Lower Drakensberg Foothills – Ntsikeni Nature Reserve

About the Birding

Ntsikeni Vlei is central to a large 9000 hectare nature reserve, declared in 1997 around the 1200 hectare wetland. The wetland itself is surrounded by mountain terrain and extensive pristine grasslands. Flora and fauna within the reserve are of outstanding significance with many notable species of wildflower coming to bloom in the spring months, and an impressive list of birds and mammals including several of South Africa’s most sought-after species.

The Ntsikeni Vlei is an important breeding site for several highly sought-after specials including the Wattled Crane and Eurasian Bittern. While this latter species has not been seen here since at least 2007, it likely still occurs in low numbers, and this is perhaps one of the last breeding sites for the species anywhere in South Africa. The mythical White-winged Flufftail is also suspected to occur alongside the more common Striped Flufftail; this being the most reliable site for the species anywhere in South Africa. Other notable specials include the African Grass and Marsh Owls, Grey Crowned Crane, and Corn Crake in the summer months. The surrounding highland grassland supports Black-rumped Buttonquail, Eastern Long-billed Lark, Mountain Pipit (mainly in winter), Yellow-breasted and Short-tailed Pipits, Sentinel Rock Thrush and Black Harrier. The rare Cape Eagle-owl is also known to occur, though this species is difficult to see here, while Cape and Bearded Vultures are regularly seen soaring overhead.

Key species:

Wattled Crane, Striped Flufftail, African Grass Owl, and chances for Eurasian Bittern and White-winged Flufftail

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:

Wattled Crane, Striped Flufftail, African Grass Owl, and chances for Eurasian Bittern and White-winged Flufftail

Other Related Information

Ntsikeni Vlei is accessible by day visitors although it is highly recommended that visitors stay overnight in order to experience all that this special site offers.

Notable points of interest include the:
Main entrance: -30.1969, 29.4965
Ntsikeni Camp: -30.1417, 29.4787

The nearest towns are:
Creighton: 42km
Kokstad: 67km

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
Birders visiting Ntsikeni Vlei are required to be fully self-sufficient. Note that road conditions are variable and 4×4 vehicles with high clearance are recommended. There are remnants of cattle and agricultural paths and tracks ideal for mountain biking and hiking. A day visitor entrance fee of R25.00 per person is charged. The reserve is also only accessible in dry weather by 4-wheel drive vehicles due to river crossings. Toilet facilities are available for lodge guests only.
Gate times are between 06:00 and 18:00 daily.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
While it is possible to visit the Ntsikeni Vlei as a day trip, from either Creighton or Kokstad where there are diverse accommodation options, it is recommended that birders’ plan an overnight stay. Self-catering accommodation is available within Ntsikeni. Note that the accommodation is somewhat basic with simple gas amenities and birders should carry their own food, cooking apparatus and bedding. A generator is run until 21:00 each evening. For more information, or to make a reservation, please use the contact details listed above.

Local guide information:
For guided excursions to Ntsikeni Vlei, contact:
Button Birding
Tel: +27 (0)39 833 1029
E-mail: buttonbirding@futurenet.co.za

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

Key species:

Wattled Crane, Striped Flufftail, African Grass Owl, and chances for Eurasian Bittern and White-winged Flufftail

Contact details:

For bookings/enquiries please contact

Simon Madumela
Tel: +27 (0)74 644 4609