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Sodwana Bay - Zululand Birding Route

Sodwana Route

 

Situated between St. Lucia in the south and Kosi Bay in the north, the Sodwana route encompasses a wide range of birding habitas. From the Sand Forest and thornveld of Phinda to the lush, subtropical forests of Lake Sibaya; from the wetlands of Muzi to the palm savannah of Ozabeni, this region has a large number of Zululand birdwatching specials on offer.

 
The Muzi Swamps area is a birders' paradise, with large numbers of waterbirds. It is here that many, herons, waders and ducks are recorded.
Ozabeni's Palm Savannah offers some exciting birding in unusual habitat.
Mbazwana and Sibaya offer coastal forest and grassland birding, and Sibaya has the addition of having open water, being South Africa's largest freshwater lake.
 
Specials recorded in the Sodwana Route include East Coast endemics such as Neergard's Sunbird, Rudd's Apalis, Pink-throated Twinspot and Lemon-breasted Canary. Also found are African Broadbill, Swamp Nightjar, Pel's Fishing Owl, Collared Pratincole, Black Coucal and Saddle-billed Stork.

Muzi Pans

Muzi Swamps or Pans are locally well known for the abundance of waterbird species that occur there. Surrounded by rural villages and forest, the swamp is a typical coastal plain wetland with patches of sedge-marsh, open water, bare shores and some floating vegetation. It is situated on the Mkhuze River floodplain, between Mkhuze Game Reserve and Lake St. Lucia. The pan system becomes a major summer residence for palaeartic waders and some afro-tropical species. The densities and diversity of birds heightens dramatically during summer and regular birding trips here can produce in excess of 120 species in a summers day.
 
DIRECTIONS
Muzi can be reached via Hluhluwe village, up the R22 towards Sodwana Bay and Mbazwana. About 50km north of Hluhluwe you cross the Mkhuze River bridge, and two kilometers on one finds the D820 turn-off to the left. Take the turn-off and continue on for 2-3 kilometers when you come out on to a large wetland area. The roads are tarred and accessible in sedans, no 4x4’s needed.
 
Another way of reaching it would be along the dirt road that runs between Mkhuze Game Reserve and Phinda Resource Reserve. This road is accessed from the N2 highway, about 10km north of the Hluhluwe turn-off. A drive along this road, which reaches the main Hluhluwe-Sodwana tar road just before the Mkhuze River bridge, can be productive for Lemon-breasted Canary and Pink-throated Twinspot.
 
BIRDING RECOMMENDATIONS
The Muzi spots fall within community and tribal areas. The area does have Birdlife trained local bird guides who can assist you in birding the area, as well as arranging security for your vehicles. . Please contact the Zululand Birding Route at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to arrange a guide.
 
A guided canoe trip can also be taken on the pan with trained canoe guides. These can also be booked via the Birding Route
 
For the Muzi pans section – the road is raised above the surrounding waters edge and provides a good viewing platform where spotting scopes are recommended equipment. Here again you can walk down to the waters edge and grassland areas and set up viewing points with scopes, etc. Bear in mind that there are large numbers of both crocodiles as well as hippopotami in pan system.
 
ACCOMMODATION
There is no accommodation available, but there are a number of private lodges in the area. Please consult the “Accommodation” pages for more details.
 
BIRDING SPECIALS
A wide variety of waterbirds can be seen in a short time period. The list of specials is impressive, with Pink-backed Pelican, Black Heron, Dwarf Bittern, Woolly-necked and Saddle-billed Storks, African Openbill, Comb Duck, White-backed and Fulvous Ducks, African Pgymy-goose, African Marsh-harrier, Lesser Moorhen, Allen’s Gallinule, Lesser Jacana, Senegal Lapwing, Greater Painted-snipe, Collared Pratincole, Caspian Tern and Black Coucal all being recorded annually.
 
Some of the more common species include Goliath Heron, White-faced Duck, African Jacana, African Fish Eagle and White Pelican.
 
Longtoed Lapwing and Rufous-bellied Heron are recorded occasionally.
 
A wide variety of woodland birds can also be recorded around the pans. They include Swamp Nightjar, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Broad-billed Roller, Grey-rumped Swallow, Eastern Nicator, Bearded Scrub-robin, White-starred Robin (winter), Rudd’s Apalis, Rufous-winged and Red-faced Cisticolas, Burnt-necked Eremomela, African Yellow White-eye, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Pink-throated Twinspot and Lemon-breasted Canary. Red-billed Oxpeckers are often seen feeding on the cattle next to the pan.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
Pel’s Fishing Owl can be recorded in the riverine forest, please contact the Zululand Birding Route to arrange a guide.
 

Sodwana Bay

Controlled by the iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority, this spot on the coast is very popular for holidaymakers. Good fishing and snorkeling/ diving has made this place a household name in South Africa. The reserve part is dominated by coastal forest, with the beach and ocean being additional habitats.
 
DIRECTIONS
Sodwana Bay is best accessed via Hluhluwe. From the N2 north of Durban, take the Hluhluwe turn-off and drive through the village. At the T-junction, turn left and follow the tar road to Mbazwana village. The reserve is signposted along the way, and is situated about 100km from Hluhluwe. From the north (Johannesburg, Pongola) "Soddies" can be reached by taking the Jozini/ Ndumo/ Kosi turn-off 50km south of Pongola. The turn-off to Sodwana is situated in the village of Jozini, which is reached 20km after turning off the N2. The turn-off is signposted, but be sure not to travel over the Jozini Dam wall, as you have then gone too far. Follow this road, which becomes a dirt/ sand raod for about 38km, and take the right hand turn-off to Mbazwana. It is then another 23km to Mbazwana, and a further 20km on tar road to Sodwana.
 
ACCOMMODATION
Chalets and campsites available in the reserve.
 
BIRDING SPECIALS
The best birding areas at Sodwana lie along the Ngoboseleni Trail, which starts and ends at the reception office. The trail takes approximately 3 hours to do, and is over easy terrain. The trail covers coastal forest, wetland and a bit of grassland.
 
Forest species to look and listen for include Livingstone's and Purple-crested Turacos, Brown Scrub-Robin, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul, Green Twinspot, Woodward's Batis, Green Coucal, Black-bellied Starling, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Grey Waxbill and Eastern Nicator. Parties of Crested Guineafowl can be encountered along the path, and lucky birders can spot Buff-spotted Flufftail in the thicker forest patches.
 
Ngoboseleni Lake could produce a few waterbirds such as Pygmy Goose, Woolly-necked Stork, Goliath Heron, African Jacana and White-faced Duck. African Fish Eagle can be seen perched on the lake edge, while hippos can be seen floating around in the water.
 
The area around the camp is good for a variety of coastal scrub birds, such as Golden-rumped Tinkerbird, Bearded Scrub-Robin, Collared, Grey and Olive Sunbirds, Southern Boubou, Green-backed Cameroptera, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Red-backed Manikin, Tambourine Dove and African Pied Wagtail.
 
Sea-birds that can be seen from the shore include Cape Gannet, Cape Cormorant, Swift and Caspian Terns and White-fronted Plover.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
Sodwana Bay is one of the best sites in South Africa for game fishing, snorkeling and diving in the warm Indian Ocean and a number of companies offer these activities off the Bay. Samango Monkeys can be a pest in the camp.
 

Ozabeni Section

Ozabeni is the northern area of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park. It is comprised mostly of the special coastal woody grassland interspersed with seasonal pans and the swamp forest of the Mbazwana Stream. Access is limited to 4x4 only. The sand tracks can be quite heavy and some of the tracks go through very muddy areas on the edge of the pans. There is great Coastal forest, but birds of this habitat are more accessible at other reserves along the coast.
 
Directions
 
The turn-off to the reserve is on the new tar road between Hluhluwe and Mbazwana. It is well marked about 15km north of the Lower Mkhuze Bridge. Follow the sand track, through a pan on to the campsite and staff accommodation. Entry is free, but you have to sign the register to enter. Camping needs to book through Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife booking offices. There are no road maps of the reserve and so one simply sticks to the tracks and tries not to get lost!
 
Birding

The Mbazwana Stream is tricky to bird, but does hold Pel's Fishing Owl, African Finfoot, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Black-throated Wattle-eye and Half-collared Kingfisher. Patient waiting at Samango crossing will reveal a fair bit. The open woodland holds Southern Banded Snake Eagle, African Cuckoo-hawk and Bushveld Pipit. The grasslands east of the stream are good for Cape and Rosy-breasted Longclaw, Pale-crowned Cisticola, Denham's Bustard, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Common Pratincole and African Quail-finch. Swamp Nightjar breeds in the grasslands near the KwaMbila outpost further east in the reserve. Sooty Falcon, Pallid and Montagu's Harriers have been seen in summer. Long-toed Plover has been seen in the pans in the past with Black Coucal and Red-headed Quelea in the vicinity after good rains.

Lake Sibaya

Lake Sibaya is the largest freshwater lake in South Africa and is separated from the sea by high forest covered dunes.
 
Lake Sibaya is a drowned river valley lake with a maximum depth of over 40m. Many smaller pans typical of those elsewhere in the area surround the lake. In years of poor rainfall many of these smaller pans dry up leaving Lake Sibaya as the only permanent water in the area where flocks of up to 20 000 waterfowl can congregate. The eastern shores of the lake have very rich dune forest habitat which harbours many of the Zululand "east coast" specials.
 
DIRECTIONS
From Mkhuze take the R69 towards Candover, after 2km's turn right towards Ubombo. Follow this road to Mbazwana and follow the signposts to Lake Sibaya from here.
 
Accommodation
 
There is a wide selection of accommodation available at Mbazwana and Sodwana Bay.
 
SPECIALS
Lake Sibaya hosts an impressive array of species, especially waterbirds. Goliath, Purple, Great White, Squacco, Green-backed and occasionally Rufous-bellied Herons are all recorded in and around the lake edges. Five stork species (Woolly-necked, Saddle-billed, Open-bill, Black and Yellow-bellied) can be seen in one day, as well as other specials such as African Marsh Harrier, Caspian Tern, Collared Pratincole and White Pelican. Check the water's edge for Lesser Jacana, Greater Painted Snipe and Allen's Gallinule. Pygmy Goose should be looked for amongst the waterlilies. Sibaya is also the best locality in Zululand to observe Great Crested Grebe.
 
Grassland specials recorded regularly include Denham's Bustard, Swamp Nightjar, Pink-throated Longclaw, Grey-rumped Swallow and Secretarybird.
The coastal forest surrounding the lake can turn up African Broadbill, Woodward's Batis, African Crowned Eagle, Livingstone's Turaco, Rudd's Apalis, Brown Scrub-Robin, African Yellow White-eye, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Grey Sunbird, Green Twinspot and Black-bellied Starling..

 

 

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