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.
Albasini Dam / Levubu
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.
Albasini Dam — DWAF Picnic Site
The Department of Water Affairs owns an extensive part of the water frontage on the dam. This can be reached quite easily through the main gate, near the dam wall. From this point on should look out for Osprey in summer as they are often near this end of the dam. The normal array of waterbirds such as White-breasted Cormorant, Green-backed Heron and African Darter can be seen here, but best of all is the large tract of sour bushveld criss-crossed by numerous roads which you can drive or walk along. Here you will find plenty of bushveld birds and will be able to push up your species total for your trip. This is one of the few places in the region that you can find Yellow-throated Longclaw.
Take the R524 east from Makhado (Louis Trichardt); 21 km out of town turn right down the gravel road marked "Albasini". The picnic site is 2.5 km further on, on the right. Just through the entrance gate take a sharp turn right and find your way along the roads. Please note that the best birding on the dam is done by boat trip organized by Shiluvari on the southern side of the Dam.
Entry fee: R5 per person; R15 per vehicle.
Opening times: 07H00 – 18H00
Levubu Post Office TreeThere is a large Mobola Plum tree (Parinari Curatellifolia) right outside the Levubu Post Office. During the early summer months (Aug-Nov) Grey-headed Parrots often feed in this tree during the day. If you are in the Levubu area spend some time around the tree and you may be lucky. They can sometimes be seen flying over the rugby fields, just to the north of the post office.
Take the 2nd Levubu turn-off from the Makhado (Louis Trichardt)/Punda Maria road (R524). After 4.6 km you will reach a T-junction, turn left towards "Levubu Oos". The Post Office is 2 km on, on the LHS, just before the Primary School (and before the next T-junction).
Muirhead DamsThis is the only reliable place in South Africa to find Blue-spotted Wood-dove, one of our region's top 10 birds. Other species found on and around the dam are African Pygmy Goose, Horus Swift, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Red-backed Manakins and Lesser Moorhen. This private farm dam is magical. A bird hide has been built on the dam and trails have been laid out around the dam.
From the R524, 21 km east out of Makhado (Louis Trichardt), turn left into the property "Royal Macadamia". As you turn off the main road, keep right. Pass the Macadamia nut orchard (on you left) and banana plantation (on your right) and 800m on, park your car next to the bat box (just before crossing the dam wall). Find your way around the dams following the paths. The soil bank, just across the wall, is used by Horus Swifts. The Blue-spotted Wood-dove is usually found on the northern side of the dams. If you are there after hours then look around the pack sheds just to the west of the dam for the dove.
The owner of the property kindly allows birdwatchers to visit his dam free of charge. Please respect his privacy and his property.
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.
Last Post Private Nature ReserveLast Post is situated in a beautiful range of hills, which form the transition between Sweet Bushveld and Lowveld. The property has a variety of habitat types and high biological diversity. Both plant and bird populations will be of interest to any naturalist.
The Nature Reserve is situated on the Bandelierskop Geological Complex with an undulating landscape and deep kloofs. Walking is the best way to explore the area, as the bird life is a feast. Purple-crested Turaco, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Wahlbergs and African Hawk-eagles, Black-headed Oriole, Scarlet-chested Sunbird and Bennett's Woodpecker are familiar sights. In the valley Orange-winged Pytilia has often been seen.
There are two accommodation options available. Camp Mocking Chat is situated high above a gorge with breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside. It is a rustic yet comfortable camp with wooden decks and a swimming pool and braai area. The Camp can sleep 18 people in three en-suite stone and thatch cottages and three canvas tents on wooden decks with shared ablutions.
Camping facilities are available at 'Emerald Spot' Ten Camp where there are ablution facilities, a braai area, lapa and three tents on wooden decks. Facilities are both self-catering and catered on request. Guided walks and drives are also available.
Birding courses can be arranged for larger groups.
Eastern Limpopo River Valley
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.
Pafuri River Camp
Pafuri River Camp is a private tented tree house camp on the banks of the Mutale River, situated 3 km from the Pafuri Gate of Kruger Park. The camp is an ideal base from which to explore Northern Kruger, Makuya Nature Reserve and Venda. Commonly seen specials include Wattle-eyed Flycatcher, Yellow White-eye, Lemon-breasted Canary, Grey-headed Parrot, Mottled Spinetail and African Finfoot.
Less common but still seen occasionally are Dickinson's Kestrel, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Pel's Fishing Owl, Golden-backed Pytilia, Racket-tailed Roller, Yellow-billed Oxpecker, White-backed Night-heron, Narina Trogon and Eastern Nicator.
The atmosphere is informal and relaxed, so enjoy a drink next to the pool, or watch the sun go down from Sunset Ridge. Enjoy the freedom of Africa from their Main Camp, Bush Camp or River Campsites.
Fully equipped and serviced rooms and kitchens, campsites, braai facilities, lapa / restaurant, swimming pool, tea and coffee, laundry, open parking, fridge in room, linen and towels supplied.
Eastern Soutpansberg Mountains
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.
An easily accessible Afro-temperate Mist-belt forest with a picnic site and short trails. This is an old birders haunt and the birding is good. Listen out for the resident Scaly-throated Honeyguide in the picnic site. This is the best place to fin White-starred Robin and Yellow-streaked Greenbul.
A short (20 minutes) circular walk starts from the picnic site (Follow footprints which start from the road 10 metres before the boom gate at the picnic site, opposite the pine compartment).
In Makhado (Louis Trichardt), take Krogh Steret due north, towards the mountain. Krogh Street becomes Forestry Road and takes you straight to the Hangklip Pantation gate. From here follow the main road and sign boards to the Picknic Site. It is about 8km from the gate to the Picnic Site
Entry-fee is: R10 per vehicle, and R5 per person.
Wyllie's Poort Tunnels
The Wyllie's Poort Tunnels, about 20km north of Makhado (Louis Trichardt), are worth a stop. From the viewing/parking area between the two tunnels you can pick up Drakensberg Prinia and Mocking Cliff-Chats in the rocky gorge below and Short-toed Rock Thrush hopping above the tunnels. A pair of Verraux's Eagles are usually seen soaring in the sky above.
Remember you are on the N1 with heavy traffic so take care!
Roodewal Nature Reserve
This is the most reliable site for African Broadbill. The best time to hear the Broadbill is just before dawn and just after dusk. They can be heard for longer periods during the day in the summer months. Other species often seen here are Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Eastern Nicator, Narina Trogon, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Green Twinspot and Red-faced Cisticola.
The vegetation is semi-deciduous scrub forest which is a low canopy forest with a mix of woodland, riverine and Afro-montane tree species. This is a forest type that has recently spread across Soutpansberg and has unfortunately replaced much of the mixed grasslands that used to cover the mountains 100 years ago. The birding is nonetheless very good.
Take the R524 (Thohoyandou/Punda Maria road) from Makhado. 15.8 Kilometres after leaving Makhado (Louis Trichardt) you will see a sign: 'Welgevonden' (in red letters). Turn left onto this gravel road and drive 4.1 kilometres. Here, at the end of a Macadamia nut orchard, is a small concealed track that runs steeply down to the left into a thick patch of forest. Park at this point if the road looks wet. The track goes on 300m before reaching a small parking area an picnic site. Two marked trails have been laid out leading from the parking spot. One trail leads you up the Luvuhu River and the other up on of its tributaries. Both trails go past the Crowned Eagle nest which is situated in the pine compartment. There is also a picnic site consisting fo chairs and tables. Enjoy the birding: Roodewal is one of my favourite sites.
Tel: +27 (0)83 452 2091
NB! There is a boom on the road to the forest which opens in the morning and closes in the evening.
If you are planning a very early start at the forest you will need to make arrangements for the boom to be opened with Erina Lombard.
Entabeni Forest is an Afro-temperate Mist-belt Forest situated on the Entabeni Plantation. The forest boast good specials such as Orange Ground Thrush, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, White-starred Robin, Green Twinspot, Knysna Turaco, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Collared Sunbird and Brown Scrub-Robin. The forest is extensive, but only parts of it are easily accessible. A main forestry road passed through one patch of the forest and close to another. The road is used by forestry vehicles, so drive carefully.
About 35 kilometres out of Makhado (Louis Trichardt) on the R524 turn onto the road marked Entabeni. Drive along this road to the gate. There are no signboards, so set your odometer. (NB 0km: gate, 1km: turn right. 2.5km: turn left). The first site is 9 kilometres from the gate and the second is 11 kilometres.
Birding in the first forest patch is done along the road, as there are no paths into the forest here. It is recommended that you go onto the second site. Turn right at the triangle intersection, 9.9 kilometres from the gate. Look out for a track to your left 250 metres on. This track is marked by a "Private No Entry" sign. Take the track anyway and another 250 metres on where the pine compartment ends and the road enters indigenous forest. Park your vehicle here and walk along the road ahead.
The Orange Thrush is seen at the first stream and the Black-fronted Bush-Shrike a little further on. It will take you about 30 minutes to drive from the R524 to the forests.
Do not try to find the picnic site as you might get lost. On you way up, look out for Aryes' Hawk-Eagle and Bat Hawk at dusk.
Entry fee: R5 per person; R10 per vehicle.
Kruger National Park (North)
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
Pafuri CampWilderness Safaris' Pafuri Camp is situated along the Luvuvhu River in the far northern Kruger National Park. The camp lies within the community owned Makuleke Concession and consists of 24,000 ha of very diverse landscape between the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers. This area has long been recognized as the most diverse within the entire Kruger and in an area just more than 1% the size of the park contains approximately 75% of its bio-diversity.
The location in extreme north eastern South Africa, and in such a diverse area, has resulted in a bird list of approximately 400 birds with some of the local specials being Pel's Fishing Owl, Three-banded Courser, Meves's Starling, Tropical Boubou, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Grey-headed Parrot, Mottled and Bohm's Spinetail, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Bat Hawk and Racket-tailed Roller.
The camp consists of 20 luxury tents (en-suite with indoor and outdoor showers) located in dense riverine forest along the Luvuvhu River. Activities in the concession include twice daily game drives or walks to legendary sites such as Crooks' Corner, Lanner Gorge, the Limpopo pans and the Fever Tree forests.
There is also the opportunity to explore rock art, Stone Age and Iron Age sites. Game viewing is very good with regular sightings of high profile species like elephant, buffalo, white rhino, lion and leopard, while regional specials such as elad, nyala, Sharpe's grysbok and yellow-spotted rock dassie are also present.
Each tent overlook the Luvuvhu River, as do the camp's two swimming pools and well appointed public area. Hearty meals of high quality are served here or in a boma. Rates are available on a fully-inclusive, Dinner or B&B basis.
North Eastern Venda
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.
Golwe, Vhurivhuri Picnic & Campsite
Golwe Picnic and Campsite is a large shady site situated in a secluded valley in Venda off the Masisi Road. At dawn one can hear African Broadbill around the campsite. Other special birds are Pink-throated Twinspot, Scaly-throated Honeyguide and Crowned Hornbill.
Marked circular trails lead from the campsite up the valley and to a waterfall. The campsite offers a convenient base from which to visit Mpaphuli Cycad Reserve, Makhuya Park and the Gundani Brachystegia Woodland. We recommend booking Christopher Nethonzhe, who is the local site guide (BirdLife-SA accredited) to guide you along the trails.
Golwe is owned and run by members of the Vhurivhuri Community. All proceeds go towards the development of the community and supporting unemployed people in the village.
The campsite has ablution facilities with hot water and flushing toilets, braai stands, picnic tables and four camp sites. Firewood is available to buy. Traditional catering can be arranged prior to the visit. The area is multifunctional and can accommodate people who want to have open air meetings and parties. The site is accessible to 2-wheel drive vehicles and 4x4 caravans.
From the south
Turn off the R524 towards Thohoyandou. Drive through Thohoyandou to Sibasa and straight on to the T-junction indicating Donald Fraser Hospital (left) and Masisi (right). Go right towards Masisi. Continue towards Masisi for another 37 km. Turn off the road towards Lambani/Gunda and follow the signboards to the site for another 1.8 km.
From the north
Turn off the R525 at Masis towards the Tshikondeni Mine. Do not take the left turn to the mine but continue straight on towards Sibasa/Thohoyandou for another approximate 25 km. The site is sign posted off this road to your right.
From Punda Maria
Driving towards Punda Maria, turn left at the cross road towards Minga and Lambani (right goes to Mpahophe and Makuleke). Follow the tar road for about 3 km, turn left to cross the Levuvhu river (through a gate). Carry on straight (where the road changes to a dirt road) for about 4 km and turn right at Lambani/ Gunda road. Follow the road (passing a sign to Deanwe, left, after about 1 km) and ignore the small, unsigned roads turning off to both directions. After about 8 km Lambani turns off left, but carry on straight towards Gunda and Vhurivhuri for about another 10 km after which there is a sign to Golew that turns of left. Golwe is about 25 km from the tar road to Punda Maria of which about 20 km is dirt road accessible to a slow driving 2x4 vehicle.
Cel: +27 (0)76 302 9383
Cel: +27 (0)76 196 3691
Booking are not required, but notice of your arrival is appreciated.
Entry fee: R5 per adult (day visit); R5 per vehicle; R30 per adult (camping)
Gundani Mutsiwa Campsite
This is the only known patch of Miombo (Brachystegia) woodland in South Africa. Miombo woodland is common in Zimbabwe and further north.
A number of bird specials associated with Miombo have been seen here. These are White-breasted Cuckooshrike and Southern Hyliota. Frequently seen are Pink-throated Twinspot. If you are lucky you might find Blue-spotted Wood-dove. There are unconfirmed reports of Red-throated Twinspot and Spotted Creeper (so please send reports of sightings of these species).
A charming campsite has been opened at the woodland, funded by the Jensen Charity Foundation and facilitated by the birding route. The campsite will assist the community derive economic benefit from tourism, especially avi-tourism. The people who manage the campsite lie in the village and are otherwise unemployed. All proceeds go directly into maintenance of the campsite and into a community fund.
There are hot/cold showers, flush toilets, firewood for sale and six cleared tent sites. It can get hot, so use the late afternoon and early morning to bird. There is a marked trail into the woodland and thus 4x4's are not required. However do be careful in the campsite as the area is very sandy. If you do get stuck the camp assistants will help push you out.
From the South
Turn off the R524 towards Thohoyandou. Drive through Thohoyandou to Sibasa and straight on to the T-junction indicating Donald Fraiser Hospital (left) and Masisi (right). Go towards Masisi. Continue on this road for 12 km and turn left towards Tengwe. Continue for 5.1 km until and turn right towards Mutale. Continue for 21 km until you see the signboard to Gundani to your right. From this turn off it is 3 km to the campsite. It will take about 45 minutes from Thoyoyandou.
From the North (Pafuri/Musina)
Turn off the R525 and get onto a road that runs past Sagole Spa and the Big Tree. West of the Big Tree is a road to the south marked 'Sibasa'. Take this road, past Shakadza, to where the tar road begins. Follow the tar road until you see the signboard to Gundani, indicating left.
Cel: +27 (0)72 222 9154
Cel: +27 (0)72 214 0258
Booking are not required, but notice of your arrival is appreciated.
Entry fee: R5 per adult (day visit); R5 per vehicle; R30 per adult (camping)
Sagole Big Tree
This tree has been recorded as the largest Boabab tree in the world. This is the best place to see Mottled Spinetail in the late evening and early morning. It is on communal land with relatively poor roads. If you do plan to wait for birds, make sure you are confident to drive back in the dark to your accommodation. The closest places to stay are Gundani Mutsiwa Campsite and Pafuri River Camp.
If arranged in advance, staff from Pafuri River Camp can take you to the tree. There has been some effort made by the authorities to formalise access to the tree by building a good gravel road to the site and by putting a fence around the tree and entrance fees are now required. The signage to the tree has improved over the last few years.
From the R525 follow signs to Sagole Spa (Tshipise). The tree is west of Sagole Spa and is marked off the "Mutele B – Folovhodwe" road with a signboard reading "Big Tree". If you get lost, just ask for directions.
From the Gundani Mutsiwa Campsite go north towards Muswodi. When you reach a T-junction turn right towards Sagole Spa and continue until you see the sign board to the "Big Tree". There are usually hordes of children selling Boabab Pods. Buy a few as it is a poor area and then ask them to leave you in peace.
To organize a late visit phone Simon: +27 (0)76 405-0949
North Western Flats
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.
Makulu Makete Wildlife Reserve
The 4,000 ha Makulu Makete Reserve straddles the meandering Mogalakwena River just south of its confluence with the Limpopo. Whilst the reserve holds interesting species characteristic of the drier west, the Mogalakwena River, and the massive trees lining its banks, provide a rich habitat for many additional species more likely to be found in wetter areas such as Collared Sunbird, Spectacled Weaver and a variety of cuckoos and kingfishers.
Larger birds such as Verreaux's Eagle-owl, Black Stork and Saddle-billed Stork are usually to be found along the river whilst the drier bush country, which holds an impressive collection of Boababs, has White-faced Scops-owl, Kori Bustard, Southern Pied Babbler, Crimson-breasted Shrike, African Wren-warbler, Great Spotted Cuckoo and Swallow-tailed Bee-eater. The magnificent Madia Pala and Kremetartkop hills dominate the landscape and are home to Verreaux's Eagles and Cape Rock-Thrush. Groups of birders have recorded nearly 200 species for a weekend and over 250 species for the property.
Facilities for birders include the services of trained guides on walking trails, horse trails and game drives using open game viewing vehicles. An experienced resident ecologist is at hand to interpret, entertain and inform you with illustrated lectures on local ecology.
Lulu's Camp has five campsites under large shady trees on the banks of the Mogalakwena River. This camp has hot/cold water ablutions, communal kitchen, braai stands and a swimming pool.
Mogalakwena River Lodge
Mogalakwena is a 4-star lodge which offers a luxurious African experience. From the deck of the lodge one is able to view up to 25 species in a sitting, including African Finfoot, Black Crake, and Dwarf Bittern as wells as many kingfishers and herons. There are resident Southern Pied Babbler and Crimson-breasted Shrike and many colourful waxbills, such as Black-faced-, Blue- and Violet-eared Waxbills.
The lodge offers game drives, wildlife walks, fishing and horseback riding. Guests are able to visit the Craft Art Development Foundation where one can see the Pedi women producing a variety of crafts. The lodge offers a variety of cultural excursions including the cultural heritage site at Mapungubwe National Park and wildlife excursions to Botswana.
Mogalakwena River Lodge has a central lodge with four rooms, swimming pool, dining and open lounge areas. The four private chalets have exquisite views and privacy. This exclusive lodge caters for 16 guests in eight double rooms with en-suite facilities. Transfers and fly-in safaris are available on request.
Langjan Nature Reserve
Langjan is conveniently placed on the road between Vivo and Alldays, making it an easy stop to and from the Limpopo Valley or Alldays. The reserve became known to the birding world in 1989 when an Egyptian Vulture was spotted here. It has been seen since, but it is not a regular visitor.
The reserve has a bird list of over 260 species. A Kalahari floristic element influences the typical Bushveld vegetation in this area. Thus species such as Marico Flycatcher, Kalahari Scrub-robin, Acacia Pied Barbet and Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk are commonly seen here. Other birds likely to be seen are Red-crested Korhaan, Magpie Shrike, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler, Emerald-Spotted Wood-dove, Namaqua Dove, Lesser Grey Shrike and Blue Waxbill.
The reserve is criss-crossed by a series of roads, but note that some roads are very sandy and require 4x4 vehicles. There are no hiking trails, but walking is allowed.
The reserve is located on the R524 between Vivo and Alldays.
Tel: +27 (0)15 593 0126
Entrance fee: R10 per adult, R5 per child, R20 per vehicle.
Opening hours are: 07H30 to 16H00.
Blouberg Nature Reserve
The reserve covers a wide variety of habitats including a small Sycamore fig forest and wetland that has a resident flock of Crested Guineafowl and is visited by Greater Painted Snipe in the summer.
The reserve boasts over 270 species among which are Grey Tit-flycatcher, Red-backed Shrike, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Kalahari Scrub-robin and Southern White-faced Scops-owl. It's also home to a significant breeding colony of Cape Vultures, numbering 500 breeding pairs.
The highlight of the reserve is its "Vulture Restaurant" where, from a hide, you can see Cape Vulture, Lappet-faced Vulture, Hooded Vulture, White-headed Vulture and White-backed Vulture. The "Restaurant" is best visited in the winter months. Seeing these vulture at close quarters is an experience not to be missed.
To get to the reserve turn west towards Bachum at the cross-roads in Vivo. About 8.6 km down this road turn right towards Kromhoek. The reserve is another 8.4 km down this road on the LHS.
Tel: +27 (0)15 563 0702
Cell: +27 (0)83 251 9071
For a visit please phone the reserve office for arrangements. You can get a map and a general information leaflet at the office.
Opening hours are: 06H00 to 19H00.
High-clearance vehicles are recommended.
Also see: http://birdlife.org.za/conservation/important-bird-areas/iba-directory/item/145-sa004-blouberg-vulture-colonies
Western Limpopo River Valley
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.
Ratho Bush Camps
Ratho is on the banks of the Limpopo River just west of Pont Drift. The stand of large Nyalaberry trees at the homestead is the most reliable stakeout for Pel's Fishing Owl in the region. The farm has vast tracts of open bushveld and sandstone hills at the Vulture restaurant. You will have wonderful views of Lappet-faced Vulture, Cape Vulture and other raptors. Ask your hosts when they will be feeding the vultures.
Around the irrigated fields, look out for Montagu's Harrier and Grey-backed and Chestnut-backed Sparrowlarks. Ratho is well positioned for day visits to the new Mapungubwe National Park, The Den Staat Wetlands and to the Tuli Block in Botswana.
Accommodation consists of one tented camp and two camp sites. The tented camp is on the banks of the Limpopo River. It has a fully equipped kitchen with electricity, hot water and ablution facilities. Meals can be provided on request. Mopane Camp is up in the hills and has wonderful views of the surrounding landscape. This camp site is equipped with drinking water and ablution facilities. Ana Boom camp site is in the Limpopo River and you should come fully equipped.
A guided visit to the Rakwena Crocodile Farm can be arranged to see, close up, hatchling & adult crocodiles.
Mapungubwe National Park
Whether you are a beginner or an experienced birder, you have to visit the Mapungubwe National Park. The abundance of birdlife is quite spectacular and there are lots of specials to find. There are two large hides in the bushveld habitat and one on the Limpopo River. A Tree Top walkway through the forest canopy on the banks of the Limpopo River has also been developed especially for bird watching. All hides are wheelchair-friendly.
There is a great number and variety of archaeological sites. These date from early Stone Age and Iron Age to the present. Most notable of the sites is Mapungubwe Hill whose artefacts reflect one of the most complex social and political entities in Africa during the eighth and ninth centuries. Guided night drives are offered, and for an additional fee the park also offers an eco-route, a self-drive route through some of the remoter parts of the park, and a guided trail into a limited motorised zone.
The park offers a number of self-catering accommodation options:
Leokwe Rest Camp (14 units)
Limpopo Forest Tented Camp (7 units)
Tshugulu Lodge (sleeps 12)
Tuli Wilderness Trails
Tuli Wilderness Trails have a concession in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve. The area has a wide range of habitats, from riverine forest on the Limpopo River to alluvial flood plains and basalt ridges. The western side of the reserve is criss-crossed by countless dry riverbeds and stunning sandstone ridges that rise 100 ft above the Motloutse River allowing awesome views of the surrounding landscape.
It is a rich wildlife area, lion are common, elephant are abundant and there are cheetah, leopard, hyena and many plains game species. Birding is excellent with over 250 species recorded in the Tuli Block.
Tuli Wilderness Trails have three campsites operating:
- Musth Camp is the luxury safari style tented camp consisting of five twin units with en-suite bathrooms and a central self-catering kitchen/dining room area.
- Mohave Bush Camp is more rustic with four mopane pole-and-thatch huts sleeping 12 people in total. Mohave has outdoor communal bathrooms and a central kitchen/lapa area.
- Rutt Camp is a movable tented camp, which is used for the Wilderness Trails.
Craig and Sandy, who own and run the operation, have many years of experience in the eco-tourism industry and Craig is a knowledgeable guide.
Venitia Limpopo Nature Reserve
This De Beer's property is situated adjacent to the Mapungubwe National Park. The 33,000 ha reserve is dominated by mopane woodland and has beautiful riverine forests and sandstone cliffs in the north. Over 400 species have been recorded in the reserve including Meyer's Parrot, Meve's Starling, Senegal Coucal and Tropical Boubou.
The lodge is called Little Much, can accommodate 17 people in three luxury air-conditioned chalets or in three separate air-conditioned double rooms. The central lodge has a fully equipped kitchen and an open dining and recreation area with a pub, swimming pool and camp fire. Guests can choose to be self-catering or fully-catered.
The lodge is set amongst the sandstone outcrops of the area and birds often seen around the camp include African Green Pigeon, Meyer's Parrot, Black-faxed Waxbill and Grey-backed Camaroptera.
The reserve has a trained bird guide who can take guests to the local birding hotspots in the area or for walks in the reserve. You can also go Wild Dog tracking and have a chance of seeing elephant, white and black rhino and a variety of antelope species on the reserve.
Western Soutpansberg Mountains
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.
Buzzard Mountain Retreat
Buzzard Mountain Retreat was one of the first privately owned areas in the Soutpansberg to become known to the birding fraternity, and it is still one of the best known birding spots in this area. It is situated on the southern slopes and top of the mountain.
Habitat varies from Sweet Mixed Bushveld to afro-temperate mist-belt forest to afro-montane grasslands with proteas where Cape Rock Thrush, Cape Grassbird, Malachite Sunbird, and Gurney's Sugarbird are found. From the high cliffs, overlooking the mountains one get excellent views of a variety of raptors especially falcons. Look out for Lanner and Peregrine Falcon, Verreaux's Eagle and Jackal Buzzard.
Before descending from the cliffs keep a sharp eye out for the Cape Eagle-owls as they live on this rocky plateau. Walk along the trails through the forest below the cliffs and look out for Orange-winged Pytilia, Green Twinspot, Lemon Dove, Forest Buzzard and Aryer's Hawk-Eagle to name just a few.
The very affordable accommodation consists of fully equipped self-catering stone cottages and basic wooden cabins for camping. Day visits must be booked in advance.
Medike Mountain Reserve
Medike Mountain Reserve is nestled deep in the Sand River Gorge in the heart of the Soutpansberg Mountains. Marietjie and Hannes Underhay, the owners, have a deep love and a broad knowledge of the natural history of the Soutpansberg.
The best way to savour Medike's rich ecological diversity is on foot. More than 30 km of marked hiking trails meander through forested kloofs, rugged gorges, waterfalls, archaeological sites and mountain streams. The diversity of natural habitats (afro-temperate forest, woodlands, riverine forest, montane grassland and arid mountain bushveld) found on Medike affords a large variety of fauna and flora.
Nearly 200 bird species have been identified, including the Crested Guineafowl, Peregrine Falcon, Lanner Falcon, African Crowned Eagle, Eastern Nicator and the Narina Trogon. Other bird specials include the African Fish-eagle, Osprey, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Little Sparrow-hawk, Gabar Goshawk, Purple Crested and Knysna Turacos.
Accommodation is fully equipped self-catering, with the option of meals.
- Murango Boulder Cottage sleeps seven and is built into boulders on the banks of the Sand River.
- Dzhiawolala Pioneer Cottage sleeps seven and is a restored old trading post, dating from the 1930's.
- Masianoke Log Cabin sleeps four and is nestled in the mountainside with a wooden deck overlooking the cliffs of the Sand River Gorge.