Durban and surrounds – Shongweni Dam and Nature Reserve

About the Birding

Shongweni Dam and the surrounding nature reserve is among one of the better birding sites in the wide Durban area. The area is named for the characteristic conical hill, named Ntshongweni, which lies at the confluence of the Mlazi and Sterkspruit Rivers. The reserve itself covers an immense area of 1700 hectares including the dam, a network of cliffs, riverine bush and large tracts of valley bushveld.

Some 300 bird species can be found and one could expect a list of between 50 and 100 species in a full morning of birding. In 1995, several mammals were also reintroduced including the Southern Giraffe, Greater Kudu, Plain’s Zebra and Blue Wildebeest.

The contour road above the main dam traverses a large area of open country. This area is particularly good for grassland and savannah species including the Blue Waxbill, Red-faced Mousebird, Rattling and Croaking Cisticolas, Rufous-naped Lark, Little Bee-eater and occasionally the Red-throated Wryneck. Take the road in the direction of the dam, bypassing the no-entry contour road to your right. At the dam, turn to the right and follow this road to the fenced picnic and camping area on the north bank of the dam. The dam itself supports Hamerkop, African Fish Eagle, African Black Duck, and both Giant and Pied Kingfishers. African Finfoot and White-backed Night Heron also occur and are best searched for by inspecting overhanging vegetation by canoe. Watch carefully in the extensive reedbeds for the shy Little Bittern, Black Crake and Common Moorhen.

A suggested route is to park at the picnic site and to follow the trail along the fence and up the hill. Note that this route is separate from the Ntini Trail, which starts further back. The suggested trail proceeds up the hill and joins the contour road. The cliffs here support a resident pair of both Black Stork and Verreaux’s Eagles, both of which are often seen soaring overhead. These rocky habitats may also yield the Mocking Cliff Chat, Cape Rock-thrush and Striped Pipit. Follow the contour road to the right for about 500m through an area of rich bushveld. Species to look for in this area include the Gorgeous, Grey-headed and Orange-breasted Bush-shrikes – all of which are best detected by their loud calls. Other species include the reclusive Southern and Black-crowned Tchagras, Black Cuckoo, both the Grey and Black Cuckooshrikes, and White-bellied Sunbirds. Wait patiently near patches of seeding grasses as both Grey and Swee Waxbill occur. Flowering trees attract an interesting diversity of sunbirds including the Grey, Olive, Amethyst, White-bellied and Collared Sunbirds. Further along, follow the Ntini trail back in the direction of the campsite. Species to look for along this stretch include the Narina Trogon, Tambourine and Lemon Doves, and Buff-spotted Flufftail; the latter requiring luck and patience. Listen for the buzzing display calls of the African Broadbill in the summer months, and for the echoing call of the Narina Trogon. The regal Crowned Eagle is often seen soaring over this section and, occasionally, Martial Eagle may also be seen.

Another suggested route is to start at the picnic site and, while looking back up the hill, to follow the road to the right. This road continues past the canoe club and up the hill, from where you can turn right in the direction of the dam wall. Here it is possible to scan the cliff face for a Mocking Cliff-chat and Cape Rock-thrush. Listen for the sweet call of the Striped Pipit, which calls from exposed perches here in the summer months. Continue towards the dam wall and park in the provided grassy area. The gorge below the dam wall occasionally yields the resident pair of Verreaux’s Eagles, as well as Black Stork and Lanner Falcon. Other notable species in this section of the reserve include the Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbills, African Emerald Cuckoo (summer), Southern Boubou, Green-backed Camaroptera, and the Red-capped Robin-chat. Depending on water-levels, the old water purification ponds may also yield Little Grebe, African Black Duck, African Spoonbill, Grey Heron, Reed Cormorant, African Darter and Giant Kingfisher. However, note that this section is closed on weekdays.

Key species:

Verreaux’s, Martial and Crowned Eagles, African Finfoot, White-backed Night Heron, African Broadbill, Gorgeous Bush-shrike

About the Birding Site

The eThekwini Metropolitan Area (Durban) is a major harbour city situated on the east coast of South Africa. It serves as the most accessible port of entry into the KwaZulu-Natal province with daily flights to all other major cities in South Africa, and further afield (e.g. Mauritius, Dubai). The city and surrounding towns are popular among holidaymakers, given the sub-tropical climate and extensive beaches along the rich waters of the Indian Ocean. Moreover, the city falls within a global biodiversity hotspot – the Maputaland-Pondolona-Albany (MPA) Hotspot.

This region is home to more than 7000 species of plant, more than 25% of which are found nowhere else on Earth. The variety of landforms and sub-tropical climatic conditions, combined with its unique biogeographical position, have resulted in a range of aquatic (wetlands, rivers, estuaries) and terrestrial (mainly forests and coastal grasslands) environments which additionally support a plethora of interesting bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian species. The eThekwini area contains three of South Africa’s eight biomes (namely savanna, forest and grasslands), and supports more than 2000 plant species, 82 terrestrial mammals, 69 reptiles, 25 endemic invertebrates and well over 500 bird species – making it South Africa’s most biodiverse city, by far. To be expected then, the region offers a variety of prime birding spots featuring a number of South Africa’s most sought-after bird species. Top among these are the Spotted Ground Thrush, Mangrove Kingfisher, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Green Malkoha, and Knysna Woodpecker. Durban is also well known for its variety of waders and marine species, often turning up rarities such as the Lesser Black-backed Gull. Key sites within the eThekwini Metropolitan Area include Tala Game Reserve, Pigeon Valley and Krantzkloof Nature Reserves, Durban Bay Head and the Durban National Botanical Gardens.

In addition, as a further attraction to this rich region, the eThewkini Natural Science Museum has world-class ornithological displays and collections.

Key species:

Verreaux’s, Martial and Crowned Eagles, African Finfoot, White-backed Night Heron, African Broadbill, Gorgeous Bush-shrike

Other Related Information

Shongweni Nature Reserve is located roughly 30km from Durban centre, in the direction of Pietermaritzburg. Follow the N3 north and take the Shongweni/Assagay off-ramp heading south. Follow the signs to the left after roughly 500m, then to the right after about 200m. The entrance is located 5km along this road through cane fields, past a waste dump and through a small township.

Notable points of interest include the:
Main entrance: -29.8597, 30.7221

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
Shongweni Nature Reserve is accessible by day visitors and a nominal entrance fee is charged at the main gate. Gate times are as follows: 05:00-19:00 in summer (October-March), and 06:00-18:00 in winter (April-September).

The reserve is divided into a recreational and wilderness area. Access to the recreational area is good with a detailed network of roads, walking trails and horse trails. Other facilities in this section include a picnic site, camping sites, and a variety of accommodation options. Activities on offer include walking, horse riding, fishing, canoeing, rock climbing, 4×4 trails, and an outdoor adventure camp. A map is available at the main entrance.

The wilderness area is accessible on guided game drives only, or by staying in the private bush camp. To visit these areas, it is necessary to call ahead to arrange for a guide.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
A number of Birder Friendly Establishments are available within the wider eThekwini Metropolitan Area including Camperdown/Kloof/Pietermaritzburg.
For more information, view:

Local guide information:
Experienced guides are available by prior arrangement and are required if one plans to visit the wilderness areas of Shongweni Nature Reserve.

Text prepared by:
Daniel Keith Danckwerts (Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Tours)

Key species:

Verreaux’s, Martial and Crowned Eagles, African Finfoot, White-backed Night Heron, African Broadbill, Gorgeous Bush-shrike

Contact details:

For more information, contact:

Msinsi Holdings
Tel: +27 (0)31 769 1283