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.

Three important Zululand rivers transect this route: the Bivane, Phongola and the Mkhuze. All three rivers are flanked by lush, sub-tropical vegetation and have cut impressive gorges and valleys through the predominantly dolerite and granite rock. The rivers act as corridors to birds, leading them up into the numerous smaller streams and valleys.
Up near the top of the route lies Bivane Dam. The area is well known for its plant diversity, which is unrivalled in Zululand. Many botanists visit this area annually to enjoy the number of endemic or rare plants. The birding is fantastic too. White-backed Night Heron, Mountain Wagtail and Half-collared Kingfisher occur on the dam edges, and are joined above by cliff-nesters such as Bald Ibis and Lanner Falcon. The woodland areas hold Jameson's Firefinch, Red-headed Weaver, African Hawk Eagle and Grey Penduline Tit. The grasslands support Short-tailed Pipit, Broad-tailed Warbler and Secretarybird.
Ithala Game Reserve is one of the flagship reserves of the KZN Wildlife. Ithala is the Zulu word for "a high place", and at 1400m, Ngotshe mountain towers over the reserve. Bordered in the north by the Phongola River, this 30 000ha reserve is home to Bald Ibis, Barrow's Korhaan, Long-tailed Widowbird and Secretarybird in the extensive grassland areas. Specials in the wooded valleys include Narina Trogon, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Mountain Wagtail and a host of raptors including African Crowned, Martial, African Hawk and Verreaux's Eagle.
Mocking Cliff-Chat, Mountain Wheatear, Alpine Swift and Freckled Nightjar grace the rocks and cliffs around the main camp. Other endemic species include Jackal Buzzard, Cape Rock Thrush, White-throated Robin-Chat, Fiscal Flycatcher and Cape Longclaw
 

Bivane Dam

Bivane Dam was completed in 2000 and was built on the beautiful Bivane River to supply water to the sugarcane farms downstream at Phongola. Impala Irrigation Board owns the dam. The dominant feature of the area is rolling hills with exposed quartzite ridges, wooded drainage lines and steep cliffs and gorges and of course the open water of the dam.
 
DIRECTIONS
Take the R69 road from Vryheid to Louwsburg. After 30km, turn left at the signboard "Bivane Dam". Continue on this dirt road for approximately 12km. The turn-off to the dam is then signposted on the left.
 
ACCOMMODATION
None at the dam, but all types are available in Vryheid, 45km away.
 
SPECIALS FOR THE AREA
Just after turning into the property, check the tall moist grasslands in summer for Broad-tailed Warbler. Their high-pitched "sink" calls are especially audible during misty or rainy weather. As one passes the first of many rocky outcrops, look out for the endemic Buff-streaked Chat, Jackal Buzzard, Cape Rock-Thrush and Grassbird. Long-billed and Striped Pipits as well as Cinnamon Bunting are also common along the road verges.
 
The short, rolling hills are home to one of South Africa's rarest pipits. Walking these hills, you could flush Short-tailed Pipit - look for the short tail and dumpy body and listen for its sparrow like "chreep" call.
 
Other birds seen in the grasslands include Secretarybird, Denham's Bustard, Barrow's Korhaan, Cape and Yellow-throated Longclaws, African Quailfinch, Wing-snapping Cisticola and, in summer, House Martin and Red-breasted Swallow.
 
Scenery bleow Bivane Dam photo by Duncan MckenzieThe road down to the Bivane River, downstream of the dam, goes through some exciting riverine bush. Look out for Swee Waxbill, White-crested Helmet-Shrike, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Crowned Hornbill, Grey Penduline-Tit, Purple-crested Turaco, Grey-headed Bush-Shrike and in summer, Emerald Cuckoo and Pygmy Kingfisher. Closer to the Bivane River look out for Martial Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle, Tawny Eagle, African Firefinch, Violet-backed Starling, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Bushveld Pipit and Flappet Lark.
 
The river itself, and the streams running into it and the dam, are home to the elusive White-backed Night Heron, Half-collared Kingfisher, Mountain Wagtail, African Black Duck and African Fish Eagle.
 
Two birds, the Jameson's Firefinch and Red-headed Weaver, have their western-most distribution limits in KwaZulu-Natal in this area, and can be seen in more open, scrubby vegetation (former) and taller Combretum woodland (latter).
 
Other species found in the mixed woodland close to the dam wall include Shelley's Francolin, African Crowned Eagle, Emerald-spotted Dove, African Green Pigeon, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Lilac-breasted Roller, Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike and Brimstone Canary.
 
The many gorges and cliffs in the area are home to the stunning Peregrine Falcon, Lanner Falcon, Common Kestrel, Black Stork and Bald Ibis.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST

The Bivane Dam area is home to one of the plant hotspots in the province, with many rare and localised species. The Mountain Waterwood, Broad-leaved Beech, Wild Teak, Ithala Gladiolus and Live-long are virtually confined to this area of the province. The wild flower displays in spring are quite spectacular..

IgwalaGwala Nature Reserve

This small, privately owned reserve lies just outside Ithala Game Reserve and contains a wealth of biodiversity. Mixed woodland, riverine forest, cliffs, grassland and wetlands are all packed together in a pocket-sized hotspot.
 
The property is a registered Natural Heritage Site.
 
DIRECTIONS
Travelling from Vryheid in the west, take the R69 to Louwsburg. Turn off at the Ithala/Louwsburg signs, about 67km east of Vryheid. Drive through the town, following the Ithala signs all the way, until the iGwala gwala sign appears while travelling round a sharp bend. The road is tarred up to the gate of the reserve.
 
ACCOMMODATION
There is a Bush Lodge that sleeps six.
 
SPECIALS FOR THE AREA
The riverine forest, as well as the other forest and bushclumps in the lower half of the reserve, are home to three Robin-Chats: the Red-capped, White-throated and Cape. Purple-crested Turacos (after which the reserve is named) are common and noisy, showing off their bright red wings as they move between bush clumps. Mountain Wagtail is resident along the streams. Also look out for Orange-breasted and Olive Bush-Shrikes, Collared and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Cape Batis and Swee Waxbill in and around the forest patches.
 
The small sedge dominated wetlands hold resident Red-chested Flufftails; listen for their hooting call, especially in the early morning.
 
The lower altitude grasslands host Secretarybird, Red-throated Wryneck, Yellow-throated Longclaw and Croaking Cisticola.
 
The real highlights of iGwala gwala Nature Reserve are the birds occurring in the higher altitude grassland and forest areas. Endemics forest specials include Bush Blackcap, Greater and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds and Barratt's Warbler. Listen for the warbler's call at the cliff near the small dam.
 
Broad-tailed Warbler is fairly common, as are Quail Finch, and other endemics such as Cape Longclaw, Cape Grassbird and Drakensberg Prinia. Zululand's only Striped Flufftail site is here, listen for the hooting call in the rolling grassland, but good luck in seeing one!
 
Endemics associated with the cliffs and rocks include Jackal Buzzard, Buff-streaked Chat, Cape Rock Thrush and Bokmakierie. Other specials here include a breeding pair of Verreaux's Eagle, Striped Pipit, Long-billed Pipit and Mocking Cliff-Chat.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
iGwala gwala Nature Reserve hosts many rare, endemic or special plant species, and is well worth a visit just for this reason. There are also a number of game species present, including Kudu, Nyala, Common Reedbuck, Blesbuck and Blue Wildebeest.
 

{slider Ithala Game Reserve}

Ithala is one of the gems of Zululand and is popular with local and foreign birders alike. Ithala is situated between Ngotshe Mountain in the south and the Phongola River in the north and is 29 000ha in size. With an altitudinal difference in the reserve of 1000m, both lowland and highland birds are present. The topography is dominated by rolling hills and high cliffs, with wooded drainage lines, riverine forest, grassland and thornveld habitats predominating. This diversity of habitats has attracted about 330 species of birds.
 
DIRECTIONS
Travelling from Johannesburg, drive through Vryheid and take the R69 to Louwsburg. Turn left to Louwsburg and follow the signs. The reserve lies about 10km past the town. Coming from Durban, travel up the N2, turn off onto the R66 at Phongola, proceed for about 20km and then turn right onto the R69. Continue to the Louwsburg turnoff and follow the signs.
 
ACCOMMODATION
Most types of accommodation, including camping, a lodge, bushcamps and chalets, are available in the reserve. The award winning Ntshondwe Camp hosts most guests.
 
SPECIALS FOR THE AREA
Turning right after entering the main gate takes one around the Onverwagt Loop road through grasslands. Look out for Barrow's Korhaan, Secretarybird, Ostrich, Red-breasted Swallow, Croaking Cisticola, Yellow-throated Longclaw and African Quailfinch.
 
The next turn off from the main tar road to the Ntshondwe Camp (after the airstrip) takes one either down to the Phongola picnic site, or to the Bergvliet Loop. The Bergvliet Loop follows the ridge of a hill and offers a spectacular view over the Phongola River. Look out for Black-winged Lapwing and Long-billed Pipit in the short grassland.
 
The loop down to the Phongola picnic site is the most productive in the reserve. In the thick bushclumps listen for Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Grey-headed and Gorgeous Bush-Shrikes, Crowned Hornbill, Eastern Nicator and, in summer, Violet-backed Starling. Striped Pipit is fairly common on the rocky slopes. Look out for Mountain Wagtail at the two stream crossings.
 
Riverine forest near the Phongola RiverWhen entering the first riverine forest patch, listed for Narina Trogon, Red-capped Robin-Chat and Collared Sunbird.
 
The picnic site at the Phongola River is well worth exploring, especially early morning. The tall riverine forest hosts African Green Pigeon, Purple-crested Turaco, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Tambourine Dove, Bearded Scrub-Robin, White-throated Robin-Chat and Red-headed Weaver. African Paradise Flycatcher and African Pygmy Kingfisher are very active and vocal in summer.
 
Ntshondwe Camp is situated against the mountain of the same name. Look out for Olive Bush-Shrike, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Red-fronted Tinkerbird and Cape Batis around the bungalows and just before the reception buildings. Red-capped Robin-Chats are tame, as are the Mocking Cliff-Chats. Thick-billed and Lesser Masked-Weavers can be seen from the hide.
 
Two short walks lead up into the mountain from the camp. These areas could produce endemics such as Jackal Buzzard, Cape Rock-Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat, Grassbird, Southern Boubou, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Cape Weaver and Cape White-eye. Scan the cliffs for the resident pair of Verreaux's Eagle, as well as Alpine and Black Swifts.
 
The thorn and bushveld areas on the flatter parts host Emerald-spotted Dove, Pale Flycatcher, Shelley's Francolin, Bearded Woodpecker, Striped Kingfisher, Flappet and Sabota Larks, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Jameson's Firefinch, Green-winged Pytilia and Golden-breasted Bunting. Check larger mammals for the intriguing Red-billed Oxpecker.
 
The many seeps in the eastern side of the reserve are home to Red-chested Flufftail, and both Cinnamon-breasted and Cape Buntings can be found on the top of the rocky slopes. Freckled Nightjar is fairly common here too.
 
Ithala's raptor population is renowned. African Crowned, Tawny, Martial, Wahlberg's, Verreaux's, African Fish and African Hawk-Eagles are all regularly seen in the reserve. Bateleur, White-backed and Lappet-faced Vultures, Common Kestrel and Brown Snake-eagle can be seen soaring over the hills, and Lizard Buzzard, African Goshawk and Shikra are found in the well-wooded areas.
 
Birds recorded less frequently include Brown-headed Parrot, Grey Go-away-bird, Arrow-marked Babbler, White-backed Night-Heron, Half-collared Kingfisher, Osprey, Blue Crane and Magpie Shrike.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST

A wide variety of game occurs in the reserve, including white and black rhino, leopard, elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, nyala, tsessebe and klipspringer. Ithala also has the distinction of containing the most plant species of any KZN Wildlife reserve. Old goldmines are also present, as well as some of the oldest rock formations on earth..

Ngome Forest

Ngome Forest is situated on the southern slopes of high altitude mist-belt grasslands and contains a unique combination of coastal and upland plant and bird species. The Ntendeka Cliff, after which this declared Wilderness Area is named, towers above lush forest and cascading waterfalls. This area of Zululand receives an incredibly high, localised rainfall, and much of the surrounding land has been transformed into one of the country's most productive tea estates.
 
DIRECTIONS
Travelling from Vryheid, take the R69 towards Louwsburg. Turn right on the R618 at the sign "Nongoma", 20km outside Vryheid. Continue with this road for about 50km and turn right at the sign "Ntendeka Wilderness Area". Visitors must obtain a permit from the office.
 
ACCOMMODATION
There is a campsite in the forest. Contact Mrs Santa Best 034 967 1883 for campsite bookings.
 
SPECIALS FOR THE AREA
Ngome Forest is home to many forest and grassland specials. The grassland area to the left of the main turn-off to the forest is the only site in Zululand where the endangered Blue Swallow breeds. Other grassland specials occurring above and below the forest include House Martin, Secretarybird, Wailing and Croaking Cisticolas and Long-billed Pipit.
 
A walk from the campsite to the waterfall could produce Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Olive Woodpecker, Grey Cuckooshrike, Collared Sunbird, Narina Trogon, Trumpeter Hornbill, Purple-crested Turaco, Lemon Dove, Olive Bush-Shrike, Cape Batis, Chorister Robin-Chat, White-starred Robin, Brown Robin, Black-bellied Starling, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler and Dark-backed Weaver. Check the drainage lines for the elusive Orange Ground-Thrush. Barratt's Warbler, Olive Sunbird, Terrestrial Brownbul, Red-capped Robin-Chat and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher are also resident. Summer visitors include the beautiful Pygmy Kingfisher, African Emerald Cuckoo, Violet-backed Starling and African Paradise Flycatcher.Forest edges should be scanned for Green Twinspot, Forest Canary, Swee Waxbill and African Firefinch.
 
Birds found around the cliffs and rocks include Mountain Wheatear, Buff-streaked Chat, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Cape Rock-Thrush and Familiar Chat.
 
African Crowned, African Hawk and Martial Eagles are regularly seen, as are African Goshawk, Forest and Jackal Buzzards and Black Sparrowhawk.
 
The thornveld areas in the valley below the forest could produce White-crested Helmet-Shrike, Green-winged Pytilia, Arrow-marked Babbler, Grey Penduline-Tit, Chestnut-vented Titbabbler and Gorgeous Bush Shrike.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
Ngome Forest contains many rare or localised plants, including many orchids and lilies. Leopard, baboon, Samango Monkey and Bushpig also inhabit the forest.
 

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