With all the various biomes found on the Mpongo Private Game Reserve near East London in the Eastern Cape, taking time to do some bird spotting will no doubt lead to some fantastic and variable sightings of the various bird species to be found here.

The reserve, which is situated along the N6 National road, just 40 km from the East London Airport, offers a unique blend of luxury and gaming experiences on more than 3500 hectares of conservation land. One of the current focuses of the reserve is centred on bird watching and conservation.

According to Bird Life South Africa, there are over 900 species of birds in Southern Africa, a diversity of feathered friends that is not only aesthetically pleasing but also providing important ecosystem services.  They state that birds are indicators of the state of the environment. In general, places that are rich in bird species are also rich in other forms of biodiversity. Their presence indicates a healthy environment.

The large variation in biomes found on the reserve is used to its utmost to promote healthy birdlife and populated by high numbers of indigenous birds including: Red-billed Oxpeckers, Golden Breasted Bunting, Tambourine Doves, Orange throated Long-claw, Narina Trogon, Southern Ground Hornbill, Crested Crane and African Spoonbills.

In 2008, Premier Hotels Mpongo Private Game Reserve joined the fight to preserve the Red Billed Oxpecker.  Once numerous in South Africa, the bird is listed on the Endangered Species List. An increase in the hunting of Big 5 game species and an outbreak of Rinderpest in the early 1900s severely affected the numbers of their host species, such as rhino and buffalo. With the increasing use of cattle dips containing arsenic, leading to the death of oxpeckers feeding on dipped cattle, their numbers declined even further. Today the use of dips that contain organophosphates and home brews (where farmers mix chemicals to make their own home-made dips) is the main reason for the loss of Oxpeckers.

In partnership with farmers in the area (who have made changes to their dipping programmes) and the Endangered Wildlife Trust, 1 000 Red-billed Oxpeckers were released in the reserve in 2009. Since then these birds have been spotted over a vast area, on the reserve as well as in the surrounding areas. Early reports indicated that the birds have been seen within a 100 kilometre radius and nesting sites have been discovered, proving that the birds have settled in and are breeding and that the programme is thus succeeding.

Favoured bird watching locations on the reserve are the Huberta Hippo Pool, Sunset Dam and especially the Ficus natalensis (Natal Wild Fig Trees) established at a former dwelling on the reserve yet with various biomes found on the reserve, birds of these specific niches can be enjoyed by many a birder alike.

“We recently held a bird watching day to have guests come out and enjoy the natural surroundings of the reserve with its abundance of birdlife while also helping us to update our list of bird species found here during winter,” said Reserve Manager Rodney Gerhardt. “We plan to have another birding day during the summer which guests will once again be welcome to join and after which we believe we will have an objective and more accurate list of the various species found here at the Mpongo Private Game Reserve.