The Soutpansberg Mountains and the Limpopo River Valley host over 540 bird species. This tremendous variety of birds makes this a very rewarding birding destination.
Due to a high number of resident species, all year round there is an abundance of birds to see. A visit to the area in winter or summer will always be productive.
The Soutpanberg-Limpopo Birding Route is situated in the northern-most part of the Limpopo Province. This area includes the northern part of the Kruger National Park, Mapungubwe National Park, Venda and the Soutpansberg Mountain Range.
There are a number of very special birds found on the Soutpansberg-Limpopo Birding Route. The Soutpansberg Mountains have well-developed tracts of indigenous forests in which species such as Blue-spotted Wood-Dove, African Broadbill, Eastern Nicator, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Orange Ground-Thrush, Crested Guineafowl and Crowned Eagle can be found.
To the north of the mountain in Arid Mountain Bushveld vegetation Pink-throated Twinspot and Crowned Hornbill are found. The only known patch of Brachystegia Woodland in South Africa is found in this area and species such as Southern Hyliota have been seen here.
Baobab country to the north is home to Mottled Spinetail and the lowland river systems have Lemon-breasted Canary, Pel's Fishing Owl and White-fronted Plover on them.
The western part of the region, towards the Mogalakwena River, is dry with a Kalahari element, thus species such as Southern Pied Babbler, Kori Bustard, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater and Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk is found.
We have divided the Soutpansberg-Limpopo Birding Route into nine different birding areas. Each birding area has its own unique character and set of special bird species. Within each area there is also a variety of accommodation options and birding sites to visit.
The Albasini Dam is the biggest waterbody in this area. From the north one can visit the Department of Water Affairs Picnic Site which has a fair bit of waterfront and an extensive piece of sour bushveld (see box for details). Birding around the dam is best done by boat. Birds such as White backed Night-Heron and African Finfoot can often be seen on the dam. There are also many other water birds to be found on the dam and birding here is always rewarding. The vegetation around the dam also offers good birding.
Levubu is a sub-tropical fruit farming area. The little town of Levubu itself is the centre of this area and caters for the farming community in the district. The area is has two major rivers, the Lotonyanda River and the Levhubu river. Both are fringed by Lowveld Riverine Forest and Semi-deciduous Mixed Forest and are alive with birds. Access to the rivers is difficult as much of this area is under private ownership.
The area has an impressive species total of over 300 birds. It abounds with Purple-crested Turaco and African Green-Pigeon. The African Paradise-Flycatcher is a common visitor in the summer and look out for Grey-headed Parrot, which is in the area from August to November.
This area is not quite as dry as the other bushveld areas in the region, as it falls between the open flats to the west and the wetter areas to the east. Mixed Bushveld dominates the vegetation. A wide variety of warblers, waxbills, widowfinches and robins can be seen here. Orange-winged Pytilia and even Short-clawed Lark have been seen in the southeastern part of this area.
The Eastern Limpopo River Valley is the area that stretches from Crooks Corner in the Kruger National Park to Musina. Much of the river is not as accessible as the Western part (described below).
However access to the river itself is possible if organized in advance through the concession area in the northernmost part of Kruger and through other private farms that border on the river (see boxes for details).
On the river one can find the two largest owls in Southern Africa: Pel's Fishing-Owl and the Verreaux's Eagle-Owl. The river also provides a corridor for the Trumpeter Hornbill and Lemon-breasted Canary. The wide-open sandy river bottom is ideal habitat for the White-fronted Plover, Ruff, Marsh Sandpiper, Comb Duck, Spur-winged Goose and Saddle-billed Stork. One often sees the Bateleur, Lappet-faced Vulture and African Hawk-Eagle soaring in the skies above the river valley. The gallery forest on the banks of the river has Meyer's Parrot, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Trumpeter Hornbill, Retz's Helmet-shrike and Black-throated Wattle-eye.
If you do not stay at one of the accommodation establishments, then you will spend much of your time travelling through Mopane Woodland or Mixed Bushveld. An interesting road to travel is the Malaladrift/Musina road that follows the Limpopo River, crossing a number of its tributaries and passing through small patches of farmland. Take the drive slowly, stopping frequently along the way, and you will find it rewarding.
Timber plantations, nut orchards and avocado orchards dominate the land use in the Eastern Soutpansberg. Yet nestled in between the agricultural lands are some of the best birdwatching sites in the region. In this area one finds three forest types: Afrotemperate Mistbelt Forest, Semi-deciduous Scrub Forest and Semi-deciduous Mixed Forest.
On the upper reaches of the mountain there are a few patches of Afromontane Grasslands forming a mosaic between the forest pockets. Most of these forests are easily accessible and fall within State Land. Birds like Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Green Twinspot and African Broadbill are mostly found in the Semi-deciduous forest types and Yellow-streaked Greenbul, White-starred Robin, Orange Ground Thrush, Knysna Turaco and Scaly-throated Honeyguide are mostly found in the Mist-belt forests.
Many species are common in all forest types such as Narina Trogon, Chorister Robin-Chat and Crested Guineafowl.The Muirhead Dams (see box for details) is the best place to find Blue-spotted Wood-Dove.
The eastern tip of the Soutpansberg mountains ends near Punda Maria in the Kruger National Park. Habitats in this northern section of Kruger are surprisingly diverse. The low-lying hills around Punda Maria are home to Crowned Hornbill, Mosque Swallow and Eastern Nicator. Tall Mopane and broad-leafed woodland expanding out from the base of these hills holds specials like White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Arnot's Chat and Racket-tailed Roller. In damp, low-lying areas Senegal Coucal, Black Coucal and Little Bittern can be seen.
One of the most exciting areas in which to bird is up in the north, along the Levubu river. Here specials such as Pel's Fishing Owl, White-crowned Lapwing, Bohm's and Mottled Spinetail, Black-throated Wattle-eye and Lemon-breasted Canary are to be found. This is the best area to find Dickinson's Kestrel. Scarce species found in the past here include Sooty Falcon and River Warbler.
The northern part of the park, previously closed to the public, has now opened up as a concession area, allowing access to the Limpopo River itself. You will need to book with Wilderness Safaris to get into this area. Recommended drives are the Mahonie Loop (S99), S60 and S61, S58 and S52 near Shingwedzi. Try to do an early morning visit to the Levubu River Bridge and Pafuri Picnic Site up near Crooks Corner. Detailed maps and park information can be found at the park gates and on the SANParks website www.sanparks.org
Northeastern Venda stretches from Thohoyandou across to the Kruger National Park boundary and up north to the Limpopo valley.The vegetation type that dominates the North Eastern Venda area is Arid Mountain Bushveld and Mopane Woodland. Along all the major rivers one will find Lowveld Riverine Forest with elements of Semi-deciduous Forest. This is also the area where the isolated patch of Brachystegia Woodland is found.
This area is relatively poorly known, as the roads are bad and the area is quite remote, but has in the past come up with the most interesting birds. Look out for Southern Hyliota, Crowned Hornbill, Pink-throated Twinspot, Blue-spotted Wood-Dove. More common species are: White-browed Scrub-Robin, Bearded Scrub-Robin, White-crested Helmet-Shrike and Golden-breasted Bunting. At the Sagole Big Tree there is a chance of seeing Mottled Spinetail and some out-of-range Miombo specials at the Gundani Brachystegia Woodland.
Due to its proximity to the Kalahari, this is the driest area of the region. It is well worth the visit as it offers some very special birding and species one would not easily find in other parts of the region. Species such as the Southern Pied Babbler, Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Grey-backed Sparrowlarks, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Kori Bustard, Burchell's Sandgrouse and Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk are found here.
The Mogalakwena River is the main river in this region and is fringed by Lowveld Riverine Forest offering cool relief to the dry surroundings. Birds to be found on the river include a wide variety of Cuckoos, Owls and Bee-eaters. The Verreaux's Eagle-Owl and, if you are lucky, Pel's Fishing-Owl can also be found.
The Woodland and is broken by extensive patches of Acacia thickets in the low lying parts and Commiphera dominated vegetation on the rocky outcrops. Gallery Forest on the riverbank is home to Woodland Kingfisher, African Mourning Dove, Broad-billed Roller, Senegal Coucal, Meve's Starling and Pel's Fishing-Owl. On the plains on either side of the river are Swainson's Spurfowl, Red-crested Korhaan, Southern Ground Hornbill and Secretarybird.
The western part of the Limpopo River Valley stretches from Musina to Platjan opposite Botswana. There are a great number of access points to the river, the easiest being through Mapungubwe National Park. Mapungubwe is situated opposite the Shashe River confluence and offers visitors a number of birding facilities (see box for details). Various private farms on both sides of the border (see boxes for details) offer excellent birding along the Limpopo River.
A visit to the Den Staat wetlands, which is one of the best water-bird sites in the country, can be organized if you stay at one of the private establishments in the area (see boxes for details). In the Tuli area of Botswana you can also book onto guided wilderness trails, which will give you the best of the birding and the wildlife of the area (see box for details).
Two habitat types dominate the Limpopo valley; these are Lowveld Riverine Forest and Mopane Woodland. On the plains, around the river the area is dominated by Mopane Woodland and is broken by extensive Woodland and is broken by extensive patches of Acacia thickets in the low lying parts and Commiphera dominated vegetation on the rocky outcrops.
Gallery Forest on the riverbank is home to Woodland Kingfisher, African Mourning Dove, Broad-billed Roller, Senegal Coucal, Meve's Starling and Pel's Fishing-Owl. On the plains on either side of the river are Swainson's Spurfowl, Red-crested Korhaan, Southern Ground Hornbill and Secretarybird.
This area has spectacular mountain scenery and it is one of the most beautiful parts of the region. When you stay at one of the establishments here you can relax, breathe deeply and enjoy your seclusion from the world. The vegetation is a dominated by Arid Mountain Bushveld with patches of Afrotemperate Forest, Sour Bushveld and Afromontain Grasslands.
All the establishments in this area have marked trails through the mountains, which you can do by yourself or be guided by your hosts. The area is also worth visiting for its special wildlife, which includes Leopards, Samango Monkeys and Red Duiker. The wide variety of habitat types allows for good birding. The area has a number of breeding African Crowned Eagle. The mountain tops are good areas to see Gurney's Sugarbird and Malachite Sunbird. It is worth looking out for Red-chested Flufftail here.