Lower Drakensburg Foothills – Highover Wildlife Sanctuary

About the Birding

Nestled in the spectacular Umkomazi Gorge, Highover boasts an impressive combination of valley bushveld and mist belt forest birds. However, the star attraction of Highover is the small population of the critically endangered Blue Swallow which breed on the pristine upland grasslands overlooking the valley. In order to see this species, one must visit in the summer months (September-April) and a full day of birding is recommended.

The valley bushveld near the main entrance and towards the Umkomazi River is rich in birdlife with an assortment of shrikes, sunbirds and starlings being particularly well represented. Other notable species to look for in this section of the reserve include the Brown-backed Honeybird, Grey-headed Bush-shrike and (in the summer months) both Icterine and Garden Warbler. A number of forest species also occur including the African Green Pigeon, Knysna Turaco, Olive Bush-shrike, Swee Waxbill and Dark-backed Weaver. Along the Umkkomazi River, search for African Black Duck and the Mountain Wagtail and watch overhead for Forest Buzzard, both the Crowned and Verreaux’s Eagles, and Black Stork.

The grasslands above the Umkomazi River valley are home to a small remnant population of Blue Swallow. These critically endangered birds are present during the months of September through April and are best found along shallow drainage lines and in the vicinity of sink holes, which are used by the swallows for breeding purposes. Other grassland species include the nomadic Black-winged Lapwing, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Striped Flufftail, Fan-tailed Grassbird, and Pale-crowned Cisticola.

Key species:

Blue Swallow, Blue Crane, Black-winged Lapwing, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Knysna Turaco

About the Birding Site

The Lower Drakensberg Foothills Birding Route lies inland and to the south-west of the Southern KwaZulu-Natal Birding Route and is easily accessible from both Durban and Pietermaritzburg, the two nearest points of entry. The source of this route is found in the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg World Heritage Site at the majestic Sani Pass where birders get the unique opportunity to view birds in a rugged and stunningly beautiful environment, consisting of five different habitats and ranging in height from 1600m to 3200m.

However, the heart of this route lies in the lowlands below the Sani Pass where numerous beautiful nature reserves and large tracts of pristine mist belt forest and grassland are to be found supporting a plethora of interesting species including several of South Africa’s most sought-after birds. Top specials within this birding route include the critically endangered Blue Swallow, Drakensburg Rockjumper, Cape Parrot, Drakensburg Siskin, Bearded and Cape Vultures, Orange Ground Thrush and Gurney’s Sugarbird among others. Several days are recommended in the area to do the route proper justice and summer visits (September-April) are optimal to ensure that all target species are present and that all sites will be accessible.

Key species:

Blue Swallow, Blue Crane, Black-winged Lapwing, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Knysna Turaco

Other Related Information

Highover is 1.5 hours from Durban or 1 hour from Pietermaritzburg. From Pietermaritzburg or Durban take provincial road No. 56 (Richmond / Transkei Route) and travel to Richmond using the Richmond bypass. Drive directly through Richmond along Shepstone Street, and 1km from Richmond take the Eastwolds/ Hela Hela Road. Continue along the tar road for 15km. From the end of the tar the gravel road winds down to the Mkomazi River for approximately 9km. The reception to Highover is situated on the left-hand side just before you cross the Mkomazi River…

Other related information:

… Highover can also be reached following the Hela Hela signs on the Ixopo/ Donnybrook road (612). Please continue all the way down the pass to our Reception, which is located on the right-hand side approx. 500m after crossing the Mkomazi River.

Notable points of interest include the:
Highover: -29.9126, 30.0902
The nearest towns to Highover are:
Richmond: 21km
Pietermaritzburg: 63km

Access and facilities:
It is necessary to make reservations and there is an entrance fee charge of R40.00 per day visitor. There are marked trails, a bird list and site map available. Ample picnic spots, toilet facilities and parking are available for day visitors. Catering can also be arranged in advance.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
The nearest Birder Friendly Establishment is in the nearby towns of Ixopo and Pietermaritzburg.

For more information, contact:

Local guide information:
Bird guides can be arranged through the reception at Highover. For assistance in locating the Blue Swallows, please also ask at reception.

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

Key species:

Blue Swallow, Blue Crane, Black-winged Lapwing, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Knysna Turaco

Contact details:

For more information, contact:

Tel: +27 (0)82 826 0760
Email: highover@telkomsa.net
Website: www.highover.co.za