Lowveld – Friedenheim Grasslands

About the Birding

Start birding immediately after turning off and this is therefore a good idea to open windows wide and turn off the engine to hear birds. Along this road drive very slow and make frequent stops. Also alight from your vehicle at intervals. Check the ARC property on your right and the boundary fence, as well as the young orchards on the left, between the road and the fence. This area has given us some really good records for this pentad on occasions. These include European Roller, Red- backed Shrike, Lesser Grey Shrike, Plain-backed Pipit, Red-capped Lark,Dusky Lark, African Quail-finch, Common Buttonquail, Black-bellied Bustard, White-winged Widowbird and Orange-breasted Waxbill, amongst others.

As you drive along slowly you should pick up Rufous-naped Lark, Yellow-throated Longclaw, African Pipit, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Red-collared Widowbird, Croaking Cisticola, Zitting Cisticola, Neddicky, Grey- rumped Swallow, numbers of Southern Red Bishop and sometimes Red-billed Quelea amongst them. The farming area of ARC has Spotted Thick-knee on occasions, and very often Crowned Lapwing, Blacksmith Lapwing and African Wattled Lapwing. The fence often has perched Brimstone Canary.
You will reach a bridge over the highway and it is a good idea to stop and have a look here as Lesser Striped Swallow breeds under the bridge and sometimes have their nests hi-jacked by White-rumped Swifts. Just past the bridge there is some dense woodland habitat on the left where Southern Masked Weaver breeds in Acacia trees at the edge of the woodland and African (Holub’s) Golden Weaver in a patch of reeds nearby. Red-faced Cisticola is also resident here. The woodland holds birds such as Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike, Sombre Greenbul, Tambourine Dove, Bar-throated Apalis, Golden-tailed Woodpecker and Purple-crested Turaco plus others.
Continue to a T-junction and turn left to pass through an open gate to a field of open grassland. Drive a short distance to an open gravel area and then slowly retrace your steps to the main road. The chances of picking up something new on the way are good so take your time. Stop when you get back to the main road and scan the transmission lines on the opposite side of the road. Raptors often perch on the wire or poles and you could get Black-shouldered Kite, Lizard Buzzard, Common Buzzard and in late summer, Amur Falcon. When you turn onto the main road stop at ARC entrance and scan a pond to the left of the entrance. White-faced Whistling Duck are often here, along with Black-headed Heron, Egyptian Goose, Reed Cormorant and exotic Mallard to end your list.

About the Birding Site

This could be done as a combination of walking and driving and it is recommended to stop the car and walk a bit and listen as one will see and hear more birds. Early morning is best. Open grassland is a scarce habitat in Mbombela and the area described below probably offers the best site for this habitat.

Other Related Information

There is no entry fee charged to bird this area. To get there drive towards White River on the R40, passing Riverside, and shortly after driving under the N4 highway turn right onto the Friedenheim road. There is a sign here for ‘University of Mpumalanga’. Drive for 3.8km and turn right onto an unmarked gravel road, immediately after the entrance to the Agricultural Research Council (ARC). Most of the area has now been planted with macadamia trees but some good birding is still possible
GPS: -25.443, 30.995

Text prepared by:
Extracted from Birds of Mbombela – A Comparative Study by Duncan McKenzie and Peter Lawson. Published by BirdLife Lowveld (2019).

Key species:

Orange-breasted Waxbill, Rufous-naped Lark, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Red-collared Widowbird, Croaking Cisticola, Spotted Thick-knee, Gorgeous Bush-shrike and Amur Falcon