North-west Zululand – Ulundi Emakhosini Heritage Park

About the Birding

eMakhosini is steeped in Zulu history. Directly translated from Zulu, this area is known as the ‘Place of Kings’ and served as the home to a number of Zulu kings including Dingaan. The birding site covers the entire stretch of road from the main R34 tar road from Melmoth to Vryheid to the main tar road from Melmoth to Babanango. The surface is gravel but is kept in good condition and is traversable throughout the year in sedan-type vehicles. The bottom of the valley is covered in bushveld and this merges to grassland as one climbs up towards Babanango.

Starting near Babanango, stop at the large fig trees at the 6km mark. When in fruit, these trees attract African Green Pigeons, Black-collared Barbet, Purple-crested Turaco and Cape Starling. Cape Robin-chat is usually seen foraging through the dense leaf litter, while Cape Grassbird, Tawny-flanked Prinia and an assortment of cisticolas (Cloud, Zitting and Croaking) can be heard calling from the grassy slopes. Familiar Chat is usually seen on the road cuttings to the left.

Typical bushveld species in the valley bottom include the White-browed Scrub-robin, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Cardinal Woodpecker, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Black-crowned and Brown-crowned Tchagras, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike, Chinspot Batis, Rattling Cisticola, Groundscraper Thrush, Fiscal Flycatcher, Emerald-spotted Wood Dove, White-browed Robin-chat, Golden-breasted Bunting and Yellow-fronted Canary. Summer migrants to the area include the European Bee-eater, European Roller, Jacobin Cuckoo and Red-backed Shrike. Black Stork nest in the vicinity.

Key species:

Purple-crested Turaco, Cape Grassbird, African Green Pigeon, Black Stork

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:

Purple-crested Turaco, Cape Grassbird, African Green Pigeon, Black Stork

Other Related Information

Directions:
From Babanango, take the tar road down to Melmoth and turn left after 3km at the sign “Denny Dalton”. This road continues for about 22km till it reaches the R34 Melmoth/ Vryheid tar road. From Melmoth, travel north up to Vryheid and take the “Babanango” turn-off to the left after about 39km.

Notable points of interest include the:
eMakhosini Opathe Heritage Park: -28.4146, 31.3030

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
Much of this region is blanketed in private or communal land and visitors should seek permission before exploring areas off the main district roads.

The eMakhosini Opathe Heritage Park is open daily and a nominal entrance fee is payable.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
The nearest Birder Friendly Establishments are in the village of Eshowe. For more information, please visit:
http://www.birdlife.org.za/go-birding/bird-friendly-establishments/kwazulu-natal/

Local guide information:
The nearest BirdLife Community Guides operate out of the nearby villages of Eshowe and Nkandla. For more information, please visit:
https://www.birdlife.org.za/go-birding/community-bird-guides/

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

Key species:

Purple-crested Turaco, Cape Grassbird, African Green Pigeon, Black Stork

Contact details:

For more information, please contact:

eMakhosini Opathe Heritage Park
Tel: +27 (0)35 870 5000

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