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Richards Bay - Zululand Birding Route

Richards Bay Route

Richards Bay is one of South Africa's top waterbird areas. The habitats are as diverse as from thornveld, Papyrus swamps, open freshwater lakes, Mangroves, Dune forest to mudflats, open sea and sandbanks. Richards Bay is the area for rarity sightings in Zululand with birds such as among others Crab Plover and Broadbilled Sandpiper being fairly regular every summer. 

Many forest birds such as Woodwards Batis and Eastern Nicator (Yellowspotted Nicator) reach their southernmost limit around here. Open lakes are home to scores of waterfowl as well as hippos and crocodiles. The entire area has been earmarked by Birdlife South Africa and Birdlife Zululand for major conservation and avi-tourism development

Richards Bay also has the advantage of being Zululand's biggest and wealthiest city and can offer visitors to the area a range of first world accommodation, restaurants and other facilities all within very close proximity to excellent birding. 

NOTE: As of 2013, the Zululand Birding Route has NOT been able to secure access permits from the National Ports Authority to access the Southern Sanctuary Area. You are welcome to try get access directly through the Ports Authority or BirdLife Zululand could also perhaps help by joining one of their outings. Please also be extra cautious with regards to security when birding in remote areas of the city

Lake Mzingazi

This large lake, which is the primary water supply of Richards Bay extending from the suburbs into the tribal area in a N.E. direction. There are no protected areas around its perimeter with the possible exception of the "proposed conservation area" stretching from the Sharks Board to Ferelli Alley along the lake edge and to the John Ross highway to the south. The forested areas comprise climax dune forest and, an area mainly described as "sand forest". The latter is a rare biome and requires confirmation regarding its supposed pristine nature. The lake edge is largely swamp forest, papyrus and phragmites reed beds with good views over the lake along the private road which connects Meerensee suburb with Arboretum. The lake drains through a small culvert at Ferelli Alley and becomes the Mzingazi river, which flows into the Ngodweni canal via a berm designed to prevent sea water access.
 
DIRECTIONS
Head down main John Ross Highway towards Meerensee.Take the “Greenhills” turn to your left. After 300m’s Turn left onto dirt road. Follow sign to “Parks Depot”. After 200m turn left away from the Parks Depot and follow this road for another 500m turn left into the parking area at the Offices.
 
BIRDING
The best way to bird this area is to simply walk along the various tracks around the area, the track heading in a Westerly direction leads to the edge of Lake Mzingazi.
 

The forest along the lake edges gives good birding opportunities with Green Coucal, Wattle-eyed Flycatcher, Narina Trogon, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Forest Weaver, Blue-mantled, Paradise and Fan-tailed Flycatcher being regularly seen. During the drought in the early 1990’s a Pels Fishing Owl took up residence at Ferelli Alley and has recently been recorded again near this area. This area does produce African Finfoot, Half-collared, Giant and Pygmy Kingfishers regularly and at the Sharks Board, Southern Banded Snake-Eagle is sometimes observed. All the Bulbuls (Black-eyed, Sombre, Yellow-bellied and Terrestrial) and the rarer Eastern (Yellow-spotted) Nicator are also evident at the Sharks Board...

Small Pans

Several small seepage pans exist mainly in the Meerensee suburb. They all comprise, to a greater or lesser degree, reeded margins with water lilies and a high proportion of open water. Menywa, adjacent to the caravan park dune forest, is perhaps the most well known and consistently provides good numbers of water birds. Sontwayo near the Meerensee shopping centre is largely open water and is generally poor in water bird habitat. The least known are Maganda which stretches between Loodvis Lane and Swordfish in the N.E. extension of Meerensee and Mtindale which is at the foot of the dunes opposite Mzingazi school along the RBM mine road.
 
DIRECTIONS
To get into the Meerensee suburb, head east along the R34 (John Ross Highway) where the road eventually splits, take the left spilt - this road leads into Meerensee and the RBM mine road.
 
BIRDING
Menywa specials include Goliath Heron, Pygmy Goose, White-backed Duck and Black-crowned Night-Heron. The adjacent caravan park forest offers all the regular dune forest specials with a recent record of African Broadbill requiring confirmation.
 
Maganda holds Lesser Jacana on occasion and Little Bittem is also seen. Mtindale is at the foot of the dunes just past Mzingazi school on the RBM mine road and produces Lesser Jacana, Black Egret, White backed Duck and most of the herons and egrets regularly. Access is on the dirt road right 0,5 km past Mzingazi school and ±0,5 km off the tar.
 

Southern Sanctuary

 
Birding at southern sanctuary, a scope is very usefulThis important Bird Area (SA079) comprises the Umhlatuze Lagoon and sand banks to the south of the harbour berm wall extending east to the new mouth. Habitat comprises estuarine mud / sand banks and mangroves, the latter gradually encroaching on the sand banks. These banks comprise a most important roosting / feeding area for shorebirds and waders.
 
The area is gradually silting up from material brought down by the Umhlatuze River and access to the areas frequented by the rarities is difficult. There are plans on the cards for the short tern to improve access to the area. Please contact the Zululand Birding Route for updated information
 
DIRECTIONS.
 
A PERMIT IS REQUIRED 
 
BIRDING
Recently Rarities such as Broadbill Sandpiper, Redshank, Pacific Golden Plover and European Oystercatcher have been recorded recently. The sanctuary also has Crab Plover in summer, Osprey, Terek Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Sand Plover and a host of terns including Lesser Crested, Sandwich and Swift Terns.
 
Also in the area is a reed lined seepage pan know as New Mouth Pan – this also has good numbers of water birds and is considered and important breeding area. A hide was erected by Portnet and Lesser Jacana, Pygmy Goose, White backed Duck and most herons and Egrets are commonly seen. The reed beds are home to Brown throated Weaver and the surrounding woodland is a prime area for Cuckoo Hawk..

Thulasihleka Pan

Zinzi HideThulasihleka Pan is one of Richard’s Bay’s most important waterbird areas, along with spots such as Southern Sanctuary. In the winter months flocks of hundreds of pelicans congregate here along with an unprecedented variety of waterfowl.
 
hulasihleka is a large reed lined pan maintained by run off from adjacent higher level areas with overflow into the Ngodweni Canal. Certainly the highest bird count per unit of water line length in Richards Bay and is also very important with respect to this criteria in Kwazulu Natal, and probably R.S.A.
 
There are an excellent series of hides, view points and facilities available at the pan for birders.
 
DIRECTIONS
From the R34 John Ross Highway turn right (if coming from Empangeni direction) into Medway road (opposite ZBR office) Follow this road for appoximatley 1 km till the harbour gate and turn right on a small dirt road along the harbour fence. Follow this road aloing the pan’s edge till the parking area.
 
BIRDING
The variety and numbers of waterbirds at Thulasihleka has at past times been breathtaking. But sadly getting more polluted and less birds that in previous years
 
Many Red Data species are present and probably breed notably Goliath Heron, Squacco Heron, Lesser Jacana, and Little Bittern.
 
Squaco heron - photo by Ian ThirskThe pan is a regular haunt for large numbers of both species of pelican and many other waders, shorebirds, terns and ducks. Flamingos are less frequent than in the past but Glossy Ibis, Pygmy Goose, African Marsh Harrier, Marsh Owl and White Backed Ducks are regularly seen. Other species to look out for are Hottentot Teal, African Rail, Purple Gallinule, Osprey and the whole host of reed dwelling warblers. Weavers are also well represented here with a chance of seeing Yellow, Brown-throated and Thick-billed Weavers.
 
Rarities such as Baillons Crake Spotted Crake, Redshank, Western Marsh Harrier and Eurasian Bittern occasionally turn up.
 

Grass For Africa and Deckers Dam

Both these sites are in close proximity to each other on the outskirts of Empangeni and offer some rather unique birding.
 
Dekkers dam consists of open water with dense reedbeds and a few areas of shallow flooded grassland. Grass for Africa is a commercial grass farm that has a reputation for producing some pretty unusual bird species.
 
PERMISSION IS REQUIRED BEFORE VISITING THE GRASS FOR AFRICA FARM, PLEASE CONTACT THE BIRDING ROUTE'S SOUTHERN REGION CO-ORDINATOR FOR MORE DETAILS.
 
DIRECTIONS
 
Head out of Empangeni on the R34 towards Nkwaleni / Melmoth. Just outside Empangeni is the Turnoff to TICOR, zero your trip meter here.
 
At about 2.6 km's take a small turnoff to your right, cross the railway line and follow thus road to get to the Grass For Africa farm.
 
To access Dekker's Dam - once back on the R34 continue west for another 1.9km's (5.2 km from Ticor) and take another small right hand turn, cross the railway and follow this road for about 500m till you see a large wetland on your left. The Western part of Dekkers Dam can be accessed another 700m further along the R34, take the Heatonville turnoff and stop after about 200m at the first small dam you find on your right.
 
BIRDING
 
Grass For Africa : The best way to bird is on foot. Large numbers of Grassveld Pipits are always around (both pale and dark forms), Redshouldered Widows, Kittlitz's Plover, Yellow Throated Longclaw, Crowned, Wattled and Blacksmith Plovers are all common here.
 
In summer Redwinged (Collared) Pratincoles are normally around. This is also one of the better areas to find Orange-Throated Longclaw, which is generally not very common along the coastal plain. Some of the more unusual records from this spot include Caspian Plover, Bald Ibis and Pied Mannikin.
 
Dekkers Dam: From the bridge on the eastern edge of the pan is the best area to scan the open waters, look out for Pygmy Goose, Purple Gallinule, Moorhen, Black Egrett, as well as the whole range of aquatic Kingfishers. The reedebds are also home to African Sedge and Cape Reed Warblers, also keep an eye out here for Blackbacked Cisticola. The damp grassland on the left hand side of the bridge is a popular haunt for Painted Snipe.
 

The dam can also be viewed from the western side. The thornveld surrounding the dam also offers some good birding..

Nseleni Nature Reserve

Enseleni Nature reserve consists of coastal grasslands and forest and the Nseleni river provides a freshwater habitat. There are two trails in the reserve, which offer fantastic scenery and the opportunity to experience different parts of the reserve and to spot a variety of birds and animals. The Nkonkoni trail is 7 km and the Mvubu trail is 2 km in length.
 
DIRECTIONS
The reserve is situated 11 km north of Empangeni on the N2 freeway. The entrance gate is on the western side of the road.
 
BIRDING
This KZN Wildlife reserve straddles the N2 with only the eastern portion accessible to the public. The reserve hold several species of large mammals and has very varied habitats including grassland, bushveld, swamp forest, riverine forest and a wide slow moving river which drains into Insesi Lake. The reserve is famous for its African Finfoot and is the premier site in RSA for this species. Other winter specials in Nseleni include Spotted Thrush, Chorister, Starred, Cape and Brown Robins. Wattle-eyed and Fan-tailed Flycatcher are seen throughout the year with Green Coucal and Scaly-throated Honey Guide resident in the same patches of forest. Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Swamp (Natal) Nightjar and Pale-crowned Cisticola have been recorded.
 
OTHER
Game species occurring in the reserve include giraffe, wildebeest, zebra, impala, reedbuck, waterbuck, bushbuck, bushpig, red, blue and grey duiker, hippopotamus, crocodile, large-spotted genet and the shy thhick-tailed bushbaby.
The reserve has a magnificent Activities Centre which is available for use by education groups and as a conference facility. The Centre is fitted with modern and comprehensive audio visual equipment and facilities include ablutions, kitchen, boma and electricity. No accommodation, camping or caravanning is available at the camp. Only picnic sites are available.

Birding Elephant Coast

Birding South Zululand

Birding (Inland) Zululand

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