North-east Zululand – Mkhuze Ubombo Mountain Nature Reserve

About the Birding

This relatively unknown reserve lies between the impressive Lebombo Mountains and the Mkhuze River and covers a variety of habitats including riverine bush, thornveld, grassland and cliffs. The reserve is administered by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and was proclaimed in the 1980’s to protect the many rare plants that grow around the mountain. The reserve covers an immense altitudinal range, between 90m to 595m above sea level, and stretches to the very top of the Lebombo Mountains.

On entering the gate, you travel past and then through a grove of Fever Trees that adjoin the Mkhuze River. Scan this area for Pink-throated Twinspot (best detected by its high-pitched trilling calls), Purple-banded, Scarlet-chested and Collared Sunbirds, Rudd’s and Yellow-breasted Apalis, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Southern Black Tit, Southern Boubou, Long-billed Crombec, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Grey Tit, Ashy Flycatcher, Dark-backed and Spectacled Weavers, and Emerald-spotted Dove. Listen for White-throated and White-browed Robin-Chats calling from the thickets here, and for a number of cuckoos (Diederick, Klaas’s African Emerlad, Red-chested, Jacobin, and Levaillant’s) in the summer months.

The broad-leaved woodland on the slopes of the mountain is good for Blue Waxbill, Violet-backed Starling, Grey-headed Bush-shrike, Brown-crowned and Southern Tchagras, Crowned Hornbill, Kurrichane Thrush, Black-headed Oriole, Purple-crested Turaco, Lilac-breasted Roller, Little and White-fronted Bee-eaters, Emerald-spotted Dove, Cardinal and Golden-tailed Woodpeckers, Green Pigeon and Red-fronted Tinkerbird. Near the top of the mountains, raptors can often be seen circling around the cliffs, and these often include Martial Eagle, African Fish Eagle, Bateleur, Lappet-faced Vulture and White-backed Vulture.

Key species:

Pink-throated Twinspot, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Rudd’s Apalis, Gorgeous Bush-shrike

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, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Rudd’s Apalis, Gorgeous Bush-shrike

Other Related Information

Traveling from Durban or Johannesburg, drive the N2 highway and take the Mkhuze turn-off (about 60km south of Pongola and 50km north of the Hluhluwe turn-off). Drive through the village till the T-junction. Here one turns right to Mkhuze Game Reserve, but turns left to Ubombo. Travel past Ghost Mountain Inn and turn right about 3km later (after crossing the Mkhuze River Bridge). Continue up this dirt road for about 7km. The reserve turn-off is situated on the right-hand side of the road and is displayed by a large wall with the name on it.

Other related information:

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Basic self-catering tented accommodation is available within Mkhuze Game Reserve, along with a campsite complete with communal ablutions and braai facilities. Visitors are required to be entirely self-sufficient and carry their own food, cooking utensils and fuel.
However, numerous Birder Friendly Establishments are also available within the wider Hluhluwe, Mkuze, Pongola, St Lucia and Sodwana areas.

For more information, please visit:

Local guide information:
Several community guides also operate within the wider Hluhluwe/Mkhuze/St Lucia areas. For more information, please use the following link:

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

Key species:

Pink-throated Twinspot, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Rudd’s Apalis, Gorgeous Bush-shrike

Contact details: