Lowveld – Mbombela Golf Course

About the Birding

Mbombela Golf Course has a great number of magnificent indigenous trees dotted around the fairways. There are enormous specimens of Marula (Sclerocarya birrea), Natal Mahogany (Trichilia emetica), Kiaat (Pterocarpus angolensis), Paperbark Thorn (Acacia sieberiana), various wild figs (Ficus spp.), and others. It is wonderful that someone, many years ago, had the foresight to preserve these trees and not to plant exotics. Drainage lines running in a northerly direction are well-wooded and there is good indigenous woodland on the perimeters as well and also in gardens in the housing estate. There are also splendid granite outcrops on the southern side and these form an additional bird habitat.

The approach to the golf course is along Wilhelm Street and one of the nicest areas to walk is along the edge of the fairway, shortly after crossing Miller Street and passing through the entrance gate. Walk to the left (north) from the entrance and you will follow a line of dense indigenous woodland and you can follow the boundary with good birding until you reach a vegetated drainage line. You can then follow the drainage line back to the access road close to the clubhouse complex. It is possible to keep out of the way of golfers on this walk. Densely wooded areas are home to Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Terrestrial Brownbul, Tambourine Dove, African Firefinch, White-throated Robin-chat, Green-backed Camaroptera, and other forest birds.

On the northern boundary, the drainage lines feed into a low-lying marshy area where there are Phragmites reeds. Red-faced Cisticola, Thick-billed and African (Holub’s) Golden Weavers, Fan-tailed Widowbird and White-fronted Bee-eater may be found here.

More open woodland with taller trees is favoured by Amethyst Sunbird, Brimstone Canary, Streaky-headed Seedeater, Ashy Flycatcher, Sombre Greenbul, Bar-throated and Yellow-breasted Apalis. The lovely big trees along the fairway are used by Southern Black Flycatcher, Fork-tailed Drongo, and Brown-hooded Kingfisher as feeding stations from where they can drop onto the grass below to catch insects. Late afternoon is feeding time for many species and the grassy verges of the fairways are frequented by African Hoopoe, flocks of Southern Grey-headed Sparrow, Yellow-fronted Canary, Cape Wagtail, and African Pied Wagtail, large numbers of Bronze Mannikin and Kurrichane Thrush. White-browed Robin-chat ventures from dense cover to feed in the open, and Natal Spurfowl is usually present.

Rocky slopes on the southern boundary and a granite outcrop between the fairways are good places to find Mocking Cliff Chat, while Lazy Cisticola is reasonably common on the lower slopes. Striped Pipit is sometimes present as well. The granite outcrops are well-wooded and are home to Little Bee-eater on the lower slopes, as well as Violet-backed Starling, Black-headed Oriole, Purple-crested Turaco, African Green Pigeon, Black-collared Barbet, and both Cardinal and Golden-tailed Woodpeckers among the larger trees, particularly large specimens of Large-leaved Rock Fig (Ficus abutilifolia).

On the northern boundary, there are citrus orchards and the grassy areas adjacent to the fence are frequented by Grey-rumped Swallow and Neddicky. Black-crowned Tchagra, Arrow-marked Babbler and Long-billed Crombec also favour this area. A scarce bird in the survey area is Red-headed Weaver and a few birds breed along the access road near the clubhouse.

Should a shorter walk be preferred then park at the clubhouse and walk left to a vegetated drainage line, then turn right and follow the stream, keeping close to the perimeter to avoid stray golf balls. This walk will lead to some ponds and a wetland area. Rarities have been seen here such as Dwarf Bittern and Lesser Moorhen. Others include Little Grebe, Reed Cormorant, Black Crake, Green-backed Heron, Blacksmith Lapwing, plus warblers such as Lesser Swamp Warbler, Little Rush Warbler, African Reed Warbler, and the ever-present and vocal Red-faced Cisticola.

This is an excellent birding hotspot and the birds mentioned here are just a few of the many that can be found on the golf course and surrounds. A coffee shop is also present at the clubhouse where you can obtain refreshments.

About the Birding Site

The Mbombela Golf Club is an interesting birding spot situated in the eastern part of the city, east of the arterial Ferreira Street. Early mornings are the best, not only because the birding is good in the early hours, but also because there is less chance of being hit by a stray golf ball! It is always wise to consider that golfers have the right of way and that the golf course is their territory. Do not be put off by this though, as by keeping to the perimeters you are out of the way and that is where the birding is best in any event. As a matter of courtesy, be sure to telephone the Club Manager before your visit (013) 744 0952. Weekdays are best when there are few golfers around and you are not likely to disturb anyone.

The park is fully fenced and covers an area of 179 918 hectares, including a 7 022 hectare marine reserve that encompasses both St Croix and Bird Islands; an important sanctuary for seabirds and other marine fauna. The core area of Addo Elephant National Park includes a detailed network of paved and unpaved roads, all of which are easily traversable in sedan-type vehicle, covering a variety of habitats. However, as a ‘Big 5’ reserve, it is important to remain within your vehicle at all times except at designated picnic spots and viewpoints where it is permissible to walk about at own risk. Several private concessions are included within the core area of the reserve, in areas that are out-of-bounds to the general public.

Much of the core section of Addo Elephant National Park is covered by succulent thickets and reclaimed agricultural pastures, though it includes isolated patches of evergreen and coastal forest. From a birding perspective, Addo Elephant National Park has an incredibly rich avifauna with as many as 450 bird species recorded from the park! Over 150 of these are possible on a standard visit to the core section, where several accommodation options are available to visiting birders. The private concessions are accessible to overnight guests at one of the more luxurious lodges situated there, but these concessions support a similar species diversity to the main section of the park. Other facilities include a network of trails leading from the main rest camp and three bird and wildlife viewing hides. Most areas in the core section of Addo Elephant National Park can be covered within just a single day, though 2-3 days are recommended to do the route proper justice.

Key species:

Southern Tchagra, Knysna Woodpecker, Denham’s Bustard, Blue Crane, Southern Black Korhaan, Secretarybird, Martial Eagle

Other Related Information

There is no entry fee charged to bird this area. Please just as a matter of courtesy; be sure to telephone the Club Manager before your visit (013) 744 0952.
The entrance to the golf club can be found at: 16 Matumi Dr, Matumi Golf Estate, Nelspruit, 1201

GPS: -25.477, 31.004

Text prepared by:

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

Key species:

Red- headed Weaver, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Tambourine Dove, Fan-tailed Widowbird, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Grey-rumped Swallow, Green-backed Heron, Lesser Moorhen and Golden-tailed Woodpecker.

Contact details:

Mbombela Golf Club
Tel: 013 744 0952