Previously known as the Blue Swallow National Heritage Site, this IBA lies approximately 30 km south-west of Nelspruit and comprises gently undulating sour grassland. Narrow drainage lines dissect this grassland and it holds several ponds and small water-bodies. The IBA lies within the South African mist-belt, south of the village of Kaapsehoop. On average it receives more than 1 000 mm of rain per year. The vegetation is mainly grassland, with scrubby, forest-edge species in thickets along the rivers and in the valleys. Forests are restricted to mesic valleys. Other habitat types include rocky outcrops and open rock cliffs, which form part of the Mpumalanga escarpment. Exotic trees, primarily Acacia mearnsii, have invaded much of the remaining grassland.
This small site once held the largest Blue Swallow Hirundo atrocaerulea breeding population in Mpumalanga. All the nests were restricted to the primary grassland south of Kaapsehoop village. However, in 2012 only three birds were reported and no breeding activity was observed. Since then there have been only a few sightings of individual birds. There seems to be an abundance of suitable nest holes in the area and it is not known why the species has declined.
The site holds numerous restricted-range and biome-restricted species such as Bush Blackcap Lioptilus nigricapillus, Striped Flufftail Sarothrura affinis, Buff-streaked Chat Campicoloides bifasciata, Barratt's Warbler Bradypterus barratti, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler Phylloscopus ruficapilla, Olive Bush-Shrike Chlorophoneus olivaceus, Swee Waxbill Coccopygia melanotis, Forest Canary Crithagra scotops and Gurney's Sugarbird Promerops gurneyi.
Globally threatened species are Blue Swallow and Bush Blackcap. Regional threatened species include Striped Flufftail and Orange Ground Thrush Zoothera gurneyi.
Although none of these species are confirmed, the site may hold plaintive rain frog Breviceps verrucosus and the rare, localised and endemic Natal ghost frog Heleophryne natalensis, as well as striped harlequin snake Homoroselaps dorsalis, berg adder Bitis atropos, black-spotted dwarf gecko Lygodactylus nigropunctatus, spotted dwarf gecko L. ocellatus, giant legless skink Acontias plumbeus, montane dwarf burrowing skink Scelotes mirus, Sekukhune flat lizard Platysaurus orientalis and Swazi rock snake Lamprophis swazicus. Oribi Ourebia ourebi is known to occur in the grassland.
There are relatively few threats to this IBA. No new licences have been issued to extend the plantations surrounding it and access to the reserve area is well managed and controlled. Applications to mine nearby have lapsed and mining is no longer a threat to the IBA. The spread of exotic plants is an issue, despite efforts to control them. Reasons for the decline of the Blue Swallows are unclear, although air pollution is a possible contributing factor, as is an increase in mist that may be linked to climate change. Further research is needed to confirm whether these factors are responsible.
This IBA is a formally declared forest nature reserve (National Forests Act, 1998, Act No. 84 of 1998 as amended) and heritage site. The site is currently managed by DAFF, but there are plans to transfer the area to Komatiland as part of the current lease. When transferred, the area should still be managed as a nature reserve, with inputs from MTPA.
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