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North West - Zululand Birding Route

Umfolozi Route

The Umfolozi Route is situated totally within the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Park (HUP).This park is one of Africa's oldest, and is famous for the protection of White Rhino, which neared extinction only a few decades ago. Hluhluwe birding is covered under the Hluhluwe Route.

Read more: Umfolozi Route

Phongola Route

 
The Phongola Route contains one of the oldest game reserves in Africa, the Phongola Game Reserve. Even the early conservation pioneers recognised the beauty and value of this area. Superb Sweet Lowveld Bushveld, the only example of this in the province, supports a vast array of species, including some that are rare in other parts of Zululand. These Phongola specials include Burchell's Starling, Bennett's Woodpecker, Levaillant's Cuckoo, Purple Roller, Magpie Shrike and Red-headed Weaver. The area also contains eastern coastal plain endemics such as Rudd's Apalis, Pink-throated Twinspot, Lemon-breasted Canary and Neergard's Sunbird. Raptors are plentiful, with 10 species of eagle and 4 species of Vulture being recorded. Special raptors include Osprey, African Fish-Eagle, Peregrine Falcon and Lappet-faced Vulture.
 
Jozini Dam offers good birding, as well as exciting Tiger Fish fishing. Interesting waterbirds recorded in the area include Pink-backed Pelican, Comb Duck, Lesser Moorhen, Painted Snipe, Caspian Tern, Black Coucal and Osprey.
The cliffs on the Lebombo Mountains support cliff-nesting species such as Black Stork, Peregrine Falcon and Rock Kestrel. This mountain range separates the coastal plain from the inland areas, and is an important flyway for migrating raptors.
 
Mkhuze Falls Game Reserve is situated at 300m above sea level and adds an impressive amount of specials to the route. Lowveld vegetation, hills and wetlands provide habitat for many species. Specials include raptors, waterbirds in the wetland, bush birds and a variety of game including the big five. Visitors could see Yellow-billed Stork, Martial Eagle, Bronze-winged Courser, Black Coucal, Eastern Nicator, Rudd's Apalis, Green-winged Pytilia, Narina Trogon and Little Sparrowhawk. 
 

Hlatikulu Forest

Hlatikhulu Forest is situated on top of the Lebombo Mountains, north-west of the town of Jozini. The forest is quite extensive, and is protected by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. The forest combines species of high and low altitude forests, and is one of the few places in North-west Zululand where this occurs. The forest is not particularly tall, and possesses a very thick understory.
 
DIRECTIONS
Take the Jozini turn-off from the N2 highway 10km north of the town of Mkuze and proceed straight through the town. You will cross over the Pongolapoort Dam wall, and as you get to the other side, zero your clock in your vehicle. Travel north along the tar road for 3.4km, and turn left onto a gravel road. There is a signpost here “Msiyane High School”. Proceed for 1km and then turn left at the Sizihandi Tea Room. This road takes one up onto the Lebombos. Proceed along this road for 20km, after which you will see the Hlatikhulu Forest signboard on the right hand side of the road. Report here to the Field Rangers.
 
Another access point, to a taller forest area, is situated 3km before the reserve entrance. Look out for a soccer pitch on the right (east) had side of the road. Turn down here and follow the road into the forest.
 
A 2-wheel drive vehicle with reasonable access will get you to the forest.
 
ACCOMMODATION
There is an empty house at the forest entrance where one can stay, just bring all your bedding, food and water. Alternatively one can camp outside the house, in a shady spot adjacent to the house. Contact Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife for permission on 084 314 9093.
 
SPECIALS
A pleasant mixture of low and high altitude birds occur here, as well as the more widespread forest species. High altitude species include Bar-throated Apalis, Olive Woodpecker, White-starred Robin, Cape Batis and Olive Bush Shrike. The thicker areas are home to African Broadbill – listen out for it below the camping area.
 
Crested Guineafowl, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Tambourine and Lemon Doves, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Green-backed Cameroptera and Terrestrial Brownbul can all be looked for on the ground, while Blue-mantled Crested, African Paradise and Ashy Flycatchers hawk insects above. African Emerald, Black, Red-chested, Klaas’s and Diederik Cuckoos are present in spring and summer.
 
Eastern Nicator and Green Coucal can be very vocal, but hard to track down. Both Purple-crested and Livingstone’s Turacos are present, the latter at its highest altitude in the region. Narina Trogon can be found along the road below the soccer pitch, as well as Square-tailed Drongo, Yellow-rumped and Red-fronted Tinkerbirds, White-eared Barbet, Yellow-streaked and Yellow-bellied Greenbuls, Black-bellied Starling, Dark-backed Weaver and Collared Sunbird. Grey Sunbird is common throughout.
 
Green Twinspots feed quietly on seeding grasses, and are joined by African Firefinch.
 
Forest edges are also great places for birds and Hlatikhulu is no exception. Look out for Gorgeous Bush Shrike, Pink-throated Twinspot, Melba Finch, Dusky Indigobird, Jacobin Cuckoo, European Marsh Warbler and in the grassy areas Lazy Cisticola and Yellow-throated Longclaw.
 
Birds to look out for overhead include African Black Swift, Wahlberg’s and Black-breasted Snake Eagles, European Hobby and a variety of swallows.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
Shy forest mammals include Bushpig, Bushbuck, Samango Monkey and Blue Duiker. The forest is home for many rare and restricted plants and botanists would be pleasantly surprized with the variety.
 

{slider Lebombo Cliffs}

The Lebombo Mountain range stretches from about Phinda in the south to the Kruger National Park in the north and divides the coastal plain from the higher inland areas of the region. The mountains rise about 800m above the surrounding area, and are a well known landmark. Formed by the shifting together of the earth's plates, the mountains possess some impressive cliffs along their entire range. Dry bushveld and grassland covers most of the mountains, but forest patches occur in ravines where they are protected from fire and receive more moisture. The easiest place to view birds on these cliffs is on the main tar road leading up into Tongaland.
 
There are impressive views from the road of the Jozini Dam below.
 
DIRECTIONS
Situated off the N2 highway, about 12km north of the village of Mkuze turn right onto the Ndumo/ Tembe/ Kosi road as well as the village of Jozini. The road up the mountain is visible from the highway. Follow this tar road up, stopping at any of the 5 or so spots where it is safe off the road. The best viewing spot is situated 8km from the N2 intersection, on the left hand side of the road.
 
ACCOMMODATION
None on the cliffs, but there are numerous lodges in the area.
 
BIRDING SPECIALS
The lower sections of the road (traveling up) are good for a number of dry bushveld species such as Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Long-billed Crombec, Jameson's Firefinch, Bearded Woodpecker, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Familiar Chat, Striped Kingfisher, Jacobin Cuckoo, Brown-crowned Tchagra and Orange-breasted Bush Shrike.
 
As you climb in altitude, the vegetation becomes thicker and taller. Some typical species found in the moister patches include Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Olive Woodpecker, Black-backed Puffback, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Purple-crested Turaco, Yellow-breasted Apalis, White-throated Robin-Chat, Spectacled Weaver and Sombre Greenbul. Seeding roadside grasses could provide Swee Waxbill, Blue-billed Firefinch and Streaky-headed Seed-eater.
 
It is the cliffs and rocky areas that are the real birding attraction here. Locally scarce species such as Red-winged Starling, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Cape Rock Thrush and Jackal Buzzard can be seen from the higher sections of the road where you are closer to the cliffs. Look out for the resident Peregrine Falcon which breed on the cliffs. They can be seen from the pull-over area 8km from the N2 intersection. Black Stork also breed in the rocky gorges, and can be seen circling overhead.
 
The mountains are also used by migrant raptors which take advantage of the rising thermals provided by the steep cliffs. A careful watch in early and late summer could produce Lesser-Spotted, Steppe and Wahlberg's Eagles, while Booted Eagle can be seen in winter. Rock Kestrel, Lanner Falcon, African Harrier Hawk, Gabar Goshawk, Black-chested Snake Eagle, African Hawk Eagle and Martial Eagle can all be seen around with some patience.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
There are a number of Lebombo Cycads growing on the cliffs - sadly restricted to the inaccessible areas due to theft.
 

Phongola Game & Nature Reserve

Although two different places, these two localities are treated in one write-up as the birdlife is similar and the two areas lie adjacent to each other.
 
Phongola Nature Reserve was the first proclaimed reserve in Africa, though it was deproclaimed and then reproclaimed again. It surrounds the Jozini Dam, a large impoundment of water on the Phongola River. These reserves are unique in a sense that they protect a stretch of Arid Lowveld, a vegetation type occurring widely in the Kruger National Park. The Lebombo Mountain Range forms the eastern boundary of the reserve, and contains forest patches and steep cliffs. Zululand Thornveld occurs over much of the reserve as well.
 
KZN Wildlife owns the Nature Reserve, and the Game Reserve is privately owned.
 
DIRECTIONS
To access the Game Reserve: travel up the N2 from Durban. Pass the "Mkhuze" turnoff, as well as the "Jozini" one. About 35km further north, on the right hand side of the road, lies the well-signposted entrance to the Game Reserve. Travel a further 5km, turn right at the sign "Golela", drive into the small town and follow the signs to the Nature Reserve.
 
Arriving from the north (Piet Retief or Johannesburg) drive through the town of Phongola on the N2 and turn left to Golela after about 25km to access the Nature Reserve, or proceed for another 5km and turn left to the Game Reserve.
 
ACCOMMODATION
Lodges and bushcamps have been built in the Game Reserve and the Nature Reserve has a campsite.
 
SPECIALS FOR THE AREA
Due to the presence of Arid Lowveld vegetation, as well as the water, a number of rare and special species occur in the reserves. Species that occur at or near their southernmost limit in Africa include Bennett's Woodpecker, Burchell's Starling, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Magpie Shrike, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Red-headed Weaver, Brown-headed Parrot, Grey and Red-billed Hornbills, Levaillant's Cuckoo and Purple Roller. Other specials occurring in the dry bushveld include Grey Go-away-bird, Arrow-marked Babbler, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Red-crested Korhaan, Jameson's Firefinch, Marico Sunbird, Flappet Lark and Grey Penduline Tit.
 
Patches of thicker bush, especially along the shoreline and along drainage lines are home to White-throated, White-browed and Red-capped Robin-Chats, Purple-crested Turaco, Tambourine Dove, Bearded Scrub-Robin, Rudd's Apalis, Grey, Scarlet-chested and Neergard's Sunbirds, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike and Pink-throated Twinspot.
 
Summer visitors include Red-backed Shrike, African Pygmy Kingfisher, African Cuckoo, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Violet-backed Starling and Red-breasted Swallow.
 
Phongola is also one of the better places in Zululand for raptor watching. Large raptors such as Martial, African Crowned, Tawny, African Fish, Bateleur, Steppe, Brown Snake- and Wahlberg's Eagles are regularly recorded, and up to 100 White-backed Vultures and a good few Lappet-faced can be seen at the vulture restaurant in Phongola Game Reserve. Smaller raptors include Gabar Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon, Shikra and, in summer, Pallid Harrier.
 
Nocturnal species that can be seen or heard include White-faced, Pearl-spotted and Spotted Eagle Owls, as well as Square-tailed and Fiery-necked Nightjars. Bronze-winged Coursers are occasionally seen on night drives.
 
Open grassland areas provide habitat for Lilac-breasted Roller, Yellow-throated Longclaw and less commonly, Lemon-breasted canary.
 
Waterbird numbers and species composition fluctuate according to water levels. African Jacana, large flocks of White-faced Duck, Goliath Heron and Water Thick-knee are resident, and a breeding colony of Yellow-billed Stork have made the Nature Reserve one of the few places in South Africa where they do so. Flooded grassland can produce exciting species; Black Coucal, Lesser Moorhen, Rufous-bellied Heron and Greater Painted-snipe. Pink-backed Pelican used to breed at the dam, but no longer do so. Pel's Fishing Owl has been recorded from the forests overhanging the eastern edge of the dam.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
A variety of large and small mammal species occur in the reserves. Hippo and crocodile occur in the dam, and White Rhino, Elephant, Leopard, Giraffe, Zebra, Nyala, Spotted Hyaena and Kudu occur as well.
 
Boat trips on the dam are a recommended way of seeing many birds and game.
 
Annual fishing competitions are held at this popular fishing venue, with Tiger Fish being the most popular catch.
 

uLundi Route

 
Ulundi is situated in the centre of Zululand, between Melmoth and Vryheid, and has been the site of battlefields, royal residences and provincial government. It is situated in the White Umfolozi valley and is bordered by rolling hills and thorn-tree plains. It is an area not well explored, as some areas are remote and one could easily get lost in rural Zululand. The Cengeni Gate entrance to the Umfolozi Game Reserve is reached by driving through Ulundi. The area is not known for specific bird specials, but a general mix of thornveld and grassland species in some lovely habitat.
 

Ondini Historical Reserve

The Ondini Historic Reserve is located just outside Ulundi. It was the site of King Cetshwayo's royal homestead, and today is the headquarters of Amafa AkwaZulu Natali, the provincial heritage conservation body.
 
The Ondini Historic Reserve comprises about 300 ha of Zululand Thornveld bisected by a permanent river. While bushveld is the predominant veld type there are pockets of densely wooded areas as well as grassland and a temporary wetland.
 
DIRECTIONS
From the R34 (Melmoth -Vryheid road) take the Ulundi turn-off. After crossing the Umfolozi River, take the second turn to the right (signposted as Umfolozi Game Reserve). You will pass the Ulundi Battlefield on your left. Continue on the dirt road. The Ondini complex is signposted 5km further along the road.
 
ACCOMMODATION
Available in the reserve in traditional Zulu beehive "rondavels".
 
BIRDING SPECIALS
A diversity of bird species have moved into the reserve because the surrounding areas are somewhat degraded. As a result 135 bird species are regular sightings at the reserve, including Orange-breasted and Grey-headed Bush Shrikes, Violet-backed Starling, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Crested Francolin, Bearded Woodpecker, Pied Barbet, Crowned Hornbill, Brown-crowned Tchagra, White-crested Helmet-Shrike, Emerald-spotted Dove and various seed-eaters and waxbills.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
Ondini was King Cetshwayo's capital and was torched by the British in 1879, after the Zulu were defeated at the Battle of Ulundi. The Royal Enclosure of Ondini has been reconstructed . A nearby Site museum interprets the life of King Cetshwayo and provides visitors with an insight into the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.
 
KwaZulu Cultural Museum is located on the reserve. It exhibits examples of the rich cultural heritage of KwaZulu Natal: from the earliest inhabitants to the great Zulu Nation. The museum focuses of the Nguni speaking peoples of South-eastern Africa, and houses one of the most representative collections of Zulu material culture in the country. Of note is the famous collection of beadwork.
 
Opening times: Daily from 9h00 - 16h00 except for Good Friday and Christmas Day. A nominal entrance fee is charged.
 

Ophate Game Reserve

A spectacular rugged reserve comprising 8 825 ha proclaimed in 1991, is located in the heartland of Zulu history, at the north-eastern end of the Valley of the Kings (eMakhosini). Ophathe falls within the immediate catchment of the White Umfolozi River, with diverse topography as a result of altitudinal variations. The reserve varies in altitude from 987 m in the south-west to 270 m in the eastern section along the White Umfolozi River. The vegetation varies from bushveld dominated by acacia species, to mistbelt and highveld, including many spectacular krantzes with orchid and cycad colonies.
 
DIRECTIONS
Off the main tar road linking Melmoth and Vryheid (the R68 which becomes the R34), take the R66 to Ulundi. The main entrance to the reserve is on the right hand side of the road approximately 1 km before crossing the White Umfolozi River to Ulundi.
 
ACCOMMODATION
Mars cottage, located on an isolated peninsula of the White Umfolozi River is only accessible to 4X4 enthusiasts. There are plans to develop visitor facilities within the reserve which will be accessible from the R66 to Ulundi. Bird and game viewing opportunities by two wheel drive vehicle from the main entrance to the reserve is good.
 
SPECIALS
A wide variety of bushveld bird species can be observed in the reserve. Raptors such as Verreaux's, Martial, Wahlberg's and Tawny Eagles, are often seen overhead and White-backed Vultures originating from Umfolozi Game Reserve are also often seen.
 
The area around the reception is good for Kurrichane and Ground-scraper Thrush, Black-crowned and Brown-crowned Tchagra, Orange-breasted and Grey-headed Bush Shrike, Puffback, Crested Francolin, Emerald-spotted Dove and White-crested Helmet-Shrike. Cape Rock Thrush, Familiar Chat and Jackal Buzzard can be seen in the rockier areas.
 
The thicker riverine bush provides habitat for Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Crowned Hornbill, White-throated Robin-Chat, Yellow-breasted Apalis and Paradise Flycatcher.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
Black and White Rhinoceros, Kudu, Giraffe, Warthog, Zebra and a variety of smaller game occurs in the reserve.
 
Raptors utilise thermal updrafts to gain great heights off this rugged terrain. There are several plant species of high conservation value occurring in the reserve such as Buxus macowanii, Scilla nervosa, Encephalartos natalensis and Protea caffra. Guided horse trails take place within the reserve.
 
The greater road network within the game reserve is challenging 4X4 country which offers spectacular views of the surrounding area.
 

Mgungungdlovu Cultural Site

Situated in the Makhosini Valley (Valley of the Kings), this spot is well worth a visit for picking up good bushveld species. The Cultural Site provides a centre for visits to uMgungundlovu, the historical residency of the Zulu King Dingane. Typical vegetation consists of Acacia and Aloe species, with scattered Coral Trees and Corkwoods.
 
DIRECTIONS
Situated off the R34, north of Melmoth travel for about 25km , past the Ulundi turn-off, and turn left at the sign "Mgungundlovu". Proceed with this road for about 5km to the Cultural Site, where you can park your vehicle and walk around. The road surface is gravel, but easily reached with sedan vehicles.
 
ACCOMMODATION
None, but all types are available in Melmoth or Babanango, which are close by.
 
BIRDING SPECIALS
The woodlands are home to about 200 species of birds, including Natal Francolin, Golden-tailed and Cardinal Woodpeckers, Greater Honeyguide, Crested Barbet, Crowned Hornbill, Green Woodhoopoe, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Little Bee-eater, Black-headed Oriole, Brubru, Black-crowned and Brown-crowned Tchagras, Orange-breasted Bush Shrike, White-crested Helmet-Shrike, Ground-scraper Thrush, Emerald-spotted Dove, White-browed Robin-Chat, White-browed Scrub Robin, Cape Glossy Starling, Grey Penduline Tit, Rattling Cisticola, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Arrow-marked Babbler, Yellow-throated Petronia, Bushveld Pipit and Southern Boubou. In June and July many species of birds can be seen feeding off the flowering Mountain Aloes. Look out for Scarlet-chested, Amethyst and White-bellied Sunbirds as well as drongos, orioles and weavers with orange-stained heads.
 
Raptors that can be seen include the numerous Yellow-billed Kites in summer, Wahlberg's Eagle, Little-banded Goshawk and African Hawk Eagle.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
The Cultural Museum portrays interesting insights into the lives of the Zulus, and guided tours are available to the old traditional homestead.
 

Babanango Valley

Situated on 3100ha of prime bushveld, this Private Nature Reserve offers many activities and birds to the visitor. The Nsubeni River valley, a tributary of the White Umfolozi, cuts through the reserve and it is surrounded on both sides by steep hills, cliffs grassland and bushveld. The reserve is also registered as a Natural Heritage Site, and is part of the Babanango Valley Conservancy. The reserve is predominantly covered in bushveld in the valley, with well-vegetated granite koppies, quartzite ridges and sandstone cliffs. The mountain tops are covered in grassland.
 
DIRECTIONS
From Babanango, travel west towards Dundee on the R68. Turn right after about 5km onto a dirt road. The Lodge is signposted from the turn-off. Continue with this road for about 1km and then take the left-hand split in the road. Follow this road for another 11km. The road to the lodge is in kept in good condition, and is signposted all the way down
 
ACCOMMODATION
Available in chalets, bushcamps, cottages and communal safari tents at the lodge.
 
BIRDING SPECIALS
Babanango Valley Lodge is a well known birding locality and has a birdlist of over 250 species.
 
There are a number of self-guided or guided walking trails which cover all of the habitats. The area around the Rock Pools Bush Camp and Nsubeni River is an excellent spot for Half-collared Kingfisher, Mountain Wagtail, Blue-billed Firefinch, Tambourine Dove, Wood Owl, Pygmy Kingfisher, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, White-throated Robin-Chat, Southern Boubou and in the fruiting fig trees Green Pigeon.
 
The bushveld areas around the lodge should be searched for Blue Waxbill, Shelley's Francolin, Purple-crested Turaco, Little Bee-eater, Crowned Hornbill, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Brown-backed Honeybird, Bushveld Pipit, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Orange-breasted Bush Shrike, Plum-coloured Starling, Brimstone Canary and in summer, African and Jacobin Cuckoos. Flowering Aloes attract sunbirds such as Scarlet-chested, Amethyst, White-bellied, Greater Double-collared and the occasional Malachite.
 
The extensive grassland areas on the top of the Valley are home to Barrow's Korhaan, Grassbird, Croaking Cisticola, Malachite Sunbird, Black-winged Lapwing, Bald Ibis, Quailfinch and Grass Owl. Closer to Babanango, among the rocky outcrops, look out for Buff-streaked Chat, Ground Woodpecker, Yellow Bishop, Plain-backed Pipit and Cape Crow.
 
Rocky hillsides and cliffs abound with species such as Striped Pipit, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Buff-streaked Chat, Bokmakierie, Cinnamon-breasted Rock Bunting and at least one pair of Black Stork. Ground Hornbill have also nested on a rocky ledge.
 
Babanango Valley Lodge is probably most famous for its diversity of raptors. Many breed in the reserve, including Tawny, Wahlberg's, Verreaux's, Martial, Crowned and African Hawk Eagles, African and Gabar Goshawks, Lanner Falcon, Brown Snake Eagle, Giant Eagle Owl and Secretarybird. Visiting raptors include Amur Falcons, Bateleur and Black-breasted Snake Eagle.
 
The gardens around the lodge are alive with birds. Kurrichane and Ground-scraper Thrushes, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Green Pigeon and Bronze Manikins can all be seen with relative ease.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST

The reserve is also home to a number of antelope species such as Kudu, Impala, Burchell's Zebra, Blesbuck, Red Hartebeest and Mountain Reedbuck. Warthog, Aardwolf, Caracal, Leopard and Serval are shyer species that can be encountered..

Ntinini Nature Reserve

A unique reserve which dominates the surrounding area with the majestic presence of Zungeni hill towering some 1 306 m a.s.l. The north facing slopes of Zungeni hill are characterised by open woodland dispersed between scenic sandstone boulder outcrops. Moist Midland Mistbelt and Lowveld occur within the reserve. The reserve is drained by tributaries of the Ntinini River to the west which form part of the greater White Umfolozi River catchment area. The annual rainfall ranges from 800 mm to 1280 mm. An unpredictable climate where heavy mists are common, hail, frost and the occasional drought, usually of short duration are know to occur.
 
DIRECTIONS
Travelling from Babanango along the R68 towards Nqutu, turn right approximately 20 km outside of Babanango onto the gravel road to Vryheid. (Approximately 1 ½ km prior to reaching this point you would have passed a gravel road on the left hand side of the tar road leading to Nkandla). Driving along the gravel road to Vryheid you cross the Ntinini River and continue to travel along the western bank of the river. Approximately 13 km along this road is Ntinini hamlet, turn right at the store and travel towards Zungeni hill in an easternly direction for approximately 3 km before reaching Ntinini Game Reserve.
 
ACCOMMODATION
No visitor accommodation is available. Accommodation is available in the surrounding area see accommodation information page for details.
 
SPECIALS
A pair of resident Black eagles have a nesting site established on the north western cliff face of Zungeni hill. The nesting site although not always in the same position is utilised on an annual basis. The pair of Black eagles have been successful in raising chicks over the past several years.
 
Birders to add..... e.g Rock pigeons, red billed woodhoopoe, Yellowthroated longclaw etc...
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
An extensive donga system several hundred years old occurs within the reserve. This formation has creating opportunities for nesting sites to be burrowed into these steep banks.
Enhancements
 
The reserve is centrally located to other birding spots along the Zululand Birding Route, namely Ophathe Game Reserve, Emakhosini Valley, Babanango, Nkandla and Qudeni Forest Reserves. The famous historical battlefields are located in the vicinity.
 

Mangeni Falls

Mangeni Falls are situated on a tributary of the White Umfolozi River, west of Babanango. The waterfall has eroded back through soft sandstone and formed an impressive gorge which is wooded in places. The waterfall is surrounded by open grassland and rural settlements.
 
DIRECTIONS
The waterfall is quite difficult to get to, and is best accessed with a vehicle with high ground clearance. From Babanango, drive west on the R68 towards Dundee. Turn left after 31.5km at the sign marked "Qudeni". Follow this gravel road for 14.7km, and turn right at the sign "Mangeni". Travel a further 6.5km and turn left towards a few distant buildings. Cross the concrete bridge and then turn right onto a track immediately after crossing. Proceed with this track for about 500m, and park the vehicle at one of the side-tracks that lead towards the valley on the right (which is visible from far away). It might be a good idea to pop in at the police station and inform them of your visit before parking at the falls. To reach it, carry on with the road after crossing the low-level concrete bridge, and take the right had split in the road that leads to the station. Luckily the area is all open grassland and all these landmarks can be seen from a distance.
 
ACCOMMODATION
None, but available in Babanango or Melmoth.
 
BIRDING SPECIALS
The waterfall and gorge are home to a number of rock associated species. Bald Ibis roost near the falls, look out for them on any burnt areas in winter. Verreaux's Eagle breed on the cliffs just below the falls, as do Common Kestrel and Lanner Falcon. Mocking Cliff-Chat, Cape Rock Thrush, Mountain Wheatear and Familiar Chat can all be seen on the rocks. Alpine and Black Swifts breed here in summer, their loud piercing calls echoing in the gorge. Scan the surrounding grasslands for Quailfinch, Spike-heeled Lark, Cape Crow, Long-tailed Widowbird, African Marsh Harrier, Secretarybird and White Stork. The river, when high enough, can be searched for African Black Duck.
 
The bushes on the slopes are home to Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Sombre Greenbul, Tawnyflanked Prinia, Bar-throated Apalis and provide food for Red-winged Starlings.
 

Louwsberg Route

 

The Louwsberg Route is situated at medium to high altitude (300m - 1400m above sea level) in far northern KwaZulu-Natal. This range of altitude supports many plant species, and their accompanying birds. In fact, Ithala Game Reserve has the most species of trees of all the reserves in the province and excellent birding.

Read more: Louwsberg Route

Vryheid Route

 
Home to about 350 species, this region of Zululand provides the birder with 50 endemic or near-endemic species.The Vryheid Route is situated at the highest altitude in the Zululand Birding Route, and lies on the ecotone of the extensive grasslands in the west and the bushveld areas to the east. This, combined with the many wetlands and mountains in the area, ensures that the birder is always kept busy.
 
Some noteworthy endemics such as Southern Bald Ibis, Blue Crane, Blue Korhaan, Ground Woodpecker, South African Cliff Swallow, Bush Blackcap, Buff-streaked Chat and Gurney's Sugarbird occur alongside near-endemics such as Eastern Long-billed and Spike Heeled Lark, Mountain Wheatear, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, Olive Bush Shrike and Swee Waxbill.
 
All five of Zululand's major rivers have all or some of their catchments in this area, resulting in many wetlands. These wetlands provide nationally important numbers of Grey Crowned Crane, as well as shy rallids such as Red-chested Flufftail, African Rail and Baillon's Crake. Thousands of duck and geese moult at Blood River Vlei in winter, and the Klipfontein Bird Sanctuary is one of the best places in South Africa to view rails, crakes and flufftails.
 
Phongola Bush Nature Reserve in the north is one of Zululand's best-kept secrets, and is home to breeding African Crowned, Verreaux's and Martial Eagles, Orange Ground Thrush and White-starred Robin. The setting is magnificent, climax mistbelt forest against high cliffs and rolling grasslands.
 
Between Blood River Vlei and Phongola Bush lies a mountain called Skurweberg (rough mountain). Birds characteristic of higher altitudes are found up here, including Blue Crane, Eastern Long-billed Lark and Denham's Bustard.
 
Vryheid Hill Nature Reserve borders on the town and is well known for its diversity of forest, woodland and grassland species. African Crowned Eagles breed in the reserve, and Broad-tailed Warbler, African Cuckoo Hawk, Bush Blackcap, Buffy, Long-billed and Striped Pipits and Chorister Robin-Chat also occur here.
 
Just south of Vryheid lies Esikhuma mountain and its surrounding thornveld, home to an interesting mix of mountain and woodland species such as Mocking Cliff-Chat, Jacobin and African Cuckoo, Jackal Buzzard and Verreaux's Eagle.
 
Natal Spa boasts a resident pair of African Crowned Eagles, the nest being visible from close quarters.
 
Leopard Rock is situated 70km south of Vryheid along the White Umfolozi River. Here birders will find a different mix of bushveld and woodland than further north, and different bird species. Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Tawny Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle, White-backed Vulture and Purple-crested Turaco are some of the interesting species.
Interests and Attractions
 

Phongola Bush

This breathtaking reserve is situated on the KwaZulu-Natal/Mpumalanga border, about 20km from Wakkerstroom as the crow flies. Ngcaka Cliff and the mountain range around it are covered in climax mixed Yellowwood forest with high altitude short grassland above and tall grassland below. KZN Wildlife maintains the reserve, and permission is required from the Officer in charge in Vryheid before visiting this extremely remote, rugged area. These mountains are the highest in all Zululand, and command fantastic views out over the northern rolling hills.
 
DIRECTIONS
To enter the reserve, one has to travel on tracks through private land, and one obviously needs permission first. The services of a guide are recommended, as access is tricky. A 4x4 vehicle is compulsory. Contact Duncan McKenzie This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at 083 330 1170 to arrange entry and for guiding. The reserve is situated 14km west of the small village of Lüneberg in the Paulpietersburg district.
 
ACCOMMODATION
A very basic campsite is situated in the forest, in the reserve itself. There is also a stone cottage which is built on private land on top of the mountain in Mpumalanga Province.
 
SPECIALS
Although the reserve lacks comfortable facilities, it will appeal to the true outdoor enthusiast. Birders and botanists will find hidden treasures around every corner. Orchids, proteas and streptocarpus flowers, a Chorister Robin-Chat nest in a fallen branch or a magnificent Martial Eagle catching a Rock Hyrax in one swoop from the forest - this is the world of the timeless.
 
Entering the reserve from the south, one passes through tall, moist grassland, which hosts Red-winged Francolin and Broad-tailed Warbler in summer. The forest fringes are home to Tambourine Dove, Bush Blackcap, Lesser Honeyguide, Forest Canary, Forest Buzzard, African Pygmy-Kingfisher, Barratt's Warbler and Greater Double-collared Sunbird.
 
Deeper forest is the haunt of Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Chorister Robin-Chat, White-starred Robin, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Grey Cuckooshrike, Southern Double-collared Sunbird and Olive Thrush. The elusive Orange Ground-Thrush favours forested drainage lines.
 
African Crowned, Martial and Verreaux's Eagle all breed in the forest or on the cliffs. It is an awesome sight to see them patrolling the skies; the lucky birder can see all three species soaring from one spot. Secretarybirds are often encountered, as are African Goshawk, Black Sparrowhawk, Lanner Falcon, Common Kestrel and the endemic Jackal Buzzard.
 
The short grasslands and rocky gorges on top of the mountain host Gurney's Sugarbird, Mountain Wheatear, Cape Eagle Owl, Alpine Swift, Buff-streaked Chat, Eastern Long-billed Lark, Long-billed Pipit and Malachite Sunbird.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
The forest is well known as the southernmost range for many plant species. The forest and grasslands are home to a fascinating variety of plants, many of which are endangered.

The deep "boom" of the Samango Monkeys, here on their western distribution limit, is often heard throughout the forest. Baboon, Rock Hyrax (dassies), Bushpig and Porcupine arealso found and Leopards occur in small numbers..

Natal Spa

Natal Spa is one of the provinces oldest hot mineral bath resorts, and is built on the northern bank of the Bivane River. Mixed bush and large boulders line the river, with grassland and bushclumps dominating the area.
 
DIRECTIONS
From Vryheid, take the R69 towards Louwsburg and turn left 1km outside town at the sign marked "Paulpietersburg". Drive on till the T-junction, turn left, and carry on for about 25km. The spa turn off is on the right hand side of the road.
 
ACCOMMODATION
Available at the resort.
 
SPECIALS FOR THE AREA
The resort is home to a breeding pair of African Crowned Eagles, whose lives have been intensely studied by Denise James, the manager's wife. A hide has been built from which the eagles can be observed on the nest, and during the breeding season (September to January) observers can be rewarded with breathtaking interactions between the pair and their chicks.
 
Many of the birds at Natal Spa have become habituated to the presence of humans, and are tame and confiding.
 
A number of endemic species occur at the resort, including Bald Ibis, Jackal Buzzard, Cape Rock-Thrush, Grassbird, Fiscal and Southern Black Flycatchers, Cape Batis, Cape Longclaw, Southern Boubou, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Cape White-eye and Cape Weaver. All these birds can be recorded around the gardens and surrounding vegetation.
 
Mocking Cliff-Chats hop around the restaurant, and the House Sparrows have taken a liking to eating out of the sugar-bowls. Emerald-spotted Dove, Kurrichane and Ground-scraper Thrushes, Red-throated Wryneck, Black-headed Oriole, African Harrier-Hawk and African Pied Wagtail are all commonly recorded from the gardens around the pools.
 
The riverine bush provides perhaps the best chance of seeing Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, African Paradise Flycatcher and Spectacled Weaver.
 
Along the river, Giant and Pied Kingfishers, African Black Duck, Egyptian Goose and Hamerkop are all often seen, while African Fish Eagle pays the resort frequent visits.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
A resident bird guide, Simon Zwane, is at hand to show guests around.
 

Blood River Vlei

Covering a total area of 5000ha, Blood River Vlei is one of the largest inland wetlands in KwaZulu-Natal. The wetland is situated on the western boundary of Zululand and part of the Thukela River catchment, which is the largest river in the province. The wetland is situated on private land, and the service of a guide is recommended. Pristine grasslands, as well as agricultural lands surround the wetland, and the three habitats combined, host around 140 species of birds.
 
DIRECTIONS
From Vryheid, drive out for about 15km towards Dundee (R33) and turn right at the sign "Scheepersnek". Continue for about 6km, the wetland is on your left. Access to the best spots is on private land, and permission is required. Contact Duncan McKenzie on 083 330 1170 for details.
 
ACCOMMODATION
All types of accommodation is available in Vryheid, 25km away.
 
SPECIALS
Blood River Vlei is well known for its numbers of waterbirds, especially in winter when ducks, geese and cranes gather to over-winter and moult. The irrigated pastures also attract many geese. Spur-winged Goose numbers reach 2000, while Egyptian Goose numbers reach 1500. Grey Crowned Crane gather in a flock of 140 birds, one of the largest in the country.
 
Thirteen duck species have been recorded, including Fulvous, White-backed and Comb Duck, South African Shelduck, Hottentot Teal and Cape Shoveller.
 
Twelve heron species have been recorded; specials include Goliath, Squacco, Black and Black-Crowned Night-Herons.
 
The marshy areas are home to Kittlitz's Plover, African Snipe, Red-chested Flufftail, African Rail, Baillon's Crake and African Purple Swamphen. African and Lesser Jacana are resident, as well as African Spoonbill and African Wattled Lapwing.
 
Grassland at Blood River Vlei photo by Duncan MckenzieSummer visitors include Marsh, Wood and Curlew Sandpipers, Common Greenshank, Whiskered Tern and Amur Falcons.
 
Raptors are represented by Secretarybird, African Fish Eagle, African Marsh-Harrier and in summer, Western Marsh-Harrier and Amur Falcon already mentioned.
 
The grasslands surrounding the wetland host important endemics such as Blue Crane, Blue Korhaan, Bald Ibis, Jackal Buzzard, Anteating Chat and Cape Longclaw. Other grassland specials include Barrow's Korhaan, Spike-heeled Lark, Buffy and Plain-backed Pipits, Long-tailed Widowbird, Yellow-crowned Bishop, Common Quail, Small Buttonquail and African Grass-Owl. African Quailfinch, Red-billed Quelea and Cape Canary can be seasonally abundant.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
Cape Clawless Otter are sometimes seen amongst the sedges and reeds, especially in the early morning. Yellow Mongoose and Cape Fox are also resident around the wetland.
 

Klipfontein Bird Sanctuary

The Klipfontein Bird Sanctuary was created in 1995 through the diversion of treated sewage water from the town sewage works into a neglected grassland. The result is a fairly small but productive wetland yielding some of the highest counts for rails and flufftails in the country. The sanctuary is situated on municipal land, and is managed by the Vryheid branch of the KZN Wildlife Honorary Officers.
 
DIRECTIONS
The sanctuary is situated 2km south west of Vryheid on the corner of the western bypass road around the town and the dirt road to Babanango. Coming from Dundee, take the right turn off marked "North Coast, Melmoth". Travel along the bypass road for about 3km and take the first turn right marked "Babanango". The sanctuary is on your left. From Durban and Melmoth, turn left just before Vryheid at the sign saying "Paulpietersburg, Newcastle". Travel for about 3km and take the first turn left marked "Babanango". The sanctuary is on your left.
 
Travel for about 200m down the dirt road and you will see the parking area on the left. To gain access to the bird hide, which is locked, collect a key from Custom Graphics shop in Market Street in Vryheid (opposite municipal buildings). Phone Duncan McKenzie on 083 330 1170 or Charl Oberholster on 082 925 4781 for more information and arrangements.
 
ACCOMMODATION
Looking out the hide at the Sanctuary by Duncan MckenzieAll types of accommodation are provided in Vryheid, 2km away.
 
SPECIALS FOR THE AREA
From the parking area, follow the path across the bridge and onto the berm wall. From here a number of species can be seen in the reeds on your left. Look for African Rail, Black Crake, Common Moorhen, Painted Snipe and Three-banded Plover amongst the reeds and mudflats. Warblers are prominent here, especially in summer. African Yellow, African Reed, Little Rush, Sedge, Marsh, Lesser Swamp and Great Reed Warblers are all commonly recorded here.
 
Continue along the path, down the steps and onto the concrete walkway. This area is covered with Leersia grass, and is good for Baillon's Crake, Red-chested Flufftail and African Snipe. The walkway continues through thick Typha rushes, look out for Orange-breasted and Common Waxbills, as well as Fan-tailed Widowbirds and Southern Red Bishop. The rails, crakes and flufftails are often seen on the walkway, especially early morning and late afternoon.
 
From the Morris Christie Bird Hide, a variety of waterbirds can be seen. Yellow-billed Duck, Hottentot and Red-billed Teal, South African Shelduck, African Rail, African Purple Swamphen, Black Crake and Glossy Ibis are all regularly recorded. A Wahlberg's Eagle nest can be seen from the hide in the tall gum trees on your right. In winter, large congregations of Spur-winged Goose gather to feed. Summer migrants include Wood Sandpiper, Little Stint and Common Greenshank. Look overhead for Palm Swift, White-throated Swallow and Brown-throated Martin.
 
Baillion's Crake photo by Duncan MckenzieGrey Crowned Crane breed in the reedbeds every year, and can often be seen roosting in the tall trees. Thick-billed Weaver breed in the reeds among the alien gums. Other waterbirds recorded less often include Green-backed Heron, Cape Shoveller, Southern Pochard, African Crake, Burchell's Coucal and African Marsh-Harrier.
 
The White Umfolozi River forms the western boundary of the bird sanctuary. Here, Giant Kingfisher, African Black Duck and Half-collared Kingfisher can be recorded. The southern portion of the sanctuary comprises of grassland and scattered alien wattle and gum. Some noteworthy species occurring here include Shelley's Francolin, Lesser Honeyguide, Cape Robin and endemics and near endemics such as Red-throated Wryneck, Bokmakierie, Bald Ibis and Grassbird.
 
The abundant Panicum maximum in the sanctuary provide food for African Firefinch, Bronze Mannikin, Dusky Indigobird, Cape, Yellow-fronted and Black-throated Canaries. Visitors to the sanctuary include Osprey, African Fish-Eagle, Long-crested Eagle and in summer, Amur Falcons.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST

Cape Clawless Otter and Water Monitor Lizard are sometimes seen..

Vryheid Hill Nature Reserve

This 900ha reserve is situated just north of Vryheid in municipal lands. The KZN Wildlife service have been managing the reserve since 1986, and an entrance fee is payable on weekends and holidays only.
 
Lancaster Hill, as the mountain is known, consists of forested south facing slopes, mixed woodland below, and open, rocky grassland above. Many small wetlands, cliffs and gullies complete the picture.
 
DIRECTIONS
Entering Vryheid from Melmoth or Durban, continue along East Street, up over the railway bridge and turn right at the T-junction. Follow the road up to the reserve gate. Travelling from Dundee or Paulpietersburg, continue along Church Street and turn left into East Street. Follow the rest of the directions above.
 
ACCOMMODATION
All types of accommodation are available in Vryheid, 1km away. The Ntingonono Environmental Centre provides accommodation in the reserve in the form of all weather safari tents.
 
SPECIALS
Vryheid Hill is well known for hosting a combination of upland and lowland specials. A number of endemics occur, and to date 230 species have been recorded in this small reserve.
 
Entering the gate, travel up to the T-junction. Look out for Grassbird in the tall grass. At the T-junction, you have a choice of turning left to enter the mixed woodland and right to drive up through the forest and onto the grassland plateau.
 
The mixed woodland from the T-junction to the Enviro Centre is good for Bushveld Pipit, Brimstone Canary, Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Southern Black Tit, Red-throated Wryneck and Swee Waxbill. The area around the small dam and picnic site annually hosts Broad-tailed Warbler, and interesting sightings at the dam include Dwarf Bittern, Lesser Moorhen and Black Stork.
 
The thicker bush around the Enviro Centre provides Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Red-capped and Chorister Robin-Chats, Forest Canary, Bush Blackcap, Black Cuckoo and Black Cuckooshrike. Listen for Striped Pipit on the rocky slopes above the Centre, as well as Buff-spotted Flufftail (in summer) around the tents.
 
Chinspot Batis, Blue Waxbill, Brown-backed Honeybird, Cardinal Woodpecker and Golden-breasted Bunting are fond of the area west of the Enviro Centre.
 
The steep drive up through the forest could yield Bush Blackcap, Cape Batis, Olive Bush-Shrike, Olive Thrush, Bar-throated Apalis, Purple-crested Turaco, Tambourine Dove and Olive Woodpecker. When the road passes through the large forest patch, stop to look for the African Crowned Eagle nest in the trees on the left. The grassy slope on the right is home to Drakensberg Prinia. Check all the aloes and bottlebrushes for Greater Double-collared and Malachite Sunbirds.
 
Other raptors often seen include African Harrier-Hawk, African Goshawk, Black Sparrowhawk, Jackal Buzzard and in summer, African Cuckoo Hawk.
 
Driving up onto the grassland, look out for Cape Rock Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat (very common) and Stonechat. The grasslands are super productive for cisticolas and pipits, especially in summer. Wailing, Croaking, Levaillant's and Zitting Cisticolas prefer the longer grass while Wing-snapping and Cloud Cisticolas prefer the shorter grass. Lazy Cisticolas prefer the areas with scattered bush and rocks, while on the damper grasslands further west of the radio towers, the Pale-crowned Cisticola is present. On the lower plateau. Neddicky is found wherever there are scattered trees among the grassland. All in all, 9 cisticola species can be found in this reserve.
 
To add to the LBJ list, 6 pipit species are regularly recorded. Bushveld Pipit occurs below the forest, Striped Pipits reside on the rocky slopes, while Plain-backed, Buffy, African and Long-billed Pipits are found most often on the flatter plateau, where the road loops around. Check any burnt areas, as they are a favourite with these confusing birds. Long-billed Pipit is often found among the rocks on the drive down to the loop road. Bald Ibis and Black-winged Lapwing are fond of the lower plateau as well.
 
Other species found in the grassland include Secretarybird, Long-tailed Widowbird, African Quailfinch, Sentinel Rock Thrush (winter), Coqui, Shelly's and Red-winged Francolin, Rufous-naped Lark and Cape Long-claw.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
A variety of plants and game occur in the reserve. Eland, Burchell's zebra, blesbok, impala, common reedbuck, mountain reedbuck and the rare oribi are all present. The grassland hosts a number of orchids and the moist areas host the carnivorous drosera plant. The common cabbage tree, common wild and broom cluster figs, Cape beech, buffalo thorn and flame thorns, (some of the largest in the province), are among the common trees found in the reserve.
 
Lancaster Hill was also the site of a battle during the second Anglo-Boer War in 1900, and a memorial grave of an English Lt. Colonel as well as a Boer soldier, are present in the reserve. Numerous rock walls and forts built by the resident 900 English troops are still visible.
 
The Royal Family visited Lancaster Hill in 1947, and a picture of a ship drawn on a rock by Princess Margaret is still faintly visible.

Birding Elephant Coast

Birding South Zululand

Birding (Inland) Zululand

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