North-west Zululand – Louwsberg iGwala gwala Nature Reserve

About the Birding

iGwala gwala Nature Reserve lies immediately outside Ithala Game Reserve and supports a wealth of biodiversity across a number of core habitat times from mixed woodland, riverine forest, cliffs, grassland and wetlands. Given the high habitat diversity, it is without surprise that the site has been recognised as a Natural Heritage Site.

The riverine forests, including forest patches and bush clumps in the lower half of the reserve, support three species of Robin-chat including the Red-capped, White-throated and Cape Robin-chats. Purple-crested Turaco – the species for which the reserve was named – are common throughout these habitats. Mountain Wagtail is resident along the streams, while the Orange-breasted and Olive Bush-shrikes keep themselves concealed within the cover of the canopy. Other notable species include the Collared and Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Cape Batis and Swee Waxbill. Several small wetlands are found on the reserve. The reclusive Red-chested Flufftail is fairly common, though is always difficult to see, while the surrounding grasslands play home to Secretarybird, Yellow-throated Longclaw and Croaking Cisticola.

The real attraction to iGwala gwala Nature Reserve are the higher altitude forest and grassland areas. In the grasslands – look for Fan-tailed Grassbird, African Quailfinch, Cape Longclaw, Cape Grassbird, and Drakensburg Prinia. This is also the only site for Striped Flufftail in Zululand. Listen for the species’ hooting calls in the rolling grasslands, but luck and patience are required to see the species. In the forests, look for Bush Blackcap and Barratt’s Warbler in addition to many of the aforementioned forest species.

Key species:

Bush Blackcap, Drakensburg Prinia, Barratt’s Warbler, Striped and Red-chested Flufftails

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:

Bush Blackcap, Drakensburg Prinia, Barratt’s Warbler, Striped and Red-chested Flufftails

Other Related Information

Travelling from Vryheid in the west, take the R69 to Louwsburg. Turn off at the Ithala/Louwsburg signs, about 67km east of Vryheid. Drive through the town, following the Ithala signs all the way, until the iGwala gwala sign appears while traveling round a sharp bend. The road is tarred up to the gate of the reserve.

Notable points of interest include the:
Main entrance: -27.5663, 31.2996

The nearest towns are:
Louwsberg: 3km
Vryheid: 67km
Pongola: 75km

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
A network of unpaved roads traverses the iGwala gwala Nature Reserve, covering all habitats. Though 4×4 is not necessary, high clearance is recommended.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Diverse accommodation options are available in the nearby town of Louwsberg, as well as in the neighbouring Ithala Game Reserve.
The nearest Birder Friendly Establishments are in the towns of Pongola and Jozini. For more information, please visit:

Local guide information:
No BirdLife Community Guides are currently available for the Louwsberg area.

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

Key species:

Bush Blackcap, Drakensburg Prinia, Barratt’s Warbler, Striped and Red-chested Flufftails

Contact details:

For more information, please contact:

Tel: +27 (0)34 907 5022