North-west Zululand – Vryheid Klipfontein Bird Sanctuary

About the Birding

Situated below Vryheid’s sewerage treatment plant, the Klipfontein Bird Sanctuary comprises a large artificial wetland. The wetland was originally created to filter treated water before it entered the White Umfolozi River. The site is now thriving and supports many local important species. Klipfontein Dam is situated adjacent to the bird sanctuary and, together, these sites are known to support around 200 species.

The extensive reedbeds provide habitat for many rallids including the African Rail, African, Black and Baillon’s Crakes, African Swamphen, and Red-chested Flufftail. The African Rail is easily seen in the winter months when the birds emerge to sun themselves in the early mornings. The crakes and flufftail require luck and patience to see. In the summer months, listen for the calls of warblers as this is an important wintering site for the Great and African Reed Warblers, Lesser Swamp Warbler, African Yellow Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Little Rush Warbler. A pair of Grey Crowned Crane are also known to breed in the reedbeds here, and remain at the site throughout the year. Open water supports both the Blue-billed and Red-billed Teals, Yellow-billed Duck, Southern Pochard, South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveler, and African Black Duck. African Snipe and the Greater Painted Snipe forage on the exposed muddy edges, alongside the Striated Heron, Three-banded Plover and Wood Sandpiper. Check exposed perches for the Half-collared and Giant Kingfishers, and watch for flocks of the scarce Orange-breasted Waxbill at the grassy road edges.

Birds not necessarily associated with water but regularly recorded at the sanctuary include breeding Wahlberg’s and Long-crested Eagles, Red-throated Wryneck, Cuckoo-finch, African Firefinch and Black-throated Canary.

Key species:

Orange-breasted Waxbill, Grey Crowned Crane, African Rail, African Black Duck, Half-collared Kingfisher

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:

Orange-breasted Waxbill, Grey Crowned Crane, African Rail, African Black Duck, Half-collared Kingfisher

Other Related Information

To reach the bird sanctuary, leave Vryheid on the road to Babanango (West Street) and proceed straight past the airfield. At the intersection, continue over the road and onto a gravel track. Proceed for another 50m before turning left onto a road that meets the wetland. Park here and visit both hides.

Other related information:

Notable points of interest include the:
Klipfontein bird Sanctuary: -27.7959, 30.7823

The nearest towns to the Klipfontein Bird Sanctuary are:
Vryheid: 4.3km
Louwsberg: 66km

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

Key species:

Orange-breasted Waxbill, Grey Crowned Crane, African Rail, African Black Duck, Half-collared Kingfisher