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Mtunzini - Zululand Birding Route

Mtunzini Route

 

Mtunzini, "place of shade," is a coastal town with a wealth of treasures for the birding or wildlife enthusiast. The town, situated on a hill overlooking the coastline, has pristine dune forest and an estuary lined with mangrove swamp forest with excellent bird watching, including the much sought after Green Barbet at Ongoye Forest.

 
Avenues of indigenous trees lining the streets of the village create corridors for wildlife movement and provide an excellent food source for birds. A striking feature of this area are the stands of Raphia palm (Raphia australis). Their fruits form an essential part of the diet of the Palmnut Vulture of which 3 to 5 pairs breed in Mtunzini. The best spot to see this species is at the Raphia palm monument, along the beach, or in the strips of forest along the drainage lines around the town.
A walk along the edge of the estuary, which also includes the mangrove forest, is good for African Finfoot, which may be flushed out into open water. During the winter months this is the best place to try and track down the elusive Mangrove Kingfisher. Walks in the coastal dune forest can be very productive and it is here that the Spotted Thrush can be located during the winter months. Mtunzini's warm climate and "holiday style" appearance make it an excellent place for some productive self-guided birding.
 

Mtunzini Town

WILDERNESS DRIVE
 
At the entrance to Mtunzini, turn right into Mimosa Road. After 200 meters turn right into Wilderness drive.
 
This is always a very good spot to see the Palmnut Vulture, generally perched on the top of the Raffia Palms growing within the natural bush areas. In particular, during the early morning and late afternoon. There is also good birding in this area, with a walking/horse riding trail through this bush accessed via the horse stable area or by going to the end of the street and walking downhill towards the valley.
 
A path linking Wilderness Drive to the stables is located on the bottom right hand corner of the park, just past the last house on the bush side of Wilderness Drive. The stream running through this natural bush is in fact the source of the Siyayi River.
 
VALLEY DRIVE
 
Take the main road into Mtunzini (Hely Hutchinson Street). As you go over the rise and see the sea for the first time, turn right into Station Road. At the first 4 way intersection (3 way stop), turn right into South Road, after 500 meters Centenary Park will be on the right and Valley Drive on the left. Valley Drive crosses over Siyayi Road, then over a railway bridge and at the end of the road is the recently established (1997) fig forest and Mtunzini Primary School Grassland Project.
 
The Centenary Park, Valley Drive & Grassland Project make for very good birding. The Green Twinspot has been seen roughly halfway down Valley Drive in the proximity of the Casuarinas, which are growing on private property. White Eared Barbets are a common sighting in this area.
 
RAFFIA PALM MONUMENT
 
The Raffia Palm Monument by Guy UpfoldTakethe main road into Mtunzini (Hely Hutchinson Street). As you go over the rise and see the sea for the first time, turn right into Station Road. Go through the first intersection, down the hill until the second intersection. Turn right into Siyayi Drive and after 400 meters turn left into Valley Drive. An alternative is to follow the same route as for Valley Drive. After crossing Siyayi Drive, the railway bridge and upon reaching the fig forest and Mtunzini Primary School Grassland Project, bear left. This leads past the Natures Way Backpackers to the Raffia Palm Monument and Boardwalk.
 
This Raffia Palm grove was declared a National Monument in 1942 and is one of 18 botanical entities that comprise 5% of the total number of historical monuments in South Africa. The palms usually grow to a height of 25m with leaves 18m in length and have a relatively short life span of 20-30 years. They die after flowering once and producing 8 to 10 thousand fruits borne on an enormous head. The seeds, rich in protein, form a necessary part of the diet of the Palmnut Vulture, which nests only near these palms. There is a lovely Boardwalk trail that goes through this area, from which the Palmnut Vulture may be viewed.
 
MTUNZINI PRAWN FARM
 
Permission should be obtained by phoning 035 - 3402494.
 
Take the main road into Mtunzini (Hely Hutchinson Street) and after 800 meters, on the right is St Mary's Anglican Church. Turn right in front of the church down Hulley Avenue and follow the road for approximately 1 km (this will bring you to the Umlalazi Nature Reserve entrance). After having crossed a bridge over the railway line, the Mtunzini Prawn Farm will be on your left, just before the entrance.
 

uMlalazi Nature Reserve

This KZN Wildlife reserve is open between 05h00 - 22h00. An entrance fee is payable.
Enhancements: Walking trails, picnic sites, and ablutions.
Accommodation: Chalets and Campsites. Book through: - Central Reservations at 033 - 8451000 or www.kznwildlife.com
 
Take the main road into Mtunzini (Hely Hutchinson Street) and after 800 meters, on the right is St Mary's Anglican Church, a beautiful sandstone church built in 1947 from locally quarried stone. Turn right in front of the church down Hulley Avenue and follow the road for approximately 1 km, this will bring you to the Reserve entrance.
 
BIRDING
 
LAGOON AREA
 
After entering the boom gate, continue straight ahead for another 1.1 km will bring you to the Lagoon area. On the way there you will pass over a flood plain on which some of the last remaining areas of Ncema Grass can be found. This grass is highly sought after for the making of traditional mats and basket weaving. The harvesting of Ncema grass is only allowed during May of each year and is strictly controlled by KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife.
 
The Mangrove trees growing along the Umlalazi River are some of the last remaining along our coast and consist of both the White & Black mangroves. Morris Austin, who was the first Conservation Officer to this Reserve, introduced these.
 
There is a very interesting trail though these, starting at the Lagoon car park and leading upstream. The patient observer will be keen to note the activity of the Fiddler Crabs that are found here. In particular their inter-relationship with the Mangrove Trees. As soon as a leaf drops from the trees, they appear from their holes and quickly retrieve the same and take it down below to feed on. There is quite a race between the crabs for these spoils. A good spot to see the Grey Sunbird, and in winter, the Mangrove Kingfisher. Other "specials" that may be seen are the African Finfoot and Half-collared Kingfisher.
 
FOREST TRAILS
 
The nature reserve stretches southwards from the Umlalazi estuary. A series of trails leads through the reserve and actually links up to the Raffia Palm Monument, which is situated just outside the Reserve. Spotted Ground-Thrush (in the winter) Green Coucal, African Crested Flycatcher White-eared Barbet, Lemon Dove, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Olive and Grey Sunbirds, Gorgeous Bush Shrike, Narina Trogon, Forest Weaver, Green Twinspot, Sooty Falcon (in January and February), Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Trumpeter Hornbill and Red-capped Robin-chat and Wattle Eyed Flycatcher, are the "specials" to look for.
 
RIVER & TIDAL MUD FLATS
 
After entering through the boom gate at the Reserve entrance, turn immediately left. This will take you past some of the mangrove trees on the right as you wind your way through the natural bush road. Upon reaching the boat launch site, continue straight past and over a grid bridge. This then leads to the tidal mud flats and more mangroves. Zebra roam freely in the grasslands adjacent to the river.
 
Some of the last remaining Mangrove swamp forest may be found along the Umlalazi River Lagoon. Both the Black and White mangroves occur here. It is here that one may find the Mangrove Kingfisher during the winter months. At low tide one may find the Palmnut Vultures hunting crabs and other crustaceans.
 
BEACH & UMLALAZI RIVER MOUTH
 
After entering through the boom gate at the Reserve entrance, continue for another 300 metres and turn right. This will lead to a car park from which point you have access to the beach.
 
Continuing straight through the car park area will lead to a dirt road which runs just behind the dunes. There are limited parking spots along this road and also trails that link the beach with the Lagoon area and campsites. Along the beach you will find gulls and sandpipers and sometimes even Palmnut Vultures looking for crabs or fish etc that might have been washed up. The Umlalazi River estuary is +/- 3 kilometres from the Northern beach access point and would require a nice leisurely stroll along the beach. Alternatively the river estuary can be reached by boat or by taking a trail, which starts, at the Lagoon area.
 

This is a very good spot to observe waders, (including Whimbrels, Greenshanks, plovers, avocets and sandpipers), gulls and terns along with many other species..

Ongoye Forest

The forest lies about 150km north of Durban, between Mtunzini, Eshowe and Empangeni. It is a large remnant patch of coastal forest, 3903 ha in extent and lies along a ridge of hills overlooking the Indian Ocean. This beautiful forest is interspersed with patches of rolling grasslands between granite outcrops. Ongoye Forest is the only place to see Woodwards' Barbet in southern Africa.
 
A permit is not required to visit the forest, however on arrival report to the office where a minimal gate fee and community levy can be paid.
 
DIRECTIONS
 
It is advisable to use a guide and a 4X4 vehicle when visiting Ongoye. Please contact the Zululand Birding Route for more information on getting to Ongoye forest. Below are directions to enter from the east, but bear in mind that there are no clear road signs.
 
At Mtunzini, turn off the N2 freeway and head inland (west). At a T-junction turn right (north) and take the old road north to Empangeni (R102). About 4km north of the Forest Inn, turn left onto a dirt road, just before what was an old Shell Service station. Here you need to zero your tripmeter. Follow this road for 4.5km and turn right onto D1554. Continue on this road to just past the Manzamnyama School on your left, and at 8.9km turn right onto a small track (a small hand painted sign announces Ongoye). The gate into the forest is at 10.2km. Continue along the main track, pay your entrance fee by going down a track to the right at the fork at the top of the hill. Return to the main track and continue north (turn right). Turn left onto an indistinct grassy track - the main track goes over the hill. You are now heading for the forest on your left. Stop before or just inside the main forest, (from here on the road is really bad).
 
1. Good birding can be enjoyed by walking along the track. There is a lot of activity in the first 2km. Apart from the Woodwards' (Green) Barbet, the other "green" specials include Green Twinspot, Green Malkoha, Olive Woodpecker, Olive Bush-Shrike and Emerald Cuckoo. Keep a look out for Lemon Dove, Narina Trogon, Grey Cuckooshrike, Grey Sunbird, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, the globally threatened Spotted Ground-Thrush, Brown Scrub-Robin, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, Forest Canary, Natal Francolin, Chorister Robin-chat, and Mountain Wagtail, (there is a small weir on a stream about 2km into the forest, so watch out for those secretive birds found in drainage lines).
 
2. At various lookout points (at the top of open hillsides) look for Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeons in the forest canopy and soaring raptors - African Crowned Eagle, Black-breasted Snake-Eagle, Yellow-billed Kites, Jackal, Steppe and Forest Buzzards, African Goshawk and Black Sparrowhawk.
 
3. On the many rocky outcrops at the entrance, look for Striped Pipit and Plain-backed Pipit. In the grasslands, Orange-throated and Yellow-throated Longclaws, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Secretarybird, Southern Ground-Hornbill and Fan-tailed Cisticola can be seen, while in the road cuttings Pygmy Kingfisher nest holes are found.
Accommodation
 
Accommodation is available at Ongoye Forest contact Michelle This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . More info on the Ongoye Camp
 
OTHER INTERESTING POINTS
 
Ongoye is a coastal scarp forest where the base rocks comprise two main types, biotite gneiss and hornblende biotite schist; the former, very resistant rock is overlain by the latter which is more easily weathered. Most of the forest is on the gneiss at an altitude of 300 to 500 m a.s.l. The range is drained by the Umhlatuzana River and it tributaries to the north, and the tributaries of the Umlalazi River to the south. Where the streams cut gneiss, the underlying schist is quickly weathered, resulting in deeply incised forest streams.
 
The open wind-exposed areas of the reserve hold extensive patches of grassland. The forb component of the grassland is extremely diverse and includes Alepidea gracilis, Cassia mimosoides, Dierama elatum, Eriosema cordatum, Helichrysum adscendens and Indigofera eriocarpa. Local patches of Encephalartos ngoyanus, Kniphofia spp. Miscanthidium capense, Stangeria eriopus and Watsonia densiflorus occur in the grasslands.
 
Rocky granite outcrops, with lichen-covered rock domes in the grassland often have bush clumps including Canthium inerme, Ficus glumosa and Ficus ingens with some valleys holding open Syzygium cordatum woodland. Streambank woodland develops into hygrophilous forest in which Croton sylvaticus and Macaranga capensis dominate. The forest margin is dominated by trees like Burchellia bubalina, Cussonia spicata, Rapanea melanophloes, Trema orientalis, and many liana species which make the forest edge almost impenetrable. The climax forest is characterised by its continuous canopy, large trees (25 - 30 m in height) and poorly developed shrub layers. Dominant trees include Chrysophyllum viridifolium, Milletia sutherlandii and Margaritaria discoidea. Epiphytic ferns and orchids are common. The area receives an average of 1 391 mm of rainfall p.a.
 
Ongoye is one of the few forests that has its own endemic mammal, the Ngoye Red Squirrel. Samango monkeys, baboon, mongooses, thick-tailed bushbaby and the secretive blue duiker can be seen. The Zululand dwarf chameleon, a localised KwaZulu Natal endemic, is abundant at Ongoye and the forest green butterfly Euryphene achlys is unique to this forest.
 

Amatikulu Nature Reserve

 
This KZN Wildlife reserve is an ideal weekend getaway or just for a day visit from Durban, Eshowe, Mtunzini or Richards Bay. An entrance fee is payable with gates opening at 07h00 and closing at 17h00.
 
This reserve is small (2100 ha) and situated about 100km north of Durban. It is one of the few places in southern Africa where wildlife can be viewed feeding on forested dunes overlooking the sea. It occupies a narrow strip along the coast, reaching a maximum width of 3km and a length of 20km. Despite its size, the reserve contains many different habitats (including coastal, riparian and dune forest, grassland, lala palm bushveld, an estuary and a freshwater pan) the variety of which has resulted in a checklist of over 300 birds. The reserve lies at the confluence of the Amatikulu and Nyoni rivers, the latter running uniquely parallel to the Indian Ocean for about 8km. Infrastructure within the reserve consists of two roads, a 4x4 trail and a few walking trails.
 
DIRECTIONS
 
From Eshowe travel along the R66 towards Durban. Go through the Dokodweni Toll Plaza and onto the N2 South towards Durban for another 7 km. From Mtunzini take the N2 South towards Durban. From the Mtunzini Toll Plaza travel for another 25 km. From both Eshowe and Mtunzini continue along the N2 Southwards. After bridge No 11, take the next turnoff to the left to Nyoni & the Amatikulu Nature Reserve, which is well sign-posted. At the top of the glide off, turn left and follow the signs.
 
From Durban take the N2 Northwards. After crossing the Tugela River, continue for another 16 km. After bridge 13, take the next turnoff to the left to Nyoni & the Amatikulu Nature Reserve, which is well sign-posted. At the top of the glide off, turn right and follow the signs.The Reserve's entrance gate is 3km further down on a gravel road.
 
ACCOMMODATION
Accommodation is available in the form of self-catering bush camp at the Zangozolo Tented Camp. Zangozolo Tented Camp is built on wooded platforms overlooking the Amatikulu River and has a panoramic view of the sea. There are six tents, each fitted with two beds. There is a communal ablution block connected to the units by a boardwalk, and has hot and cold water with showers, toilets and hand basins. The Camp's kitchen is equipped with a gas stove, fridge and freezer as well as a good supply of crockery and cutlery. Visitors can prepare their food in the kitchen or they may cook it at the specially provided barbecue area. The dining area is furnished with tables and benches.
 
There is also an education camp that comprises two park homes that have basic facilities but no equipment or electricity.
 
Book through KZN Wildlife Central Reservations 033 - 8451000 or www.kznwildlife.com
 
BIRDING
The most productive section of Amatikulu is the 4x4 trail. The first portion of the trail can be covered in a normal car with average ground clearance. This stretch is pretty good for grassland birds such as various widows, Croaking Cisticola, Rufousnaped Lark and Plainbacked Pipits, the latter occurring when the grass has been burnt or is short. Cuckoo Finch has been seen in the lower marshy areas and Black Coucal has been heard there in summer. Natal Nightjar can be heard calling from this area at night and may even be flushed during the day from grassland surrounding the marsh if one is very lucky. Listen up for Lesser Honeyguide, Redthroated Wryneck and other woodland birds in the wooded clumps scattered about the grassland.
 
View up the Nyoni river by Guy UpfoldAfter 1,7km, the road follows the fence closely just before disappearing down a rather steep and sandy slope, which is best left to four-wheel drive vehicles. This spot might yield European Roller during summer and Whitefronted Bee-eaters, which are also common throughout the reserve. If one is not in a 4x4, I would suggest leaving one's car here and walking the rest of the track. The walk is long (3km one way) and mostly unshaded and can get very hot and humid, but the consolation is that one will probably pick up far more birds than if one were in a vehicle. The trail first wanders through the edge of some coastal forest before becoming lala palm bushveld. Gorgeous Bush-shrikes can be heard calling constantly from the forest-edge and thickets, and, with a little luck, may show themselves. Olive and Orangebreasted Bush-shrikes are also common, the former in winter. Listen out for the high-pitched call of Green Twinspots, which may make a brief overhead appearance, and the drawn-out trill of the Scalythroated Honeyguide. This is also a good area for Green Coucal
 
Whitebrowed Robin, Greenspotted Dove, Yellowthroated Longclaw and Rattling Cisticola all become quite conspicuous as the forest opens into the bushveld. This area can provide some good birding, with a few forest species mingling with more open-habitat birds in early morning bird-parties. The lala palm bushveld is a very open, grassy habitat, which contains many of the species found in the bushveld areas. Blackbellied Korhaan has been recorded in winter and Redbilled Oxpeckers have been seen on the giraffe and zebra. The occasional thickets attract a few different birds like Scarletchested, Black and Purplebanded Sunbirds, Longbilled Crombecs and Bluebilled Firefinches. Heuglin's Robin has been seen in such a thicket - one of the southern-most records of this bird. The damp grassland areas can be very exciting, having produced Black Coucal (drier parts) and Dwarf Bittern (very wet areas), both far south of their usual ranges, as well as Marsh Owl (damp spots).
 
Grasslands in the Reserve by Guy UpfoldThe pan is one of the highlights of the reserve, always yielding something interesting, depending on the water level. The pan is sometimes dry during winter. If the water level is high and inundates the edges of reeds, sedges and grass, it is good for rallids such as Black Crake, Purple Gallinule and Common Moorhen. Low water levels expose the shoreline, making it more preferable for waders like Wood Sandpiper and African Jacana. Dabchick, African Spoonbill and various ducks, geese, herons, cormorants and kingfishers can be found at any time, although not in large numbers. Painted Snipe, Lesser Jacana, Baillon's Crake, Little Bittern and Common Tern are just some of the specials that have turned up at the pan. The best thing to do is walk around the edge of the pan, but always be aware of crocodiles that may be in the water.
 
The road does not continue much further past the pan, although this area is always worth a look as there are some more damp grassland patches. Green Coucal is often heard from the forest near the empty household where the road turns to the left before heading up to a tall dune. Although 25 species of raptor, including Crowned Eagle, Cuckoo Hawk and Jackal Buzzard, have been recorded, they are surprisingly scarce - aside from African Fish Eagle, Black Sparrowhawk or Yellowbilled Kite, the bird one is most likely to see soaring high on thermals is Woollynecked Stork.
 
The forest trail is excellent, but quite long and best done during the early morning, thus conflicting with the 4x4 trail, which is also best early in the day. Some of the highlights of the forest include very southerly Yellowspotted Nicator, Bluemantled Flycatcher, Emerald Cuckoo and Tambourine and Cinnamon Doves along with Green Coucal, which is not uncommon. The trail opens up on top of a tall dune where there is situated a whale watchtower. The views from this watch point are superb and aside from the occasional whale, one might spy an Osprey over the Nyoni River.
 
Haemanthus in the Dune Forest, Guy Upfold The picnic site, which is located along the Amatikulu River, is a great lunch site. African Cuckoo has been seen in the tall trees and forest edge here is the most reliable place in the reserve to look for Wattle-eyed Flycatcher and Pygmy Kingfisher. Eastern White and Pinkbacked Pelicans are sometimes present on the sandbanks in middle of the river, as are waders such as Sanderling, Greenshank and Ringed Plover during summer. Giant and Pied Kingfishers are common and there is almost always a solitary Goliath Heron hunting in the middle of the channel. The river walk often yields Yellow Weaver, Purplebanded Sunbird, Gorgeous Bush-shrike and Olive Bush-shrike (winter) and eventually reaches the confluence of the Nyoni and Amatikulu Rivers. The Nyoni River is lined with dense hibiscus trees and a canoe-trip up the river may yield African Finfoot and Half-collared Kingfisher.
 
The rocky hillside to the left of the entrance gate, which can be reached via the education camp road or walking trail, can yield Striped Pipit.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
 
Many large mammals have been re-introduced into the reserve. Giraffe, Zebra, Kudu, Impala and Reedbuck are easily seen, while smaller creatures like Blue Duiker, Large Grey Mongoose, Banded Mongoose and Small Spotted Genet are more elusive. The reserve supports a wide selection of butterflies and other insects, including many dung beetles, which benefit from the presence of the large mammals not found in other small nature reserves.
 
The whale watchtower is one of only three land-based observation platforms on the KwaZulu Natal coast.
 
Other activities include canoeing on the Amatikulu Estuary and Nyoni River, boating (15 hp maximum), and easy access to the beach where surf angling is good. Fishing in the estuary is also extremely rewarding.
 
Further South From Amatikulu is the Ballito area which also has some great birding, particularly the SAPPI Hide, if you're visiting the Ballito have a look here for things to do in Ballito and Salt Rock, Ballito's Beaches are also a great attraction with good snorkeling, like birding underwater!!

Birding Elephant Coast

Birding South Zululand

Birding (Inland) Zululand

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