, and a variety of ducks.
Raptors such as Steppe Buzzard and Amur Falcon occur in summer, and Jackal Buzzard, Rock Kestrel and African Marsh-Harrier can be found throughout the year. Raptors such as Long crested and Booted Eagle have also made appearances occasionally.
Walking in the Cape St Francis Nature Reserves, you can enjoy the local fynbos and the birds (mostly small) that frequent this area.