Limpopo Birding Routes

Capricorn Letaba Birding Hotspots

Capricorn Letaba Birding Hotspots

Capricorn Letaba Birding Hotspots

Capricorn Letaba Birding Hotspots

Retz's Helmet-Shrike - Derek Engelbrecht
Hans Merensky Nature Reserve

This provincial nature reserve, adjacent to the Eiland Holiday Resort, has many of the Lowveld´s best qualities including fine tracts of Mopane and mixed broad-leaved woodland, riverine thicket, saline patches and dolerite ridges. A 10km stretch of the Great Letaba River forms the northern boundary of the reserve. The special here is Arnot´s Chat, which is best looked for in the mature Mopane woodland along the tourist drive in the main portion of the reserve. Other Lowveld birds of interest in the reserve include Greater Blue-eared Starling, Brown-headed Parrot, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, Bennett´s Woodpecker, Cuckoo Hawk, African Hawk Eagle, Southern White-crowned Shrike and Stierling´s Wren-Warbler. The trail that runs along the river is good for Retz´s Helmet-Shrike, Thick-billed Cuckoo (summer), Yellow-throated Petronia and Red-headed Weaver. There is good camping and chalet accommodation at the Eiland Holiday Resort and a rustic trail camp within the reserve itself.

Directions: Travel on the R71 from Tzaneen towards Phalaborwa. Cross the Letaba River and pass the Letsitele turn-off, then turn left on the R521 towards Eiland. Follow this road and see the Hans Merensky Nature Reserve entrance on the right after about 30km.

Little Stint - San3 de Wet
Polokwane Bird Sanctuary

This once-flourishing bird sanctuary is sadly in a state of disrepair, but it is likely to produce an interesting birding surprise or two. The habitats consist of riverine thickets, open water, dense reed beds, mudflats and Acacia thornveld. Apart from a good variety of waterfowl, waders and rallids, the Acacia thickets are very productive and accommodate Grey-backed Camaroptera, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-breasted Apalis and many warbler species in the summer months, including Common Whitethroat and Olive-tree, Icterine, Garden, Great Reed and Eurasian Marsh Warblers and Thrush Nightingale. The unpredictable flow of water into the settling dams often creates mudflats and shallow pools which attract a host of waders during middle to late summer with Wood, Marsh, Common and Curlew Sandpipers, Greenshank, Ruff and Little Stint. Look out for skulking African Snipe and Greater Painted-Snipe. There is a resident pair of African Fish Eagle along with other interesting raptors, including Ovambo Sparrowhawk, African Goshawk and African Harrier-Hawk. No overnight accommodation is available here, but facilities such as picnic/braai sites, bird viewing hides and walking trails make this reserve a worthwhile spot for a few hours of birding.

Directions: The sanctuary is situated just outside Polokwane on the R521 towards Alldays. The turn-off is on the right-hand side after crossing the Sand River, just beyond a prominent filling station.

Short-clawed Lark - Derek Engelbrecht
Polokwane Game Reserve

This reserve is best known as the most reliable site for the isolated eastern population of the Short-clawed Lark, it also provides excellent bushveld, thornveld and grassveld birding. The extensive road network, walking trails and bird hides expose the visitor to a variety of habitats in which over 320 bird species have been recorded. Localised species found here include: Northern Black Korhaan, Shelley´s Francolin, Burchell´s Sandgrouse (winter), Bushveld Pipit, Ashy Tit, Great Sparrow, Barred Wren-Warbler and Tinkling Cisticola. Raptors are also well represented here with African Hawk Eagle, Black-chested Snake Eagle, Secretary Bird, Wahlberg´s Eagle (summer), Greater Kestrel and Gabar Goshawk, all of which breed in the reserve. The Short-clawed Lark is best found where the main loop cuts through areas of short grassland with scattered shrubs. Listen for its high-pitched whistle and scan the tops of the broad-leaved Gymnosporia shrubs and Acacia trees. There is a camping ground, caravan park and basic chalet accommodation at the reserve´s entrance gate.

Directions: To reach the reserve from the N1 south of the city, turn onto the Louis Trichardt / Tzaneen bypass road (2km beyond the Shell Ultra City filling station). Continue on this road until just before the Peter Mokaba Football Stadium, then turn right onto the Silicon Road. The reserve entrance is about 800m further on the right. From Polokwane itself, travel along Dorp Street in a southerly direction, passing the sports stadium and golf course until the road becomes Silicon Road.

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The Junction – Marianne McKenzie
The Junction

This is a perfect roadside stop along the R71 between Tzaneen and Phalaborwa to take a refreshing break as it is situated right on the banks of the Letaba River under a canopy of shady trees. It has a pub and a restaurant, which serves breakfasts and light meals. The river and riverine vegetation supports Goliath and Purple Heron, Little Egret, Thick-billed Weaver, African Jacana and Red-faced Cisticola while the tropical gardens hold White-browed and Red-capped Robin-Chat, Woodland Kingfisher (summer), Purple Indigobird and Red-backed Mannikin.

Directions: Travel on the R71 from Tzaneen towards Phalaborwa, just before crossing the Letaba River, see the Letsitele filling station and turn-off to The Junction on the right. Follow the signs to the left on the small road that runs parallel to the R71.

Tambourine Dove - Dalena Mostert
Tzaneen Dam Wall

The area below the Tzaneen Dam wall is a popular birding spot due to its interesting mix of habitats within a very restricted area. After entering Tzaneen on the R71 from Polokwane, turn left at the Lifestyle Centre. Travel along Voortrekker Street and pass through the Tzangeni security gate. The tangled tall grassland on the right often produces Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Cape Grassbird, Red-collared Widowbird and Yellow Bishop. Park at the T-junction and walk along the top of the dam for a quick look out over the dam, checking for large water birds like Goliath Heron, African Fish Eagle, Osprey or Yellow-billed Stork. More interesting birding lies below the dam wall. Turn right at the T-junction and drive down past the dam wall to the parking area just before the bridge. On the way down, scan the lawns opposite the wall for Long-billed and Plain-backed Pipit and Yellow-throated Longclaw. The large wild fig trees host many fruit-eating species such as Barbets, African Green Pigeon and Purple-crested Turaco. Look out for birds from the small bridge across the Letaba River below the sluice gates. Here one can often see African Pied and Mountain Wagtail, Red-faced Cisticola, Golden Weaver, Wire-tailed and Grey-rumped Swallow, Black Saw-wing and Half-collared Kingfisher. The thickets near the bridge area are home to Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Red-capped and White-browed Robin-Chat and Bearded Scrub Robin. Drive across the bridge and turn right just after the water purification works, then look for Brown-backed Honeybird, Tambourine Dove, Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Black Cuckoo (summer) and several warbler species (summer) in a dense Acacia belt.

Directions: as described above.

Forest Drive - Marianne McKenzie
Woodbush Forest Drive

From a birding point of view this 14km dirt road runs through what is arguably the finest Afromontane forest in the Limpopo Province, if not the country. The Woodbush Forest Drive passes through pristine mistbelt forests, down into semi-deciduous mixed forest and riverine thicket along the lower sections of the drive. Cape Parrot, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, Orange Ground Thrush, Brown Scrub-Robin, Grey Cuckooshrike, Yellow-streaked Greenbul and Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher are simply a few of the specials to be seen along this road. Also look out for African Cuckoo Hawk, Crowned Eagle and African Goshawk. The beautiful Debengeni Waterfalls are also accessible from this road. A high clearance vehicle is recommended and a 4-wheel drive vehicle would be needed in wet weather.

Directions: To reach Woodbush Forest Drive, take the R71 from Polokwane towards Tzaneen. About 2km beyond the Magoebaskloof Hotel, turn to the left onto the gravel road to Houtbosdorp/Woodbush. After 2.5km take the right fork to the Woodbush Forest Reserve, which passes through stone gateposts. After another 2.1km see the hiking huts on your right, then 200m further turn right onto the Woodbush Forest Drive. This road can be birded for about 13km. There are two forks along this road: at the first, stay left and at the second, take the right fork.

Mountain Wagtail – Lex van Vught
Debegeni Falls

This cascading waterfall is a popular picnic site for locals and visitors to the area. This has probably been the most reliable site in South Africa for vagrant Grey Wagtails (summer) over the past 15 years. Even if this special is not there, it is worth visiting the Debengeni Falls, to see Mountain Wagtail and other forest birds. After turning off onto the dirt road marked Debengeni from the R71, keep a lookout for Red-backed Mannikin, African Firefinch and Swee Waxbill on the road verges. After about 100m you will cross a small stream and when the water levels are high this is a good spot for Half-collared Kingfisher and African Finfoot. On the 3km drive up to the falls look out for Tambourine and Lemon Dove, Chorister Robin-Chat, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher and Yellow-streaked Greenbul in the forests. Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk breed in the vicinity of the falls and Buff-spotted Flufftail and Scaly-throated Honeyguide are often heard calling in the area. There are picnic facilities and short walking trails along the river downstream of the falls. A note of caution: be aware that the large smooth rock surfaces below the falls can be dangerous to walk on, particularly when they are wet. A small entry fee is payable at the boom.

Directions: If travelling in an easterly direction on the R71, the turnoff to the falls and the lower Woodbush forest drive is on the left, 12km beyond the Magoebaskloof Hotel. The entrance point to the falls is a further 3 km up the dirt road.

Dark-capped Yellow Warbler – Jody de Bruin
Louis Changuion Trail and Haenertsburg Grasslands

This scenic trail starts in the village of Haenertsburg and winds through the largest remaining fragment of critically endangered Woodbush Granite Grassland and the associated forest patches. The whole trail is 10km in length but various sections can be done separately. Blue Swallow occurred here in the past and it is hoped that this species may one day return to the area. On the grasslands, you may find Wailing, Lazy, Croaking, Cloud and Wing-snapping Cisticola. Grass Owl, White-necked Raven, Red-winged Francolin, Yellow Bishop, Dark-capped Yellow and Broad-tailed Warbler and Drakensberg Prinia are present as well as Cape Grassbird. Jackal Buzzard and Long-crested Eagle often hunt over the grassland. Olive Bush-Shrike, African Olive-Pigeon, Cape Batis, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-streaked Greenbul and Forest Canary occur in the forest patches.

Directions: The trail starts at the Haenertsburg Village Hall, Rissik Street. Follow the yellow markers, or the map that is available at the Red Plate restaurant and other establishments in the village. For the less energetic, a drive up to the village cemetery (surely the most scenic in the country) will take you to the edge of the grassland. Ask for directions at any of the businesses in the village.

Dusky Indigobird – Albert Froneman
Kudu’s River Valley

This spectacular 30km dirt road between Houtbosdorp and Mooketsi drops down over the escarpment through rocky bushveld and riverine habitats. One descends about 1000 metres in the first 20km after which the terrain consists of undulating agricultural landscape. The exposed granite boulders along the slopes near the top of the route are home to Cape Rock Thrush, Mocking Cliff Chat and Lazy Cisticola. African Crowned and Verreaux’s Eagles are often spotted here as are Lanner and Peregrine Falcon. The high bridge that spans a broad cascading stream along the way is a good spot to look out for African Finfoot, African Black Duck and Mountain Wagtail. From here the vegetation consists mainly of riverine and sub-tropical thicket frequented by the likes of Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Purple-crested Turaco, Green-capped Eremomela and White-throated Robin-Chat. Around the irrigation dams lower down look out for African Fish Eagle, Great Egret, Purple Heron and various Indigobird and Firefinch species.

Directions: From Polokwane follow the R71 and after approximately 20km, take the slipway to the left to the University of Limpopo. Continue on this road passing Mankweng and the main entrance to the University. Where the tar road ends is the start of this route. Follow the dirt road down the escarpment to Mooketsi. If travelling from Polokwane on the R81 to Modjadjiskloof, continue past the prominent Mooketsi filling station and immediately after crossing the bridge, turn right to Houtbosdorp on the Kudu’s River Valley dirt road. If you are travelling from Modjadjiskloof towards Polokwane, turn left to Houtbosdorp  just before Mooketsi and the bridge.

Lekgalameetse View – Marianne McKenzie
Lekgalameetse Nature Reserve

This reserve encompasses all the habitats that make up the great eastern escarpment of the Northern Drakensberg including superb mistbelt forest and montane grassland. This is a good site to see high-altitude grassland species such as Common Quail (summer), Wing-snapping, Croaking and Wailing Cisticola, Broad-tailed Warbler and Malachite Sunbird. There are historical records of Blue Swallows in the grasslands. The forested gorges hold Cape Parrot, Red-capped Robin-Chat, White-starred Robin, African Emerald Cuckoo, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler and many other forest species. There is a good tar road from the gate leading up the scenic Orrie Baragwanath Pass to the grasslands at the Downs and forested patch known as Church Forest. The reserve has comfortable self-catering wood chalets at Makhutsi Camp along the river.

Directions: Travel on the R36 from Tzaneen towards Lydenburg for around 40km, just past Ofcolaco turn right and follow the signs to Lekgalameetse.

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