Wildlife and Nature at Umdloti Beach

This seasoned local’s report on the natural beauty and secret hide-outs in Umdloti Beach describes diving, fishing and surfing sites, the flora and fauna of the dunes and indigenous bush and the abundant bird life of the area. Few see beyond the stunning beaches of Umdloti and this section offers an insight into the very secret heart of Umdloti’s sea, land and sky.

Barn Swallows

The Barn Swallow European Swallow) is not an endangered species. In fact it is currently plentiful. Why then does this little bird receive so much attention? 

It is because of its extraordinary lifestyle - a lifestyle that takes it across the Globe and which brings it in close contact with humans.

In South Africa, as spring arrives in September, the migratory Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica) start to appear. At Mt Moreland, South Africa's largest roost, the initial small flocks swell to thousands and then millions. By November 3 to 5 million Barn Swallows can be seen every evening over the Lake Victoria wetland roost. 

This awesome spectacle, half an hour before sunset, of the Barn Swallows coming home to roost every night has become a world wide attraction as a Natural Wonder and Global Treasure.

The reedbed roost site the Barn Swallows have chosen is a wetland, locally known as the Lake Victoria Wetland, it is covered with indigenous Phragmities reeds.
 The Barn Swallows at Mount Moreland and their roosting habitat are now recognized as a world famous Barn Swallow site and IBA (International Birding Area).

The now famous Barn Swallows of Mt Moreland return during October. Visitors are welcome to visit the view-site in the last week in October but the best viewing months are November, and March. Visitors need to come half an hour before sunset, check the Map for directions. You need to bring own chairs, sundowners and snacks, binoculars and Anti-mossie cream.

The Barn Swallow viewing site is open every day during Swallow season.

Stunning Beaches

Umdloti’s seaside is the main reason many people visit Umdloti and with good reason – over 5km of beautiful sandy beaches easily accessible from North and South Beach roads with lovely rock pools, great snorkelling, safe bathing areas and the protection of lifeguards and shark nets. The natural tidal pool (North Beach Road) and Selection Beach (opposite Fairlight B&B on South Beach Road) are the best spots for that perfect family day at the beach. There’s a surfers’ paradise too, with good waves off the roundabout car park.

Secrets of the Sea

Umdloti is famous for the dolphins, which often play in the surf. It is estimated that there are about 800 resident dolphins in the area and this number increases to over 15,000 during the sardine season (July/August). Humpback and Southern Right whales are plentiful during the calving season (July to November).  Details of Dolphin Viewing and Whale Spotting tours on offer are available on the sports and recreation section of this website – click here and a detailed whale sightings register is kept here.

Fishing

Mussels and oysters are plentiful on the rocks off North Beach Road, at Selection Beach and at the far end of South Beach Road plus there are lots of crayfish to be found too. Remember to respect the fact that Umdloti is a coastal conservancy and when fishing or harvesting from the rocks ensure that you adhere to the rules and have the appropriate permits.

 

Mussel collecting is restricted in Umdloti and requires a permit from KZN Nature Conservation Services, Marine Permit Office in Congella, tel : 0312055278.  No mussel collecting is allowed between a red beacon opposite the (former) Ski Boat Club and a similar beacon opposite the southern-most house in Umdloti.

 

Crayfishing is also subject to permit and is seasonal. Crayfishing permits are available at the Marine permit Office in Congella, Durban.

 

In terms of Municipal Bye Laws, no fishing is permitted at all, day or night, in the tidal pool area and from First Avenue to the end of South Beach Road. Fishing is permitted from First Avenue to the Lifesavers complex on North Beach Road and to the north of the tidal pool area.

Beneath the Sea

When diving off Umdloti’s beaches, there are four main areas worth exploring:

 

1. Off the Waterfront residential complex in South Beach road lies Selection Reef, where the waves break on a large submerged rock that can be seen from the beach at spring low tides.  On the far side of this there is a large area of scattered reef in only 6m that is very good for garrick and snoek.

 

2. To the north, Rivermouth Reef is situated in 18m off the Umdloti river mouth. It boasts a big pinnacle with deep caves, which attract a lot of reef fish.

 

3. The tidal pool area, opposite Carmarque in North Beach Road where the lifeguard tower is, has a lot of scattered reef starting just outside the tidal pool and going out into 20m+.

 

4. There are some interesting pinnacles, off the roundabout by the petrol station, just inshore of the shark nets in 13m.  Beyond these is scattered reef covering a large area in 18m with good fish ledges to be found.

 

A 2km walk along the beach going south from Umdloti (past Dolphin View B&B) leads to Peace Cottage where there is a rocky point from which the reef runs at a N.E. angle out to sea and ending in 15m. This is a good area for snoek and there are plenty of brusher in the white water spots.  Further out and northwards lies some 23m reef with low ledges that attract a lot of fish and are the home of a resident shoal of large sea pike (up to 13kg).

 

10km north of Umdloti, past the La Mercy Hotel, is the renowned Sea Belle Restaurant. Just south of this is an old launch site and the reefs lie off here running from 8m out to 20m+. The 15m stretch is excellent for cuda.

 

For information on spear fishing in South Africa visit www.spearfishingsa.co.za

Whale and Dolphin Information.

This information about Whale and Dolphin species spotted off the shores of Umdloti Beach on the Dolphin Coast has been extracted and adapted from Encyclopaedia Britannica!!

 

The Southern Right Whale is a stout-bodied whale with a large head (about one-quarter to one-third of its total body length). From 17th to 19th century, right whales were hunted for their oil and because of its value, this whale got its name as the “right whale” to catch. Right whales live in temperate waters and are classified into three different species: E. glacialis of the North Atlantic and E. japonica of the North Pacific, both commonly called northern right whales, and E. australis of the Southern Hemisphere, known as the southern right whale. The southern right is one of the two types of whales commonly seen off Umdloti’s shores.

Right whales reach a maximum length of about 18 metres and they have a very restricted diet of tiny free-swimming crustaceans. Their water spout has the characteristic umbrella shape often assocoiated with charicatures of whales.

Right whales were nearly exterminated by uncontrolled hunting and are now endangered species. They have been completely protected by international agreement since 1946 although the Japanese still hunt them for “research” purposes. Only a few thousand southern right whales are thought to exist now and the northern right whales are extremely rare, numbering less than 1000.

 

The Humpback Whale is known for its elaborate courtship songs and displays. Humpbacks grow up to 16 metres in length and can weigh about 36 metric tons. Their body is black on top, with varying amounts of white below and they have about 30 broad ventral grooves on their throat and chest. Its long, narrow flippers (about a third as long as the body) are often seen flapping on the water. Their spout takes the form of a vertical whoosh of water with no umbrella effect.

Humpback whales live along most coasts around the world and occasionally swim close to shore, even into harbours and rivers. The ones seen off Umdloti migrate between their Antarctic feeding grounds in summer to our subtropical breeding grounds in winter (from July to as late as November – see our whale sightings register). They eat crustaceans and plankton. Humpbacks use a unique method of feeding called bubble netting, in which bubbles are exhaled as the whale swims in a spiral below a patch of water dense with food. The curtain of bubbles confines the prey to a small area in the middle of which one or more whales surface.

Humpback whales are also incredibly acrobatic and quite awesome to watch as they frequently breach by leaping belly-up completely clear of the water, then arching backward and returning to the surface with a huge splash and loud slapping sound. When beginning a deep dive, the animal hunches its back and rolls steeply forward, bringing its tail out of the water and perpendicular to the ocean surface.

Humpback whales were commercially exploited for their valuable oil and there was a local whaling station in Durban operating up until the early 1960’s. Their numbers were greatly reduced by over hunting in the early and mid-20th century but thankfully they have been protected worldwide from commercial whaling (apart from Japanese “research” hunting) since the mid-1960’s and the local populations seem to be slowly increasing.

 

Dolphins are popularly noted for their grace, intelligence, playfulness, and friendliness to humans. The most widely recognized species are the common and bottlenose dolphins (Delphinus delphis and Tursiops truncatus). Bottlenose Dolphins, the species of dolphin most commonly spotted of Umdloti Beach, have a “built-in smile” formed by the curve of their mouth and are familiar performers at the nearby Durban uShaka oceanarium. They have also become the subject of scientific studies because of their intelligence and ability to communicate by using a range of sounds and ultrasonic pulses. They adapt to captivity better than the common dolphin, which is timid

Dolphins are capable of living in either fresh or salt water. Distributed worldwide in all oceans and seas except the Caspian and Aral seas, they also can be found in many major river systems. The common and bottlenose dolphins are widely distributed in warm and temperate seas. They are swift swimmers; the bottlenose can attain speeds of nearly 30 km/hr (18.5 mph) in short bursts, and common dolphins are even faster. Dolphins are social, gathering in schools from five to several thousand. All are carnivorous, feeding on fish, squid, and other invertebrates.

Flora and Fauna

Flanked by the beach, but built in and surrounded by natural indigenous bush, Umdloti is home to many species of flora, fauna and birds most of which can be viewed from your doorstep.

 

A natural, quick-acting remedy for Blue Bottle stings is the sap of the Natal Dune Vygie which sprawls over the dunes right down to the high water line. It has thick fleshy leaves and year round purple daisy-like flowers. It often grows intertwined with the Creeping Foxglove which also flowers profusely throughout the year and the Rock Rose with reddish pink flowers.

 

The forest starts just above these beautiful flowering dunes with a maze of scrambling, hardy, salt tolerant flowering shrubs and creepers like the Tick Berry, Cerise Star, Dune Myrtle, Fig Leafed Morning Glory and Bush Violet which form a protective canopy for shrubs and smaller trees like the Dragon Tree, Wild Date Palm. Wild Natal Banana Palm and Coastal Silver Oak.  If you can get them before the Vervet Monkeys, enjoy a feast of the delicious orange fruit of the Natal Apricot and the bright red fruit of the amaTangulu bush.

 

Eventually Milkwood trees, which are a protected species, break through and are plentiful. There is a really majestic grove of Wild Fig trees along the Bently trail off Bellamont Road, which in its self is lined with beautiful Flat Crown and Natal Mahogany trees. Umdloti also boasts a Mangrove swamp situated along the southern bank of the Umdloti lagoon and accessible via a footpath from North Beach. Tolkien’s myth of “walking trees” comes alive in Umdloti where one can see how Milkwood, Wild Fig and Mangrove trees have “walked” as they propagate. If this fascinates you, the Wild Fig grove is a “must visit” in this respect as also a favourite “Milkwood tree with two trunks” outside No.19, South Beach Road.

 

The Hawaan Forest Reserve lies immediately south of Umdloti and can be accessed on foot only, either from the beach or via a pathway from the M4 to Peace Cottage. The area is remote, much the same as it was described 100 years ago by William Campbell in his book “Light on a Dark Horse” and it should not be visited alone.

 

Cycads grow well in the warm subtropical climate and there is a beautiful picture of a flowering Cycad Natalensis, Quneni form, on the photographs page of the Umdloti website.

Wildlife is abundant in Umdloti

Troops of vervet monkeys, mongooses, bushbuck, duiker, chameleon, tree frogs, bull frogs, giant snails are often seen.

Bird Life

Umdloti is home to many different species of birds including a flock of crowned guinea fowl, yellow billed kites, fish eagles, storks, herons, blue cranes, luries, the National Geographic listed swallow site at Mount Moreland and superb bird-watching spots at the Umdloti Lagoon, along the Sweetwaters Stream and at the nearby Umhlanga Ponds (well worth a visit)

 

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