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.
Black-fronted Bushshrike, Orange Ground-Thrush, Bush Blackcap, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Barratt’s Warbler