Lower Drakensburg Foothills – Sisonke Central Route

About the Birding

East Griqualand, comprising Matatiele Commonage and Mountain Lake, Queen’s Mercy Wetland and the Cedarville Flats are among the richest high-altitude grasslands anywhere in South Africa supporting the full complement of grassland specialists including a number of incredibly threatened and range restricted species. Matatiele is the most westerly town in southern KwaZulu-Natal, flanked by the Drakensburg to the north and high-lying grasslands to the south. Among the most interesting species to occur in the area are the critically endangered Rudd’s Lark and the near-endemic Yellow-breasted Pipit.

Both are habitat specialists favouring areas of tufty grass. Other notable species to occur in the area include the near-endemic African Rock Pipit, the scarce Short-tailed Pipit, Grey-winged Francolin, Black-winged Lapwing, Sentinel Rock Thrush and Buff-streaked Chat. High altitude rocky areas may yield the Drakensburg Rockjumper and Cape Eagle-owl, though both species are easier to see elsewhere. Dams throughout the area support resident populations of Grey Crowned, Blue and Wattled Cranes; in decreasing order of abundance. Waterfowl are generally scarce but dams may yield both the Maccoa and White-backed Ducks as well as South African Shelduck. The Cape and Bearded Vultures are occasionally sighted overhead.

Key species:

Rudd’s Lark, Yellow-breasted and Short-tailed Pipit, Wattled Crane, Bearded Vulture, Drakensburg Rockjumper

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:

Rudd’s Lark, Yellow-breasted and Short-tailed Pipit, Wattled Crane, Bearded Vulture, Drakensburg Rockjumper

Other Related Information

Directions:
Visitors should travel the R56 northwards from Kokstad over the van Niekerk’s Pass, across the Cedarville Flats along the Umzimvubu River plain. Mountain Lake lies above and south of Matatiele, and the Queens Mercy Wetlands a few kilometers due west of town.

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
Mountain Lake birding is of the top order combined with very good trout fishing. Bookings for Mountain Lake are made via the local fishing club (Shane Sweetman 039-7374849). Please note that to reach Mountain Lake you require high clearance on your vehicle. There is also a nominal entrance fee. Mehloding offers trails with the option of combining birding interests with floral appreciation in a blend of natural and cultural heritage. There is safe parking for up to 30 cars and there are toilet facilities available.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
For more information about accommodation in the wide area, enquire with the Mehloding Community Tourism Trust on:
Tel: +27 (0)39 737 3289
Email: mehloding@telkomsa.net
Website: www.mehloding.co.za

Local guide information:
No BirdLife community guides are currently available for this region of KwaZulu-Natal.

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

Key species:

Rudd’s Lark, Yellow-breasted and Short-tailed Pipit, Wattled Crane, Bearded Vulture, Drakensburg Rockjumper

Contact details:

For more information, contact:

Mehloding Community Tourism Trust

Tel: +27 (0)39 737 3289
Email: mehloding@telkomsa.net
Website: www.mehloding.co.za

Download Checklist