The majority of birders actively plan birding trips to areas where they can either see a large quantity of birds in a short space of time or mega rarities that would not easily be seen elsewhere. The Kruger to Canyons Birding Route offers both these highlights and a captivating wildlife experience to visiting birders.
Contained within the Kruger to Canyons Birding Route are 10 Provincial nature reserves, the world's largest collection of privately owned nature reserves and the world famous Kruger National Park. The route includes three vegetative biomes namely Montane Grassland, Afro-montane Forest, Savanna and a fascinating vegetation unit of Northern Escarpment Afromontane Fynbos with strong links to that of the Fynbos Biome which is restricted to the Western Cape.
This diverse range of habitats provides home to a total of 76 bird families and a staggering 510 species of which 8 are endemic to the region. The Lowveld is a raptor watchers dream destination with approximately 85% of South Africa's raptors being concentrated in this region. The fantastic road infrastructure and a well established tourism industry, offering accommodation in unparalleled surroundings, provides birders with an excellent platform from which to explore the area.
The route starts at Graskop and the top of the Blyde River Canyon from where it meanders along the course of the panoramic Canyon before plunging down through the Abel Erasmus Pass, the only known breeding site of the rare Taita Falcon in South Africa, and into the Lowveld. The drop in altitude from 1730 to 250 meters above sea level gives rise to a multitude of breathtaking views of a Tufa waterfall, wooded valleys and the expanse of open savanna below.
Once down in the Lowveld the route reaches the town of Hoedspruit where a number of different birding opportunities are presented. The Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, which includes the Swadini Dam, offers a wide variety of typical bushveld bird species and also includes African Finfoot, White-backed Night Heron and Green Twinspot.
Mariepskop, which is one of the best kept birding secrets in South Africa, is largely dominated by Afro-montane Forest, but also includes a piece of Northern Escarpment Afromontane Fynbos habitat at the summit. Exploring both habitats assures a treasured day's birding with species such as Orange Ground Thrush, Black-fronted Bush-shrike, Red-necked Spurfowl and Gurney's Sugarbird.
Alternatively one can continue on to the town of Phalaborwa, which as well as offering a diverse range of bushveld birding, has a number of wetlands which is uncharacteristic of the area. The region offers some fantastic bird species such as White-crowned Lapwing, Pel's Fishing Owl and Saddle-billed Stork. Phalaborwa is also a gateway to the central section of the Kruger National Park which has been rated as one of the top birding destinations in Southern Africa with a species list exceeding 500 species.
The rest camps of Mopani, Letaba, Olifants and Satara with their fantastic mixture of bushveld and riparian habitat birding anchor the Kruger to Canyons Birding Route. Look out for species such as African Barred Owlet, Southern Ground Hornbill, Collared Pratincole and Yellow-billed Oxpecker.
The Kruger to Canyons Birding Route offers an amazing and diverse number of species within three different biomes supported by well-maintained infrastructure and world-class accommodation options catering specifically for birders.
The California Tribal area is situated about 5 km before the Strydom Tunnel on the R527 between Hoedspruit and Orighstad. Traveling from Orighstad drive up and through the Abel Erasmus pass and down towards the Strydom Tunnel. California is the large township area juts before the village of Tswenyane.
The R527 road which meanders through the Abel Erasmus Pass and the Strydom Tunnel offers some of the best raptor birding on the route. Sheer cliffs hem the road in and provide roosting sites for a number of different species whilst thickly wooded valleys offer a different habitat type supporting a wide range of species. A number of lay byes near the pass offer an opportunity to scan the cliffs and forests. Species to look out for include the extremely rare Taita Falcon, Verreuxs Eagle, Verreuxs Eagle Owl, Cape Eagle Owl, Cape Vulture African Harrier Hawk, European Honey Buzzard, Wahlberg's Eagle, Lanner and Peregrine Falcon. Whilst the emphasis is on raptor viewing there are a number of other species including Rock Martin, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Cape Rock Thrush, Mocking Cliff-chat and Striped Pipit which can be seen.
Michael Kumako, a community bird guide, operates on the Abel Erasmus Pass and can assist you in finding some of the specials with emphasis placed on the rare Taita Falcons. Michael has kindly been sponsored a Bushnell Spotting Scope from the Inkwazi Bird Club for your viewing convenience. You can contact him directly on +27 (0)79 261 1559.
Coming on the R532 towards Graskop you have to turn left onto the R534 that makes a little loop and then comes back to the R532. Once on the R534 there is a sign on the left after a few km to the parking lot at God's window.
Access to the Three Rondavels look out site is from the R532 approximately 15km from the R36 turnoff to Orighstad and Hoedspruit. Drive past the access gate and on towards the parking area.
Traveling from Hoedspruit or the Strydom tunnel on the R527 turn onto the R531 heading south towards Kampersrus. Approximately 2km before the turnoff to Kampersrus is a tar road to the right. Directions to the dam are signposted. Drive up to the gate, past the Aventura resort and on to the dam.
Abednigo Mahbela, a community bird guide, operates within the Swadini Dam area of the Blyde River Canyon and can assist you in finding some of the specials. You can contact him directly on +27 (0)72 382 1846.
Access to the Bourke's Luck Potholes is from the R532. Drive up to the entry gate (an entrance fee is payable) Drive past the access gate and on towards the parking area.
The colony is situated on the Manoutsa farm which can be accessed from the R527. The farm is situated on the escarpment side of the road approximately 1km to the west of the R36 turnoff. Pass through the gate and drive 5km along a dirt road to the farmhouse. The vulture colony is situated approximately an hours walk/climb from the house although it can be viewed from behind the house.
Richard (Farm Owner)Tel: +27 (0)15 795 5045
Please contact the farm owner prior to entering the property.
Hippo Pools Resort is situated 22km to the north of Hoedspruit on the R40 road to Phalaborwa. Travel 22km along the R40 until the Hippo Pools Resort turnoff on the left. Follow signposts.
Tel: +27 (0)15 793 2088 Fax: +27 (0)86 623 6364 Cel: +27 (0)82 499 7374 Please contact the landowners prior to making a visit to the site.
The Kruger National Park covers 19,685 kilometers and is the 10th largest game reserve in the world. It has 3000 kilometres of road, 23 rest camps and a host of excellent picnic sites, walking trails, 4x4 routes, hides and massive dams.
A remarkable new initiative involving the Kruger National Park is the creation of a fence free park that allows animals to migrate freely across national borders. In May 2002, Kruger, Coutada 16 (in Mozambique) and Gonarezhou (in Zimbabwe) formally merged into the 35 000 square kilometre Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, one of the largest game reserves in the world.
The big game viewing in Kruger rivals that of any reserve in Africa with large elephant buffalo and lion populations being relatively easily seen. Every year over a million visitors tally up in the region of 520 bird species.
Birding is best in the summer months (November to March) with the arrival of summer migrants but a remarkable amount of birds can be seen in the winter months (May – July). Birding is fantastic throughout the park but the northern area is host to a number of species that are on the edge of their southernmost range and do not occur elsewhere in South Africa. A birding trip to Kruger National Park should be on the agenda of any birder in South Africa.
The camp is well spread out with the highlight being a paved footpath which runs along the northern perimeter through broad leaved riparian vegetation and then back along roads skirting the southern perimeter of the camp offering the chance to see a number of species within the confines of the camp as well as out on the Letaba River floodplain. Look out for Gabar Goshawk along the riverside path as well as a number of camp residents such as Red Headed Weaver, Palm Swifts, Bearded Robins and Grey Hooded Bush Shrikes.
The floodplain of the Letaba River hosts a high number of water birds whilst a number of roads emanating from the camp run alongside the Letaba River and through riparian vegetation offering first class birding. Birds to look out for in the camp include Grey rumped and Pearl breasted swallow, Green capped Eromomela, Bennett's and Bearded Woodpecker, Orange Breasted and Grey Headed Bush Shrike. Listen for commotion in the rest camp and it will probably be birds mobbing a Pearl Spotted Owlet.
The Letaba River Rd (S47) is normally good for birding as is the S46 which runs past the Engelhardt Dam. Carmine bee eaters are normally found on the Letaba River Crossing on the H1-6.
Letaba Rest Camp
Tel: +27 (0)13 735 6636/7
Fax: +27 (0)13 735 6662
Cel: +27 (0)82 802 1255
E-Mail: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
On the dam the larger waterbirds are common including White breasted cormorant, Reed cormorant, Grey and Goliath Heron and African darter. A trail meanders from the restaurant area down to the fenceline and back around to rear end of the camp – this walk can be very productive in the early morning hours. The nearby Mooiplaas picnic site is a good spot to look for Verreaux's Eagle Owl – enquire with staff as to its whereabouts. The nearby Nshawu dam has Kittlitz's Plover while Collared Pratincole and Caspian Plover have been recorded there.
The surrounding savanna plains are less interesting but support Red crested Korhaan, Black bellied Bustard, Crowned Lapwing and Chestnut backed sparrowlark. As with most birding in the park one will probably benefit from driving on roads which meander along river course in this case the H1-6 south and S142 which runs from east to west.
Mopani Rest Camp
Tel: +27 (0)13 735 6535/6
Fax: +27 (0)13 735 6547
Cel: +27 (0)82 802 1113
E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
A number of species can be easily found within the camp including Red winged starling, Yellow bellied greenbul, Mocking cliff chat and a number of different sunbirds. There are a number of look out points which are ideal for watching raptors as they catch updrafts. Raptors which can be seen include Gabar Goshawk, Eurasian Hobby, Crowned Eagle and the occasional Bat Hawk.
The Olifants River floodplain below the camp hosts a number of waterbirds including White crowned lapwing and Black winged stilts.
The S92 gravel road down to Balule is often good for birding as S91. If one continues past Balule down to Satara one is often finds swarms of Red Billed Quelea and flocks of raptors waiting for an easy meal.
Olifants Rest Camp
Tel: +27 (0)13 735 6606/7
Fax: +27 (0)13 735 6609
Cel: +27 (0)82 888 6563
E-Mail: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
The camp is host to a couple of pairs of African Scops Owlet which are easily located after dark by following their distinctive call. Pearl spotted owls can also be found within the camp. It is often worthwhile having a look at the large Fever tree in front of the Several perennial rivers occur in the area with the riparian vegetation alongside the N'wanetsi River on the H1-3 road providing fantastic birding.
The night drive offered at Satara offers one the opportunity to see various different owl species including Wood Owl, Spotted Eagle Owl and Verreaux's Eagle Owl as well as different nightjar species. The nearby N'semani dam on the H7 road is often frequented by a wide variety of water birds including Saddle-billed Stork, Crown and Blacksmith Lapwing and White Faced Duck. Raptors are abundant in the area including Brown and Black-chested Snake Eagle, Lizard Buzzard, Martial Eagle and Steppe Eagle.
Satara Rest Camp
Tel: +27 (0)13 735 6306/7
Fax: +27 (0)13 735 6304
Cel: +27 (0)82 802 1209
E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
Coming on the R71 from Tzaneen towards Phalaborwa you need to go a little past Letsitele and turn left towards Hans Merensky Nature Reserve and Eiland. Make sure you do not take the turnoff to Giyani (R529) that is a few km back. Once you have taken the turnoff follow the road for 30 km until you reach Hans Merensky Nature Reserve. A few km past the gate you will find the offices (the start of the hiking trails) and museum on you right.
Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve is situated approximately halfway between the Strydom Tunnel and Tzaneen. Coming from the tunnel turn left off theR555 onto the R36 to Tzaneen. Travel on the R36 from Diphuti, past the Makutsi Conservancy. Turn off the R36 towards Trichardtsdal. Pass through Trichardtsdal and Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve is approximately 8km further along. Drive into the reserve and report in at the information office.
At the Forestry Office, you can obtain a permit to visit the fynbos area on top of the escarpment. An obligatory guide will accompany you to the top to show you around and give information about the area, flora and fauna. There are a variety of hiking trails of varying distances and difficulty available. All the trails start at the Forestry Office, where a booklet with information about the various trails is available. The walks are all mostly guided walks and a small fee for the guide is to be paid at the Forestry Office. Accommodation is available in two well equipped and very affordable chalets that both sleep up to 5 people. Bookings can be made through the Forestry Office. The stunning location of the picnic spot on the Blyde River makes it worthwhile visiting. A small entrance fee is charged. The forest surrounding the picnic spot is endemic and offers some good birding opportunities. Along the river several heron species and other water birds such as African black duck can be found.
Coming on the R40 from Phalaborwa or Hoedspruit, you take the R531 towards Orighstad on the right hand side. Immediately after you have turned onto the R531 you pass under a bridge and you the Klaserie1stop is on your left. Take the left turn towards the Klaserie1stop and take the first dirt road on your right. Follow this road to the foot of the mountain and keep following the signs to the Forestry Office.
Mariepskop Forestry Office
Tel: +27 (0)15 7932581/3
Thabelo Sekome is a community bird guide that operates at Mariepskop. He knows the area exceptionally well and can help you find specials such as the Orange Ground-Thrush. You can contact him directly on + 27 (0)84 955 2975.
IMPORTANT: The dirt road from the foot of the mountain to the DWAF office is not very well maintained and therefore a vehicle with high ground clearance is strongly recommended.
The dam is a good spot to spend some time viewing a number of the more common water bird species. Greater Painted Snipe, Little Bittern and Dwarf Bittern are special bird species to look out for. Egyptian geese, Little grebes, Greenshank, Common and Wood sandpipers, Green backed heron, African pied kingfisher and White breasted cormorant are typical of the species that can easily be ticked off at the dam. An African Fish Eagle can normally be seen within close proximity to the dam.
The surrounding area is mixed mopane woodland thornveld ,which is good for bushveld birds. The close proximity of the nursery and associated trees also attracts a number of birds. Birders must note that care needs to be exercised as there is a resident 3.5 meter crocodile in the dam. A female hippo and calf also utilise the dam on an infrequent basis.
Coming in to Phalaborwa from Gravelotte on the R71, turn right into Copper Street at the last set of traffic lights before you enter the Kruger National Park. Follow this road to the next Stop street and turn left. The Ba- Phalaborwa Municipality Nursery is 50 meters down the road. Enter through the gate and follow the road to the left of the office buildings with the dam on the left side of the property.
Idah Lesufi, a community bird guide, is resident at the neighbouring Sefapane Lodge and Safari's (Birder Friendly Establishment) and offers a comprehensive birding walk at both properties, which generally produces a phenomenal species count. You can contact her on + 27 (0)72 088 2617.
Leaving Phalaborwa to Gravelotte on the R71, turn right to follow the Lulekani sign board. Follow this road until you find a Sasavona Guest House sign on your left. Immediately turn right onto a gravel track and enter through the first gate on your right hand side. Follow the road over the dam wall and continue until you reach the bird hide.
Morris Ngwenyama is a local community bird guide which operates in Lulekani. Contact him directly on + 27 (0)72 499 5823.
The riverine vegetation can often yields different wader species depending on the including Black crake, African snipe, Greenshank and Marsh sandpiper. A number of different swift and swallow species are normally present at the bridge.
The bushveld type vegetation which lines the riparian vegetation of the Selati River contains typical bushveld species including Lilac Breasted Rollers, Southern Yellow Billed Hornbill, Sabota Lark, Cinnamon and Gold Breasted Buntings and the different waxbill species. Look out for Pearl Spotted Owlets which are fairly easily seen in the area as well as the characteristic Bateleur and Yellow Billed Kites.
Travel on the Hendrick van Eck (main road through Phalaborwa towards Phalaborwa Gate, Kruger National Park). At the second set of lights in town turn right into Lekker Breek Street and then left into Essenhout Street. At the traffic lights turn right into Selati Rd. Travel on the Selati Rd through two stop streets (Post office and then police station will be on you right hand side). Travel along the road and through the Foskor complex. The road will turn from tar into a dirt road. Travel for approximately 5km on the dirt road which then turns into tar again. The Selati River Bridge is a further 2km on.
Coming in on the R71 at the first stop street in town turn left onto Spekboom Street. Spekboom Street turns into Silonque Rd. Drive slowly down the raod until the end (approx 8kms)
Fresh Meat! Really where?????
At the Vulture restaurant in Grietjie off course.
We will be putting meat down again about 08h00 on Saturday and weather dependant the birds should start gathering immediately as usual. Some weeks the food is gone by 09h00 and other weeks you might still get lucky in early afternoon.
Bring the family or guests and enjoy some potentially great birding, it only costs R30/person and it all helps to provide suitable carcasses for the birds. A refundable deposit of R100 will be required as well as your entrance fee of R30/person. No need to phone & make a booking!
The Grietjie Private Nature Reserve is home to the Kruger to Canyons Birding Route Vulture Restaurant. It is situated 20 km south of Phalaborwa and is easily accessible and open to the public. The Vulture Restaurant is surrounded by Lowveld Rugged Mopaneveld and offers some exciting Bushveld birding. Please note that the viewing hide is situated in a potentially dangerous game area (Big Five included). For your own safety, do not leave the demarcated area. Carcasses are deposited on Saturday mornings and the best viewing will therefore be on the Saturday morning from 08:00 until Saturday afternoon. Reservations for birdwatching groups and tours can be arranged on alternative days of the week through Ian Owtram firstname.lastname@example.org or cellphone +27(0)83 268 8281. A maintenance fee of ZAR 30 will be charged at the Grietjie Private Nature Reserve entrance gate. A ZAR 100 deposit will be requested for the viewing hide key. Please insist on a receipt.
Special birds that can be viewed at the Vulture Restaurant include Cape Vulture, White Headed Vulture, White Backed Vulture, Hooded Vulture, Lappet-faced Vulture, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Bateleur, Tawny Eagle, Orange Breasted Bush Shrike, Grey Headed Bush Shrike and Marabou Stork.
Travel south from Phalaborwa on the R40 towards Hoedspruit. After approximately 20 km take the Grietjie turn off onto a gravel road and travel until you hit the Grietjie Private Nature Reserve main entrance gate. Once inside, continue straight and across the four-way Stop. Continue straight and take note as the Vulture Restaurant sign will be on your right hand side.
Tel: +27 (0)15 769 6006
Mobile: + 27 (0) 83 268 8281
If any of you would like to make a donation to assist with the running of this facility and enable us to continue with our conservation efforts of these birds our bank details are:
Grietjie Vulture Restaurant
Phalaborwa branch, code 334352
Current A/C No. 4073881528