Southern Zululand, a premier forest birding route, is home to a great diversity of bird species. Starting on the warm coast of Zululand between Mtunzini, "place of shade," and Richards Bay, the route moves inland through estuarine swamp forest up to coastal scarp forest in the foothills of Eshowe.
Surrounding Eshowe are a number of forested regions where the endemic Green Barbet of Ngoye Forest is just one of many forest specials which inhabit this region. Further inland are the towns of Melmoth and Nkandla, which, although are in the mistbelt, drop sharply down to dry thornveld habitat providing a range of cliff faces where Lanner Falcons, Rock Kestrels and Bald Ibis breed annually. This area is also rich in Zulu history and culture. Along with the birding routes are self-guided hiking trails and many historical monuments. For the wildlife enthusiast, this region doesn't host the big five, but on foot, encounters with the diminutive Blue Duiker on the forest floor, and in the canopy, Samango and Vervet Monkeys sharing their meal with Delegorgue's Pigeons and Trumpeter Hornbills, are not uncommon.
This region, which includes swamp forest, dune forest, coastal scarp forest, and the mistbelt forests of Nkandla (at 1200m), are joined by a network of river valleys and rolling grasslands which make for some breathtaking scenery. Whether you're a birding enthusiast or simply enjoy the outdoors, the Southern Zululand birding route is a gold mine of diversity. There are deserted gold mines too, so whatever your quest, prospect here and you're bound to be rewarded! by Gareth Chittenden
We have divided the North-West Zululand Birding Route into five 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.
Eshowe is centrally positioned in an area surrounded by scarp forest and linked to other neighbouring forests by pockets of indigenous bush and grassland, which make it an excellent base for birding the Zululand forests.
Dlinza Forest, which is in the heart of Eshowe, hosts birds like the elusive Spotted Ground- Thrush which can be seen scratching for earthworms in the forest leaf litter, while above in the forest canopy Delegorgue's Pigeons can be heard throughout the summer months making their loud ascending then descending call. To the west of Eshowe at a higher elevation, is the Entumeni Nature Reserve, which has a forest superficially similar to Dlinza forest but hosting different birds like Yellow-streaked Bulbuls and African Broadbill which do not occur in Dlinza. A trail established by local cane growers meanders through farms and links the two reserves. This is the Prince Dabulamanzi Trail, named after one of the Zulu King Cetshwayo's great generals.
About 15 km north of Eshowe is Lake Phobane, nestled in a valley, which was once the heart of King Shaka's Kingdom. This is a unique birding area and because of the wide range of different habitats in close proximity, a great variety of bird species are to be found here.
Dlinza Forest Aerial Boardwalk
Unique in southern Africa, and exclusive to Eshowe, is the Dlinza Forest Aerial Boardwalk. Built of natural timber, the boardwalk takes you 125m through the forest just below the canopy, which is 10m above the forest floor. The boardwalk itself is wheelchair friendly up to the steel observation tower, which is 20m high and unfortunately inaccessible to wheelchairs.
Visit the forest and let the Aerial Boardwalk reveal for you the magical bird life, indigenous trees, busy insects and precious flowers. Take notice of the things like textures of bark, twisted vines, roots of strangler figs, Epiphytic Orchids and the odd bird's nest. The 20m high viewing platform, which emerges above the canopy of the trees offers a panoramic view toward the Indian Ocean, over the tops of magnificent Flat Crown, Giant Umzimbeet and Forest Iron plum, yet still smell sweet blossoms and watch butterflies sip nectar at close range.
The best time to visit is early morning when the bird calls echo across the valley. There are currently two marked trails in the forest, starting at the visitor centre, with a deviation to Bishop's Seat. Trees are labelled on both trails.
The IMPUNZI TRAIL in an easy 20 minute round trip from the Visitors Center and takes you past majestic Fluted Milkwood, Giant Umzimbeet and Wild Plum.
The UNKONKA TRAIL reaches deeper into to forest and is an easy 30 minute walk, joining the Impunzi Trail near its end. Along the way you will cross the headwaters of the Mpushini River, where you may see spoor of the Blue Duiker, or the green-banded swallowtail sipping from the pool. Weave under great gnarled stems of vines, while listening carefully for the Green Coucal or Chorister Robins as they search for food amongst the abundant fruits, flowers and insects of the forest.
The Dlinza Forest is home to more than 65 species of bird including the endangered Spotted Ground-Thrush , the rare Delegorgue's Pigeon, magnificent Purple-crested Lourie and Narina Trogon, to name but a few. African Crowned Eagles are frequently seen from the viewing platform as they soar high above the forest. Dlinza Forest is a popular birdwatching destination and is part of the Zululand Birding Route. In addition to the birds, there are over 80 species of butterfly and many more moths, the rare tiny Clifden's Centipede Snail (found only in here), millipedes, frogs and chameleons- in fact, a host of interesting animal life.
From Durban travel north on the N2 until the Dokodweni offramp, signposted Gingindlovu, Eshowe and Ulundi. The road number is R66. Pay your toll fee at Dokodweni and head up the R66 to Eshowe which is about 24 km from the toll gate. Ignore the first turning into Eshowe, and turn left into the second turning into Eshowe (this will be at the only set of traffic lights on the R66). If you are coming from the north from either Melmoth or Empangeni take the second right into Eshowe (yes, there are 3 entrances into Eshowe from the R66, excluding farms and small holdings).
The road you are now travelling on in a westerly direction is Kangella Road. After about 2 km you will pass the Eshowe High School (look out for Bald Ibis on the sports fields) on your left and just a little further on you will see the Dlinza Forest sign posts clearly showing you were to turn off.
The Boardwalk is open daily with the exception of Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. Visiting hours are:
- In Summer (1st of September to 30th of April) from 06h00 to 18h00.
- In Winter (1st of May to 31st of August) from 07h00 to 17h00.
Should potential visitors / birders wish to visit at times different from the above, please contact the Boardwalk Manager on +27 (0) 35 474 4029 or firstname.lastname@example.org and make the necessary arrangements.
Prince Dabulamanzi Trail
Situated in southern Zululand, near the town of Eshowe, are the beautiful indigenous forests around Entumeni. These forests consist almost entirely of coastal scarp forest with a few glades of grassland. Known for their birds, moths (home of the Miller's Tiger), butterflies and plants, the forests are also home to a number of mammal species.
Local farmers belonging to the Eshowe-Entumeni Conservancy have formed a partnership with KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife to manage the two reserves. This has now realized a long held dream of joining the two forests with a hiking trail, called "Prince Dabulamanzi Trail" named after one of the Zulu Princes who lived in the area during and before the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879. The trail starts in Dlinza, winds its way through beautiful forests and streams on the farms, into Entumeni Forest and ends up on Dreadnought Farm. In time, the trail will be extended to Mbongolwane Wetland, situated within the tribal lands of the Ntuli Clan, which are to the west of Eshowe.
Dreadnought Farm and Walking Trail
From Eshowe, take the Entumeni/Nkandla road and after 13.2 km turn left at the Entumeni Nature Reserve signpost. Travel a further 8.4 km and turn right onto the D397 road. Proceed for 4.4 km and you will pass Farm Watch sign 9.6 and the signboard "Mr L Gunter". Continue down a steep decline, cross the first stream and just after the second stream, turn right.
Park in the parking area. Listen for the African Crowned Eagle. On the walk, look for African Crested Flycatcher, Mountain Wagtail, African Black Duck, Grey Waxbill, Purple-crested Turaco, Black-bellied Starling, Dusky and Ashy Flycatchers. Scaly-throated Honeyguides are not uncommon. After you have walked past a clump of orange Clivia minitia (early spring flowering), keep a watch for African Finfoot, Half-collared Kingfisher, Green Malkoha, woodpeckers and bulbuls. The walk ends at a picturesque waterfall.
There is a variety of rustic accommodation and spectacular scenery on Dreadnought Farm.
Entumeni Forest Reserve
No permit is required. Situated west of Eshowe, drive through Eshowe along Kangella Street in the Nkandla direction. After 13.2 km turn left and continue for 3.5 km where you will find the entrance and picnic site on the right.
Established in 1970, this 750 ha reserve consists largely of a gorge covered by forest. A visit to this reserve is advised only for the fit as the two trails are both situated on steep terrain. There are no facilities other than a clearing in the forest with two picnic tables. The two trails begin at this clearing.
The uPiti Trail is a circular route and takes approximately 2 hours to complete. The Ukhozi Trail takes approximately 4 hours. The Ukhozi Trail covers some beautiful but strenuous terrain. The half-way is at a spectacular waterfall on the Ngoje stream. At this point the rare Mountain Wagtails are often observed along the stream.
Birds similar to those seen in Dlinza Forest may be found, but you might also see African Broadbill, African Olive Pigeon, Brown Scrub-robin, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler and Black Cuckoo. On the forest edge, look for Drakensberg Prinia, Lazy and Croaking Cisticolas and Southern Tchagra. Listen for Shelley's Francolin. Two pairs of African Crowned Eagles are regularly seen and heard flying over the forest.
As with the Dlinza Forest, both blue duiker and bushbuck occur in the forest. The grasslands in the reserve are home to a herd of zebra. This forest has a particularly high and impressive canopy provided by trees such as the Giant Umzimbeet, Wild Plum and Flatcrowns. Those in turn provide shade for the numerous colonies of plants such as Cycads and Clivias on the forest floor. A rare moth, the Miller's Tiger, which was thought to be extinct, was recently discovered in the grasslands of the Entumeni Forest.
Lake Phobane is conveniently situated about 15km north of Eshowe. Lake Phobane (previously known as Goedertrouw Dam) is the second biggest dam in KwaZulu Natal and is fed by seven rivers of which four flow all year round. The dam is set in the Umhlatuze Valley with Mabelebele Mountains offering a spectacular backdrop for this beautiful dam. The habitats along the dam vary from dry acacia scrub to tall mixed woodland, riverine forest patches and mountainous areas with cliffs up to 100m high dropping into the water
The first area worth mentioning is the access road and parking area. Keep an eye open around the very dry looking areas along the road especially around the areas with a lot of Dichrostachys-type thickets for Long-Tailed Paradise Whydah in the summer together with its host the Green-winged Pytilia, which can be seen all year round. When crossing the dam wall look along the grass bank on the right, Rufous-naped Larks, Zitting Cisticolas, Rock Martins, White-rumped and Little Swifts are often seen. In the summer months Blue-cheeked Bee-Eaters also frequent the dam wall. At the parking area keep an eye open for Gorgeous and Grey-headed Bush-Shrikes as well as Southern Boubou, Common Scimitarbill, Brown-crowned Tchagra and White-browed Scrub-Robin, all of which can be found easily virtually anywhere along the dam. The areas of mixed woodland and acacia veld along the dam edges often produce birds such as Yellow-breasted Apalis, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Cardinal Woodpecker, Red-billed Firefinch, White-bellied Sunbird, White-crested Helmet-Shrikes and Kurrichane Thrush. Keep a special eye open for White-throated Robin-Chat and in the summer months Striped Cuckoo are recorded regularly. Also seen flitting from the thickets on the shores to drink in the early morning are Grey Waxbills.
The riverine forests here have a lot of weeping Boer-Bean Trees (Schotia brachypetla). When these are in flower in the early spring the bright red flowers literally drip with nectar (hence the name) and it is certainly worthwhile just sitting and waiting for the birds which seem unable to resist the flowers and insects that have also been attracted to the tree. Overhanging trees where the rivers feed the dam normally have a variety of weavers breeding in the summer. Village and Lesser Masked Weavers are the most common while Spectacled and Masked Weavers pop up fairly regularly. Also seen around weaver colonies waiting to take advantage of unguarded nests are Klaas's Cuckoo, Diderik Cuckoo and African Harrier-Hawk. Other raptors to look out for are Black Sparrowhawk and African Goshawk. Martial Eagle and African Hawk Eagle have also been recorded.
The cliff faces that drop into the dam are home to Southern Bald Ibis which breed here in the late winter months. Lanner Falcons (breeding), Peregrine Falcon and White-necked Raven also frequent the cliffs. The cliffs and any other rocky areas along the shore are great for Mocking Cliff-Chat and Striped Pipit. Look in the gaps and overhangs on the cliffs for roosting, and if you are lucky, breeding Barn Owls.
The dam itself must be one of the best places around to see White-backed Night-Herons, (there are currently five known breeding pairs of this elusive bird on the dam). Goliath Herons and Green-backed Herons are common and both species also breed here. Seven species of kingfisher can be seen here. Of the aquatic kingfishers, Giant, Pied and Malachite Kingfishers are all common and the spectacular but elusive Half-collared Kingfishers are best found in the rocky areas where streams flow into the dam. These areas are also good for African Black Duck. African Fish Eagles are easily found and Osprey are recorded at least a few times during the late summer months. Wire-tailed and White-throated Swallows can be seen anywhere along the dam.
From Eshowe head towards Melmoth/Ulundi on the R66. About 10km out of Eshowe is a dirt road to your left (signposted Goedertrouw Dam and Shakaland). Follow this road (suitable for a sedan car) for 7km and cross the dam wall to find the secure parking area on the northern shore.
Birder Friendly Establishments in this area:
At the gateway to the Zulu highlands lies the picturesque town of Melmoth. Founded in 1888 as a "gold rush" town on a portion of the farm Golden Reef owned by Reinhold Ortlepp, it was named after Sir Melmoth Osborn, the resident commissioner of Zululand at that time. The town is situated 800m above sea level with an unsurpassed climate. The area offers good forest, riverine, thornveld and grassland birding with a species count of 295.
For birders, numerous grassland and riverine birds can be seen, including Grassbird, Short-tailed Pipit, White-backed Night Heron, Shelley's Francolin, Black Stork , Half-collared Kingfisher, Southern Bald Ibis, Buff-streaked Chat, Blue Crane, Yellow- and Orange-throated Longclaws, Streaky- headed Canary, Violet-backed Starling, Southern Ground Hornbill, Mountain Wagtail, African Finfoot, Green Sandpiper, African Black Duck, Lanner Falcon, African Hawk-Eagle and numerous other raptors. Southern Bald Ibis, Black Storks and Southern Ground Hornbills all breed on the property.
Proceed along the R66 in the Eshowe direction for approximately six kilometres and turn left onto the D256 road. Continue along this gravel road for nine kilometres, then turn left into Weni Farm.
Please note that Permission is required from Bertus or Caroline De Waal before visiting Weni farm Tel: + 27 (35) 450 2314
SAPPI - Mooiplaas
Mooiplaas consists of nine farms that were bought from private farmers and exchanged with companies in the late 1970's and early 1980's. The plantation is subdivided into 5 blocks, namely A - E. The total area of the plantation covers 10 980 hectares, of which 6 500 ha are planted to eucalyptus, wattle and pine. The remaining 4 480 ha consists of the 1 140 ha natural heritage site in block C, the 1 200 ha site of conservation significance in block D, and the remainder under valley bushveld. A total of 298 birds have been seen on Mooiplaas. Amongst these, are the following: Verreaux's Eagle, African Crowned Eagle, Southern Bald Ibis, Southern Ground Hornbill, Swee Waxbill and other bushveld and grassveld birds.
The Mooiplaas offices are in block A which is next to the tar road running from Melmoth to Babanango. From Melmoth, take the Babanango turn-off, approximately 4 km past Melmoth. On the Babanango road continue for 20 km and the offices will be found on the left hand side.
Sites of conservation significance at Mooiplaas are: Stan Hope Gold Mine, Verreaux's Eagle's nest, Nomisila Wetland, Mhlatuze Waterfall and Hillside. There is also a Natural Heritage site on Mooiplaas, 1100 ha in extent.
Tel/Fax: +27 (0)35 450 2782
This well established cattle and timber farm has been in the Calverley family for four generations. It straddles the high and low veld providing access to grassland and thornveld birding. The farm has a panoramic view of Emakhosini, the "Valley of the Kings", stretching from Babanango in the west to Ulundi in the East! Grassland and thornveld birds can be seen here, including Yellow and Orange-throated Longclaws, Violet-backed Starling, Groundscraper Thrush, various weavers, Secretarybird, Southern Ground-Hornbill, Crowned Eagle and numerous others.
From Melmoth travel north on the R66 towards Vryheid for 20 kms and turn left at the "Ntonjaneni Lodge" sign. Continue for two kms and turn right onto a gravel road marked "Kataza". Proceed for six kms, turn right at the "Wintershoek Farm" sign, follow the farm road for about 2 km to the main house at farm number 22.
There is a B&B on the farm with various other B&Bs in the area and the Lodge at Ntonjaneni.
Other points of interest
The farm is within easy access of the Battlefields Route, Itala, Ophathe and Umfolozi Game Reserves, Ulundi, Eshowe and other attractions.
Gavon and Sandi Calverley
Tel/Fax: +27 (0)35 450 7042
This beautiful forest is run by KZN Wildlife, and no permit is required to visit it. Nkandla forest is situated about 30km south-west of Qudeni Forest, as the crow flies, and about 56km north-west of the town of Eshowe and 68km from Melmoth. The Nkandla Forest comprises 1600ha of climax mistbelt forest and is one of the most outstanding examples in South Africa. The forest covers the crown and south-western slopes of the ridge, which lie above the Umhlathuze and Thukela rivers at a height of between 1100 and 1300 m above sea level. Streams rising in the forest form deep gorges leading into the Nsuze River (500m), which runs southeast along the base of the ridge. It is strongly recommended that you take a guide with you, as some paths are inconspicuous.
Throughout Zulu history the Nkandla forest has been a place of mystery, the home of supernatural beings, and a formidable stronghold and place of retreat. The Chube are the ironworkers associated with the Nkandla area and Shaka never conquered them. It has always been the last retreat of the Zulu from Shaka's time to that of Bhambatha. Apart from being an area of great, often pristine, natural beauty, the Nkandla Forest represents a rare relict type of high wet rain forest, of which very few examples survive. They are relics of times in the distant past when the climate was wetter, and even colder. The forest has exceptionally high species diversity with many species that are associated with scarp forest occurring. This indicates that Nkandla may be positioned in a transitional zone between mist and scarp forest. The many rare plants, and the rarity of the habitat type as a whole, are in themselves sufficient reasons for conserving this rare forest type.
The Nkandla forest area is home to some 147 species. Species more typical of cooler forests include Knysna Turaco, Orange Ground Thrush, White-starred Robin, Bush Blackcap, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Grey Cuckoo-Shrike and Forest Canary. These birds are present throughout the forest, although the thrush is best seen along "Thrush Alley" Birds more typical of warmer forests include Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon (often seen along the main road), Purple-crested Turaco, Red-capped Robin-Chat and Grey Sunbird.
Other forest specials that can be seen include Olive Bush Shrike, Collared and Olive Sunbirds, Swee Waxbill, Emerald and Black Cuckoos, African Crowned Eagle, Black Sparrowhawk, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Chorister Robin-Chat, Trumpeter Hornbill and Dark-backed Weaver. The open grassland patches above the forest are not as productive as those above Qudeni or Ngome Forests, but Buff-streaked Chat, Wing-snapping and Wailing Cisticolas, Common Quail and Broad-tailed Warbler can be seen.
Directions from Melmoth or Vryheid:
At the Melmoth Total garage on the R66/R34 through town, zero your trip meter. Proceed north on the R66/R34 to Vryheid/Ulundi. At 4.5km turn left onto the R68 signposted Babanango and Nkandla.
Some features to note along the way:
At 17km you will see on the left a gravel road to KwaMagwaza Mission Hospital at 26.5km a gravel road to your right going to Mtonjaneni the Babanango turn off is at 28.3km on your right at 32km you will pass a signpost for Fort Prospect the bridge over the Umhlathuze is at 40km.
After 50km you will reach the Nkandla/Vryheid T-junction. Turn left and proceed into the village of Nkandla.
Look out for the "No-entry" sign on your right at about 69km. Proceed down to the grassland and park there.
Directions from Empangeni, Gingindlovu or Eshowe:
From the R66 traveling up from Gingindlovu or Empangeni, turn west at the traffic lights into Kangela Street (which takes you into the town of Eshowe). The traffic lights on the R66 are about 70km from Empangeni or 26km north of Gingindlovu.
Proceed down Kangella Street and at the Dlinza Forest turn-off on your left, zero your trip meter. Continue west towards Entumeni (still Kangela Street).
- At 10.4km you will see the Entumeni Forest Reserve turn-off on your left.
- At 24.7km take the right-hand fork in the road to Nkandla.
- At 27km the tar road ends and the gravel road starts.
- At 38.5km there is a left hand turn-off to Kranskop. PROCEED STRAIGHT.
- At 55.6km you arrive at the turn-off to the Nkandla Forest Reserve offices, on your left.
- "Thrush Alley" pathway is at 57.7km, 150m after the "Nkandla 20km" sign on the right hand side of the road. (north)
- At 59.3km you will see a "No Entry" sign on the left. Turn in here and park your vehicle in the grassland at the end of the road.
Shy forest mammals present include Bushbuck, Samango Monkey, Bushpig, Blue Duiker and Leopard.
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.
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 is 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 "in the shade", is a coastal town with large open spaces/ parks and avenues of indigenous trees lining the streets of the Town. These, together with indigenous bush links create corridors, which allow for the movement of wildlife between the natural bush located within the agricultural lands, town and Umlalazi Reserve. The abundance of indigenous trees provides an excellent food source for birds. This allows for excellent birding opportunities within the town itself. The town situated on a hill overlooking the coastline, has pristine dune forest and an estuary lined with mangrove swamp forest.
The main birding areas in and around the town are:
- Town Environs
- Siyaya Area
- Umlalazi Nature Reserve
From Durban take the N2 Toll Road North. Mtunzini is approximately 132 km from Durban. At the Mtunzini Toll Plaza take the left-hand Toll Gate. Having exited the Toll Gate, glide off left onto the Mtunzini off-ramp. At the top of the off-ramp turn right and another 700 meters further will bring you to the entrance to the town of Mtunzini.
From Empangeni & Richards Bay take the N2 Toll Road South towards Durban. After joining the N2, travel for approximately 30 km and then turn left at the Mtunzini off-ramp. N.B. This is prior to the Mtunzini Main Toll Plaza (Do not pass through the Main Toll Plaza). Pass through the Toll Gate and then at the top of the off-ramp turn left. 500 meters further on will bring you to the entrance to the Town of Mtunzini.
From Eshowe take the R66 towards Gingindlovu, after approximately 22km, turn left on the R102 towards Mtunzini, continue for approximately another 18.5 km until you see the BP Road Island Service Station. At this point turn right and continue for another 1.6 km to the entrance to the town of Mtunzini (This road crosses over the top of the N2 Toll Road).
The following are the approximate Distances from Mtunzini:
- Durban 132km
- Empangeni 32km
- Eshowe 42km
- Gingindlovu 20km
- Hluhluwe 95km
- Mkuze 195km
Close proximity to many other destinations makes Mtunzini an ideal base for your Birding Holiday as well as visits to the various game reserves in Zululand.
The name Mtunzini is derived from the Zulu word Emthunzini meaning "at the umthunzi (milkwood) tree" or "in the shade of the umthunzi tree". The form mthunzini means "in the shade" of any tree. In the case of the town of Mtunzini it refers specifically to John Dunn's Indaba Tree, a large milkwood (Mimusops caffra, Tree no. 583).
John Dunn, regarded as the founder of Mtunzini, was born in 1834, the third son among six children. He lived a nomadic life as a hunting guide and transport rider until 1854, when he became assistant to the British Border Agent at Nonoti, Lower Tugela. After the civil war between two Zulu factions in 1856, Dunn got to know Cetshwayo, one of the sons of the Zulu King Mpande, and resigned his post to become Cetshwayo's diplomatic adviser. In return he received 10 oxen and an extensive stretch of land over which he was a headman.
Dunn's land was roughly the present magisterial district of Mtunzini. He established his authority over it by dividing it into areas, each under the control of a favourite induna or headman. He had married Catherine Pierce, but also married a further 49 Zulu women, as was the custom of his adoptive people. This was a way of ensuring strong political and economic bonds between clans. After the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879 the British appointed Dunn as one of 13 chiefs to rule the defeated Zulu Kingdom. As Chief he was responsible, with advice from his izinduna, for settling disputes and imposing sentences on transgressors. Dunn died on 5 August 1895 after a short illness, and as there was no successor, a power vacuum existed in the area. On 1 October 1895 a temporary magistrate's post was created at Mtunzini. This date represents the "official" birth of the town and it therefore celebrated its centenary in 1995.
At present the town of Mtunzini is home to approximately 600 families who enjoy the natural beauty of this popular coastal town. The climate is sub-tropical with an average annual rainfall of over 1000mm, with most rain falling in the summer months. Summers are hot (17 - 40 C) and can be rather humid. Winters are cool with the temperature seldom falling below 17 C.
Mtunzini's firm policy of focusing on the natural beauty of the area and promoting conservation is what makes it so special. The town was declared a Conservancy in November 1995 and in 1999 received a Conservation Award from the KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Services in recognition of its outstanding commitment and contribution to preserving the natural environment of KwaZulu-Natal. It was also awarded a Green Trust award, in the Corporate division during the same year. The Mtunzini Conservation Committee, formerly known as the Arboretum Committee has since 1996 undertaken and conducted an extensive and highly successful, Exotic Alien Invasive Weed eradication programme. It was recognised that birds would be deprived of an extensive food source during this programme and therefore a rehabilitation programme was undertaken. To date thousands of trees have been replanted. A striking feature within this programme was the development of a Fig Forest. The first trees were planted on Arbor Day 1997. To date some 120 Fig trees have been planted. These comprise 20 of the 23 Fig species found in South Africa. No other forest dedicated entirely to Figs is known of and it promises to grow into a unique and special attraction.
A network of trails has been established through the natural bush to offer residents and visitors the opportunity to experience the natural attractions of the area. One may be fortunate enough to encounter some wild animals on these trails. Bushbuck, bushpig, red, blue and grey duiker, otters and water mongoose - all are resident in Mtunzini's natural bush and in the Umlalazi Reserve. The area, with its diverse vegetation, is a birders' paradise. Swamp and coastal dune forest, estuarine mud flats, mangroves and open grassland provide the different habitats for over 300 recorded species, the best known being the Palmnut Vulture, now almost synonymous with Mtunzini. It is South Africa's rarest breeding bird of prey, found only here and at Kosi Bay.
The Twinstreams Indigenous Nursery & WESSA Educational Centre is located on what was the farm "Twinstreams", currently owned by Mondi Forests. The farm was previously owned by, and home to Dr Ian Garland, a world renowned conservationist, who developed these projects and was responsible for inspiring many of us on the path of conservation and tree planting. He was responsible for the rehabilitation of many wetland areas and the establishment of natural bush on sections of his original farm. A very good example is that around the homestead, around "MicksPark" and many of the valleys in and around the farm and more recently, the wetland areas of Mondi Forests. Part of the original farm is now under the control of KZN Wildlife.
Umlalazi Nature Reserve, controlled by KZN Wildlife, covers 1028 hectares on the seaward side of town and is open to the public between 05h00 and 22h00. The long stretch of unspoilt beach is ideal for swimming, surfing and angling but, being a dolphin-friendly area, no shark nets are in place. All water sports can be enjoyed at the lagoon and there are ample picnic facilities along the river banks. You will probably see the resident herd of zebra that graze here.
The Umlalazi Reserve and the Amatikulu Reserve (also under the control of KZN Wildlife) together form the Siyayi Coastal Park, which stretches from the Umlalazi River in the north, in a narrow band along the coast southwards almost to the Thukela (Tugela) River.
Other recreational activities catered for in Mtunzini include golf, tennis and squash at the Country Club, bowling at the Bowling Club and riding at the Pony Club. All clubs, including the Ski Boat Club, offer special short-term membership for visitors.
by Mike Butler
Ongoye Forest Reserve
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. 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
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).
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. 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.
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. Follow this road for 4.5km and turn right onto D1554. Continue on this road to just past the Manzamnyama School on your left (after 5Km's)turn right onto a small track The gate into the forest is 3Km's further on with the camp on your left
The road is well signposted but badly potholed in some areas. Although the camp is accessible by sedan, a high clearance vehicle is advised.
The Ongoye Forest Birders Camp is the joint project between a wide group of stakeholders including The Mzimela Tribal Authority, Uthungulu District Municipality, BirdLife South Africa, The SAPPI WWF Tree Routes Partnership, The Mtunzini Conservancy and Umalazi Municipality. The area is undoubtedly one of the provinces most precious bio diversity areas – this project is intended to make a positive difference to the long term conservation of this asset and directly involve the forests neighbouring communities, the Mzimela Tribal Authority in the area's management.
Ongoye Forest Reserve is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA)(SA065). For more information see: http://birdlife.org.za/conservation/important-bird-areas/iba-directory/item/206-sa065-ongoye-forest-reserve
- 3 bedrooms, each with twin beds. 1 x bathroom with bath, shower and toilet. Linen and towels are provided.
- Gas stove and fridge, cutlery and crockery all provided for up to 6 people. (camping for extra people is allowed by prior arrangement) The camp is NOT electrified but gas is provided for the stove and geyser, and paraffin lamps for lighting. Cell phone coverage is limited. Open plan lounge, dining room and kitchen. Outside veranda and braai area.
- 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.
This is a dam located on private property at which some 85 bird species have so far been recorded. Visitors should be cautioned that there are several crocodiles present in this dam and that visits here are entirely at one's own risk. At the top end of Theunissen's dam, look for Great Painted Snipe, which is a "special" here. Also to be seen here are Black- crowned Night Heron (scan the forested slope on the western side of the dam for them), Goliath Heron, Squacco Herons, Black Crake, African Jacana, Dabchick and all the white Egrets, Spurwing and Egyptian Geese, Wire-tailed and Lesser-striped Swallows, Martins Whitewinged Terns, Hottentot Teals, White-faced Ducks, Wood Sandpipers and Fish Eagles Duck.
In the shorter damp sugarcane fields around the dam - Redwinged Pratincoles along with of Grey and Kittlitz's Plovers can be seen in summer as well as Woolly-necked Storks, Common Quail, Black-backed Cisticolas and Fan-tailed Widowbirds. At the far end of the dam there is a breeding colony of White-breasted Cormorants. Near the spillway, Water Thick-knee, African Fish Eagle, Waders and Crowned Crane may be seen. Some 85 species have been recorded here so far.
From Mtunzini take the N2 South towards Durban for 18 km. After bridge No 8, turn left, following the Gingindlovu, Eshowe, Ulundi signs. At the bottom of the glide off, turn right and continue for 4.7 km along the R 66. Pass under the Eskom powerlines over the main road and turn right at the "Highrain Farm, Craig Theunissen" signboard.
The alternative route from Mtunzini is to head out of town, crossing over the N2 and continuing down the road until you meet the R102 at the BP Road Island Service station (which is on the right hand side). Turn left and continue for 18.5 km at which point you meet the R 66. Turn left (turning right here will take you to Eshowe) and continue for 2.2 km, passing the Fairbreeze / Gingindlovu intersection. This time the "Highrain Farm, Craig Theunissen" sign will be on the left.
From Durban take the N2 North. After crossing the Tugela River the bridges will be numbered. After bridge No 9 and 23.5 km from the Tugela River, turn left following the Gingindlovu, Eshowe, Ulundi signs. At the bottom of the glide off, turn left and continue along this road, being the R 66 and follow the same directions as are mentioned for those from Mtunzini, via the N2.
Having turned into the entrance over the cattle grid, continue along the farm road for another 500 meters. At this point there will be a small dam on the left hand side. Look for African Yellow and Thick-billed Weavers, Red Bishop and Dabchick. Directly after this dam turn left between the dam and the sugar cane. This will bring you to the main dam after some 500 meters.
Permission to visit this dam should be obtained from Craig Theunissen prior to your visit.
Tel: +27 (0)35 337 1504
Mobile: +27 (0)83 452 3299
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.
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, Rufous-naped Lark and Plain-backed 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, Red-throated Wryneck and other woodland birds in the wooded clumps scattered about the grassland.
After 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 White-fronted 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 Orange-breasted 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 Scaly-throated Honeyguide. This is also a good area for Green Malkoha.
White-browed Robin, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Yellow-throated 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. Black-bellied Korhaan has been recorded in winter and Red-billed Oxpeckers have been seen on the giraffe and zebra. The occasional thickets attract a few different birds like Scarlet-chested, Amethyst and Purple-banded Sunbirds, Long-billed Crombecs and African Firefinches. White-browed Robin-Chat 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).
The 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, African (Purple) Swamphen and Common Moorhen. Low water levels expose the shoreline, making it more preferable for waders like Wood Sandpiper and African Jacana. Little Grebe, 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 Malkoha 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, African Cuckoo Hawk and Jackal Buzzard, have been recorded, they are surprisingly scarce - aside from African Fish Eagle, Black Sparrowhawk or Yellow-billed Kite, the bird one is most likely to see soaring high on thermals is Woolly-necked 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 Eastern Nicator, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, African Emerald Cuckoo and Tambourine and Lemon Doves along with Green Malkoha, 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.
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 Black-throated Wattle-eye and Pygmy Kingfisher. Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans are sometimes present on the sandbanks in middle of the river, as are waders such as Sanderling, Greenshank and Common 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, Purple-banded 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.
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 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: +27 (0)33 845 1000 or www.kznwildlife.com
4. Richards Bay
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 - (link here to projects Richard Bay avitourism). 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.
Richards Bay is often overlooked by tourists heading up the coast to the big Zululand Reserves such as Mkhuze and Hluhluwe. Understandable as most people have a image of huge mines and industry when thinking about Richards Bay. This is not totally inaccurate, but tucked away within and around all this industry is some of the best birding to be had in Zululand Over 350 species occur in the immediate Richards Bay area, 73% of South Africa's red data book species and 24 National Rarities have been recorded from here. Within Richards Bay is Thulasihleka Pan, probably the most reliable Lesser Jacanas in South Africa as well as enough variety of waterbirds to keep you busy for most of the morning, we are currently negotiating to erect a new hide on the pan and will keep birders informed of developments. The southern Sanctuary, (Important Bird Area SA079) and Harbour area has also long been a hotspot for rarities in South Africa such as Crab Plover and Broadbilled Sandpiper. According to Dave Allen from the Natural History Museum in Durban, this is some of the best waterbirding in Southern Africa ! Access to the harbour and Sanctuary area has up till now however always been a problem for birders coming from outside the region but now access and bird guides can be organized through the Zululand Birding Route. Less than an hour's drive from Richard's Bay is South Africa's most exciting Forest Birding - Ongoye Forest with its Green Barbet, Delegorges Pigeons, Green Twinspots, Green Coucals, Yellowstreaked Bulbuls as well as its host of endemic plants.
Then there is Dlinza Forest and the Aerial Boardwalk, Spotted Thrush country of note! Nseleni Nature Reserve is also a beautiful little reserve where boat trips can be arranged to see Whitebacked Night Neron and African Finfoot. Mtunzini is also only a short drive away and hosts Palmnut Vulture and in winter months Mangrove Kingfisher as well as many coastal forest species. Lake Pobane (Goedetrou Dam) between Richards Bay and Eshowe is an excellent haunt for Whitebacked Night Herons, African Finfoot, Halfcollared Kingfisher and good bushveld birds such as Gorgeous Bush Shrike. Up towards Melmoth in summer are the Short Tailed Pipit stakeouts as well as many upcountry specials and fantastic scenery. Then if you want, a short drive north takes you to the St Lucia wetlands, the big game of Hluhluwe Umfolozi, and the red hot birding of Mkhuze. In addition to all this Richards Bay and surrounding towns have fantastic selection of accommodation, from log cabins and camping sites in the dune forest to comfortable B&B's and Hotels as well as excellent restaurants and shopping facilities. If you are in the area and need information on birding anywhere in Zululand, please feel free to pop in. We are on the R 34 (main road between Empangeni and Richards Bay) at the Crocodile Sanctuary - look for the Birding Info signs – or contact us.
Mzingazi / Sharks Board Area
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.
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 Malkoha, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Narina Trogon, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Dark-backed Weaver, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, African Paradise and Grey Tit-flycatcher being regularly seen. 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 (Dark-capped Bulbul, Sombre Greenbul, Yellow-bellied Greenbul and Terrestrial Brownbul) and the rarer Eastern (Yellow-spotted) Nicator are also evident at the Sharks Board.
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.
Richard's Bay Harbour
The commercial part of the harbour, as distinct from the Southern Sanctuary, has several important bird areas. Those currently accessible to the general public include the Bay Hall, Pelican Island and "Cassurinas" area. The area attracts waders and terns but in much lower numbers than the past probably due to more intensive recreational use. The North Breakwaters provide limited capability for seabird watching but are not as good as the, currently inaccessible, South Breakwater. Of the areas currently open to the public the Cassuarinas / Sand Flats are the most productive.
The Breakwaters produce regular sightings of seabirds such as White-chinned Petrel, Subantarctic Skua; Parasitic Jaegeras well as the odd Albatross (Atlantic Yellow-nosed or Black-browed) and Sooty Shearwater. In winter Cape Gannets and Cape Cormorant can also be seen. At the Cassuarinas/Sand Flats the Brown Noddy was identified a few years ago and the spot is good for most of the marine terns including Sandwich, Lesser Crested and Little. Curlew is also recorded regularly, and, in the past, the area regularly produced Broadbilled Sandpiper and Redshank. The latter two have not been seen for several years in the area but do turn up regularly in the Southern Sanctuary.
Of the areas under direct Portnet control (i.e. permit needed) pride of place goes to the Sand Spit which attracts large number of waders and terns with regular rarities turning up. Access to this area is only by boat and requires special permission, over and above a harbour entry permit. Adjacent to the sand spit are the sand / mud flats to the north of the harbour berm wall. We have referred to this area as the Berm Mangroves / Sand Flats. At low water the area attracts large number of shorebirds. The Sand Spit is a prime spot for Crab Plover in summer, the bird almost guaranteed. Access is only via boat, please contact the Birding Route for more information. Regulars are the marine terns with a record of White-cheeked Tern in the early 1990's and Greater and Lesser (Mongolian) Sandplovers usually available for comparison.
Within the Portnet controlled area there are two shallow, reed-lined pans, which attract substantial numbers of breeding birds. The T-Junction Pan lies close to the east harbour gate adjacent to the SAFCOL timber operation and, though it is in a seriously disrupted area, is still very attractive to water birds such as White-backed Duck, African Pygmy Goose, Lesser Jacana and most of the herons and egrets. Southern Brown-throated Weavers and Black-crowned Night-Herons nest here. The second pan known currently as the New Mouth Pan is dealt with in the Southern Sanctuary write up.
To access the "Cassurinas" area – coming from Empangeni / N2 direction. Turn Right at Medway/ Harbour Coast. After 0.9 km's turn left towards Tuzi Gazi Waterfront. After 1.4 KM's turn right onto a small dirt road, croos railway and continue for about 4km's. Follow road through area of cassurina trees to sandflats.
To access Bay Hall and Pelican island – Turn Right off the R34 just before Meer En See towards Tuzi Gazi. Follow this road and turn right at the signpost "Pelican Island"
This 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 term to improve access to the area. Please contact the Zululand Birding Route for updated information
Recently Rarities such as Broad-bill Sandpiper, Redshank, Pacific Golden Plover and Eurasian 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.
Richards Bay Game Reserve is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA)(SA07). For more information see: http://birdlife.org.za/conservation/important-bird-areas/iba-directory/item/220-sa079-richards-bay-game-reserve
Access to the harbor is with a guide only – contact us for details.
Thulasihleka 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. Thulasihleka 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, viewpoints and facilities available at the pan for birders. The variety and numbers of waterbirds at Thulasihleka is breathtaking.
Many Red Data species are present and probably breed notably Goliath Heron, Squacco Heron, Lesser Jacana, and Little Bittern. The 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, African 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, African Purple Swamphen, Osprey and the whole host of reed dwelling warblers. Weavers are also well represented here with a chance of seeing Yellow, Southern Brown-throated and Thick-billed Weavers. Rarities such as Baillons Crake, Spotted Crake, Redshank, Western Marsh Harrier and Eurasian Bittern occasionally turn up.
From the R34 John Ross Highway turn right (if coming from Empangeni direction) into Medway road (opposite ZBR office) Follow this road for approximately 1 km till the harbour gate and turn right on a small dirt road along the harbour fence. Follow this road along the pan's edge till the parking area.
Thulasihleka Pan has long been earmarked for industrial development, but in 2004 the Umhlathuze Municipality realized the potential conservation and tourism value of the pan and handed the management of the area to BirdLife Zululand as part of the municipalities adopt a spot programme. Funds for the construction of hides, the pans office, clearing of weeds, signage and other developments have come from Umhlathuze Municipality, Central Timer Corporation as well as Richards Bay Minerals and Rio Tinto PLC.
Enseleni 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. 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 Ground Thrush, Chorister Robin-Chat, White-starred Robin, Cape Robin-Chat and Brown Scrub Robin. Black-throated Wattle-eye and Grey Tit-flycatcher are seen throughout the year with Green Malkoha and Scaly-throated Honeyguide resident in the same patches of forest. Southern Banded Snake-Eagle and Pale-crowned Cisticola have been recorded.
The reserve is situated 11 km north of Empangeni on the N2 freeway. The entrance gate is on the western side of the road.
Empangeni - Grass for Africa and Dekker's 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.
Grass For Africa
The best way to bird is on foot. Large numbers of African Pipits are always around (both pale and dark forms), Fan-tailed Widowbird, Kittlitz's Plover, Yellow Throated Longclaw, Crowned, Wattled and Blacksmith Lapwings are all common here.
In summer 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, Southern Bald Ibis and Magpie Mannikin.
From the bridge on the eastern edge of the pan is the best area to scan the open waters, look out for African Pygmy Goose, African (Purple) Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Black Egret, as well as the whole range of aquatic Kingfishers. The roadbeds are also home to Sedge and Lesser Swamp Warbler, also keep an eye out here for Rufous-winged 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.
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.
Permission is required before visiting the grass for Africa farm, please contact us prior to visiting.