North-west Zululand – Louwsberg Bivane Dam

About the Birding

Bivane Dam was completed in 2000 on the beautiful Bivane River, with the objective of supplying the surrounding sugarcane farms further downstream near Phongola. The dam itself is roughly 700 hectares in size and is owned by Impala Irrigation Board though is easily accessible and the surrounding areas boast impressive numbers of endemic and rare plants; a major attraction for botanists! The dominant geological features in the area are the rolling hills with exposed quartzite ridges, wooden drainage lines and steep cliffs all surrounding the dam itself.

Rich grasslands near the entrance to the property support the unusual Fan-tailed Grassbird in the summer months. Listen for its metallic call and watch as they perform their aerial display flights over the damper areas of grass. Note that this species is most active in rainy or misty weather. Rocky outcrops in this area may also yield the near-endemic Buff-streaked Chat, Cape Rock Thrush, Cape Grassbird, and both the Striped and Nicholson’s Pipits. Walk through the short grassland blanketing rolling hills as this is one of the premier sites in South Africa to find the rare Short-tailed Pipit in the summer months. These diminutive birds regularly flush underfoot but can be identified in flight given their short tail, dumpy body and sparrow-like call. Look too for the Secretarybird, Denham’s and White-bellied Bustards, both Cape and Yellow-throated Longclaws, African Quailfinch and Wing-snapping Cisticola.

Lower down, near the Bivane River and downstream from the dam, the road passes through open riverine forest. Look in this area for the Swee Waxbill, White-crested Helmetshrike, Red-capped Robin-chat, Crowned Hornbill, Grey Penduline-tit, Purple-crested Turaco, Grey-headed Bush-shrike, and African Emerald Cuckoo (summer). The river itself is home to the elusive White-backed Night Heron and African Finfoot, both of which prefer to remain within the cover of dense overhanging vegetation. Scan any exposed perches for the Half-collared Kingfisher, while logs and rocks in the water could yield the Mountain Wagtail. In the mixed woodland nearer the dam – look for the vocal Shelley’s Francolin, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, Mocking Cliff-chat, Lilac-breasted Roller, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike and Brimstone Canary. Cliffs support both the Lanner and Peregrine Falcons, Rock Kestrel, Black Stork and small numbers of Southern Bald Ibis.

Key species:

Shelley’s Francolin, Southern Bald Ibis, Grey Penduline-tit, Short-tailed Pipit, Fan-tailed Grassbird

About the Birding Site

North-west Zululand is one of the most varied of the birding routes in KwaZulu-Natal ranging in habitat from high altitude temperate grasslands in the west, to low lying subtropical thickets in the east including several large wetlands. Given this incredibly high habitat diversity, it is no surprise that the route also boasts an impressive checklist of birds including 58 of Southern Africa’s endemic and near-endemic species, many of which are confined to the extensive grasslands and wetlands.

Birding is generally best in the warmer summer months (September-April) when the resident species are supplemented by the influx of migrants, though the dry winter months often facilitate large congregations of birds around several nationally important wetlands. Many sites on the route are easy to access on fair roads though drivers are cautioned that gravel roads may become impassable during the wet season limiting access to a few sites. Moreover, given the size of the sub-route in general, the region is further divided into five distinct birding areas each treated individually. These include the Louwsberg, Pongola, Ulundi, Umfolozi, and Vryheid areas.

The Louwsberg sub-route is situated in an area of medium to high altitude (300-100m above sea level) in far northern KwaZulu-Natal. Three important rivers transect this route including the Bivane, Phongola and the Mkuze – all of which are flanked by rich sub-tropical vegetation and have cut impressive valleys through the predominantly dolerite and granite rock. These rivers act as corridors, facilitating the movement of species further inland. Among these are the White-backed Night Heron, Mountain Wagtail, Half-collared Kingfisher, Jameson’s Firefinch, Red-headed Weaver, Grey Penduline-tit and Short-tailed Pipit. Given the altitudinal range, the region is also known for its diversity in plants – which far exceeds any other areas in Zululand. Near the top of the Louwsberg rub-route is Bivane Dam – one of the most floristically diverse areas in South Africa. Ithala Game Reserve is then one of the flagship reserves of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, while other sites on the sub-route include the iGwala gwala Nature Reserve, Ngome Forest and the Thangami Safari Spa.

Key species:

Shelley’s Francolin, Southern Bald Ibis, Grey Penduline-tit, Short-tailed Pipit, Fan-tailed Grassbird

Other Related Information

Directions:
Take the R69 road from Vryheid to Louwsburg. After 30km, turn left at the signboard “Bivane Dam”. Continue along this dirt road for approximately 12km. The turn-off to the dam is then signposted on the left.

Notable points of interest include the:
Bivane Dam turnoff: -27.661030984304563, 31.09227522894244
Bivane Dam main gate: -27.56537838322438, 31.07158325959262

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
Bivane Dam offers 4×4 trails, hiking trails, and 700 hectares of open water for fishing, boating and skiing.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Bivane Dam features fully equipped 5-sleeper, 6-sleeper and 2-sleeper self-catering chalets and a large campsite at extremely affordable rates. Chalets are fully-equipped including all cutlery and crockery, a fridge-freezer, two-plate stove, microwave, braai facilities and all bedding. A communal washing machine and tumble drier are also available.

For more information, please contact:
Cell: +27 (0)83 283 8291
Cell: +27(0)78 802 3329
Email: admin@bivanedam.co.za
Website: www.bivanedam.co.za

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

Key species:

Shelley’s Francolin, Southern Bald Ibis, Grey Penduline-tit, Short-tailed Pipit, Fan-tailed Grassbird

Contact details:

For more information, please contact:

Bivane Dam administration
Cell: +27 (0)83 283 8291
Cell: +27(0)78 802 3329
Email: admin@bivanedam.co.za
Website: www.bivanedam.co.za

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