Lower Drakensburg Foothills – Impendle Nature Reserve

About the Birding

Impendle Nature Reserve, situated near the village of Boston, consists predominantly of mid-altitude grasslands with isolated rocky patches and a large tract of mist belt forest in the furthest reaches of the reserve overlooking the Umkomazi Valley. While infrequently visited, some 60 to 70 bird species are known to occur including a small population of the critically endangered Blue Swallow.

The most notable species within the reserve is without question the rare and localized Blue Swallow. Some 10 pairs are known to nest here between the months of October and March. The birds are generally seen flying low over the grassland, particularly near stream courses, or diving into sink holes within which they breed. Other Hirundines include the Banded and Common House Martins, and the Horus Swift. The same grassland habitats are shared by the Red-winged Francolin, Common Quail, Denham’s Bustard, Corn Crake (occasional, in summer), up to five species of cisticola (Wing-snapping, Pale-crowned, Zitting, Wailing, and Croaking), Cape Grassbird, African Yellow Warbler, and the Drakensburg Prinia. Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk is frequently seen hunting low over the grasslands.

Rocky areas away from the main stream courses support the Ground Woodpecker, Cape Rock-thrush, Buff-streaked Chat and Bokmakierie. The forests then hold Knysna Turaco, African Olive Pigeon, Narina Trogon, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Bush Blackcap, Olive Bush-shrike, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Swee Waxbill and Southern Double-collared Sunbird. Cape Parrot is only occasionally sighted.

Key species:

Blue Swallow, Pale-crowned Cisticola, Corn Crake, Buff-streaked Chat, Olive Bush-shrike

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, Pale-crowned Cisticola, Corn Crake, Buff-streaked Chat, Olive Bush-shrike

Other Related Information

From the N3 heading, turn off at Howick and follow the R617 towards Boston. Roughly 6km beyond Boston, turn to the right in the direction of Impendle. Continue for 9km before turning left. Continue for 7km before turning left again, and the entrance to the reserve is a further 1.5km along this road.

Notable points of interest include the:
Main entrance to Impendle Nature Reserve: -29.6860, 29.8594

The nearest towns are:
Boston: 31km
Bulwer: 52km
Howick: 63km
Underberg: 89km

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
Impendle Nature Reserve is managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and, although not open to the public, is accessible by prior arrangement (see contact details below). No facilities are available. Birding is done largely on foot, walking through open veld in search of the Blue Swallows and other species. Access to the forest is limited.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
The nearest Birder Friendly Establishments include:
Midlands Forest Lodge – Balgowan (51km).
Physical address: R103 (4km from Balgowan), Midlands Meander
Tel: +27 (0)33 940 0145 or +27 (0)33 234 4524
Fax: +27 (0)33 234 4633 or +27 (0)33 234 4524
Mobile: +27 (0)72 125 3392 or +27(0)82 389 1395
E-mail: forest-lodge@ecotourism.co.za
Website: http://www.ecotourism.co.za

Mkomazana Mountain Cottages – Himeville/Sani Pass (71km)
Tel: +27 (0)63 699 4666
E-mail: bookings@mkomazana.co.za
Web: https://www.mkomazana.co.za/

Local guide information:
No local guides are currently available for Impendle Nature Reserve. Reserve staff often know the whereabouts of Blue Swallow nests.

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

Key species:

Blue Swallow, Pale-crowned Cisticola, Corn Crake, Buff-streaked Chat, Olive Bush-shrike

Contact details:

For more information or to arrange your visit, contact the officer in charge on:

Tel: +27 (0)33 996 9613.