North-west Zululand – Louwsberg Ngome Forest

About the Birding

Ngome Forest is situated on the southern slopes of the mid-altitude mistbelt grasslands and contains a unique assemblage of coastal and upland bird species. The Ntendeka Cliff, after which this declared Wilderness Area is named, towers above lush forests featuring many cascading waterfalls. The valley bottom is split between lush forests and tea estates, interspersed with patches of thornveld and low altitude grassland.

This region receives relatively high rainfall, compared to much of the surrounding areas of KwaZulu-Natal, which translates to extremely high species diversity. Some 250 bird species are known to occur within the general area including several highly-threatened species.

The grasslands support an interesting diversity of species and are the only areas in Zululand where the critically endangered Blue Swallow may be seen. Search for this species flying low over the grassland, usually near drainage lines, and concentrate your efforts in the area to the left of the main turn-off to the forest. Although these birds have not bred at this site in several years, it is still likely that the species may occur. Damp sedges in the base of drainage lines could yield the Fan-tailed Grassbird. Other species sharing an affinity towards grassland habitats include the Secretarybird, Blue Korhaan, Wailing and Croaking Cisticolas, and the Nicholson’s Pipit. Birds found around the cliff and rocks in grassland include the Mountain Wheatear, Buff-streaked Chat, Mocking Cliff-chat, Cape Rock Thrush and Familiar Chat.

The forest itself is rich in species and is most active in the early mornings, when bird song is at its peak. A walk from the campsite to the waterfall could produce the scarce Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Olive Woodpecker, Grey Cuckooshrike, Collared and Olive Sunbirds, Narina Trogon, Trumpeter Hornbill, Purple-crested Turaco, Lemon Dove, Olive Bush-shrike, Cape Batis, Red-capped and Chorister Robin-chats, African Emerald Cuckoo (summer), Terrestrial Brownbul, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, White-starred Robin, Brown Scrub-robin, Black-bellied Starling, Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, and Dark-backed Weaver. The deeply incised slopes near the main drainage line should be checked for the shy Orange Ground Thrush, which occurs alongside the Olive Thrush. Dense thickets at the forest edge support the Barratt’s Warbler, while seeding forest grasses attract the shy Green Twinspot, Forest Canary, Swee Waxbill and African Firefinch. Watch overhead for the African Goshawk, Forest and Jackal Buzzards and Black Sparrowhawk.

Key species:

Orange Ground Thrush, Barratt’s Warbler, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Olive Woodpecker, Chorister Robin-chat

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:

Orange Ground Thrush, Barratt’s Warbler, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Olive Woodpecker, Chorister Robin-chat

Other Related Information

Directions:
Travelling from Vryheid, take the R69 towards Louwsburg. Turn right on the R618 at the sign “Nongoma”, 20km outside Vryheid. Continue with this road for about 50km and turn right at the sign “Ntendeka Wilderness Area”. Visitors must obtain a permit from the office.

Other related information:

Recommended accommodation nearby:
A basic campsite is available outside the Ngome Forest Complex. For bookings, please phone +27(0)34 967 1883.
The nearest Birder Friendly Establishments are in the towns of Pongola and Jozini. For more information, please visit:
http://www.birdlife.org.za/go-birding/bird-friendly-establishments/kwazulu-natal/

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:

Orange Ground Thrush, Barratt’s Warbler, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Olive Woodpecker, Chorister Robin-chat

Contact details:

N/A

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