Northern Escarpment – Louis Changuion Trail & Haenertsburg grasslands

About the Birding

This scenic trail starts in the village of Haenertsburg and winds through 200 ha of protected afro-montane grasslands with forest patches situated above the village.

The whole trail is 10km but various parts of the trail can be done separately depending on your fitness level and enthusiasm. It is one of the most easily-accessible pieces of this rare habitat left in the area.

Blue Swallows have been encountered here in the past. In the grasslands, you may find Wailing, Lazy, Croaking, Cloud and Wing-snapping Cisticola. African Grass Owl, White-necked Raven, Red-winged Francolin, Yellow Bishop, African Yellow and Broad-tailed Warblers, and Drakensberg Prinia are present as well as Cape Grassbird. Jackal Buzzard and Long-crested Eagle often hunt over the grassland. The patches of forest have Olive Bush Shrike, African Olive-Pigeon, Cape Batis, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-streaked Greenbul and Forest Canary in them.

Key species:

Shelley’s Francolin, Lazy Cisticola, Purple-crested Turaco, White-throated Robin-chat

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:

Shelley’s Francolin, Lazy Cisticola, Purple-crested Turaco, White-throated Robin-chat

Other Related Information

Access and facilities:
The trail starts at the Haenertsburg Village Hall (on the main road) –follow the yellow markers or the map that is available at The Elms restaurant (Tel: +27 (0)15 276 4712). For the less energetic, a drive up to the village cemetery (surely the most scenic in the country) will take you into the centre of the grassland. Ask at the Tourism office or any of the businesses in the village how to get there. While in the village, visit the Termite House which displays grassland habitats and acts as an environmental education centre.

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, Magoebaskloof, 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:

Shelley’s Francolin, Lazy Cisticola, Purple-crested Turaco, White-throated Robin-chat

Contact details:

For more information, please contact:

Tel: +27 (0)83 746 2239

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