North-east Zululand – Mkhuze Phinda Resources Park

About the Birding

Phinda Resource Reserve is a private game reserve, blanketing an immense area of 14 000 hectares and bordering Mkhuze Game Reserve to the west and the iSimangaliso Wetland Reserve to the east. The main attraction within Phinda Resources Reserve is the varied habitat diversity, including seven distinct ecosystems, providing ample area to explore in search of a high diversity of interesting mammals and birds. The reserve is without question one of South Africa’s top Big 5 reserves but supports well in excess of 350 bird species.

Among these are such sought-after specials as the Southern Banded Snake-eagle, African Finfoot, White-backed Night Heron, Narina Trogon, Eastern Nicator, African Broadbill, Green and Pink-throated Twinspots, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Lemon-breasted Canary, and Gorgeous Bush-shrike.

The reserve is dominated by the Mzinene River, which meanders through the area before ultimately flowing into Lake St. Lucia to the south. It is possible to arrange river cruises and canoe trips through the lodges, providing incredible opportunities to find a plethora of interesting waterbird species. Large heronries form in the reedbeds including the Purple, Goliath, and Squacco Herons, Black-crowned Night Heron, and Little Bittern. This is also one of the few sites anywhere in South Africa where Malagasy Pond Heron has been reported, albeit as a rarity. Pel’s Fishing Owl is occasionally seen, mainly in dry areas when the birds are dependent on these larger rivers, while African Finfoot patrol the overhanging vegetation and are regularly seen. In the reedbeds, look for both the Red-billed and Red-headed Queleas as well as for Orange-breasted Waxbill and Cuckoo-finch. The latter is easiest to find in the summer months when males attain their bright golden plumage. The near-endemic Lemon-breasted Canary prefers the drier edges where Lala Palms grow. The Mzinene River floodplain is equally productive and often supports impressive numbers of African Crake and Black Coucal in wet months. Red-chested Flufftail and African Rail are both resident, preferring areas of taller reeds which remain wetter year-round. Other notable species to look for on the floodplain include the Collared Pratincole, Corn Crake (summer), Fan-tailed Grassbird, Cape and Yellow-throated Longclaws, Red-faced and Rufous-winged Cisticolas, African Marsh Harrier and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (summer). Pans and depressions on the floodplain may yield the African Crake, Dwarf Bittern, Lesser Moorhen, and Allen’s Gallinule in the summer months. The Zimongwe Dam regularly holds African Pygmy Goose and White-faced Whistling Duck. The uncommon Western Yellow Wagtail is also regularly reported in the summer months. Hirundines are common and include the Grey-rumped, Red-breasted and Wire-tailed Swallows.

Ntabankosi Mountain is blanketed in varied woodland and forest. Check these areas for the Stierling’s Wren-warbler, which prefers the drier sections and is best detected by its loud ringing call. These drier areas also host an interesting assortment of warblers in summer including the Willow, Icterine, Olive Tree, and Garden Warblers; all of which are easiest to detect in March/April just prior to the return migration. In winter, search the mountain top for sunbirds and the Black-headed Oriole as these species are attracted by the flowering Mountain Aloes that grow here. Narina Trogon and a host of cuckoos frequent the canopy of the forested sections lower down near the Munywana River, where African Broadbill, Rudd’s Apalis, Black Cuckooshrike, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Trumpeter Hornbill, African Green Pigeon, Crested Guineafowl and White-eared Barbet may also be seen. The endearing Pink-throated Twinspot is regular in the forest understory and is best detected by its insect-like call.

Key species:

Pink-throated Twinspot, Pel’s Fishing Owl, African Finfoot, Lemon-breasted Canary, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Narina Trogon

About the Birding Site

The Mkhuze area, situated just inland from iSimangaliso Wetlands Park, is world-renowned as a mecca for birders laying at the ecotone between two distinct climatic zones and supporting a high diversity of habitats. Habitats in the region include cliffs, rocky ridges and scarp forests on the eastern slopes of the Lebombo mountains, through to acacia savannah, mixed woodlands and grasslands surrounding Lower Mkhuze. Numerous large pans are also scattered throughout the region and, although water-levels vary from year to year, are widely regarded as the most important waterbird breeding sites anywhere in South Africa.

This habitat diversity translates into an extraordinary diversity of plant and animal species, including well in excess of 450 bird species; one of the highest lists for any region in South Africa. Among these are a number of highly sought-after localized species including the Pink-throated Twinspot, Neergaard’s Sunbird, and Rudd’s Apalis. Other notable mentions include the Pel’s Fishing Owl, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, African Broadbill, Pink-backed Pelican, African Pygmy Goose, and Lesser Jacana. Most habitats are easily accessible at a number of sites along this sub-route and a two to five day stay is recommended in the area, with lists in excess of 200 species being a reasonable target. Birding sites along this sub-route include the Mkhuze Game Reserve (now included into the Greater iSimangaliso Wetlands Park), Leopard Mountain and Lebombo Game Reserves, and Phinda.

Key species:

Pink-throated Twinspot, Pel’s Fishing Owl, African Finfoot, Lemon-breasted Canary, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Narina Trogon

Other Related Information

To Phinda Mountain Lodge, Rock Lodge and Zuka Lodge: Approximately 40km south of Mkuze on the N2, take the sign posted “Phinda” off-ramp. At the top of the fly-off, turn to the left and continue until you reach a T-junction. Turn to the left and follow this gravel road for approximately 4km until you reach a railway line. Cross the railway line and turn immediately to the right. Ahead is the entrance gate to the Munyawana Private Game Reserve. Please consult the security personnel for directions to your lodge from there.

Other related information:

To Phinda Forest Lodge, Vlei Lodge and the Homestead: from Hluhluwe, take the False-Bay/Sodwana Bay road for approximately 28km. As you reach the Mduku crossing, indicated by numerous consecutive speed bumps, take the “Phinda” sign-posted D675 turning to your left. Continue along this road for approximately 2.6km until you reach a T-junction. Turn to the right onto the D448 and travel for 3.6km to reach the gate. Please consult the security personnel for directions to your lodge from there.

Notable points of interest include the:
Entrance to Phinda Mountain Lodge, Rock Lodge and Zuka Lodge: -27.8903, 32.2097
Entrance to Phinda Forest Lodge, Vlei Lodge and the Homestead: -27.7937, 32.3689

Access and facilities:
Phinda is only accessible by overnight guests at one of the six different lodges within the reserve. A variety of activities are available including community and impact experiences, guided bush walks, game drives, night drives and boat cruises. All activities are arranged through the lodges. Other amenities include a private chef, dedicated butler, complimentary binoculars during your stay, and WIFI at all lodges.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
A number of accommodation options are available at six different lodges within Phinda through &Beyond Travel. These range from self-catering through to more luxurious options. For more information, please visit:

Local guide information:
Knowledgeable trails guides are available through all lodges within the Phinda Private Nature Reserve.

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

Key species:

Pink-throated Twinspot, Pel’s Fishing Owl, African Finfoot, Lemon-breasted Canary, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Narina Trogon

Contact details:

For more information, contact:

Phinda Private Nature Reserve
Tel: +27 (0)11 809 4300 (central office)
Tel: +27 (0)11 809 4300 (reservations)
Tel: +27 (0)35 562 4500 (Mountain Lodge)
Tel: +27 (0)35 562 4540 (Forest Lodge)
Tel: +27 (0)83 463 8923 (emergency)