North-east Zululand – Sodwana Lake Sibaya

About the Birding

Lake Sibaya is the largest freshwater lake in South Africa and is separated from the sea by high forest covered dunes. Lake Sibaya is a drowned river valley lake with a maximum depth of over 40m. Many smaller pans, typical of those elsewhere, surround the lake. In years of poor rainfall many of these smaller pans dry up leaving Lake Sibaya as the only permanent water in the area where flocks of up to 20 000 waterfowl can congregate.

The eastern shores of the lake have very rich dune forest habitat which harbours many of the Zululand “east coast” specials (treated separately). The western and northern shores are more difficult to access but provide exciting opportunities for those willing to venture into these remote areas.

Lake Sibaya hosts an impressive array of species, especially waterbirds. Goliath, Purple, Squacco, Green-backed and occasionally Rufous-bellied Herons are all recorded in and around the lake edges, together with all locally occurring white egrets. Five stork species (Woolly-necked, Saddle-billed, African Openbill, Black and Yellow-billed) can be seen in one day. Other specials include the African Marsh Harrier, Caspian Tern, Collared Pratincole and Great White Pelican. Check the water’s edge for Lesser Jacana, Greater Painted Snipe and Allen’s Gallinule (summer). African Pygmy Goose should be looked for amongst the waterlilies. Sibaya is also the best locality in Zululand to observe Great Crested Grebe.

Grassland specials recorded regularly include Denham’s Bustard, Swamp Nightjar, Rosy-throated Longclaw, Grey-rumped Swallow and Secretarybird. The coastal forest surrounding the lake can turn up African Broadbill, Woodward’s Batis, Crowned Eagle, Livingstone’s Turaco, Rudd’s Apalis, Brown Scrub-Robin, African Yellow White-eye, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Grey Sunbird, both the Pink-throated and Green Twinspots, and Black-bellied Starling.

Key species:

Rosy-throated Longclaw, Green and Pink-throated Twinspots, Saddle-billed Stork, Great Crested Grebe

About the Birding Site

Situated between St. Lucia to the south, and Kosi Bay to the north, the Sodwana Bay sub-route encompasses a wide range of habitats. The region is incredibly popular among holidaymakers and those seeking a thrilling excursion into one of the most untouched areas in KwaZulu-Natal. Sodwana Bay – the site for which the sub-route is perhaps best known – is one of the top 10 diving sites in the world and is the premier diving site in South Africa.

Moreover, the region is known for deep sea fishing as well as for the extensive tracts of pristine coastal habitats supporting a plethora of interesting species. Notable habitats along this sub-route include sand forest, thornveld, subtropical forests, palm savannah, and Lake Sibaya itself. Given this incredible habitat diversity, the region supports an incredibly high diversity of Zululand specials. Specials include the near-endemic Neergaard’s Sunbird, Rudd’s Apalis, Pink-throated Twinspot and Lemon-breasted Canary as well as the sought-after African Broadbill, Swamp Nightjar, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Saddle-billed Stork, Black Coucal and Collared Pratincole. Key sites along the route include Lake Sibaya and Sodwana Bay National Park, with both sites sharing similar species. Note that several days are recommended in the area to fully appreciate the beauty of this rich area, and given the difficulty of access to these sites.

Key species:

Rosy-throated Longclaw, Green and Pink-throated Twinspots, Saddle-billed Stork, Great Crested Grebe

Other Related Information

From Mkhuze take the R69 towards Candover, after 2km’s turn right towards Ubombo. Follow this road to Mbazwana and follow the signposts to Lake Sibaya from here.

Access and facilities:
The Sodwana region is generally considered to be one of the top diving sites in South Africa and numerous tour operators run diving and snorkelling excursions to the many pristine reefs. The region is also known as a premier fishing destination, both marine and on Lake Sibaya, while the detailed network of roads and trails offer access to the pristine coastal forests in the area.

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
Note that many of the roads surrounding Lake Sibaya are sandy and thus require 4×4 vehicles with high clearance.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
The nearest Birder Friendly Establishment is Mseni Beach Lodge in Sodwana Bay. This lodge features three fully equipped cottages all of which are air-conditioned and nestled within beautiful indigenous bush. The Forest view cottage sleeps 2, the family cottages sleep 4 each, and the beach house sleeps up to 10 people. For more information or to make a reservation, please contact:
Tel: +27 (0)33 345 6531
Fax: +27 (0)33 345 8918
Cell: +27 (0)87 803 5878 / +27 (0)72 061 9672

Local guide information:
A number of BirdLife Community Guides operate within the wider area. For more information, please visit:

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

Key species:

Rosy-throated Longclaw, Green and Pink-throated Twinspots, Saddle-billed Stork, Great Crested Grebe

Contact details: