Limpopo Birding Routes

Waterberg Nylsvley Birding Hotspots

Waterberg Nylsvley Birding Hotspots

Waterberg Nylsvley Birding Hotspots

Waterberg Nylsvley Birding Hotspots

This area covers about 16,000 hectares from Modimolle to west of Mokopane, on the Springbok Flats below the Waterberg. The habitat is dominated by the largest seasonal floodplain in South Africa, surrounded by thornveld and a few patches of broadleaved woodland. The Nyl River floods every few years and is then one of the biggest waterbird breeding areas in South Africa. In dry years, the bushveld birding still makes this a worthwhile stop for birders. 

Kori Bustard – Derek Engelbrecht
Atherstone Nature Reserve

This 23,500 hectare reserve, near Dwaalboom in the south-western corner of Limpopo province, has a variety of habitats and a bird list of over 300 species. The Kalahari-type habitat is home to Kori Bustard, Red-crested and Black Korhaan, Secretarybird and Common (Harlequin) Quail. This is one of the few places outside the Kruger National Park where Bateleur have been known to breed and there is also a breeding population of White-backed Vulture. Yellow-throated Sandgrouse have been found close to the reserve; Double-Banded, Burchell's and Namaqua Sandgrouse are seen regularly. The reserve has a variety of game species, including black rhino, elephant and buffalo. There is a selection of self-catering accommodation options. 

Directions: the reserve is 160 km from Thabazimbi on the Oostermoed road, turn right in Dwaalboom.

 | 015 293 3611 | | |

Burchell’s Sandgrouse – Derek Engelbrecht
D'Nyala Nature Reserve

This reserve is 8,000 hectare in size and is located 10km from Lephalale. It includes a small floodplain of the Tambotie River, Acacia thornveld and broadleaved woodland. In wet years, the floodplain attracts a host of water birds including Knob-billed Duck, Little Bittern, Lesser Moorhen and Painted Snipe. There are regular sightings of Double-banded Sandgrouse and occasional sightings of Burchell's Sandgrouse. Owls, cuckoos and kingfishers are all well represented; and six species of Bee-eater can be found, including Swallow-tailed Bee-eater.

The reserve offers fully equipped self-catering log cabins; there is a self-drive loop and two worthwhile wetland hides.

Directions: travel on the N1 North from Pretoria to Modimolle, then on the R33 to Vaalwater. Turn right at the Total garage and north to the entrance gate.

| 015 293 3611 | | |

Cape Vulture – Derek Engelbrecht
Marakele National Park

This National Park covers 45,000 hectares of the Southern Waterberg; the entrance is 30km north-east of Thabazimbi. Only parts of this huge area are accessible to the public, but these areas are home to a great variety of birds. South Africa’s largest Cape Vulture breeding colony is found on the cliffs at Kransberg, the highest peak in the Park. Gurney's Sugarbird, Malachite Sunbird, Buff-streaked Chat, Striped Pipit and other high-altitude specialists can also be seen in this area, which is accessible to sedan vehicles via a concrete road. The rest of the park is dominated by bushveld and patches of broadleaved woodland and riverine habitats. Many raptors are found in the Park, including Booted Eagle, Peregrine Falcon and Cuckoo Hawk. Pied Babbler, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Red-crested Korhaan, Kori Bustard and Secretary Bird can be seen at Kwagga’s Vlakte - a separate portion of the park where the tented camp and campsite are situated. The banks of the Matlabas and Sterkstroom Rivers and the dams in the park have a variety of waterbirds; Half-collared Kingfisher, African Darter and Red-faced Cisticola can be seen in these habitats. There are elephant, black and white rhino and other general game in the park, so walking is not permitted without an armed guide. The park has a variety of accommodation options, from camping to tented and bush camps. Detailed maps, general information and information about accommodation options can be found at the park gate and on the SANParks website.

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Masebe Nature Reserve

This 4,500 hectare community reserve in the far north-eastern part of the Waterberg has dramatic scenery with a spectacular escarpment of red sandstone cliffs and several lone-standing mesas. The vegetation is mainly deciduous broadleaved woodland. Raptors are the main birding attraction with Verreaux's Eagles breeding on the cliffs; African Hawk Eagle, African Harrier-Hawk, Lanner Falcon, Rock Kestrel, Lizard Buzzard, Brown and Black-chested Snake Eagles can also be seen. Other interesting species found there include Retz's Helmet-Shrike, Grey Tit-Flycatcher and Short-toed Rock Thrush. There is an African Ivory Route camp in the reserve.

Directions: travel on the R11 north from Mokopane; after 90 km turn left to Segole on a gravel road; after 20 km turn left to Masebe. The entrance gate is 2km further on the left. Alternatively the reserve can be reached from the R518 between Melkrivier and Marken. 

Allen’s Gallinule – Derek Engelbrecht

This RAMSAR site is the largest and most intact seasonal floodplain in the country. The area has over 365 bird species recorded, with 104 of these being water birds. The floodplain is inundated every few years and when it floods, several rare and endangered waterbirds breed there. All three of the Bittern species occur and breed there and all of the southern African Herons have been recorded there, including the country’s largest recorded breeding concentrations of Great Egret, Black Heron, Squacco Heron and Black-crowned Night Heron. Striped Crake, Lesser Moorhen and Allen’s Gallinule breed there; Streaky-breasted Flufftail have been recorded there. Pygmy Goose, White-backed and Knob-billed Duck are some of the 15 Duck and Goose species that occur at Nylsvley in the wet years. The wetland is surrounded by typical bushveld savanna, in the dry years the area is still a prime birding destination for bushveld birding. Common Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Olive-tree Warbler and Tinkling Cisticola can be seen. There is a large concentration of Pearl-spotted Owlet along with 7 other Owl species. There is accommodation and a campsite in the reserve, as well as a variety of birder friendly accommodation around the reserve and in Modimolle and Mookgophong, less than a thirty minute drive away.

Directions: Travel on the R101 between Modimolle and Mookgophong, then turn towards Boekenhout. Continue 8km on this road, the reserve gate is on the left just after the railway line.

| 015 293 3611 | | |


Buff-streaked Chat – Joe Grosel
Rankin Pass / Alma / Bokpoort area

This area is mainly montane grassland and is the over-wintering area of 40 - 60 Blue Cranes which gather on private farms and are monitored by provincial officials.  Denham’s Bustard, White-bellied Korhaan, Short-toed Rock Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat and Wailing Cisticola can also be seen. You can travel through the area on the public dirt roads and enjoy great roadside birding. Please note that these roads are not always well-maintained, so a high-clearance vehicle is recommended; 4x4 may be needed after heavy rain. Joseph Heymans, the District Biodiversity Monitor, can tell you where the Blue Cranes are between May and August; he may also be able to organise an outing to the private farms lands where the cranes are gathered. Phone him on 082 807 6741.

Directions: The recommended route is to travel on the R33 from Modimolle to Vaalwater; and turn left at the second Alma turn-off, just after a small school. Follow this road for around 10km to a T junction, turn left to Alma and continue through Alma to Rankin’s Pass. Just before the Police Station in Rankin’s Pass turn right towards the mountain, this road will take you back to Alma through some good birding spots. Around 7km along this road is the farm of Jan de Beer, who will allow access onto his property with prior arrangement.

| 014 721 0833 | 082 903 2483 |

African Quail Finch – Derek Engelbrecht
Roadside birding around Koedoeskop

The farm roads around Koedoeskop between the R510 and the R511 to Thabazimbi offer some excellent birding. Yellow-throated Sandgrouse can be seen on the black clay soils in this area. Also look out for White and Abdim´s Storks, African Quail Finch, Amur Falcon, Brown-crowned Tchagra and Grey-headed Kingfisher. During summer, listen for the calls of Red-chested, Striped, Jacobin and Diederik Cuckoo, Woodland Kingfisher and European Bee-eater. Extensive reed beds along the river have good numbers of White-winged Widow and Southern Red and Yellow Bishop. A series of irrigation dams to the right of the road are home to Lesser Swamp-Warblers and Levaillant’s Cisticola. The dams are surrounded by cultivated fields which attract species such as Knob-billed and White-faced Duck and Spur-winged Goose.

Directions: Take the R510 from Thabazimbi towards Rustenburg; after a few kilometres turn left to Koedoeskop. Scan the agricultural fields along this road especially those found on black clay soils. This road eventually takes you to Koedoeskop village and on to the R511 between Thabazimbi and Brits. 

African Pygmy Goose – Samson Mulaudzi
Bokpoort Dam

This small dam, just north of Mookgophong, is covered with water-lilies and provides a perfect habitat for Pygmy Goose which has been recorded here several times. There are two bridges and some  reed beds that host a number of Swallow, Swift and Martin species; other birds to be seen include White-backed Duck, African Fish Eagle, Purple Heron, African Swamphen, Giant Kingfisher, Great Crested Grebe and Zitting Cisticola. 

Directions: From Mookgophong take the R520 north, turn left at the northern-most traffic light in town. Travel 11km then turn left at the T-junction; after less than 1km turn right on the Marken road, then see the dam on the right, just before the road crosses the Sterk River.

Water Thick-knee – Derek Engelbrecht
Palala River Bridge

The Palala River has well-vegetated banks, and is fringed by spectacular sandstone cliffs in some parts of the Palala Valley. The river is dammed by a weir to the west of the bridge and is home to a resident pod of hippos. Please note that hippos can be very dangerous and you should only walk around if accompanied by an experienced guide. Sunrise and early morning is the best time to bird in this area, especially if looking for African Finfoot and Little Bittern. The rare African Pygmy Goose has also been recorded at this site. Scanning the sandbanks should reveal a resident group of Water Thick-knee and African Wattled Lapwing; Green-backed Heron might be found within the adjoining reed beds. Look out for Black Crake as they dash across the sandbanks from one side of the river to the other. This is also a good place to see African Fish Eagle and Giant Kingfisher. The adjacent woodland towards the south of the bridge is home to a variety of typical bushveld species; walk back along the road to look for African Pygmy Kingfisher, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Orange-breasted and Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, African Firefinch and Little Sparrowhawk. During the summer months look for Long-tailed Paradise and Pin-tailed Whydah as well as Purple Indigobird. Scanning the wooded bank to the east of the bridge might produce Black Sparrowhawk, especially in the late afternoon.

Directions: Travel from Vaalwater towards Melkrivier and follow the road for 40 km; turn left onto a dirt road at the Melkrivier School and Rhino Museum signboards. Follow this road for 5.9 km then turn right, still following the Rhino Museum signs. Continue for 5.7 km beyond the Rhino Museum until you reach the bridge.

Telekishi – Marianne McKenzie
Telekishi Trail

The Telekishi community, close to Masebe, offer a three-hour trail that traverses the escarpment and takes in various archaeological sites. The trail starts in the floodplain area of the Matlabas River and winds up the escarpment to the broadleaved woodland on the top of the Waterberg Plateau. There is a Verreaux's Eagle nest along the trail; African Hawk Eagle, Lanner Falcon, Spotted Eagle-Owl, Barn Owl, and Pearl-spotted Owlet can also be seen. This is a good option for birders who enjoy a walk, like to interact with and support the local communities, and learn about the culture and history of the area while birding. For further information and bookings contact Malesela Chokwe.

| 083 612 7845 |

Shelley’s Francolin – Derek Engelbrecht
Doorndraai Dam Nature Reserve

This large dam is in the foothills of the Waterberg between Mookgophong and Mokopane. There is a variety of habitats in the reserve with wooded hills, savanna bushveld, open plains, broadleaved woodland, the open water of the dam itself and its well-vegetated banks. Martial Eagle, African Hawk Eagle and African Fish Eagle all breed in the reserve. This is one of the few places in the country where Garganey has been recorded and Osprey is regularly seen in summer. Coqui and Shelley’s Francolin are also often seen and heard; Freckled Nightjar and Mocking Chat are found in the hills. More than twelve species of shrike occur there as well as Yellow-throated Petronia and Orange-breasted Waxbill. The reserve is home to various game species and walking is allowed; there is also a campsite.

Directions: Travel on the Sterk Rivier road off the R101 between Mookgophong and Mokopane; after 17km turn left onto a dirt road and travel a further 5km to the reserve.

 | 015 293 3611 | | |

Cattle Egret – Richter van Tonder
Mokolo Dam Nature Reserve

The 4,600 hectare Mokolo Dam Nature Reserve is situated on the northern slops of the Waterberg Mountains, just north-east of Marakele National Park and is part of the Waterberg Biosphere. The Mokolo River flows into the dam creating almost 8km of waterfront. This is home to a great variety of waterbirds including White-backed Night Heron. The surrounding vegetation is comprised of open savanna and dense bushveld. Fishing and boating is allowed on the dam and there is a basic campsite.

Directions: travel on the R510 from Lephalale towards Thabazimbi; turn left after 45km towards Mokolo Dam and follow the gravel road for around 18km to the entrance gate.

| 015 293 3611 | | |

Long-billed Pipit – Lex van Vught
Waterberg Montane Grasslands

This private cattle farm, mainly covered by tall montane grassland, is the breeding site of a pair of Blue Cranes, which are on the property from September to March. Other birds to see include Denham’s Bustard, White-bellied Korhaan, Common Quail, 3 species of Pipit and 5 species of Cisticola. The farm owner, John Malovich, allows birders on his farm with prior arrangement; he will either give directions or send someone to show you around. There are two strict rules on the farm: “no smoking”, because of the fire danger; and “if a gate is closed, close it behind you; if it is open, leave it open”.

Directions: The farm is at the top of the Bokpoort pass near the source of the Palala River, John will provide detailed directions.

| 083 661 8823 |

Rufous-naped Lark – San3 de Wet
Bateleur Nature Reserve

This 3,000 hectare reserve has a wide range of habitats: most of the area is covered with broadleaved woodland and there are a number of small streams and two perennial rivers with wetland areas that attract Blue Crane and Secretarybird, as well as Common Quail and a host of other grassland birds. The raptors are well represented with Lizard Buzzard, Little Sparrowhawk, Spotted Eagle Owl and Cape Vulture frequently seen. There is a hide at one of the small dams where Black Crake, Yellow-billed Duck and Moorhen are found. The reserve is also home to the rare Waterberg Copper butterfly. There are over 70 km of hiking trails on the farm as well as a variety of self-catering cottages.

 | 014 013 0099 | 083 677 6999 | | |

Barred Wren-Warbler – Derek Engelbrecht

This farm is 40km from Nylsvley on the banks of Nyl River near Mokopane. A large dam provides permanent water along the Nyl floodplain and there are reeded riverbank and marshland habitats. Even in a dry season, the dam is home to Red-billed Teal, Yellow-billed, Knob-billed, White-faced and Maccoa Duck; Spur-winged Goose, Spoonbill, Sacred Ibis, African Fish Eagle; and a host of Sandpipers; Plovers, Coots, Herons, Warblers and Cisticolas along the floodplain. The thornveld woodland around the dam is good for Chestnut-vented Tit Babbler, Barred Wren-Warbler and Crimson-breasted Shrike. Please phone in advance to organise a visit to this amazing dam.

 | 015 491 9400 | 082 920 1741 | 

Southern Ground-Hornbill – Derek Engelbrecht
The Mabula Ground-Hornbill Project

This project was initiated at Mabula Game Reserve in 1999 to support conservation of the charismatic Southern Ground-Hornbill. The numbers of these endangered birds have declined considerably outside protected areas and it is estimated that there are currently only around 1500 individuals in the whole country. They live in small co-operative breeding groups of two to nine birds, with only one pair in each group breeding. Two chicks usually hatch, but the second-hatched chicks usually die of starvation. On average, only one chick is raised to adulthood every nine years. Factors affecting the decline of the population include loss of habitat and suitable nesting trees, persecution, poisoning and electrocution.

The Mabula Ground-Hornbill Project is working to slow this decline by harvesting and hand-rearing second-hatched chicks and reintroducing them into suitable areas; and providing artificial nests for wild groups where this is a lack of suitable nesting trees. The Project is also involved in Ground-Hornbill research and education campaigns to further promote their conservation and help to ensure their survival in the wild.

| 083 289 8610 | | |

Magpie Shrike – Richter van Tonder
Roadside birding from Bela-Bela to Koedoeskop/Thabazimbi on Route R516

This route provides many birding opportunities, starting with possible sightings of African Green Pigeons amongst the large trees around Bela-Bela. The ubiquitous Magpie Shrike can be seen along the first section of this route; after approximately 20km Burchell’s Starling can also be seen. Other specials to look out for are Purple Roller and Red-breasted Swallow. Various raptors are also present and Lizard Buzzard may be seen perched on the telephone lines. The chance of seeing larger raptors such as Black-chested and Brown Snake-Eagle and African Hawk-Eagle improves as you travel westwards. After 60km is a turn-off signposted Leeupoort Residence; turn right and continue for 500m, turn right, and then right again at the primary school. Continue until you reach a cul-de-sac and look out for Bronze-winged Courser along the road verge. After 70km you will reach the small town of Leeupoort (look out for the Leeukrans sign). Verreaux’s Eagle may be seen around some rocky hills to the right of the road opposite Leeupoort. Long-tailed Paradise Whydah are fairly common on the section of road between Leeupoort and the T-junction at Koedoeskop.

African Scops Owl – Dalena Mostert
Leeupoort Town / Leeukrans Restaurant

This small ‘suburb’ of Thabazimbi is 40 km from town, located in the bushveld and surrounded by a game reserve. It is freely accessible to the public through a manned gate. A network of roads can be explored, getting you off the main road and into bushveld habitat for some good birding. Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Arrow-marked Babbler, Lizard Buzzard and Shikra are often seen. This convenient refreshment stop offers a birding hotspot in the garden of the Leeukrans Restaurant. It is especially good for photographers who are able to get close to their subjects. African Paradise Flycatcher and Amethyst Sunbird nest in the garden during summer; African Scops Owl can be heard calling around the restaurant area in the evenings. 

Black Heron – San3 de Wet
Rust de Winter Dam

This dam is only 90km from Pretoria and offers good bushveld and broadleaved woodland birding as well as a wide variety of waterbirds. Goliath and Black Heron, Knob-billed and White-backed Duck can be seen on the dam; as well as a host of waders including Wood and Common Sandpipers. The Acacia woodland is home to Barred Wren-Warbler, Fairy Flycatcher and Cape Penduline Tit. Look out for Coqui Francolin, Great Sparrow and Flappet Lark in the broadleaved woodland. Various rarities have been found there as well, including Great Frigatebird and Golden Pipit.

Directions: travel on the N1 North from Pretoria; take the Hammanskraal off-ramp and follow the signs to Rust de Winter.

African Crake – Joe Grosel
Zaagkuilsdrift and Kgomo Kgomo

This dirt road follows the Pienaars River for about 15km and ends at the Kgomo Kgomo floodplain where the Pienaars, Plat and Tshwane Rivers meet. The habitat along the road is mostly Acacia woodland with patches of grassland. This area is renowned for its great variety of warblers, including Barred Wren, Olive-tree, Marsh, Great-reed, Icterine Warblers, Common White-throat, River Warbler and even Thrush Nightingale. Tinkling Cisticola, Pied Babbler and Crimson-breasted Shrike can also be seen. Look out for Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Kittlitz's Plover, Chestnut-backed Sparrow Lark and African Quail-finch in the grassland around Kgomo Kgomo. When the floodplain inundates it attracts Black, Goliath and Purple Heron as well as Yellow-billed Stork, Allen's Gallinule, Lesser Moorhen and Corn, Baillon's and African Crake.

Directions: travel north from Pretoria on the N1, take the Rust de Winter / Pienaarsrivier off-ramp and drive west. Continue to the T-junction with the R101 and turn right; after 1 km turn left onto a dirt road to Zaagkuilsdrift. In very wet years the roads around the flood plain may be inundated and impassable for a week or two.