North-east Venda – Makuya Nature Reserve

About the Birding

Makuya Nature Reserve is one of the lesser known nature reserves within Limpopo Province, though it blankets an incredible 16,000 hectares and shares a fenceless border with the northern parts of Kruger National Park. The reserve is leased from the Makuya, Mutele and Mphaphuli tribes and features a tented camp overlooking the Luvuvhu River. As for Pafuri, the area is dominated by lush riverine forests along the Levubu River but, further afield, the prime habitat consists of dry acacia thickets, mopane woodland, and baobab savannahs.

Water levels in the Mutale and Luvuvhu Rivers fluctuates in relation to rainfall but the river usually holds small numbers of White-crowned Lapwing and Saddle-billed Stork. Scan the tall riverine trees for roosting Pel’s Fishing Owl, and check the dense overhanging vegetation for the African Finfoot and White-backed Night-heron. The Night-heron and Fishing Owl are best searched for after dark on a guided drive. The riverine woodland is rich in species including the Retz’s Helmet-shrike, Thick-billed Cuckoo (summer), Burnt-necked and Green-capped Eremomela, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Broad-billed Roller (summer), Eastern Nicator, the Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbills, Narina Trogon, White-browed Robin-chat, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Bearded Scrub-robin, and Gorgeous Bush-shrike. Coveys of the comical Crested Guineafowl regularly emerge onto the roads in the early mornings and later afternoons to feed. The dense undergrowth and thickets support River Warbler and Thrush Nightingale in the summer months, both of which are best detected in March when they are most vocally active. Overhead, watch for the Mottled and Bohm’s Spinetail. Search the dry mopane woodland for the scarce White-breasted Cuckooshrike, Racket-tailed Roller, Arnot’s Chat and the rare Three-banded Courser.

Key species:

Pel’s Fishing Owl, Three-banded Courser, Racket-tailed Roller, Arnot’s Chat, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Tropical Boubou, Crested Guineafowl, Senegal Coucal

About the Birding Site

The Kruger National Park covers 19,685 kilometres and is the 10th largest game reserve in the world. It has 3000 kilometres of road, 23 rest camps and a host of excellent picnic sites, walking trails, 4×4 routes, hides and massive dams. A remarkable new initiative involving the Kruger National Park is the creation of a fence free park that allows animals to migrate freely across national borders. In May 2002, Kruger, Coutada 16 (in Mozambique) and Gonarezhou (in Zimbabwe) formally merged into the 35 000 square kilometre Greater Limpopo Transfrontier Park, one of the largest game reserves in the world.

The big game viewing in Kruger rivals that of any reserve in Africa with large elephant, buffalo and lion populations being relatively easily seen. Every year over a million visitors tally up in the region of 520 bird species. Due to its great size, Kruger supports a unique combination of habitats with the added benefits of easy road access and comfortable amenities. The land to the north of the Luvuvhu River, and south of the Limpopo, was subject to a successful land claim and reverted back to the Makuleke Tribe in 1998 but remains under the wider protection of Kruger National Park as the Makuleke Concession though most of these areas are inaccessible to the general public except through a number of ecotourism operators that run lodges in these northern reaches of the park.

Birding is best in the summer months (November to March) with the arrival of summer migrants but a remarkable number of birds can be seen in the winter months (May – July). Birding is fantastic throughout the park but the northern area is host to a number of species that are on the edge of their southernmost range and do not occur elsewhere in South Africa. A birding trip to Kruger National Park should be on the agenda of any birder in South Africa.

The northern parts of the National park (including the Makuleke Concession) are blanketed in dense mixed woodland (Punda Maria) and dry rugged Baobab and Mopane country (Pafuri). On the eastern boundary, the extensive Mwambiya Sandveld that is more characteristic of the Mozambique lowland plain pushes into the reserve. However, the overall topography of the northern sector is dominated by the Limpopo and Luvuvhu Rivers that reach their confluence at the eastern boundary before ultimately flowing into Mozambique. These rivers are flanked by dense riverine woodland and forest providing habitat for a wealth of species.

While the central and southern regions of the park are generally more rewarding for wildlife, there is little question that northern Kruger is for the birds. Northern Kruger boasts an extremely high diversity and density of bird species, including several notable species that reach their southern distributional limit here. Several ‘Birding Big Day’ teams have recorded in excess of 260 species in a 24-hour period, highlighting the incredible diversity of this region. Top among the extensive list of species to be found here are the Pel’s Fishing Owl, White-crowned Lapwing, Saddle-billed Stork, and White-backed Night-heron along the major rivers; Thick-billed Cuckoo, Retz’s Helmet-shrike, Gorgeous Bushshrike, Crested Guineafowl, Tropical Boubou, Black-throated Wattle-eye, and Ayres’s Hawk-eagle in the riverine woodland and forest; and Meves’s Starling, Grey-headed Parrot, Three-banded Courser, Arnot’s Chat, and Racket-tailed Roller in the dry woodland. Several days are recommended to explore this area as many species occur in low density.

Key species:

Pel’s Fishing Owl, Three-banded Courser, Racket-tailed Roller, Arnot’s Chat, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Tropical Boubou, Crested Guineafowl, Senegal Coucal

Other Related Information

To reach the Makuya Nature Reserve, travel east along the R525 in the direction of Pafuri. Roughly 20km before Pafuri Gate, turn to the South and follow the sign-posts to Pafuri River Camp. Please note that there is a 3km stoney gravel road to the camp and high clearance vehicles are strongly recommended. The nearest fuel stations are in the Tshipise (100km from camp 06:00-18:00) and at the Punda Maria Rest Camp in Kruger National Park (roughly 80km from Pafuri gate).

Other related information:

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Pafuri River Camp offers a choice of five charming and rustic self-catering private camps, sleeping between two and eight, and for campsites. For more information, please contact Pafuri Tented Camp using the details listed above.

The nearest BirdLife Recommended Accommodations are:

Ecotraining – Makuleke Concession
Address: EcoTraining camp, Makuleke concession, Northern Kruger National Park
Tel: +27 (0)13 752 2532
Cell: +27 (0)71 895 8658
Fax: +27 (0)13 752 4791

Pafuri – Return Africa
Address: Return Africa Pafuri Collection, Makuleke concession Pafuri, Kruger National Park
Tel: +27 (0)11 646 1391

Local guide information:
A number of guided activities are available through SANPARKS and bookings are made directly at the reception in Punda Maria Restcamp or the lodges within the Makuleke Concession.

Several BirdLife South Africa Community Bird Guides operate in the northern Kruger National Park including:
Christopher Nethonzhe – +27 (0)76 302 9383
Khotso Snymes – +27 (0)78 365 8102
Lungile Mteyane – +27 (0)76 376 0435
Samson Mulaudzi – +27 (0)83 662 9960

Text prepared by:
Daniel Danckwerts (Rockjumper Birding Tours)

Key species:

Pel’s Fishing Owl, Three-banded Courser, Racket-tailed Roller, Arnot’s Chat, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Tropical Boubou, Crested Guineafowl, Senegal Coucal

Contact details:

Pafuri River Camp
Cell: 082 785 0305