Lowveld – Lowveld National Botanical Garden

About the Birding

Head to entrance two, turning right at the main entrance this leads one over to the original entrance to the gardens and the grace hall bridge. Some time spent patiently watching the Crocodile River from here often produces the secretive African Finfoot. Other species seen here regularly include Half-collared and Malachite Kingfishers, African Black Duck, African Darter, Green-backed Heron, and Holub’s Golden Weaver and Red-faced Cisticola are found in the riverside vegetation. Other species that are also often seen in the taller riverine vegetation near the bridge include White-browed Robin-Chat, Purple-crested Turaco, Terrestrial Brownbul, and even the odd Eastern Nicator. Purple-banded Sunbird, a forest-loving species that has recently colonized Nelspruit over the past ten years, is often found in the vicinity of the bridge in tall trees such as Matumis that like the river. This species is fairly dependable here but can also be found in other areas throughout the gardens.

Continuing on towards the car park and enter the well-maintained aloes and other flowering plants support a range of sunbirds, especially during the scarce winter months that include Scarlet-chested, Amethyst, Collared, White-bellied, Greater Double-collared as well as another new bird to the region, the equally tropical Olive Sunbird.

Upon entering the gardens one is immediately confronted with the lush dense forested section which despite being relatively quiet often yields Green-backed Camaroptera, Terrestrial Brownbul and one of the specials of this site, the enigmatic and shy Tambourine Dove. Other species that have been recorded irregularly in this lush section include Narina Trogon, Black-bellied Starling and even Palmnut Vulture has been recorded.

Following the river trails leads one to a number of viewpoints over the spectacular Crocodile and Nels Rivers with the cascades often holding Mountain Wagtail as well as the rather out of place Southern Bald Ibis, a pair of which has bred or attempted to breed a number of times on the small cliff face above the rapids. The vegetation lining these river trails can be good for the uncommon Gorgeous Bushshrike, Southern Boubou, White-throated Robin-Chat, and Greater Honeyguide.

The lawns with their beautiful broad-leaved trees can be really rather productive and good birds found can include Lesser and Scaly-throated Honeyguide (in tall trees around the arboretum), Olive Woodpecker, Brown-backed Honeybird, Yellow-fronted and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Striped Pipit (winter only) as well as a host of more common Lowveld species that can include Common Scimitarbill, Red-headed Weaver, Black Cuckooshrike, Grey-headed and Orange-breasted Bush Shrikes, Brimstone Canary and Raptors are well represented here with regular sightings of African Goshawk, an easy ploy is to listen out for its one-noted but far carrying kit…kit….kip early in the morning and in the late afternoon and scanning high up for birds as they soar overhead. Other predators that can be encountered within or above are Little Sparrowhawk, Yellow-billed Kite, African Harrier Hawk, Long-crested Eagle, African Fish Eagle and Common Buzzard for those who are lucky and observant enough.

Overall, a full morning of birding within the gardens could yield an average of over 100 species in summer and 60-70 in winter, including a number of more localized species thus making the Lowveld Botanical Gardens a fantastic and easily accessible destination.

About the Birding Site

Located in Nelspruit with rugged, rocky river scenery, the 159ha gardens lie in Sour Lowveld Bushveld with typical riverine forest along the river of the Crocodile and Nels Rivers. A variety of species can be found in the gardens, including African Green-Pigeon, African Finfoot, African Black Duck, Tambourine Dove, White-browed Robin-chat, Red-capped Robin-chat, Collared Sunbird, Spectacled Weaver, Yellow-breasted Apalis, and Orange-breasted Bush-shrike. The call of the Purple-crested Turaco echoes through the lush gardens. These botanical gardens are a must-stop for any birder visiting the Nelspruit area. A typical walk in the garden should produce a good list of typical Lowveld birds offering a combination of forest and water birds. The open layout with wide lawns offers good views of Red-capped Robin-Chat, White-browed Robin-Chat, Cape Robin-Chat and (and maybe White-throated Robin-Chat), Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, Tambourine Dove and Purple-crested Turaco. Red-headed Weaver may also be found. Listen for Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird short call and compare it to that of the Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, very common here. Winter is a good time for Sunbirds, including Collared Sunbird and Scarlet-chested Sunbird, in the aloe section. Striped Pipit is also most commonly encountered at that time of year.

Other Related Information

There is an entry fee of R38 to access the gardens. Drive towards White River from Mbombela on the R40 and, once in Riverside Park turn right at the second traffic light. The street sign states ‘Botanical Gardens’. When you reach a T-junction at the end of the road you have a choice of two entrances but the opening time is only at 08h00. For the best birding turn right to Entrance 2.

GPS: -25.446, 30.968

Text prepared by:

Michael Meidlinger and Marc Cronje

Key species:

Striped Pipit, Olive Sunbird, African Finfoot, Black-bellied Starling, Green Twinspot, Half-collared Kingfisher, Eastern Nicator, African Black Duck, Purple-banded Sunbird, Tambourine Dove, and Narina Trogon

Contact details:

Lowveld Botanical Gardens
Tel: 013 752 5531