Greater Panorama – Kaapschehoop

About the Birding

South of the Village entrance-25.5945 30.7655 ( S 25 35 40.16 E 30 45 55.8821 )

At the entrance of the town across the tar road is a gorge that provides for excellent early morning birding and a very good spot. Climbing down the gorge is not recommended but can be viewed from the north and south side. So brush up on your bird sounds and enjoy a cup of coffee and lots of fresh mountain air. Expect the following bird species: Cape Grassbird, Narina Trogan, Barrett’s Warbler, Sombre Greenbul, African Olive Pigeon, African Paradise Flycatcher, Bush Blackcap, White Starred Robin-Chat, Yellow Throated Woodland Warbler, Bokmakierie, Cape Longclaw, Cape Rock Thrush Malachite Sunbirds, Greater Double Banded Sunbirds, Red-throated Wryneck, Red-eyed Dove, Speckled Pigeon, Dark Capped Bulbul, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Black Cuckoo, Red Chested Cuckoo, Black Cuckoo Shrike, African Emerald Cuckoo.

On the south side is a rock outcrop which is always good to do some birding. Walk into the grass area and look for Black-winged Lapwings, Cape Longclaws and Red-winged Francolins. From the grass area walk down to the west to the top of the Battery Creek waterfall. At the top of the waterfall look down for Half-Collared Kingfishers and Mountain Wagtail. At the edge walk up left along the little stream towards the Pear Orchard Picnic spot. Mountain Wagtails like to feed in this stream and it’s also a good spot for Dark Back Yellow Warbler (African yellow warbler) and Golden Weavers( Holub’s Golden Weaver). The dam at the Pear Orchard is a favourite place for African Black Ducks and raptors like to spend time on the top of these trees. Walk around this area and locate indigenous bush for good birding. Please adhere to signs where you may not enter. The local guides can get you into these areas. This is a very nice picnic spot. Bookings can be done via Salvador Restaurant cell no. 0828928767. You need a permit to be able to drive to this area. Day permits can be obtained from the Platanna shop next to the Salvador Restaurant. Permit only allows you to drive to picnic spot.

The Village :

After spending some time at this gorge go back into town and wind through the streets to find: Cape Wagtails, Olive Thrush, Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Malachite Sunbirds, Greater Double-collard Sunbirds, Amethyst Sunbirds, White-bellied Sunbirds, Red-eyed Doves, Speckled Mousebirds, Red-winged Starlings, Pin-tailed Whydahs, Red-throated Wryneck, Cape Weavers and Swee Waxbill.

At the windmill in the centre of town turn east and walk up the road towards the Old prison and the Commissioner’s house. This is a good spot for some early morning birding. Species seen in the area include Red-necked Spurfowl, Drakensberg Prinia, Southern Boubou, Common Fiscal, Hadeda Ibis, Speckled Mousebird, Tawny Flanked Prinia, Natal Spurfowl, Red-throated Wryneck, and Cape Rock Thrush and Olive Woodpecker.

In summer after good rains, the dam on the west side of the town fills and this becomes a nice spot to see: African Black Duck, Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Hamerkop, Levailant’s Cisticola, Cape Robin-Chat, Common Quails, Striped Flufftail has also been seen here.

Hikers Hut:

This spot is reached by walking past the Old prison buildings on the grass road heading away from town in an easterly direction. This area is covered by lots of Yellowwood trees and bracken ferns- an easy 800m walk. On this walk be on the watch for Knysna Turaco, Bush Blackcap, Olive Bushshrike, Cape Batis, Brown-backed Honeybird, Red-backed Mannikin, Bronze Mannikin, Forest Canary, Swee Waxbill, Olive Woodpecker, Southern Tchagra, Chorister Robin-Chat, Sombre Greenbul, African Goshawk (can be seen flying overhead and calling), Lemon Doves, Terrestrial Brownbul, Southern Boubou, Bush Blackcap, and Southern Tchagra.

Trails to lookout point:

There are three ways to walk to the highest point in Kaapschehoop.1830 m above sea-level. All the walks are at an easy pace and without stopping for birding the route takes about 30 minutes. Please ensure that people know where you are going and an estimated time back. Take enough water and be very careful should the mist come down as you could easily get disorientated and get lost with the added danger of falls.

Northern Route:

Walk up to the Hikers Hut. At the back of the hut there is a marked walking trail that leads up to the top of the mountain and to the old Fire Detection Hut overlooking the valley below This is the most difficult but also the most spectacular way to get to the top. Birding is good here and it’s a good place just to sit still and listen to nature. The way to the top is quite steep over rocks and boulders and it’s recommended to wear the correct footwear. Watch for the the Knysna Turacos on the way through the rocks and Yellowwood trees.

Once on top have a good look for Rock Martins darting amongst the rocks. Various raptors can also be observed here. Spend some time at the observation hut before going back to town. Either follow the way you came or head straight back westwards down to the village. This area is mainly a grass veld with big rocks. Looking for birds amongst the rocks is a different experience not easily forgotten. Be on the lookout for Rock Kestrel, Golden and Cinnamon-breasted Buntings, Wailing Cisticola, Wing Snapping Cisticola, Familiar Chat, Buff-streaked Chat, Streaky-headed Seed-eater, Nicholson Pipit, Plain-backed-pipit, African Pipit, Cape Longclaw, African Stonechat, Cape Rock Thrush, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Neddicky, Drakensberg Prinia, Mocking Cliff Chat, Yellow Bishop, Malachite Sunbird, Greater Double-collard Sunbird, Amethyst Sunbird, White-bellied Sunbird. During the winter months, the Gurneys Sugarbirds arrive and can be found amongst the aloes.

Eastern Route:

Driving into the village, arrive at the Plain on your left (central parking area in the village). It’s an open grass area where you can park your car. Public toilets are situated here. Cross the road going east towards the top of the mountain and start your birding. This is the reverse route of returning from the top.

Southern Route:

At the exit from Kaapschehoop turn left (South) and walk for about 600m and find a gate on the left side of the tar road. This has a “No Entry” sign for private vehicles. Follow the road eastwards heading up the hill to the Observation hut on top. This is mainly a grassland area with scattered rocks. This is an area overlooked by many birders but is always worth exploring. It is off the normal track and most birders seem to only focus on the previous route. Amongst the small rocks remains of British fortifications can be found and plenty of artifacts are still found here dating back to 1880 and earlier. The road joins up with the two previous routes.

Similar species as mentioned above may be found here.

Blue Swallow Reserve:

This reserve is about 800m southwest of Kaapschehoop. Leave the village and turn left, the entrance is on the left. Visiting hours are from 06h00 to 18h00. This is a State-owned reserve. You may only walk, run or mountain bike in the reserve. No private vehicles, off-road motorbikes, or quad bikes. To control the number of visitors going into the reserve a permit system has been introduced, Permits are available via Salvador Restaurant cell no. 0828928767 or from the Platanna shop next to the Salvador Restaurant. However, the guides in Kaapschehoop have been granted special permits to take birders into the reserve in private vehicles.

This area is grassveld and is home to some very special birds. Unfortunately, the last Blue Swallows were last seen here in 2007.

There are two areas to visit in this reserve:

The Eastern Side:

At the gate in winter be on the lookout for Sentinel Rock Thrush amongst the rocks to the left. Go up the road and at the first split in the road head left and keep on going for another 800m and start descending into the valley. There are still a few indigenous trees at the edge of the pine plantations. Good area for Bush Blackcap, Green Twinspot, Orange Ground Thrush, Barrett’s Warbler, and Narina Trogon. Various other species can also be seen here. Don’t forget to look towards the sky for Raptors and Swifts and Swallows.

The Main Reserve:

Instead of turning left at split carry on to the right and start your birding. This is a very good area for: Red-winged Francolin, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Common Quail, Kurricane Quail, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Yellow Bishop, Wailing Cisticola, Wing-snapping Cisticola, African Stonechat, and in winter Black-winged Lapwing. During November a pair of Blue Cranes breed in this area and birders are asked not to go too close to their nesting area (300m) as they are very skittish and will easily abandon their chicks when approached. Please stay up on the road.

On the western side of the reserve is a gully that runs from south to north where you can find Striped Flufftail, Red-chested Flufftail, and Buff-spotted Flufftail. September to November is a good time to hear and hopefully find them. The use of the local guides may help one know where the birds have been seen. On the edge of the escarpment be on the lookout for Peregrine Falcon, Crowned Eagle, Alpine Swift, Rock Kestrel and Swifts, Martins and Swallows.

Battery Creek Waterfall:

This spot is located on the west side of the village and can be easily reached. The entrance to the route is about 900m from the village. Cross the main road on the west side of the village and walk to the cemetery. From the cemetery take a left turn and walk downhill following the road. Before reaching the gorge there is an opening on the left which is the entrance.

The gorge can be very slippery when wet or from rotting leaves. When taking on this route please ensure that you have a backup system so that people will know where you are and when you will be back. Also, check whether the route is open or not. Note that there is no cell phone signal. Preferably go with a partner. This is a very beautiful route and takes you right down into the creek which leads upstream to the waterfall.

Birds to be on the lookout for here include Half-collared Kingfisher, Mountain Wagtail, Narina Trogon, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, White-starred Robin, and Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, African Olive Pigeon and Knysna Turaco can be found here.

Please take special care when descending and ascending.

About the Birding Site

Kaapschehoop is an under-estimated birding spot not too far from Gauteng and this little gem of a birding spot has a lot to offer. Most of the birding spots can be reached by walking but some of the spots are quicker to reach by vehicle. Access to the Blue Swallow Reserve can only be done on foot. Birders can travel in this reserve by vehicle if accompanied by one of the local bird guides. Note that the plantations are under the control of Komatiland and can only be visited under the supervision of the local guides. Permits are required to reach certain spots but the guides do have access to these spots which makes the process of obtaining permits much easier.

This village is located 32km southwest of Mbombela (Nelspruit) and 14km from Ngodwana. GPS of entrance: -25.5945 30.7655 ( S 25 35 40.16 E 30 45 55.8821 )

The village is an old village with houses and well-established gardens, surrounded by mostly Pine and Yellowwood trees, dolomite rock formations, natural forest, and grasslands. Amongst the rock, aloes flower from May to the beginning of August and this is a huge attraction for many birds, especially Gurney’s Sugarbird and Malachite Sunbird in winter. Climate is moderate but can be cold in winter, there area is known for its heavy mist in the mornings and four seasons occurring in one day.

Birding is at its peak from September to April, with 248 species recorded for the area. During winter up to 50 to 60 species may be recorded and in the summer between 80 to 100 species may be recorded. A typical trip should yield over 60 species for the day. Birding is still good even when the heavy mist descends on the village; it makes for quite a different birding experience, especially when birding amongst the rocks. Early morning is the best from one hour before sunrise until 10h00. In the late afternoon, a walk up to the escarpment will produce some good sightings and an awesome sunset over the Lowveld.

The only tough birding is the walk up to the lookout point but birding here is relaxed and the views are magnificent. Birding amongst the rocks offers a new birding experience quite unique to Kaapschehoop. Once at the top there is a very beautiful view overlooking the valley towards Barberton.

A major attraction is the “Wild Horses” that roam the streets of the village and the areas outside the village. Please note that these are not wild horses but they are feral as they were abandoned around 1903. Please don’t feed them as it creates bad habits and accidents.

Restaurants in the village provide excellent food and a well-deserved rest after birding the area.

Flying drones is prohibited in order to respect the privacy of the residents and to prevent accidents with birds, especially the raptors.

Avoid excessive playback of bird sounds. Find the spots on all the routes that still have indigenous forests and find the specials.

No fires, please don’t remove plants or disturb nature. Leave only footprints and remove the rubbish.

Other Related Information

Cost to go to Pear orchard is currently R35 per a person and a key deposit of R100. Permit obtainable from the shop Platanna next to Salvador restaurant. Information brochure available at Bohemian restaurant at entrance to Kaapschehoop.

Text prepared by:

Johan Gouws

Key species:

Bush Blackcap, Yellow-Throated Woodland Warbler, White-starred Robin, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Black-winged Lapwing, Red-winged Francolin, Red-necked Spurfowl, Striped Flufftail, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Knysna Turaco, Brown-backed Honeybird, Green Twinspot, Barrett’s Warbler, African Black Duck, Olive Bush Shrike, Wing-snapping Cisticola, Forest Canary , Southern Tchagra, and Drakensberg Prinia.