Tongaland Route


Tongaland is the name of the north-eastern corner of Zululand, some of the best birding and includes areas such as Kosi Bay and Ndumo Game Reserve, some of the most diverse bird watching areas of KwaZulu-Natal. Flanked by the Lebombo Mountains on the west, the Indian Ocean on the east and the Mozambique border in the north. Most of the region is drained by the Phongolo and Mkhuze Rivers

The Phongolo floodplain runs from Jozini to the confluence with the Usutu River , and is dominated by pans, Lala palm savannah and bush clumps. Riverine forest lines some pans and streams. Coastal dune forest hugs the Indian Ocean, and numerous pans and lakes are scattered along the coast.
Tongaland is situated on the southern end of the sub-tropical coastal plain of the east coast of Africa, and therefore provides habitat for many species not found anywhere else in South Africa. Tropical stragglers, both marine and inland, are found every year, and include specials such as Crab Plover, Plain-backed Sunbird, Rosy-throated Longclaw and Livingstone's Turaco.
Ndumo and Tembe are world renowned birding destinations and are among the better places to view the shy Sand Forest specials such as Pink-throated Twinspot, African Broadbill, Neergard's Sunbird and Rudd's Apalis. Tembe is the only place in South Africa where Plain-backed Sunbird is seen regularly. Waterbirds such as Pygmy Goose and Lesser Jacana abound in the floodplain pans. Kosi Bay, and the road to there, is an off-the-beaten-track spot with lots to offer. Mangroves, lala palm savannah, coastal dune forest and wetlands are the major habitats here, and birds such as Pel's Fishing Owl, Lemon-breasted Canary, Rosy-throated Longclaw and Black-throated Wattle-eye can be viewed.

Ndumo Game Reserve

Ndumo Game Reserve is situated on the banks of the Phongola and Usutu rivers and lies adjacent to Mozambique on the northern coastal plain. Despite it's relatively small size (about 9000 ha), Ndumo Game Reserve is one of the most attractive reserves in southern Africa.
Although there are no big herds of game to be seen, the fever tree and fig tree woodland, the many large pans and amazing birdlife well make up for this. Ndumo is arguably one of South Africa's most productive birding areas with well over 400 species being recored here and several of them being at the southernmost limit of their ranges.
From Mkhuze follow the N2 northwards towards Candover and after approximately 10km's turn right to Jozini. Drive through Jozini and follow the signposts to Ndumo. The last 14km stretch of road is quite rough. From Jozini, Ndumo camp is about 80km's.
There are seven small fully equipped cottages at Ndumo camp as well as upmarket private camps in the area.
Entering the main gate, the road to the left takes one through Sand Forest and a small wetland. Look out for Pink-throated Twinspot, Rudd's Apalis, Lizard Buzzard and Neergard's Sunbird. The wetland can turn up Black Coucal in summer, especially in the area just outside the fence. Proceeding with this road, the habitat changes to become more open woodland. Species to look out for here are Flappet Lark, Lilac-breasted Roller, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Jameson's Firefinch, Grey Hornbill, White-faced Owl, Grey Go-away-bird, Bearded Woodpecker and Green-winged Pytilia.
The thick Mahemane Bush can produce Crested Guineafowl, Pink-throated Twinspot, Gorgeous Bush Shrike, Eastern Bearded Scrub-Robin, Eastern Nicator and Barred Owl.
The road to the main camp passes through tall, thick woodland and can produce Grey-headed Kingfisher, Eurasian Golden Oriole, Retz's Helmet-Shrike, Stierling's Wren-Warbler and African Pygmy-Kingfisher. Striped Kingfishers are common, as well as Golden-breasted Bunting and Crowned Hornbill.
The camp itself can be very productive. The bird bath attracts a wide variety of species and an hour of observation can be well rewarded. Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Red-backed Mannikin, Bearded Scrub-Robin, Purple-banded Sunbird and Yellow-bellied Greenbul can all be seen here. Neergard's Sunbird can sometimes be seen around flowering trees.
A guided walk to the Phongola River also passes through patches of Sand Forest, grasslands and riverine forest. African Broadbill, Broad-billed Roller, Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, Lemon-breasted Canary, Brown-headed Parrot and Eastern Nicator can be seen on the way to the river. Along the river, look out for Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Narina Trogon, Dark-backed Weaver, Collared Sunbird, Green Malkoha, Black-throated Wattle-eye and the elusive duo; Pel's Fishing Owl and African Finfoot. White-browed Robin-Chats are often seen near the pumphouse.
Nyamithi Pan is the centre of Ndumo's attraction. Highly seasonal, the pan attracts numbers of specials including Great White and Pink-backed Pelican, Woolly-necked, Saddle-billed, African Openbill and Yellow-billed Stork, Greater and Lesser Flamingo, Lesser Jacana, Black Heron, Fulvous Duck, Pygmy Goose, Water Thick-knee, Comb Duck, Goliath Heron and, in summer, Sooty Falcon, Collared Pratincole and Blue-cheecked Bee-eater. Waders are well represented in summer, look out for Green Sandpiper, Kittlitz's Plover and Pied Avocet.
Banzi Pan, which lies just north of Nyamithi Pan, holds impressive numbers of Pygmy Goose (up to 600) and White-faced Duck (>1000). Whiskered and White-winged Terns, Lesser Jacana, African Openbill and Spurwinged Goose are all regularly recorded.
Check all small pans and wetlands for elusive marsh species such as Dwarf Bittern, Rufous-bellied Heron, African and Baillon's Crake, Allen's Gallinule, Lesser Moorhen and Greater Painted-snipe.
Raptors are common, with at least 40 species recorded. Bateleur, Lesser Spotted, Steppe, Martial, African Crowned, African Hawk and Wahlberg's Eagle, African Goshawk, Eurasian Hobby, Bat Hawk and Osprey are some of the specials found in Ndumo.
Other interesting species found throughout the reserve in suitable habitat include White-eared Barbet, Golden-rumped Tinkerbird, Purple-crested Turaco, Tambourine Dove, Grey Cuckooshrike, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Woodward's Batis, White-browed and Red-capped Robin-Chat, African Yellow White-eye, Grey Sunbird, Green Twinspot and Red-headed Weaver.
Ndumo also has a reputation of producing South African rarities. Exciting species that have been recorded include Long-toed Lapwing, African Skimmer, Chestnut-fronted Helmet-Shrike, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Eastern Saw-wing and Ayres' Hawk-Eagle.
A number of game species occur in Ndumo, including Black and White Rhino, Giraffe, Leopard, Suni Antelope, Nyala and Red Duiker. The pan holds Hippo and some of the largest crocodiles in South Africa. Ndumo is also famed for its plant species.

Tembe Elephant Park

Tembe Elephant Park, under the custodianship of KZN Wildlife, is situated within Tongaland, in the extreme northern part of Zululand. Tembe borders on Mozambique in the north, and is named after one of the late local Tonga tribal leaders. The reserve is 30 000ha in size, and was proclaimed in 1983 to protect the elephants, sand forest and suni antelope.
Tembe protects a number of habitats, including sand forest, open and closed woodland, grassland, swamps and pan-edge. Over 350 species have been recorded, including many South East Africa endemics, wetland and sand forest specials as well as occasional vagrants from the more tropical areas north of Zululand.
From the N2 highway linking Durban to Pongola, travel up to the Jozini/ Ndumo/ Kosi bay turn-off (situated 50km south of Pongola). Drive up through the village of Jozini, and over the Jozini Dam Wall. Continue with this tar road for about 76km, following the signs to Kosi Bay and Manguzi. The park's turn-off is situated on the left had side of the road, and is signposted. The roads in the reserve are very sandy, and a 4x4 vehicle is recommended.
Tembe Elephant Lodge is the only private concession holder to offer accommodation in the reserve.
Tembe is probably most famous for being the only locality in South Africa where one has a reasonable chance of seeing Plain-backed (Blue-throated) Sunbird. These small birds are found in sand forest patches in the Gowanini section of the park where they feed on flowering mistletoes.
All the usual sand forest specials such as Neergard's Sunbird, African Broadbill, Pink-throated Twinspot and eastern Nicator occur. Other specials in the sand forest include Narina Trogon, Woodward's Batis, Gorgeous Bush Shrike and Crested Guineafowl.
The many small, seasonal wetlands (of which Muzi Pan is the largest) may hold Rufous-bellied Heron, Little Bittern, Saddle-billed, Woolly-necked and Yellow-billed Stork, African and European Marsh Harriers, Osprey, African Crake, Lesser Jacana, Collared Pratincole, Southern Brown-throated Weaver and Red-headed Quelea.
The grasslands should be checked for exciting birds such as Lemon-breasted Canary, Senegal Plover, Black-bellied Bustard and Rosy-throated Longclaw.
Tall woodland species to look out for include Yellow White-eye, Grey Cuckooshrike, Retz's Helmet Shrike and Emerald Cuckoo.
Grey Waxbill and Green Twinspot can be seen in thicker tangles near seeding grasses, and are both fairly common.
Rare raptors are frequently recorded in Tembe. Bat Hawk, Southern Banded Snake Eagle, Cuckoo Hawk and Palm-nut Vulture have all been recorded, as well as more regular sightings of Black-chested Snake Eagle, Little Sparrowhawk, Martial and African Crowned Eagles.
Tembe protects the last remaining wild elephants in Zululand (all other populations have been re-introduced) and they are frequently seen from hides at the waterholes. Other mammals occurring in Tembe include 10 species of bats, Spotted Hyaena, Brown Hyaena, Leopard, White and Black Rhinoceros, Nyala, Kudu, Blue Wildebeest, Giraffe, Buffalo, Hippopotamus, ,Burchell'sZebra, Warthog, RedDuiker and the rare Suni. There are also many rare sand forest plants protected in the reserve.

Kosi Bay

Situated in the extreme north-eastern corner of the Kwazulu Natal Province of South Africa, Kosi Bay offers some of the most exciting birding opportunities in southern Africa to both local and foreign visitors. Kosi Bay comprises an estuarine lake system consisting of four inter-linked lakes holding varying levels of fresh and brackish water. The four lakes, Makhawulani, Mpugwini, Nhlange and aManzimnyama are fed by the Siyadla and Nswamanzi Rivers from the south and west respectively. At the northern end of the lake system, the estuary opens into the sea providing a relatively large area of open sandbanks, mudflats and some of the most diverse Mangrove swamps in South Africa.
The attraction of Kosi, is however not restricted to the aquatic environment, and the surrounding tropical East Coast littoral vegetation supports mature coastal forest, thicket and grassland. The fringes of the lakes and in particular, the southern lakes hold relatively large areas of swamp and Rafia Palm Forest. Within this vegetation mosaic a number of endemic species as well as species at the southern end of their afrotropical range can be found.
One of the beauties of the Kosi Bay region is its diversity. However, as richly diverse as the region is, it lacks the accessibility of some of the other top birding destinations, and a number of days are required to explore the lakes, forests, woodlands and grassy wetlands properly. The region can be broadly classified into a number of areas including the mouth and estuary, the coastal forests, the mixed woodland and thicket and the moist grasslands.
Estuarine and Open Water
Together with the myriad of ancient fishing kraals and hundreds of tropical fish, the Kosi Bay mouth is home to a regular number of wading and other estuarine species. The summer months are best for waders, and the estuary attracts a good diversity of waders including the usual Greenshank, Curlew Sandpiper and relatively large numbers of Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Bartailed Godwit amongst others. Small numbers of Sand and Mongolian Plover are also present at times, and if one is lucky the odd Crab Plover may reveal itself from the Mangroves. Other birds attracted to the lake system include Black Egret, Rufousbellied Heron, Little and Lesser Crested Tern, Giant Kingfisher, Greater and Lesser Flamingo and Saddlebilled Stork, the latter often working the fish kraals for easy pickings. The mangroves support small numbers of Mangrove Kingfisher in winter.
The Lakes, attractive to fisherman and birder alike are best explored by boat. Fish Eagle, Osprey and Palmnut Vulture can be seen patrolling the shoreline or lakeside fringes, while reedy channels holds small numbers of Blackbacked Cisticola, African Sedge Warbler, Cape Reed Warbler and ever present African Marsh Harriers. Quiet backwaters attract Malachite Kingfisher, Pygmy Geese and Whitebacked Duck.
The coastline has produced a number of interesting sightings in recent times including Greater Frigatebird and Audubons Shearwater and the potential exists for any number of tropical pelagic species.
Coastal, Swamp and Rafia Forests
An early morning in the one of the coastal forests on the southern, eastern or western shores can produce many of the typical forest species including Forest Weaver, Squaretailed Drongo, Blackbellied Starling, Woodwards Batis, Narina Trogon, Green Coucal, African Broadbill, Yellowstreaked Bulbul, Grey Cuckoo Shrike, Goldenrumped Tinkerbarbet, Chorister Robin, Olive Bush Shrike and Bluemantled Flycatcher. As in all forests, knowledge of calls will definitely help in identifying and locating many of the species. Together with many of the commoner species, the forests also support relatively large numbers of the racially distinct Tonga Brown Robin, which inhabits the coastal forests from Zululand to southern Mozambique and can be identified by its quiet whistling song. The forests are also home to one of South Africa most spectacular birds, the Livingstones Lourie who’s presence is often given away by its penetrating croaking call. The extensive Rafia Forests on the Lake margins support relatively large numbers of Palmnut Vulture. Check the forest fringes with suitable large dead trees for the spectacular Broadbilled Roller, while the “clicking” African Goshawk can be seen patrolling the early morning skies.
A canoe trip into the Swamp Forest up the Siyadla River at the southern end of the fourth lake regularly produces African Finfoot, Osprey, Pygmy Geese, Brownthroated Weaver, White-eared Barbet, Purple Heron and occasionally one might catch a glimpse of the secretive Heuglins Robin. The Siyadla River is also home to one of southern Africas most enigmatic birds, the Pels Fishing Owl. Both early morning and night trips up the Siyadla River have produced this secretive resident. The area is also home to Hippo and caution should be exercised when moving up the river.
Thicket and Woodlands
The mosaic of sand forest, coastal thicket and coastal grassland to the west of the lake system support a wide array of typical east coast species, and although birding in this area is potentially frustrating due to the thickness of the vegetation, patience will be definitely be rewarded. A few hours in this habitat can produce a broad array of species including Rudds and Yellowbreatsed Apalis, Gorgeous Bush Shrike, Yellowspotted Nicator, Terrestrial, Yellowbellied and Sombre Bulbul, Purplebanded, Olive and Grey Sunbird, Trumpeter Hornbill, Livingstones Lourie, Bluegrey Flycatcher, Orangebreasted Bush Shrike, Spectacled Weaver, Natal, Whitebrowed and Tonga Brown Robin. The area also supports Cuckoo Hawk, Gymnogene and Southern Banded Snake Eagle. The more open woodland supports Yellowthroated Sparrow, Grey Penduline Tit, Lizard Buzzard and Pallid Flycatcher. Listen out for Wood Owl at night.
The larger patches of grassland within the woodland support Blackbellied Korhaan, Flappet and Rufousnaped Lark, Croaking Cisticola, European Roller, Shelleys Francolin and Stonechat in winter. Moist grasslands and swamp to the south and west of Kosi Bay hold Pinkthroated, Yellowthroated and Orangethroated Longclaw, Lesser Jacana, Hottentot Teal, as well as a variety of typical moist grassland species including Palecrowned Cisticola, Wattled, Blackwinged and Lesser Blackwinged Plover. A night drive in the grasslands often produces Natal Nightjar, listen out for the chop chop chop call. Grassland skies hold Blackbreasted Snake Eagle and Eastern Redfooted Kestrel.
Other attractions to Kosi
Loggerhead turtle hatchling at Kosi Bay by gareth ChittendenIn season turtle tracking from Bhanga Nek is a very popular night time activity at Kosi. Walks often allow one to get right up close to female Leatherback and Loggerhead Turtles as they make their yearly trip to lay eggs.
Kosi mouth offers a spectacular snorkeling experience. A few hundred species of fish have been recorded within the small stretch of reef in the mouth. Depending on the tide, the visibility and current can vary greatly and produce a memorable experience.
Kosi Bay falls into a prominent Malaria area, and visitors should take the necessary precautions to avoid infection. Precautions include sleeping under a Mosquito net, wearing Mosquito Repellant lotions, sprays and lotions as well as trousers and long sleeve shirts. Consult a Pharmacist or Doctor before departing to determine the most effective prophylactic for the area at the time.
If one is staying at one of the lodges it is not essential to have your own 4x4, as day trips in lodge owned vehicles negate the need. However if you are visiting the area and staying in one of the campsites, a 4x4 is essential to get around and explore the area.


Birding Elephant Coast

Birding South Zululand

Birding (Inland) Zululand

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