Southern Africa is well known for its huge variety of bird species, with 922 recorded different species, of which 525 have been recorded in St Lucia and in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. This makes bird watching in St Lucia quite interesting and dynamic with birds ranging from Albatross, petrels and terns to Purple Gallinule, crakes and herons.
The best way to spot waterbirds is on a cruise on the St Lucia estuary, where large flocks of White Pelican, Pinkbacked Pelican, Lesser Flamingo and Saddlebilled Stork (very rare, however this is the best place in KwaZulu-Natal for spotting this species) can be seen. Yellowbilled Stork, Woollynecked Stork, Caspian Tern, and a variety of waders including Ruff, Ruddy Turnstone, Grey Plover and Pied Avocet can also be spotted. Rarities recorded here have included Greater Frigatebird, Eurasian Oystercatcher and Common Noddy.
Bluecheeked Bee-eater, Wiretailed Swallow, Sand Martin and Brownthroated Weaver are easily seen from the bridge over the estuary in summer. A variety of forest birds may be found in the dune forest around town. Buffspotted Flufftail may be glimpsed crossing a path, or try with a tape-recorder for this elusive species. The small seasonal pan near Sugarloaf campsite has produced Dwarf Bittern in summer.
Another option for you to take advantage of this great birding destination is by walking the Iphiva trail. This is a 3 hour trail – depending on how much time you spend on birding. The trail leads through open grassland with flooded pans in places. The trail also leads at times through dense areas of coastal thicket and the edge of the dune forest and provides excellent birding. One of the delightful things about this trail is the abundance of small antelope, Zebra and Wildebeest making for quite an exciting walk. Do keep your eyes open though for Crocodiles in the pans and Hippos out of the water can be potentially dangerous.
The grassland areas are normally good all year round for Croaking Cisticola, Yellowthroated Longclaw and Greyrumped Swallow. In the more moist summer months Pinkthroated Longclaw can be seen from the shallow grassy edges of pans. The patches of forest thickets in the grassland are good places for spotting the Southern Banded Snake Eagle perching in one of the bigger trees; this is probably one of the best areas in South Africa to see the Southern Banded Snake Eagle. Some of the deeper, more permanent pans are often covered with water Lilies and these are good areas to look for Pygmy Goose, Whitebacked Ducks and Lesser Jacana often with big mixed flocks of herons, egrets, storks and Asiatic Golden Plover.
Along the forest edge Narina Trogon and Green Coucal are often heard calling and in the acacia thickets of the forest look out for Rudd’s Apalis. The areas near the edge of the dunes are always great spots to see Brown Robin which have become fairly tame in this area. Keep an eye out for Woodwards’ Batis, Squaretailed Drongo, Forest Weaver, Schalow’s Lourie, Bluemantled Flycatcher, Wattle-eyed Flycatcher and Yellowspotted Nicator (which is easily heard calling from the thickets at the edges of the dune forest).
The iGwalaGwala trail is a short but productive trail and is situated on the outskirts of the town. Easily accessible to the visitor on foot, the trail leads through coastal forest and is adjacent to the St. Lucia estuary. A wide variety of different species can be seen within the hour being spent here, some including forest and wetland species. Keep your eyes open and try spotting the African Fish Eagle, numerous Kingfishers as well as terns and herons along the estuary shores.