The Feathers of Knysna

A Top Birding Destination

Our main mission at Ocean Odyssey is to showcase Knysna’s phenomenal marine mammal life. But the commentary on our tours very often includes interesting titbits about the other wildlife that we encounter, particularly the abundant bird life. Throughout the broad expanse of the estuary, at the opening of the Knysna River system and soaring above the adjacent Indian Ocean, a fascinating collection of waders, waterbirds and seabirds can be seen.

Often seen feeding in Knysna’s extensive eelgrass beds are sacred ibis and herons. Seen feeding in the intertidal zone is the African black oystercatcher.

As soon as our Ocean Odyssey vessel leaves the quiet, sheltered waters of the Thesen Island Marina, you are guaranteed bird sightings. As we make our way to the sentinel Knysna headlands, you’re likely to see African sacred ibis, herons, African black oystercatchers, white-chested and Cape cormorants and Egyptian geese. The estuary’s thriving salt marshes and intertidal mud banks boast a smorgasbord of critters that lure hundreds of wading birds that can be seen feeding amongst the prolific eelgrass at low tide. If you’re lucky, you might see wading species such sandpipers, stints, purple gallinules and spoonbills. Occasionally fish eagles are seen perched regally on a weathered pole.

Cape cormorants and the White-breasted cormorants are prolific throughout the region and are often seen perched on rocky outcrops.

As one approaches the aperture of the estuary, the waterscape is characterised by giant outcrops that rise up near the water’s edge. Shrouded in white from bird droppings, these rocky outcrops serve as rookeries for the white breasted cormorants and Cape Cormorants. When they are not out at sea feeding, they can be seen congregating here in large numbers.

Cape Gannet
The Cape Gannet is easily identified by its large size, black and white plumage and distinctive yellow crown and hindneck. They are known for their extraordinary diving capabilities. When feeding they dive at great speed from very lofty heights. Sadly, there birds are classified as endangered due to overfishing.

As we travel out into the big blue, a host of seabirds can be seen gliding gracefully above the ocean’s restless surface. Pelagic birds are so remarkably adapted to the dynamic conditions of the sea and they feed in all conditions.  Some days the bird life is very quiet out on the ocean, whilst other days it clear that there is a lot of bait fish in the water because hundreds of birds crowd the sky.

shy albatross, yellow-billed albatross and the black-browed albatross.
One of the most magnificent birds out on the ocean is without a doubt the albatross. Pictured here is the shy albatross, yellow-billed albatross and the black-browed albatross.

The species we encounter most often are Cape gannets, gulls, terns, albatross, shearwaters, petrels and also the feisty Sub Antarctic skua. Occasionally we also see the African penguin, which is unusual because their closest colony is near Port Elizabeth.

Pictured here are the Giant petrel and the Sub-Antarctic skua, birds with magnificent wingspans.

The beauty of Knysna’s natural world is that is constantly shifting, always dynamic and one never knows what to expect from one day to the next. That is the beauty if it.  No two wildlife encounters are alike, but each one is a privilege.

Some days you’ll see whales, some days you will see dolphins, some days you’ll see both, but every day you will see birds.