North-west Zululand – Vryheid Skurweberg

About the Birding

Skurweberg – translated to ‘rough mountain’ – is situated approximately 30km northwest of Vryheid towards Wakkerstroom. The mountain lies 1600m above sea level and consists of rocky grasslands with isolated scattered bush clumps. A district road passes over the northern side of the mountain, providing access to all the main habitats.

A number of interesting species can be found on the lower slopes of the mountain. Scan the rocky areas for the Denham’s and White-bellied Bustards; the latter best detected in the early mornings when they are most vocally active. Southern Bald Ibis visit the area after fires, favouring recently burnt areas. Blue Crane breed in damp areas on the higher slopes and can often be seen attending cattle lick blocks on the southern sides of the road. LBJs are common and include the Nicholson’s and Plain-backed Pipits and the Eastern Long-billed Lark. Buff-streaked Chat prefer rocky areas, where Mountain Wheatear and Bokmakierie may also be seen. Red-winged Francolin is scarce but regular at the roadside in the early mornings. Higher up, look for Ground Woodpecker and the Alpine, Horus and African Black Swifts.

Key species:

Red-winged Francolin, Buff-streaked Chat, Nicholson’s Pipit, Eastern Long-billed Lark

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:

Red-winged Francolin, Buff-streaked Chat, Nicholson’s Pipit, Eastern Long-billed Lark

Other Related Information

Directions:
Traveling from Vryheid, take the R33 towards Paulpietersburg. After about 20km, turn left at the signboard marked “Utrecht”. Proceed along this dirt road for about 10km. After a fairly steep incline, you will be on top of the mountain.

Access and facilities:
The wider Utrecht area is blanketed in private farmlands. Thus, birding must be done on the many district roads leading through the area unless permission to venture off-road is granted by the local farmers.

Other related information:

Recommended accommodation nearby:
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 Tchagra, Knysna Woodpecker, Denham’s Bustard, Blue Crane, Southern Black Korhaan, Secretarybird, Martial Eagle

Contact details:

N/A

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