Phongola Route

The Phongola Route contains one of the oldest game reserves in Africa, the Phongola Game Reserve. Even the early conservation pioneers recognised the beauty and value of this area. Superb Sweet Lowveld Bushveld, the only example of this in the province, supports a vast array of species, including some that are rare in other parts of Zululand. These Phongola specials include Burchell's Starling, Bennett's Woodpecker, Levaillant's Cuckoo, Purple Roller, Magpie Shrike and Red-headed Weaver. The area also contains eastern coastal plain endemics such as Rudd's Apalis, Pink-throated Twinspot, Lemon-breasted Canary and Neergard's Sunbird. Raptors are plentiful, with 10 species of eagle and 4 species of Vulture being recorded. Special raptors include Osprey, African Fish-Eagle, Peregrine Falcon and Lappet-faced Vulture.
Jozini Dam offers good birding, as well as exciting Tiger Fish fishing. Interesting waterbirds recorded in the area include Pink-backed Pelican, Comb Duck, Lesser Moorhen, Painted Snipe, Caspian Tern, Black Coucal and Osprey.
The cliffs on the Lebombo Mountains support cliff-nesting species such as Black Stork, Peregrine Falcon and Rock Kestrel. This mountain range separates the coastal plain from the inland areas, and is an important flyway for migrating raptors.
Mkhuze Falls Game Reserve is situated at 300m above sea level and adds an impressive amount of specials to the route. Lowveld vegetation, hills and wetlands provide habitat for many species. Specials include raptors, waterbirds in the wetland, bush birds and a variety of game including the big five. Visitors could see Yellow-billed Stork, Martial Eagle, Bronze-winged Courser, Black Coucal, Eastern Nicator, Rudd's Apalis, Green-winged Pytilia, Narina Trogon and Little Sparrowhawk. 

Hlatikulu Forest

Hlatikhulu Forest is situated on top of the Lebombo Mountains, north-west of the town of Jozini. The forest is quite extensive, and is protected by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. The forest combines species of high and low altitude forests, and is one of the few places in North-west Zululand where this occurs. The forest is not particularly tall, and possesses a very thick understory.
Take the Jozini turn-off from the N2 highway 10km north of the town of Mkuze and proceed straight through the town. You will cross over the Pongolapoort Dam wall, and as you get to the other side, zero your clock in your vehicle. Travel north along the tar road for 3.4km, and turn left onto a gravel road. There is a signpost here “Msiyane High School”. Proceed for 1km and then turn left at the Sizihandi Tea Room. This road takes one up onto the Lebombos. Proceed along this road for 20km, after which you will see the Hlatikhulu Forest signboard on the right hand side of the road. Report here to the Field Rangers.
Another access point, to a taller forest area, is situated 3km before the reserve entrance. Look out for a soccer pitch on the right (east) had side of the road. Turn down here and follow the road into the forest.
A 2-wheel drive vehicle with reasonable access will get you to the forest.
There is an empty house at the forest entrance where one can stay, just bring all your bedding, food and water. Alternatively one can camp outside the house, in a shady spot adjacent to the house. Contact Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife for permission on 084 314 9093.
A pleasant mixture of low and high altitude birds occur here, as well as the more widespread forest species. High altitude species include Bar-throated Apalis, Olive Woodpecker, White-starred Robin, Cape Batis and Olive Bush Shrike. The thicker areas are home to African Broadbill – listen out for it below the camping area.
Crested Guineafowl, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Tambourine and Lemon Doves, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Green-backed Cameroptera and Terrestrial Brownbul can all be looked for on the ground, while Blue-mantled Crested, African Paradise and Ashy Flycatchers hawk insects above. African Emerald, Black, Red-chested, Klaas’s and Diederik Cuckoos are present in spring and summer.
Eastern Nicator and Green Coucal can be very vocal, but hard to track down. Both Purple-crested and Livingstone’s Turacos are present, the latter at its highest altitude in the region. Narina Trogon can be found along the road below the soccer pitch, as well as Square-tailed Drongo, Yellow-rumped and Red-fronted Tinkerbirds, White-eared Barbet, Yellow-streaked and Yellow-bellied Greenbuls, Black-bellied Starling, Dark-backed Weaver and Collared Sunbird. Grey Sunbird is common throughout.
Green Twinspots feed quietly on seeding grasses, and are joined by African Firefinch.
Forest edges are also great places for birds and Hlatikhulu is no exception. Look out for Gorgeous Bush Shrike, Pink-throated Twinspot, Melba Finch, Dusky Indigobird, Jacobin Cuckoo, European Marsh Warbler and in the grassy areas Lazy Cisticola and Yellow-throated Longclaw.
Birds to look out for overhead include African Black Swift, Wahlberg’s and Black-breasted Snake Eagles, European Hobby and a variety of swallows.
Shy forest mammals include Bushpig, Bushbuck, Samango Monkey and Blue Duiker. The forest is home for many rare and restricted plants and botanists would be pleasantly surprized with the variety.

{slider Lebombo Cliffs}

The Lebombo Mountain range stretches from about Phinda in the south to the Kruger National Park in the north and divides the coastal plain from the higher inland areas of the region. The mountains rise about 800m above the surrounding area, and are a well known landmark. Formed by the shifting together of the earth's plates, the mountains possess some impressive cliffs along their entire range. Dry bushveld and grassland covers most of the mountains, but forest patches occur in ravines where they are protected from fire and receive more moisture. The easiest place to view birds on these cliffs is on the main tar road leading up into Tongaland.
There are impressive views from the road of the Jozini Dam below.
Situated off the N2 highway, about 12km north of the village of Mkuze turn right onto the Ndumo/ Tembe/ Kosi road as well as the village of Jozini. The road up the mountain is visible from the highway. Follow this tar road up, stopping at any of the 5 or so spots where it is safe off the road. The best viewing spot is situated 8km from the N2 intersection, on the left hand side of the road.
None on the cliffs, but there are numerous lodges in the area.
The lower sections of the road (traveling up) are good for a number of dry bushveld species such as Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Long-billed Crombec, Jameson's Firefinch, Bearded Woodpecker, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Familiar Chat, Striped Kingfisher, Jacobin Cuckoo, Brown-crowned Tchagra and Orange-breasted Bush Shrike.
As you climb in altitude, the vegetation becomes thicker and taller. Some typical species found in the moister patches include Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Olive Woodpecker, Black-backed Puffback, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Purple-crested Turaco, Yellow-breasted Apalis, White-throated Robin-Chat, Spectacled Weaver and Sombre Greenbul. Seeding roadside grasses could provide Swee Waxbill, Blue-billed Firefinch and Streaky-headed Seed-eater.
It is the cliffs and rocky areas that are the real birding attraction here. Locally scarce species such as Red-winged Starling, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Cape Rock Thrush and Jackal Buzzard can be seen from the higher sections of the road where you are closer to the cliffs. Look out for the resident Peregrine Falcon which breed on the cliffs. They can be seen from the pull-over area 8km from the N2 intersection. Black Stork also breed in the rocky gorges, and can be seen circling overhead.
The mountains are also used by migrant raptors which take advantage of the rising thermals provided by the steep cliffs. A careful watch in early and late summer could produce Lesser-Spotted, Steppe and Wahlberg's Eagles, while Booted Eagle can be seen in winter. Rock Kestrel, Lanner Falcon, African Harrier Hawk, Gabar Goshawk, Black-chested Snake Eagle, African Hawk Eagle and Martial Eagle can all be seen around with some patience.
There are a number of Lebombo Cycads growing on the cliffs - sadly restricted to the inaccessible areas due to theft.

Phongola Game & Nature Reserve

Although two different places, these two localities are treated in one write-up as the birdlife is similar and the two areas lie adjacent to each other.
Phongola Nature Reserve was the first proclaimed reserve in Africa, though it was deproclaimed and then reproclaimed again. It surrounds the Jozini Dam, a large impoundment of water on the Phongola River. These reserves are unique in a sense that they protect a stretch of Arid Lowveld, a vegetation type occurring widely in the Kruger National Park. The Lebombo Mountain Range forms the eastern boundary of the reserve, and contains forest patches and steep cliffs. Zululand Thornveld occurs over much of the reserve as well.
KZN Wildlife owns the Nature Reserve, and the Game Reserve is privately owned.
To access the Game Reserve: travel up the N2 from Durban. Pass the "Mkhuze" turnoff, as well as the "Jozini" one. About 35km further north, on the right hand side of the road, lies the well-signposted entrance to the Game Reserve. Travel a further 5km, turn right at the sign "Golela", drive into the small town and follow the signs to the Nature Reserve.
Arriving from the north (Piet Retief or Johannesburg) drive through the town of Phongola on the N2 and turn left to Golela after about 25km to access the Nature Reserve, or proceed for another 5km and turn left to the Game Reserve.
Lodges and bushcamps have been built in the Game Reserve and the Nature Reserve has a campsite.
Due to the presence of Arid Lowveld vegetation, as well as the water, a number of rare and special species occur in the reserves. Species that occur at or near their southernmost limit in Africa include Bennett's Woodpecker, Burchell's Starling, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Magpie Shrike, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Red-headed Weaver, Brown-headed Parrot, Grey and Red-billed Hornbills, Levaillant's Cuckoo and Purple Roller. Other specials occurring in the dry bushveld include Grey Go-away-bird, Arrow-marked Babbler, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Red-crested Korhaan, Jameson's Firefinch, Marico Sunbird, Flappet Lark and Grey Penduline Tit.
Patches of thicker bush, especially along the shoreline and along drainage lines are home to White-throated, White-browed and Red-capped Robin-Chats, Purple-crested Turaco, Tambourine Dove, Bearded Scrub-Robin, Rudd's Apalis, Grey, Scarlet-chested and Neergard's Sunbirds, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike and Pink-throated Twinspot.
Summer visitors include Red-backed Shrike, African Pygmy Kingfisher, African Cuckoo, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Violet-backed Starling and Red-breasted Swallow.
Phongola is also one of the better places in Zululand for raptor watching. Large raptors such as Martial, African Crowned, Tawny, African Fish, Bateleur, Steppe, Brown Snake- and Wahlberg's Eagles are regularly recorded, and up to 100 White-backed Vultures and a good few Lappet-faced can be seen at the vulture restaurant in Phongola Game Reserve. Smaller raptors include Gabar Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon, Shikra and, in summer, Pallid Harrier.
Nocturnal species that can be seen or heard include White-faced, Pearl-spotted and Spotted Eagle Owls, as well as Square-tailed and Fiery-necked Nightjars. Bronze-winged Coursers are occasionally seen on night drives.
Open grassland areas provide habitat for Lilac-breasted Roller, Yellow-throated Longclaw and less commonly, Lemon-breasted canary.
Waterbird numbers and species composition fluctuate according to water levels. African Jacana, large flocks of White-faced Duck, Goliath Heron and Water Thick-knee are resident, and a breeding colony of Yellow-billed Stork have made the Nature Reserve one of the few places in South Africa where they do so. Flooded grassland can produce exciting species; Black Coucal, Lesser Moorhen, Rufous-bellied Heron and Greater Painted-snipe. Pink-backed Pelican used to breed at the dam, but no longer do so. Pel's Fishing Owl has been recorded from the forests overhanging the eastern edge of the dam.
A variety of large and small mammal species occur in the reserves. Hippo and crocodile occur in the dam, and White Rhino, Elephant, Leopard, Giraffe, Zebra, Nyala, Spotted Hyaena and Kudu occur as well.
Boat trips on the dam are a recommended way of seeing many birds and game.
Annual fishing competitions are held at this popular fishing venue, with Tiger Fish being the most popular catch.

Birding Elephant Coast

Birding South Zululand

Birding (Inland) Zululand

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