Tankatara is the best local birding spot in the Port Elizabeth area.
Four habitats meet at Tankatara – the bush from the N2 to the old bridge (Mackay Bridge), the river at the bridge (comprised of water, reedbeds and sandbanks), the saltpans and the dry grassland on the farm itself.
It is well worth doing a very slow drive from the turnoff from the N2, to the bridge, stopping frequently. Common birds in the bush include Southern Tchagra, African Firefinch, Lazy Cisticola, Spectacled Weaver and Olive Bush Shrike. Four species of bunting have been recorded on this road and also Black Cuckooshrike. Towards the bridge Red-throated Wryneck, Black Cuckoo and Lesser Honeyguide occur.
Red-throated Wryneck – Godfrey Lodge
From the bridge birds seen include gulls, terns, ducks, waders and Goliath and Purple Herons and kingfishers (five species have been recorded). The reedbeds are occupied by Little Bitterns occasionally. Usually there is an African Swamphen and always Lesser Swamp Warbler. The sandbanks are inhabited by breeding White-fronted Bee-eaters, Pied Starlings and Horus Swifts. A Western Barn Owl was once seen in a hole in a sandbank. The dry bush at the bridge has produced Dusky Sunbird, Fairy Flycatcher and Red-billed Firefinch.
White-fronted bee-eater – Godfrey Lodge
Returning from the bridge turn right on a gravel road into Tankatara itself. The saltpans are on your left and the grassland on your right.
There are resident Secretarybirds, Blue Cranes, Denham's Bustards and Southern Black Korhaans in the grasslands. Also Wing-snapping Cisticolas, Rufous-naped Larks, Capped Wheatears, Red-backed Shrikes and Ant-eating Chats. Rarities include Ludwig's and Kori Bustards and Temminck's Courser. Drive along this road and then left up a hill to the homesteads. Here Western Yellow Wagtail, European Roller and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters are once offs. Raptors along the road through the grasslands include Amur Falcons, Black Harriers, Ospreys and (once only) Brown Snake Eagle, Red-footed Falcon, Eurasian Hobby and European Honey Buzzard.
Western Osprey – Corné Erasmus
The saltpans are a no go birding area. Luckily you can see most of the birds from the road. They are the best place locally for Chestnut-banded Plover, Black-necked Grebe and Lesser Flamingo. Pectoral Sandpiper and Red-necked Phalarope have also been seen. Who can forget the Citrine Wagtail, Little Ringed Plover and Upcher's Warbler all present at the same spot at the saltpans in 2017! The latter was a first for Southern Africa and the plover a first for South Africa.
Chestnut-banded Plover – Keith Joubert
Black-necked Grebes – Godfrey Lodge
Other rarities photographed at Tankatara include Wilson's Phalarope and Black Tern. A recent rarity was Common Cuckoo. A record of European Turtle Dove was possibly an escapee. A vagrant Great White Pelican was seen in 2004. During the freak irruption of African Openbills in 2010 these were also seen at Tankatara.
There are historical (pre 1985) records of Rufous-eared Warbler and Yellow-bellied Eremomela. These birds have not been recorded since the saltpans were built.
How to get there:
A very popular area that seldom disappoints can be found by travelling along the N2 towards Grahamstown (from PE) for about 32km.
Pass over the Bridge with the Couga saltpans on your right (you will also see the Couga harbour on your right), continue for a few kilometres and look out for a sign-post on your left “Tankatara”. Turn left and shortly right. This road leads to the old Mackay Bridge over the Sundays River, which is closed for traffic. Continue to the bridge and look out for White-fronted Bee-eaters and various other birds in the area of the bridge. (Water as well as bushveld birds)
Turn back on this road and right at the turn-off to Tankatara. There are ponds on the left of this road, with grassveld on the right. Excellent birding can be had on this road. Southern Black Korhaan, Denham Bustard, Blue Crane, Anteating Chat, Acacia Pied Barbet, Karoo Scrub-robin and Grey-backed Cisticola. Also watch out for Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Marial Eagle, Jackal Buzzard, Black Harrier and Black-winged Kite.