Timber plantations, nut orchards and avocado orchards dominate the land use in the Eastern Soutpansberg. Yet nestled in between the agricultural lands are some of the best birdwatching sites in the region. In this area one finds three forest types: Afromontane mistbelt forest, semi-deciduous scrub forest and semi-deciduous mixed forest. On the upper reaches of the mountain, a few patches of Afromontane grassland form a mosaic between the forest pockets. Most of these forests are easily accessible and fall within State Land. These are Hanglip Forest, Roodewal Forest and Entabeni Forest. Many elusive and sought-after species are found in these forest areas.
Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Green Twinspot and African Broadbill are mostly found in the semi-deciduous forest types and Yellow-streaked Greenbul, White-starred Robin, Orange Ground Thrush, Knysna Turaco and Scaly-throated Honeyguide are mostly found in the mistbelt forests. Many species are common in all forest types such as Narina Trogon, Chorister Robin-Chat and Crested Guineafowl. The Muirhead Dams are a good place to find Blue-spotted Wood Dove. It is best to book into one of the accommodation establishments in the area and visit the different forests and dams from your base; you can also drive to some of the sites in Levubu and visit Ben Lavin Nature Reserve.
Entabeni Forest is an area of Afromontane mistbelt forest situated in the Entabeni Plantation. The forest boasts good specials such as Orange Ground Thrush, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, White-starred Robin, Green Twinspot, Knysna Turaco, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Collared Sunbird and Brown Scrub Robin. The forest is extensive, but only parts of it are easily accessible. A main forestry road passes through one patch of the forest and close to another. The road is used by forestry vehicles, so drive carefully.
Directions: Travel east on the R524 from Louis Trichardt / Makhado, after around 35 km, turn left onto the road marked Entabeni and continue to the gate. Set your odometer there: turn right at 1km, then left at 2.5km. The first birding site is at 9km; there are no paths into the forest, so birding is done in the first forest patch along the road. Continue along the road, at 9.9km from the gate turn right at a triangular intersection. After 250m look for a track to the left with a ‘Private No Entry’ sign. Turn onto the track and continue for a further 250m to where the block of pine plantation ends and the road enters indigenous forest. Park your vehicle there and walk along the road, look out Orange Ground Thrush is seen at the first stream and Black-fronted Bush-Shrike a little further on. It will take around 30 minutes to drive from the R542 to the last forest site, which is 11km from the gate. It is not advisable to try to find the picnic site as you might get lost! On your way, look for Ayres’s Hawk-Eagle and Bat Hawk.
This is the most reliable site for African Broadbill. The best time to hear them is just before dawn and just after dusk, but they can be heard for longer periods during the day in the summer months. Other species found here are Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Eastern Nicator, Narina Trogon, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Green Twinspot and Red-faced Cisticola. The vegetation is semi-deciduous scrub forest, which is a low canopy forest with a mix of woodland, riverine and Afromontane tree species.
Directions: Travel east on the R524 from Louis Trichardt / Makhado towards Thohoyandou and Punda Maria. After 15.8km you will see a sign ´Welgevonden´ (in red letters). Turn left onto this gravel road and drive 4.1 km. At the end of a Macadamia nut orchard is a small concealed track that runs steeply down to the left into a thick patch of forest. Park at this point if the road looks wet. The track goes on 300m before reaching a small parking area and picnic site. Two marked trails have been laid out leading from the parking spot. One trail follows the Luvuvhu River, the other follows one of its tributaries. Both trails pass a Crowned Eagle nest, which is situated in a block of pine plantation. Please note that access through a remote-controlled gate needs to be arranged in advance; contact local bird guide Samson Mulaudzi for assistance at 083 662 9960.