North-east Zululand – Tongaland Ndumo Game Reserve

About the Birding

Ndumo Game Reserve is situated on the banks of the Phongola and Usutu rivers and lies adjacent to Mozambique on the northern coastal plain of KwaZulu-Natal. Despite its relatively small size (about 9000 hectares), Ndumo Game Reserve is one of the most attractive reserves in southern Africa. Although there are no big herds of game to be seen – the fever tree and fig tree woodlands, the many large pans and amazing birdlife well make up for this.

Ndumo is arguably one of South Africa’s most productive birding areas boasting the highest checklist for any protected area in the country including well over 400 species and several of them being range-restricted or at the southernmost limit of their ranges.

The primary attractions in Ndumo are the vast areas of pristine sand forest supporting the full compliment of near-endemics. Search for Pink-throated Twinspot, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, African Broadbill, Rudd’s Apalis, Crested Guineafowl, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Bearded Scrub-robin, Eastern Nicator, and Neergaard’s Sunbird in this habitat. Knowledge of the calls of the aforementioned species is essential to success when birding this incredible dense habitat. Woodland species to look out for include the Flappet Lark, Lilac-breasted Roller, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Jameson’s Firefinch, African Barred Owlet, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Retz’s and White-crested Helmetshrikes, Stierling’s Wren-warbler, African Grey Hornbill, Southern White-faced Owl, Grey Go-away-bird, Bearded Woodpecker and Green-winged Pytilia.

The vast Nyamithi Pan attracts impressive numbers of waterbirds including the Great White and Pink-backed Pelican, Woolly-necked, Saddle-billed, African Openbill and Yellow-billed Storks, Greater and Lesser Flamingos, Lesser Jacana, Black and Rufous-bellied Herons, Fulvous Whistling Duck, African Pygmy Goose in summer, Collared Pratincole, Blue-cheeked Bee-eater (summer), Dwarf Bittern (summer), African and Baillon’s Crake, Allen’s Gallinule (summer), Lesser Moorhen (summer), and Greater Painted-snipe. In marshy areas, listen for the distinctive calls of the sought-after Black Coucal in the summer months.
Guided walks along the north or south banks of the Pongola River, and Shokwe Pan, enter areas of climax riverine forest in which it is possible to find the highly sought-after Pel’s Fishing Owl and Narina Trogon. Enquire at reception as to whether there have been any sightings of the former species, as the local guides often know the whereabouts of these sought-after birds. Other exciting species in this habitat include the African Broadbill, Southern Yellow White-eye, Eastern Nicator, White-starred Robin (winter), African Wood Owl, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, and White-browed Robin-chat. This habitat is also frequented by the African Cuckoo-hawk and Southern Banded Snake-eagle, though both of these species may be encountered anywhere within Ndumo.
Raptors are common, with at least 40 species recorded. Look in particular for Bateleur, Lesser Spotted, Steppe, Martial, African Crowned, African Hawk and Wahlberg’s Eagles, African Goshawk, Eurasian Hobby, Bat Hawk and Western Osprey. Ndumo is also one of the premier sites to look for the threatened Southern Banded Snake-eagle and Sooty Falcon in South Africa; the latter a rarity.

Ndumo is well-known as a rarity hotspot and the list of species previously recorded in the reserve includes the likes of Thick-billed and Barred Long-tailed Cuckoos, Slaty Egret, Eleonora’s Falcon, Dickinson’s Kestrel, Chestnut-fronted Helmetshrike, and Black-and-white Flycatcher. Thus, birders should always remain mindful of out-of-range species at this site.

Key species:

Pink-throated Twinspot, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Rudd’s Apalis, African Broadbill, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Crested Guineafowl, African Pygmy Goose, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Southern Banded Snake-eagle

About the Birding Site

Tongaland describes the extreme North-eastern corner of Kwazulu-Natal bordering Mozambique to the north and flanked to the east and west by the Lebombo Mountains and Indian Ocean, respectively. Much of the region is drained by the Phongolo and Mkhuze Rivers and the area is dominated by the respective floodplains of these two rivers (as well as their tributaries) and is characterised by many shallow pans, Lala palm savannah and bush/forest clumps.

Riverine forest borders some of the larger pans and streams, while the coastal stretch is blanketed in coastal dune forest. As the region is situated in the sub-tropical plain on the east coast, the area is extremely biodiverse and supports many species not found elsewhere in South Africa. Tropical species, both marine and inland, are also regular to this region and can be found nowhere else in South Africa.

Ndumo Game Reserve and Tembe Elephant Park are perhaps the two premier sites along this sub-route, with the former boasting the highest bird list for any protected reserve in South Africa. Together, these are the premier destinations in South Africa for the full complement of sand forest specials including the Pink-throated Twinspot, Neergaard’s and Plain-backed Sunbirds, Rudd’s Apalis, and African Broadbill. Waterbirds such as the African Pygmy Goose and Lesser Jacana can be common on the floodplains, while the surrounding habitat support impressive numbers of Pel’s Fishing Owl, Palmnut Vulture, Lemon-breasted Canary, Rosy-throated Longclaw and Black-throated Wattle-eye. Access to these two reserves is extremely good, implying that they are extremely rewarding destinations to visit, while some of the other destinations on the sub-route are less accessible and offer more of an adventurous feel. Other sites on the birding route include Kosi Bay and the Tshanini Community Nature Reserve.

Key species:

Pink-throated Twinspot, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Rudd’s Apalis, African Broadbill, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Crested Guineafowl, African Pygmy Goose, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Southern Banded Snake-eagle

Other Related Information

From Mkhuze follow the N2 northwards towards Candover and after approximately 10km’s turn right to Jozini. Drive through Jozini and follow the signposts to Ndumo. The last 14km stretch of road is quite rough. From Jozini, Ndumo camp is about 80km’s.

Notable points of interest include the:
Main entrance: -26.9121, 32.2635

The nearest towns to the main rest camp at Addo Elephant National Park are:
Jozini: 68km
Mkuze: 98km

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
The main reception sells beers, wine, cocktails, cold drinks, sweets and curios. There is a well-stocked trading store 2km from the reserve entrance, though the nearest town with a full range of services is Mkuze. Activities on offer include game drives and guided walking trails. Laundry facilities are available.

Gate times are as follows:
Summer (October-March): 05:00-19:00
Winter (April-September): 06:0-18:00
Office hours: 08:00-12:00 and 13:00-16:00

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Ndumo Nature Reserve is managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, including a rustic campsite and hutted chalets. The chalets are divided among ten 2-bed units and two 4-bed units, all of which are fully catered and include en suite bathrooms. All units have both hold and cold running water and individual braai facilities. The campsite includes 14 stands, all of which are electrified and have individual plug points. All campsites have their own individual ablution blocks.

For reservations, please contact:
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
Tel: +27 (0)33 845 1000
Fax: +27 (0)33 845 1001

Moreover, the nearest Birder Friendly Establishment is within the immediate Ndumo Area. For more information, please visit:

Local guide information:
Several community guides also operate within the wider Zululand area. For more information, please use the following link:

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

Key species:

Pink-throated Twinspot, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Rudd’s Apalis, African Broadbill, Neergaard’s Sunbird, Crested Guineafowl, African Pygmy Goose, Pel’s Fishing Owl, Southern Banded Snake-eagle

Contact details:

For more information, please contact:

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
Tel: +27 (0)33 845 1000
Fax: +27 (0)33 845 1001