North-west Zululand – Ulundi Babanango Game Reserve and Zulu Rocks Safari

About the Birding

Babanango Game Reserve (Zulu Rock Safaris) is situated in the White Umfolozi Valley close to the impressive Nhlazatshe Mountain and contains a unique blend of bushveld, thornveld, grassveld and forest. The reserve straddles a mountain, the thornveld and grassveld occurring on the northern slopes and the forest patches on the boulder-strewn southern slopes. Bush clumps occur in between these two habitats. The reserve is privately owned, and birders are welcome.

Zulu Rock is an important area for birds, especially raptors. Secretarybird, Brown Snake-eagle, Tawny, African Hawk, Crowned, Verreaux’s, Wahlberg’s, African Fish and Martial Eagles all breed in the vicinity and are regularly recorded. White-backed Vultures are often seen “surfing” thermals, and are sometimes joined by Lappet-faced and Cape Vultures. Smaller raptors include the Jackal Buzzard, African Goshawk and Rock Kestrel.

A variety of gamebirds are present. Coqui, Crested, Shelley’s, Natal and Swainson’s Francolins are all common; listen for their calls during the summer months. Grassland species recorded include Southern Bald Ibis, Southern Ground Hornbill, Blue Crane, Common Buttonquail, Black-bellied Bustard, Spotted Thick-knee, Yellow-throated Longclaw and Wing-snapping Cisticola.

The thornveld and bushveld birds include the Gorgeous, Orange-breasted and Grey-headed Bush-Shrikes, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Violet-backed Starling, Green-winged Pytilia, White-fronted Bee-eater, African Firefinch and Yellow-breasted Apalis. Other noteworthy species include Arrow-marked Babbler, Grey Go-away-bird and Pale Flycatcher.

Forest birds recorded at Zulu Rocks include the Purple-crested Turaco, Grey Tit-flycatcher, African Green Pigeon, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Red-capped and White-throated Robin-Chats, Trumpeter and Crowned Hornbills and the elusive Narina Trogon. The latter is easiest to find during the summer months, when the males are most vocal. Birds typical of rocky areas include Striped Pipit, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, Buff-streaked Chat, Mocking Cliff-Chat, Bokmakierie and Malachite Sunbird.

Key species:

Southern Blad Ibis, Verreaux’s Eagle, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, African Firefinch

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 town of Ulundi is situated at the very centre of Zululand, between Melmoth and Vryheid, and boasts some of the richest cultural history anywhere in South Africa. Several notable battlefields, royal residences and provincial government buildings are distributed throughout the region. Ulundi itself is located within the White Umfolozi Valley and is bordered by rolling hills and thorn-tree plains. The region is not that well explored – in a birding sense – but boasts some of the richest habitats where a diverse array of thornveld and grassland species may be found. Sites of potential interest include the Ondini Cultural Site, Opathe Game Reserve, Emakhosini Heritage Site, Zulu Rock Safaris and Mangeni Falls.

Key species:

Southern Blad Ibis, Verreaux’s Eagle, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, African Firefinch

Other Related Information

The reserve is situated halfway between Vryheid and Melmoth on the R34 and the turn-off is well signposted.

Notable points of interest include the:
Zulu Rock Lodge: -28.1813, 31.0829

The nearest towns to Babanango Game Reserve are:
Melmoth: 68km
Vryheid: 79km

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
Babanango Game Reserve is open to overnight guests of Zulu Rock Lodge only.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Zulu Rock Safaris offers luxury and fully catered accommodation for up to 16 guests, split across seven rock-clad cottages. Rooms are all air conditions with king size and ¾ beds, with complimentary WIFI and en suite bathrooms, as well as daily housekeeping. For more information, please contact Zulu Rock Safaris using the contact details listed above.

Local guide information:
Zulu Rock Safaris offer guided game drives, walking safaris (including birding), mountain biking, horse trails, helicopter adventures and cultural tours. All activities are booked through the reception at the main lodge.

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

Key species:

Southern Blad Ibis, Verreaux’s Eagle, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, African Firefinch

Contact details:

For more information, please contact:

Zulu Rock Safaris
Tel: +27 (0)31 100 0362