North-west Zululand – Vryheid Esikhuma (Mpofini Game Lodge)

About the Birding

The name Esikhuma is given to the mountain, situated roughly 10km to the south of Vryheid. The area surrounding the mountain comprises mixed thornveld, forest and cliffs along the main drainage lines. The site is spread across private land, but birding is possible along the main district roads and in the Mpofini Game Lodge just to the north of the mountain itself.

Buffalo Grass grows prolifically along the first 200m of the dirt road (D34). Look out for White-winged Widowbird, African Firefinch and its parasitic host, the Dusky Indigobird, Common Waxbill, Blue Waxbill and Yellow-fronted Canary. The railway bridge across this road is a breeding site for Southern Bald Ibis. Continue up the road, and where the road bends, stop to look up at the cliff. Endemics such as Ground Woodpecker, Cape Rock Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat, Cape Grassbird, Drakensberg Prinia, Cape Batis, Southern Boubou, Greater Double-collared Sunbird and Cape White-eye occur among the rocks or in the surrounding forest patch. Listen out for Red-capped Robin-chat, Swee Waxbill and Golden-tailed Woodpecker. Mountain Wheatear, Bokmakierie and Wailing and Lazy Cisticolas are also fairly common. Jackal Buzzards breed on the cliffs and are regularly seen.

Backtrack to the bridge and turn sharp left immediately after going under it. This road follows the railway line. Stop when you reach the first bridge on your left. The riverine forest here holds Fairy Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Icterine Warbler (summer), African Yellow Warbler, Orange-breasted Bush-shrike, Brimstone Canary, Spectacled Weaver, Pale Flycatcher, Black Cuckooshrike, Emerald-spotted Dove and, in summer, African Paradise Flycatcher. Other summer migrants include Black, Jacobin, African and Diderick Cuckoos and Violet-backed Starling.

Check all bridges along the railway line for Mocking Cliff-chat, Southern Bald Ibis and Green Woodhoopoe. If one turns left just before the first railway bridge, coming from the tar road, and carries on till the next big bridge, a Verreaux’s Eagle nest can be seen on the cliffs of the pointed mountain on the right. Lanner Falcons breed here as well. Other raptors to be seen include Brown Snake-eagle, African Harrier-hawk and, in summer, Wahlberg’s Eagle.

Key species:

Southern Bald Ibis, Verreaux’s Eagle, Buff-streaked Chat, Cape 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.

Vryheid is situated in the highest altitude area in the Zululand Birding Route and lies on the ecotone between the extensive grasslands in the west and the bushveld areas in the west. Combined with many wetlands and mountains, this area supports an incredible diversity of bird species including many noteworthy endemics. Among these are the Southern Bald Ibis, Blue Crane, Blue Korhaan, Ground Woodpecker, South African Cliff Swallow, Bush Blackcap and Gurney’s Sugarbird among others. All five of Zululand’s major rivers have all or at least some of their catchments within this area, resulting in many wetlands. These are home to nationally important populations of Grey Crowned Crane, Red-chested Flufftail and other species. The wider area is thus one of Zululand’s best kept secrets featuring a number of key sites including the Pongola Bush Nature Reserve, Skurweberg, and the Blood River Vlei to name a few.

Key species:

Southern Bald Ibis, Verreaux’s Eagle, Buff-streaked Chat, Cape Grassbird

Other Related Information

Directions:
Travelling from Vryheid, take the R34 to Melmoth. After 9km, turn left down the D34 gravel road. This road takes one under a railway bridge, up to the base of the mountain, and then flanks it on the right-hand side. On the bend, a cliff is visible on the left. Just before the bridge mentioned above, one can turn either left or right and follow the railway line. Either road loops back to the tar road (R34) and both are good for birds.

Other related information:

Directions:
To get to Mpofini Game Lodge, turn left 4km from Vryheid on the R34. Take the second turn off to the right and follow the road to the gate. The reserve is signposted.

Notable points of interest include the:
Mpofini Game Lodge: -27.8072, 30.84703

The nearest towns to the main rest camp at Addo Elephant National Park are:
Vryheid: 8km
Louwsberg: 65km
Pongola: 133km

Access and facilities:
Much of the birding in this region is done from district roads. Overnight guests are able to access the Mpofini Game Lodge. Mpofini features a small restaurant and bar, as well as spa facilities. Game drives are available upon prior arrangement.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Mpofini Game Lodge features a small electrified campsite, and self-catering and B&B options including large dormitory-style accommodation (consisting of 8 rooms) capable of sleeping up to 22 people and a number of rooms catering for between 2 and 5 people each.

For more information or to make a reservation, please contact:
Mpofini Game Lodge
Cell: +27 (0)83 759 6982
Email: admin@mpofini.co.za
Website: www.mpofini.co.za

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 Vryheid area.

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

Key species:

Southern Bald Ibis, Verreaux’s Eagle, Buff-streaked Chat, Cape Grassbird

Contact details:

For more information, please contact:
Mpofini
Cell: +27 (0)83 759 6982
Email: admin@mpofini.co.za
Website: www.mpofini.co.za

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