Northern Escarpment – Woodbush Forest Drive

About the Birding

The spectacular Woodbush Forest is arguably one of the best forest birding sites in Limpopo, if not the entire country. These forests play host to several species that are not easily seen elsewhere in South Africa, top among them the Black-fronted Bush Shrike and Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon. Other notable species that occur include the endangered Cape Parrot, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, skulking Barratt’s Warbler, Orange Ground Thrush, African Emerald Cuckoo (summer), Green Twinspot, Grey Cuckooshrike, and Narina Trogon.

Flocks of the sought-after Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon are also often sighted darting across the forest in the early mornings as they commute between their feeding and roosting areas, but watch too for this species on exposed snags in the early mornings and late afternoons. Small streams may yield the low-density Mountain Wagtail and African Finfoot, while flocks of Red-backed Mannikin and African Firefinch reside in the roadside grasses. Grassland and rocky areas bordering the forest may yield the Lazy Cisticola, Striped Pipit, Yellow Bishop and Thick-billed Weaver. Higher up, look for Gurney’s Sugarbird. Watch overhead for the Forest Buzzard, Crowned and Long-crested Eagles, African Cuckoo-hawk, and Bat Hawk.

Key species:

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

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:

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

Other Related Information

The best area to explore is between the Woodbush Hut, down past Debengeni Falls (treated separately) to the bottom of the gorge. This route will take a minimum of 1 hour but at least 3 hours are recommended in the early mornings to maximise your chances of seeing the top specials. A vehicle with decent ground clearance is necessary as the road conditions are often poor and can be extremely slippery, especially after rains.

Other related information:

They reach this route from the Magoebaskloof Hotel on the R71, drive 2km in the direction of Tzaneen before turning left on the gravel road at the green hiking trail sign of the Woodbush area. After a number of curves, take the right-hand fork before continuing for about 1km past the Woodbush trail hut to a breath-taking lookout over the forest below. Thereafter, backtrack for 700m and turn towards the Woodbush Hut and you will find the forest drive on the left. Follow this route to the bottom of the gorge before rejoining the R71.

For an alternate forest drive, leave the Magoebaskloof Hotel and drive 2km in the direction of Tzaneen, before turning left onto the same gravel road that leads to the Woodbush Hut. Keep left at the fork and continue for 3km. Once the road begins to widen, take the turnoff to Houtbosdorp. After 200m, turn to the right and follow this track through a series of plantations, beautiful indigenous forests, and past a rustic camping place. After 4km, you will pass the Dap Naude Dam. Further along, turn towards Dokolewa Pools until you exit the forest and enter an area of grassland. From there, you will cross a tar road, with which it is possible to return to Magoebaskloof. This route requires at least 3 hours of exploration.

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

Bramasole Guesthouse
Address: A37 Bramasole, off the R71 between Polokwane & Tzaneen, Magoeabskloof, Limpopo, 0731
Landline: +2 (0)15 007 0629 (weekdays 8am – 5pm)
Phone: +27 (0)72 062 8514
Instagram: @bramasole97

Magoebaskloof Birders’ Cottages
Address: Dragonwyck Farm, A 46.5 off R71, Magoebaskloof
Phone: +27 (0)84 402 3709
Website: or

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:

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

Contact details: