uMkhuze Route

 

The Mkhuze (Mkuzi or Mkuze) area is a place of great beauty and high contrasts. World-renowned as a mecca for birdwatching (more than 400 bird species have been recorded here) the junction of the moderate and tropical climate zones creates a habitat suitable for an extraordinary variety of plants and animals. The Mkhuze area is renowned for a variety of localised birds including Pink-throated Twinspot, Eastern Nicators, Pels Fishing Owls and Neergaard's Sunbird.

 
The Mkhuze route also offers visitors a wide choice of accommodation with many private game farms and lodges in the area. The roads are all in a decent condition and can be negotiated with a sedan. Another drawcard for the Mkhuze area is its close proximity to the other large Zululand reserves. Also home to black and white rhino, elephant, giraffe, hippo and crocodile, this area is predominantly flat and dry, with sandy red ridges which are ancient dunes. An astonishing diversity of natural habitats occur here, ranging from the eastern slopes of the Lebombo mountain range to the broad stretches of gently rolling acacia savannah, swamps and a variety of woodlands, sand forest and riverine forest. Mkhuze is also renowned for its seasonal and permanent pans with their attendant hippo, crocodiles and abundant birdlife.
 
The Birding spots along the Mkhuze Route Include Mkhuze Game Reserve, Leopard Mountain Game Lodge and Lebombo Game Reserve. Phinda is renowned for the game (Big Five) and bird viewing opportunities. With a bird list exceeding 300, who would argue?
 

Lebombo Mountain Reserve

This relatively unknown reserve lies between the impressive Lebombo Mountains and the Mkhuze River and covers a variety of habitats including riverine bush, thornveld, grassland and cliffs. The reserve is administered by KZN Wildlife, and was proclaimed in the 1980's to protect the many rare plants that grow around the mountain. The reserve lies from 90m to 595m above sea level, and stretches to the top of the Lebombo Mountains.
 
DIRECTIONS
Traveling from Durban or Johannesburg, drive the N2 highway and take the Mkhuze turn-off (about 60km south of Pongola and 50km north of the Hluhluwe turn-off). Drive through the village till the T-junction. Here one turns right to Mkhuze Game Reserve, but turn left to Ubombo. Travel past Ghost Mountain Inn and turn right about 3km later (after crossing the Mkhuze River Bridge). Continue up this dirt road for about 7km. The reserve turn-off is situated on the right hand side of the road, and is displayed by a large wall with the name on it.
 
ACCOMMODATION
There is a rustic chalet in the reserve, sleeping 4. There are many lodges and hotels in the village of Mkhuze.
 
BIRDING SPECIALS
On entering the gate, you travel past and then through a grove of Fever Trees that adjoin the Mkhuze River. Scan this area for Pink-throated Twinspot, Purple-banded, Scarlet-chested and Collared Sunbirds, Rudd's and Yellow-breasted Apalis, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Southern Black Tit, Southern Boubou, Long-billed Crombec, Pygmy Kingfisher, Grey Tit and Ashy Flycatchers, Forest and Spectacled Weavers and Emerald-spotted Dove. Listen for White-throated and White-browed Robin-Chats calling from the thickets.
 
Other riverine specials include Goliath and Green-backed Herons, Woolly-necked Stork and Intermediate and Little Egrets.
 
The broad-leaved woodland on the slopes of the mountain is good for Blue Waxbill, Violet-backed Starling, Grey-headed Bush Shrike, Brown-crowned and Southern Tchagras, Crowned Hornbill, Kurrichane Thrush, Black-headed Oriole, Purple-crested Turaco, Lilac-breasted Roller, Little and White-fronted Bee-eaters, Emerald-spotted Dove, Cardinal and Golden-tailed Woodpeckers, Green Pigeon and Red-fronted Tinkerbird.
 
Mkuze River at the Lebombo Range - Duncan McKenzieRaptors can often be seen circling around the cliffs, and these include Martial Eagle, African Fish Eagle, Bateleur, Lappet-faced Vulture and African White-backed Vulture.
 
This reserve is under-birded and many more specials could be found. Watch this space!!!
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
Antelope such as Burchell's Zebra, Blue Wildebeest, Impala and Nyala are present. The reserve protects a number of rare plants, including the Lebombo Cycad. There is a 4x4 track as well.
 

Leopard Mountain Game Reserve

 
Leopard Mountain Game Reserve, winner of the 'Game and Nature Reserves' category in the AA Accommodation Awards 2001, is a 3500 ha natural heritage site of pristine bushveld, centrally situated in Maputaland between the Hluhluwe and Mkhuze Game Reserves. Their position puts them in the middle of South Africa's birding hotspot and within one hour of all the major Maputaland attractions including Sodwana Bay, Lake Sibaya and Ndumo Game Reserve. Within this area over 472 bird species have been recorded which makes Leopard Mountain one of the top birding spots in the country. Leopard Mountain has a diverse variety of habitats including the following: riverine forest, montane, grassland, dense thickets, broadleaf woodland, acacia bushveld. Added to this 16km of the Umsunduze River runs through the center of the reserve.
 
DIRECTIONS
From the N2 north bound, approximately 34 km after Hluhluwe, take the road D464 - sign posted "Leopard Mountain Game Lodge". Follow the sign posts for 13 kms of dirt road - suitable for sedan type cars. Leopard Mountain is approximately 3 hours drive from Durban international airport, 1 hour from Richards Bay, and approximately 6 hours from Johannesburg.
 
ACCOMMODATION
Accommodation is luxurious and affordable. Being an award winning lodge in the AA Accommodation Awards 2001, Leopard Mountain truly lives up to luxurious living in the wild with seven stone and thatch chalets nestled on the cliff top. Each chalet is strategically placed to offer privacy and outstanding views of the distant Lebombo mountain range. Each chalet has its own private deck and hammock, twin double beds, lounging area, fully stocked bar fridge and coffee facilities, bathroom en suite (with an equally magnificent view). Family rooms have additional bunk beds. Leopard Mountain also offers self-catering facilities.
 
SPECIALS FOR THE AREA
Leopard Mountain has a number of habitats to attract a vast number of bird species. Start looking out for interesting species as you drive through Zululand on your way to the Lodge. Bateleurs are often spotted doing aerial displays in the skies above the grasslands on the left-hand side of the D464 (the road leading to the Lodge).
 
The telephone line to the Lodge is a favorite perching place for European and Lilac-breasted Rollers. Keep an eye out for the Broad-billed Rollers around October.
 
Once through the gate, between the 'fieldstaff' sign and the Lodge there is a waterhole just off the road where in the morning and afternoon a number of Purple-Crested Turacos and Grey Go-away-birds congregate with Emerald-spotted Wood-Doves. Eastern Nicators, Green-winged Pytilla, Jameson's Firefinch and Yellow-throated Longclaws fly to and from this waterpoint all day long.
 
In the lawn around the parking lot at the Lodge you will see Striped Pipits mingling with Bronze Mannikins and Yellow-fronted Canaries.
 
From the moment you arrive you will be aware that the staff at Leopard Mountain are themselves very keen birders. The indigenous plants in the gardens around the Lodge and luxury chalets have specifically been chosen to attract sunbirds, canaries, firefinches, waxbills, bulbuls and others. Each chalet has its own birdbath, and bird feeders are dotted around the garden attracting Natal Francolin, Crested Francolin, Blackheaded Orioles, White-crested Helmet-Shrikes and a variety of other bushveld birds right to your private verandah.
 
The Lodge is situated on a clifftop overlooking the Umsunduze River and vast bushveld plains. The thermals from the rockface in front of the Lodge are ideal for viewing Wahlberg's, Crowned and Martial Eagles, Black Stork and various vultures and goshawks, herons, Striped Kingfishers and a number of Cuckoos. The steep rock cliffs on the river edge also attract a variety of birds.
 

Mkhuze Game Reserve

Mkhuze Game Reserve was proclaimed in 1912 and covers some 40 000 ha. This reserve rates as one of South Africa's favourite birding destinations and is one of Zululand's top 3 birding spots. Mkhuze also boasts one of South Africa's highest checklists for a protected area with over 400 species being recorded here. The main reason for this is the diversity of habitats included in the protected area. These include pans, swamps, acacia thornveld, sand forest, riverine forest and open woodland. There are even mountainous areas with cliffs as well as open grassland in places.
 
DIRECTIONS
From Hluhluwe town, take the N2 north. Signposted approximately 50km's north, is the town of Mkhuze. Follow the road through town to the T-junction, (avoiding the left hand fork to the business centre). Here take a right turn and follow the fairly good gravel road, (suitable for sedan cars), for about 10km. Look out for the signboard which indicates the left turn leading into Mkhuze Game Reserve. If coming from the north, Mkhuze village is about 60km from Phongola Town.
 
New Entrance Gate to Mkhuze Game Reserve
 
A new bridge and all-weather road is now linking the Sodwana Bay and Mkhuze sections of the Isimangaliso Wetland Park Wetland Park. The Ophansi Bridge, built over the Mkhuze River,  provides an eastern access to Mkhuze for the first time. This new route allows visitors to the Wetland Park to enjoy diving activities, birding and canoeing on the Muzi Pan, which is situated between Sodwana Bay and Mkhuze, and excellent game viewing - all within a 70 kilometer radius.
 
The D820 access road on which the bridge is built, can be reached via the Lubombo Road which connects Hluhluwe with Sodwana Bay and Kosi Bay further to the north. The traveling time from Sodwana Bay to the new entrance is a comfortable 40 minutes.
 
Previously Mkhuze only had one entrance on its western border near the town of Mkhuze, making it virtually impossible to visit Sodwana Bay and this section of the Wetland Park in one day. The new bridge now makes a quality beach and bush experience possible, and also gives an opportunity for members of the kwaJobe community, who live on the eastern border of Mkhuze, to develop and benefit directly from tourism opportunities.
 
Over the last few years, a number of significant infrastructure upgrades to Mkhuze have enhanced its appeal to visitors. These developments have included the upgrading of roads and game viewing hides, as well as the introduction of 140 buffalos, two packs of wild dogs and most recently two male and two female cheetah.
Local Bird Guides can meet birders at the new gate to explore the lower Mkhuze and Muzi Pans areas. 
 
ACCOMMODATION
Accommodation in Mkhuze Game Reserve is mainly situated at Mantuma Camp (about 10km's from gate) and consists of very comfortable self-catering chalets, rest husts and safari camps. There is also a campsite at the entrance gate. In Mkhuze Village and surrounding areas there are a variety of private lodges, including Ghost Mountain Inn and Leopard Mountain Game Lodge. Both of thelatter establishments are in fairly close proximity to the reserve, and offer birder-orientated tours into Mkhuze. Leopard Mountain Game Lodge also offers birding tours on its own premises (see Leopard Mountain birding spot).
 
SPECIALS FOR THE AREA
Birding in Mkhuze is excellent all year round, but is boosted in summer by migrant birds such as Broadbilled Rollers, Emerald Cuckoos and Woodland Kingfishers.
 
The camp site near the entrance of the reserve is good for Jameson's Firefinch, Green-winged Pytilia, Marico Sunbird and Black Stork is often seen flying overhead. African Wood-Owl can often be heard at night. The road between the campsite and the main camp can produce Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill, Stierling's Wren-Warbler, Striped Kingfisher, Brown-crowned Tchagra and Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike. The skies at the picnic site near the Kwamalibali hide should be scanned for Bateleur and Lappet-faced Vulture.
 
The Sand Forest around Kubube and Kumasinga hides is the best place to find Pink-throated Twinspot, African Broadbill, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, African Barred Owlet and Yellow-bellied Greenbul. If you are lucky you might also spot a Redbilled Helmetshrike. In late winter and early spring, flowers ofthe Weeping Boer Bean tree (Schotia brachypetla) act as powerful magnets to Neergard's, Purple-banded, Collared, Eastern Olive, Grey, Scarlet-chested and White-bellied Sunbirds. Purple-crested Turaco, White-crested Helmet-Shrike, Woolly-necked Stork, Comb Duck, Lesser Moorhen, Dwarf Bittern, Stierling's Wren-Warbler, Red-backed Mannikin, Grey Waxbill and Crested Guineafowl can all be recorded from the two hides, which must rate as some of the best in the country. The grassy verges along 'waterholes' at these hides are renowned for harbouring Dwarf Bittern and Greater Painted Snipe in the wetter summer months.
 
Mantuma camp is a great place to observe Bearded Robin at close quarters, as well as Grey Tit-Flycatcher, Lesser Masked-Weaver, Collared Sunbird and in summer, Violet-backed Starling. A small hide next to a waterhole in the camp can provide close-up views of birds, including Purple-crested Turaco. The Riverview Walk, (which leaves from opposite the camp office), offers a good opportunity to look out for Pinkthroated Twinspots and Grey Waxbills, especially in the early mornings and evenings. Yellowspotted Nicator frequently haunts the tangles around the safari camp.
 
The Loop Road area consists of open thornveld, and the birder could see Burnt-necked Eremomela, Grey Penduline Tit, Bushveld Pipit, Flappet Lark, Grey Go-away Bird, Brownheaded Parrot and a number of raptors including Tawny, Steppe and Lesser Spotted Eagles. The raptors are especially prominent after heavy rains when they prey on emerging termite alates (flying ants).
 
Nsumo Pan is a wonderland for waterbirds, an extensive wetland fed by the Mkhuze and Umsunduze Rivers. This pan is home to South Africa's only breeding colony of Pink-backed Pelicans. Yellow-billed Stork, African Spoonbill and various egret species also breed in the fever trees (Acacia xanthophloea) on the southern side of the pan. Interesting birds found around the picnic spot at the pan include Red-capped and White-browed Robin-Chat, Green-capped Eremomela, Woodland Kingfisher, African Broadbill and Tambourine Dove. Waterbird numbers are dependant on the water level of the pan. In early spring when fairly dry, many waders are present. In late summer when fairly full, many duck and geese are present, (Spurwing Geese and Whitefaced Ducks often occurring in very big flocks). Goliath Heron, Openbilled Stork, Pygmy Goose and Lesser Jacana are also found at the pan.
 
The Fig Forest, situated adjacent to the pan, is a magical, enchanting place filled with birds, but do enquire about accessibility before going there. Species to be found in this forest include Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Narina Trogon, Broad-billed Roller, Green Malkoha, Southern-banded Snake Eagle, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Black-bellied Starling, Green Twinspot.... the list just goes on and on. Trumpeter Hornbills are constantly calling in the forest, their eerie wails echoing amongst the tall trees and Pels Fishing Owl is resident, but not often seen.
 
The thornveld around the airstrip is famous as the region's "hot spot" for Olive-tree Warbler, but other species to look out for include Senegal Lapwing, African Pipit, Icterine Warbler, Lizard Buzzard and Desert Cisticola.
The area around Ediza Pan is also great for birds, especially in summer. Greater Painted-snipe, Pygmy Goose, African Hawk-Eagle, Dwarf Bittern, Allen's Gallinule, White-browed Robin-Chat, Squacco Heron and Green-backed Heron are all recorded around the pan and the small dam next to the road just north of Ediza.
 
Rudd's Apalis is seen all over the reserve.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
Mkhuze Game Reserve boasts a very healthy population of white and black rhino. Hippopotami and crocodiles are very prolific around Nsumo and Ediza Pans. A variety of antelope species including nyala and impala are abundant, however mammals such as elephant, leopard, suni and hyaena are less commonly seen.
Situated just east of KuMahala hide is a sacred burial ground of the Jobe Clan whose members have lived in the region for hundreds of years. Close by is a cultural village where members of the community make and sell their handcrafts.
Mkhuze also has large areas of the now rare Sand Forest, a habitat that is noted for it's dark leafed, wide spreading sherbet tree (Dialium schlechteri), and the red-heart tree (Hymenocardia ulmoides) which creates a lovely sight in autumn with its pink, winged seeds

Phinda Game Reserve

Phinda Resource Reserve is a private game reserve of about 14 000ha. It borders Mkhuze Game Reserve on the west and the Greater St.Lucia Wetland Park on the east. The main attraction is the diversity of seven distinct ecosystems within the reserve that provide ample opportunity for great birding and also prime big game viewing. Game drives and walks turn up much more than birds with lion, leopard, elephant, cheetah, rhino and fantastic flowers, butterflies and frogs to be seen. Over 350 bird species have been recorded on the reserve.
 
SPECIALS
Special birds to be seen are Southern Banded Snake Eagle, African Finfoot, Whitebacked Night Heron, Narina Trogon, Rudd’s Apalis, Yellowspotted Nicator, African Broadbill, Green Twinspot, Pinkthroated Twinspot, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Lemonbreasted Canary, Redwinged Pratincole, Gorgeous Bush Shrike, and Cuckoo Hawk. Rarities are Pel’s Fishing Owl, Palmnut Vulture, Natal Nightjar, Black Coucal and Dwarf Bittern.
 
HABITATS
The south is dominated by Acacia savanna and punctuated by well-wooded drainage lines and seasonal pans. There is a stretch of rocky hillside, which is the southern-most tip of the Ubombo mountain range. The Mzinene, Mhlosinga and Munywana rivers all run a course through the south of Phinda. Two are seasonal and the Mzinene is perennial. A floodplain and stands of fever trees make up the rest of the south.
 
Ilala palm savanna, broadleaved woodland and the Mziki Marsh are features of the north. The highlight here is over a 1000ha of Sand Forest. (This contains the largest private stand of mature forest).
 
FACILITIES
Being a private reserve, all drives and walks are guided for guests staying at any of the four lodges. There is no public access. Day trips (either evening or morning drives) are available on request at the individual lodges, but are limited if the lodges are busy. Accommodation in the south is at Mountain Lodge (20 rooms) and Rock Lodge (6 rooms). In the north it is at Forest Lodge (16 rooms) and Vlei Lodge (6 rooms). The game drives can access any part of the reserve. Small motorised boats or canoes can be used to experience the splendour of the Mzinene River. Game drives are 3-4 hours long in the morning and again in the evening. Morning walks usually go from the lodge at around 11am. There is a small rustic bird hide in the sand forest at Forest Lodge where guests can sit during the day. There are plans afoot to construct unobtrusive, small hides at each lodge as well as one at a more remote setting at a pan amongst termitaria thickets in the south.
 
BIRDING
The general birding is good and it is easy to spot 50-80 birds on a drive. Many of the special birds are common, but others require a bit of searching. Some of the forest areas are really dense, but there are large open areas interspersed throughout the whole reserve. 24hr birding trips in November can produce over 200 species, up to 230. this is including a few small areas adjacent to the reserve. Monthly totals recorded are in excess of 200.
 
1. River cruise/canoe trip on Mzinene River
 
There are tall reedbeds, good overhanging vegetation and also sections with mature fig and fever trees. There are lots of weeping boer-beans on the banks, which provides for good late winter/spring birding. More time can be spent on the river in winter as the heat is less oppressive than in summer. Resident, breeding Whitebacked Night Herons are a highlight. There are possibly two pairs, one of which last nested right out in the open. Good viewing of Purple Heron, Little Bittern, breeding Goliath Heron, Squacco Heron and Blackcrowned Night Heron can be had, especially in the evenings at the large heronries in the reedbeds. Pel’s Fishing Owl can be seen in dry years when the smaller rivers in the area dry up. African Finfoot is a regular and must be looked for near the overhanging vegetation. Weavers, including Brownthroated are abundant and visible breeders in the spring and summer months. Large flocks of Redbilled Queleas roost in the reedbeds and are sometimes accompanied by a fair number of Redheaded Queleas. The vast lily pad areas provide excellent viewing of breeding African Jacanas, Black Crakes and Purple Gallinules. African Fish Eagle and Wahlberg’s Eagle breed in trees right next to the river. The river is also good for other raptors like Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Cuckoo Hawk, Longcrested Eagle and Osprey (usually year round). The close up viewing of Malachite Kingfishers on this river is awesome too. Birds which make odd appearances are Caspian Terns, Halfcollared Kingfishers and Flamingos in the shallow pans adjacent to the river. Grey and Purplebanded Sunbirds are regular. Crocodiles are common, hippos less so and other game like elephant can also be spotted.
 
2. Drive/walk on Inkwazi Floodplain
 
The floodplain is most productive after good rains in summer. Black Coucals possibly breed here and African Crakes are common. Redchested Flufftails and African Rails are resident, but elusive in the taller reeds. This is also the best area for Broadtailed Warbler, Blackbacked and Redfaced Cisticolas. In times of flooding, White Pelicans flock here. African Marsh Harriers patrol regularly. In summer, Redwinged Pratincoles and Bluecheeked Bee-eaters are common. It is also good for swallows like Greyrumped, Redbreasted and Wiretailed as well as Banded and Sand Martins. Raptor viewing is generally very good due to the updraft against the ridge around the floodplain. Good savanna birds like Pinkthroated Twinspot are common in the woodland right on the edge of the floodplain.
 
3. Drive around/walk Ntabankosi Mountain
 
This is the only place to see Mocking Chats and Striped Pipit and is also good for raptors and swifts. Stierling’s Barred Warbler occurs on sparse gravely sections of the mountain, but care must be taken not to confuse the call with the Neddicky which is common. The drainage lines have Narina Trogon and in summer Emerald and other cuckoos are found. Pinkthroated Twinspots and Yellowspotted Nicators are common throughout. Where the mountain steeps down to the Mhlosinga River, Crowned Eagles nest successfully every year in an open sycamore fig. Check the candelabra trees here for Brown Snake Eagle. Greater and Scalythroated Honeyguides are found at many perches throughout. Bateleur and Wahlberg’s Eagle nest on the mountain. In winter the flowering Mountain Aloes are brilliant for sunbirds, weavers and Blackheaded Oriole. Rock Buntings have been seen in recent months and Lemonbreasted Canaries are found at the foothill near Main Gate.
 
4. General game drive through the South
 
The habitat is variable which can make for excellent birding. There are two small patches of Sand forest where most of the typical specials occur. African Broadbill is one and can also be heard calling in some of the taller drainage lines near Mvubu Dam. Rudd’s Apalis, Black Cuckooshrikes and Grey Penduline Tits are common in bird parties, especially in winter. This also a good time for viewing the many flycatcher species. The endemic Fiscal Flycatcher and the Dusky both visit Phinda more in the winter months. Drainage lines and the Munywana River which is enclosed by riverine forest are excellent habitat for Eastern Bearded Robin, Gorgeous Bush Shrike, African Broadbill, Green Coucal, Narina Trogon, Trumpeter Hornbill, Green Pigeon, Crested Guinea-fowl and White-eared Barbets. Wood Owls are also fairly common and can be seen on night drives. Night drives can also produce Bronzewinged Courser, Scops, Barn or Spotted Eagle Owls and also Fierynecked and in summer European Nightjars. Barred Owl is regularly heard in the riverine forest near the Mzinene River, but rarely seen. In summer, flocks of up to 15 Broadbilled Rollers can be seen at all times of the day in the dead trees between all the main dams. This is also the favourite haunt of the Osprey. In the pans and depressions, African Crake, Dwarf Bittern, Lesser Moorhen and Lesser Gallinule can be found and the dams must be checked carefully for Green Sandpiper. Pygmy Geese and Whitefaced Duck are to be found at Ximongwe Dam. In the open grassland, Corncrake, Black Coucal, Kurrichane Buttonquail, Croaking Cisticola and Blackbellied Korhaan are evident. In the late summer, the thicket/tangles areas are good for Willow, Icterine and Garden Warblers. In the dry season, Eastern White Pelicans and Ethiopian Snipe are regularly seen at Mvubu Dam. Palmnut Vultures are seen anywhere, anytime of year and kills should be checked carefully for them as they tend to sit to the side quietly waiting for the Whitebacked and Lappetfaced Vultures to finish. Bird parties in the Acacia thornveld must be checked for Twinspots, Grey Waxbills, Yellowbellied and Burntnecked Eremomelas, Melba Finches, Redbilled, Bluebilled and Jameson’s Firefinches.
 
5. Drive/walk through Ilala Palmveld
 
This area is also interspersed with termitaria thickets and drainage lines, so lots can be found. Birds to look for are Lemonbreasted Canary, which breed in the palms, Flappet Lark and Blackbellied Korhaan. Raptors most frequently seen are Blackshouldered Kite, Blackbreasted Snake Eagle and Martial Eagle. Shelley’s Francolin is heard more often than seen. Wattled and Lesser Blackwinged Plovers are especially common after fires.
 
6. Walk in mature Sand Forest to small hide
 
African Broadbills are common in the tall mature stands and the patient observer can watch them display. Their calls are heard distinctly from the rooms in the Forest and Vlei lodges early in the morning. Narina Trogon is common and in spring/early summer as many as six have been seen calling in the same place. Bluemantled Flycatchers and Forest Weavers abound. The small birdbath at the hide is a constant attraction to both Pinkthroated and Green Twinspots. Nyala, Red Duiker, Suni and Tonga Red Squirrel are mammals to be seen at the hide too. Yellowbellied and Terrestrial Bulbuls, Yellowspotted Nicators and Tambourine Doves are regular and constantly alert to the dashing African Goshawks and Little Sparrowhawks. Listen carefully for the sunbirds. Neergaard’s is common. The best time to view them is when the weeping boer-beans are flowering in late winter and spring. Up to six species can easily be seen in the same tree. These are Scarletchested, Collared, Whitebellied, Grey, Purplebanded and Neergaard’s. In the clearings in the forest, Grey Waxbills, Stierling’s Barred Warbler, Black and Grey Cuckooshrikes and flycatchers abound. Look and listen around Nobonobo for Southern Banded Snake Eagle. At night, Wood Owls are the most vocal, but Barred and Giant Eagle Owls are also around. Crowned Eagles nest in a massive torchwood in the forest and Crowned Hornbills nest in the older trees too.
 
7. Drive around the northern clearings and Mziki Marsh
 
Lesser Blackwinged Plovers breed here after the winter fires. Charcoal Clearings has Bearded Woodpecker, nesting Wahlberg’s Eagles and is also good for seeing all three Snake Eagle species. The pans in the area support breeding jacanas, breeding Whitebacked Duck and occasionally Pygmy Geese and Saddlebilled Stork. Pinkbacked Pelicans also visit these pans. Mziki Marsh is good for African Marsh Harrier, Black Coucal, Dwarf Bittern and Redwinged Pratincoles, especially after heavy rains. Eastern Redfooted Kestrels flock here in summer. Sunset is a good time here as Fierynecked, Mozambique and Natal Nightjars are easily located by their distinctive calls. Barn, Marsh and Whitefaced Owls are to be found at night in the marsh or woodland of the far north.
 
GENERAL
Phinda is well sign-posted as part of Southern Maputaland from the N2 about 10km north of Hluhluwe. This is the best access to Mountain and Rock Lodges. Access to Forest and Vlei Lodges is best off the tar road on the False Bay side, by following the Sodwana Bay signposts from Hluhluwe.
 
Afternoon game drives meet at 4pm in summer and at 3:30pm in winter. Rates and bookings for day trips are available on request at the lodges themselves. Accommodation enquiries can be done at central reservations. Guests should specify birding as a priority when booking so that the lodges can receive that information ahead of time.
 

Lower Mkhuze

Lower Mkhuze is a wetland floodplain system situated down-stream of Mkhuze Game Reserve, and includes Muzi Swamps (see Sodwana Bay Route). The area is controlled by KZN Wildlife, and forms part of the iSimangaliso Wetlands Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Mkhuze River crosses the main Hluhluwe- Sodwana road and heads into the Yengweni and Muzi Swamps area and ultimately filters into the northern end of Lake St. Lucia. Riverine forest (with leaning towards Fever Trees and Sycomore Figs), acacia thornveld and grassy wetlands typify the habitats and it is one of the few places where one regularly views Brown-headed Parrot and to a lesser extent – the elusive Pels Fishing Owl in the region. The combination of habitats makes for excellent birding throughout the year.
 
The area is predominantly flat, dry and grassy in winter but is transformed in summer to flooded grassland with lush forest. Groves of Fever Trees flank the wetland. This spot write-up covers the area to the south west of the Mkhuze River bridge.
 
DIRECTIONS
To the bridge:
From the N2 highway, take the Hluhluwe off-ramp 50km north of Mtubatuba. Turn right back over the freeway and drive into town. Take a left turn at the T-junction, proceed for about 2km, and then take a right hand turn to False Bay. Proceed up the R22 tar road for about 50km, taking care over the frequent speed control bumps. The bridge is not sign-posted, but the riverine forest will make it quite visible. Stop just before or after the bridge and walk back onto it.
To the wetland and thornveld:
Turn left onto a gravel road just before the bridge and follow this road for about 1km. The wetland lies either side of the road, and is flanked by fever trees.
 
ACCOMMODATION
There is no accommodation available, but there are a number of private lodges in the area. Please consult the “Accommodation” pages for more details.
 
BIRDING SPECIALS
Lower Mkhuze is one of the most underrated birding spots in Zululand and has been avoided by most birders due to the misconception that it is inaccessible. One can reach all the spots with a sedan car and there are a number of trained bird guides available to assist in finding the specials.
Lower Mkhuze Bridge
 
Stop just before or after the bridge, well off the road, and walk back onto it. This area can produce African Finfoot, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Brown-headed Parrot, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, White-eared Barbet, African Emerald Cuckoo, Trumpeter Hornbill, African Green Pigeon, Mountain Wagtail, Eastern Nicator, Gorgeous Bush Shrike and Grey Waxbill.
Lower Mkhuze Wetland and Thornveld
 
Park anywhere along the gravel road that runs through the wetland, or at the KZN Wildlife Office a short distance further on and to the right of the road. Black Coucal display from low perches and can be seen alongside Burchell’s Coucal. Their “pop-pop” call can be heard in the early morning and late afternoon. Other grassland associated specials include Grey-rumped Swallow, Blue-cheecked Bee-eater, Lemon-breasted Canary and Yellow-throated Longclaw.
 
Rudd’s Apalis, Pink-throated Twinspot, Purple-banded Sunbird, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Little Bee-eater and a host of warblers can be found in the surrounding thornveld.
 
The riverine forest along the Mkhuze River is home to the elusive Pel’s Fishing Owl. This area is unfortunately out of bounds to the general public due to the fact that it is in a proclaimed reserve, access is restricted. Contact the Zululand Birding Route at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to obtain a local guide to enter the forest to search for the owl.
 
OTHER POINTS OF INTEREST
Some mammals that can be observed in the area include Burchell’s Zebra, Impala, Blue Wildebeest and Nyala.