Northern Escarpment- Debengeni Falls

About the Birding

The spectacular Debengeni Falls is a popular picnic site for locals and visitors to the area. Here, the Ramadipha River tumbles 90m into a massive bowl of water at its base. Grey Wagtail has been sighted here between September and April on a near-annual basis. Even if this special is not there, it is worth visiting the Debengeni Falls to see Mountain Wagtail and other forest birds.

The forest surrounding the falls is rich in birdlife and should be checked for Lemon and Tambourine Doves, Chorister Robin-chat, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, and Scaly-throated Honeyguide. In the summer months, listen for the haunting calls of Buff-spotted Flufftail as the species is regular. The river itself often supports Half-collared Kingfisher and African Finfoot, while a pair of Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk breed in the vicinity of the falls.

Key species:

Grey Wagtail, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Lemon Dove, Chorister Robin-chat, Buff-spotted Flufftail

About the Birding Site

The Capricorn-Letaba birding route stretches from the city of Polokwane in the west to the Great Letaba River beyond the Letsitele valley in the east. The route runs just a few degrees south of the Tropic of Capricorn, mainly along the R71 road which links the towns of Polokwane, Haenertsburg, Tzaneen and Gravelotte.

An interesting geographical feature of this route is its varying altitude. Polokwane lies on a plateau at approximately 1300 masl, further east lies the escarpment of the Northern Drakensberg and Wolkberg mountain ranges where the altitude reaches 2300 masl. The route then drops down into the Lowveld where the altitude is approximately 480 masl at the Letaba River. These extreme variations in altitude result in a great range of vegetation types within a relatively small area. Within these diverse habitats, over 500 bird species are to be found.

The open thornveld habitat of the Polokwane plateau supports a great variety of both Bushveld and Kalahari-type birds. Typical species here include Crimson-breasted Shrike, Barred Wren-Warbler, Short-clawed Lark and Black-faced Waxbill. Just before reaching the foothills of the Drakensberg and Wolkberg Mountains, one passes through the outcrop strewn Mamabolo Bushveld. These granite inselbergs hold many rock-dwelling species, including Southern Bald Ibis’s northern-most population. In the Northern Drakensberg and Wolkberg sections of the route, birders enjoy vast tracts of montane grassland, which is Blue Swallow territory and houses other sought after species such as Broad-tailed Warbler, Croaking Cisticola and Drakensberg Prinia. The afro-montane forests of Woodbush and Magoebaskloof offer amongst the best forest birding in the country with specials like Brown Scrub-Robin, Black-fronted Bush Shrike, Barratt’s Warbler, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, and Orange Ground Thrush. The eastern lower slopes and valleys of Magoebaskloof provide reliable sites for the elusive Bat Hawk and Green Twinspot. The Tzaneen area is well-known for its sub-tropical fruit industry and the interesting mix of lowland habitats here support a wide range of species including Gorgeous Bush Shrike, White-browed Robin-chat and Purple-crested Turaco. The Lowveld region around Letsitele and along the Letaba River is blanketed in extensive Mopane Woodland where Arnot’s Chat is resident. There are many Lowveld rivers with their associated riparian forest habitats where the likes of Greater Blue-eared Starling, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, Retz’s Helmet-Shrike and Thick-billed Cuckoo can be found. This is also one of the prime raptor areas in the region.

The Capricorn-Letaba Birding Route is further divided into four different birding areas, namely the Northern Escarpment, Polokwane, The Lowveld and Tzaneen. Each area has its unique character and a set of special bird species. The area is also well-supported by a variety of different accommodation options as well as several easily accessible birding sites.

The Northern Escarpment is the route’s mountainous area and is made up by the Wolkberg and Northern Drakensberg mountain ranges, where the altitude reaches 2300 masl. The high annual rainfall of the area results in lush Afromontane forest and rolling montane grassland habitats. Unfortunately, most of the grasslands have been lost to commercial forestation, but patches of this unique habitat and its diverse inhabitants still occur around Haenertsburg and in the Wolkberg Wilderness Area.

These grasslands support a small population of Blue Swallow, as well as, Gurney’s Sugarbirds, Malachite Sunbirds, Broad-tailed Warbler, Red-winged Francolin and Striped Flufftail. The Afromontane forests are amongst the most extensive and beautiful in the country, with the Woodbush, Grootbosch, Swartbosch and Black Forest forming an interconnected band of pristine habitat along the eastern and southern slopes of the escarpment. Look out for specials like Cape Parrot, Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, and African Crowned Eagle in these forests.

Key species:

Grey Wagtail, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Lemon Dove, Chorister Robin-chat, Buff-spotted Flufftail

Other Related Information

Access and facilities:
A nominal entrance fee is payable to visit the falls. If travelling in an easterly direction on the R71, the turnoff to the falls and the Woodbush forest drive is on the left, 12km from the Magoebaskloof Hotel. The entrance point to the falls is a further 3km up the dirt road. There are picnic facilities and short walking trails along the river. A note of caution: below the falls, the large smooth rock surfaces can be dangerous to walk on, particularly when they are wet.
An entrance fee of R20 is payable per person.

Other related information:

Recommended accommodation nearby:
A variety of accommodation options are available in the nearby areas of Magoebaskloof, Haenertsburg. The nearest BirdLife Recommended Accommodations include the Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge, Bramasole Guesthouse, and Magoebaskloof Birders’ Cottages for which additional contact details are provided below.

Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge
Physical address:
Sterkloop Farm, Houtbosdorp, Magoebaskloof
Tel: +27 (0)15 276 1131
Mobile: +27 (0)82 200 4596
E-mail: info@krm.co.za
Website: http://www.krm.co.za

Bramasole Guesthouse
Address: A37 Bramasole, off the R71 between Polokwane & Tzaneen, Magoeabskloof, Limpopo, 0731
Landline: +27 (0)15 007 0629 (weekdays 8am – 5pm)
Phone: +27 (0)72 062 8514
Email: reservations@bramasole.co.za
Website: www.bramasole.co.za
Instagram: @bramasole97

Magoebaskloof Birders’ Cottages
Address: Dragonwyck Farm, A 46.5 off R71, Magoebaskloof
Phone: +27 (0)84 402 3709
Website: http://mbcottage.co.za/ or http://birderscottage.com

Local guide information:
Paul Nkhumane: +27 (0)73 670 5857
David Letsoalo: +27 (0)83 568 4678

Text prepared by:
Daniel Danckwerts (Rockjumper Birding Tours)

Key species:

Grey Wagtail, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Lemon Dove, Chorister Robin-chat, Buff-spotted Flufftail

Contact details:

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