Blyde River Canyon and surrounds – California Tribal Area

About the Birding

The California Tribal area is less of a formal birding site but rather one of the most reliable areas in which to encounter the threatened Southern Bald Ibis on the route. As you drive through the Abel Erasmus Pass, you will come up to a large flat area just before you descend down towards Tshwenyane and the Strydom Tunnel.

Scan the overgrazed grasslands on either side of the road and you will often pick up a flock of Southern Bald Ibis. The area is also good for raptors and one can often see Cape Vultures in the mid-morning as they start foraging from the nearby colony at Manoutsa.

Key species:

Southern Bald Ibis, Cape Vulture

About the Birding Site

The majority of birders actively plan birding trips to areas where they can either see a large number of birds in a short space of time or around rarities/localized species that would not easily be seen elsewhere. The Kruger to Canyons Birding Route offers both these highlights and a captivating wildlife experience to visiting birders.

Contained within the Kruger to Canyons Birding Route are 10 provincial nature reserves, the world’s largest collection of privately owned nature reserves, and the world-famous Kruger National Park. The route includes three vegetative biomes namely Montane Grassland, Afromontane Forest, Savanna and a fascinating vegetation unit of Northern Escarpment Afromontane Fynbos with strong links to that of the Fynbos Biome which is otherwise restricted to the Western Cape. This diverse range of habitats provides a home to a total of 76 bird families and a staggering 510 species of which 8 are endemic to the region. The Lowveld is a raptor watchers’ dream destination with approximately 85% of South Africa’s raptors being concentrated in this region. The fantastic road infrastructure and well-established tourism industry, offering accommodation in unparalleled surroundings, provides birders with an excellent platform from which to explore the area.

The route starts at Graskop and the top of the Blyde River Canyon from where it meanders along the course of the panoramic Canyon before plunging down through the Abel Erasmus Pass, the only known breeding site of the rare Taita Falcon in South Africa, and into the Lowveld. The drop in altitude from 1730 to 250 meters above sea level gives rise to a multitude of breath-taking views of a Tufa waterfall, wooded valleys and the expanse of open savanna below. Once down in the Lowveld the route reaches the town of Hoedspruit where a number of different birding opportunities are presented. The Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, which includes the Swadini Dam, offers a wide variety of typical bushveld bird species and also includes African Finfoot, White-backed Night Heron and Green Twinspot. Mariepskop, which is one of the best-kept birding secrets in South Africa, is largely dominated by Afromontane Forest, but also includes a piece of Northern Escarpment Afromontane Fynbos habitat at the summit. Exploring both habitats assures a treasured day’s birding with species such as Orange Ground Thrush, Black-fronted Bush Shrike, Red-necked Spurfowl and Gurney’s Sugarbird.

Alternatively one can continue on to the town of Phalaborwa, which as well as offering a diverse range of bushveld birding, has a number of wetlands which is uncharacteristic of the area. The region offers some fantastic bird species such as White-crowned Lapwing, Pel’s Fishing Owl and Saddle-billed Stork. Phalaborwa is also a gateway to the central section of the Kruger National Park which has been rated as one of the top birding destinations in Southern Africa with a species list exceeding 500 species. Kruger’s rest camps of Mopani, Letaba, Olifants and Satara with their fantastic mixture of bushveld and riparian habitat birding anchor the Kruger to Canyons Birding Route. Look out for species such as African Barred Owlet, Southern Ground Hornbill, Collared Pratincole and Yellow-billed Oxpecker.

The Kruger to Canyons Birding Route offers an amazing and diverse number of species within three different biomes supported by well-maintained infrastructure and world-class accommodation options catering specifically for birders. Birding sites along this route are broadly divided by their proximity to several key towns in the area or notable features of this route such as the Abel Erasmus Pass and Blyde River Canyon. The central parts of Kruger National Park are then treated separately from the northern parts (covered in the Soutpansberg sub-route) of this expansive reserve.

Key species:

Southern Bald Ibis, Cape Vulture

Other Related Information

Access and facilities:
While this area is not considered an unsafe area to visit, birders should always remain mindful as petty crime is a possibility when visiting these remote areas.

The California Tribal area is situated about 5 km before the Strydom Tunnel on the R527 between Hoedspruit and Ohrigstad. Travelling from Ohrigstad, drive up and through the Abel Erasmus pass and down towards the Strydom Tunnel. California is the large township area just before the village of Tshwenyane.

Other related information:

Recommended accommodation nearby:
The nearest BirdLife Recommended Accommodations are in the nearby towns of Phalaborwa and Hoedspruit.

Hoedspruit – Toro Yaka Bush Lodge:
Physical address: Balule Nature Reserve,
(On the R40 between Hoespruit & Phalaborwa)
Fax: +27 (0)12 991 5984 or 086 603 8251
Mobile: +27 (0)82 308 5763

Phalaborwa – Abelana Game Reserve:
Cell: +27 (0)61 952 4302

Phalaborwa – Antares Bush Camp & Safaris
Cell: +27 (0)83 286 8281 (Ian) or +27 (0)82 811 5696 (Mel)

Phalaborwa – Sunbird Lodge
Physical address: 21 Aalwyn Street, Phalaborwa
Tel: +27 (0)15 781 5559
Fax: +27 (0)15 781 5559
Mobile: +27 (0)72 756 1875

Local guide information:
Abednego Maibela: +27 (0)72 382 1846
Blondy Mabunda: +27 (0)78 246 0004
Michael Kumako: +27 (0)79 261 1559

Text prepared by:
Daniel Danckwerts (Rockjumper Birding Tours)

Key species:

Southern Bald Ibis, Cape Vulture

Contact details: