Phalaborwa – Ba-Phalaborwa Nursery Dam

About the Birding

The Ba-Phalaborwa Nursery Dam is a sewage and stormwater catchment dam that blocks overflow from entering the Kruger National Park water system. A fantastic bird hide is located on-site. Several hours are recommended to thoroughly explore the wetland/woodland complex and lists of over 100 species are expected in late summer when the full complement of species (including migrants) are available.

The dam is a good spot to spend some time viewing a number of the more common waterbird species. Greater Painted Snipe, Little Bittern and Dwarf Bittern (summer only) are special bird species to look out for and all three species favour well-vegetated verges to the dam. Egyptian Goose, Little Grebe, Common Greenshank, Common and Wood Sandpipers, Striated Heron, Pied Kingfisher and White-breasted Cormorant are typical of the species that can easily be ticked off at the dam. An African Fish Eagle can normally be seen within close proximity to the dam. Birders must note that care needs to be exercised as there is a resident 3.5-meter crocodile in the dam. A female hippo and calf also utilise the dam on an infrequent basis.

The surrounding area is mixed mopane woodland and thornveld is good for bushveld birds. The close proximity of the nursery and associated trees also attracts a number of birds. Notable species to look for include the White-crested and Retz’s Helmet Shrikes, Thick-billed Cuckoo (summer), Stierling’s Wren-warbler, and Bennett’s Woodpecker.

Key species:

Dwarf Bittern (summer), Little Bittern, Greater Painted Snipe, Retz’s Helmet Shrike

About the Birding Site

The majority of birders actively plan birding trips to areas where they can either see a large number of birds in a short space of time or around rarities/localized species that would not easily be seen elsewhere. The Kruger to Canyons Birding Route offers both these highlights and a captivating wildlife experience to visiting birders.

Contained within the Kruger to Canyons Birding Route are 10 provincial nature reserves, the world’s largest collection of privately owned nature reserves, and the world-famous Kruger National Park. The route includes three vegetative biomes namely Montane Grassland, Afromontane Forest, Savanna and a fascinating vegetation unit of Northern Escarpment Afromontane Fynbos with strong links to that of the Fynbos Biome which is otherwise restricted to the Western Cape. This diverse range of habitats provides a home to a total of 76 bird families and a staggering 510 species of which 8 are endemic to the region. The Lowveld is a raptor watchers’ dream destination with approximately 85% of South Africa’s raptors being concentrated in this region. The fantastic road infrastructure and well-established tourism industry, offering accommodation in unparalleled surroundings, provides birders with an excellent platform from which to explore the area.

The route starts at Graskop and the top of the Blyde River Canyon from where it meanders along the course of the panoramic Canyon before plunging down through the Abel Erasmus Pass, the only known breeding site of the rare Taita Falcon in South Africa, and into the Lowveld. The drop in altitude from 1730 to 250 meters above sea level gives rise to a multitude of breath-taking views of a Tufa waterfall, wooded valleys and the expanse of open savanna below. Once down in the Lowveld the route reaches the town of Hoedspruit where a number of different birding opportunities are presented. The Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve, which includes the Swadini Dam, offers a wide variety of typical bushveld bird species and also includes African Finfoot, White-backed Night Heron and Green Twinspot. Mariepskop, which is one of the best-kept birding secrets in South Africa, is largely dominated by Afromontane Forest, but also includes a piece of Northern Escarpment Afromontane Fynbos habitat at the summit. Exploring both habitats assures a treasured day’s birding with species such as Orange Ground Thrush, Black-fronted Bush Shrike, Red-necked Spurfowl and Gurney’s Sugarbird.

Alternatively one can continue on to the town of Phalaborwa, which as well as offering a diverse range of bushveld birding, has a number of wetlands which is uncharacteristic of the area. The region offers some fantastic bird species such as White-crowned Lapwing, Pel’s Fishing Owl and Saddle-billed Stork. Phalaborwa is also a gateway to the central section of the Kruger National Park which has been rated as one of the top birding destinations in Southern Africa with a species list exceeding 500 species. Kruger’s rest camps of Mopani, Letaba, Olifants and Satara with their fantastic mixture of bushveld and riparian habitat birding anchor the Kruger to Canyons Birding Route. Look out for species such as African Barred Owlet, Southern Ground Hornbill, Collared Pratincole and Yellow-billed Oxpecker.

The Kruger to Canyons Birding Route offers an amazing and diverse number of species within three different biomes supported by well-maintained infrastructure and world-class accommodation options catering specifically for birders. Birding sites along this route are broadly divided by their proximity to several key towns in the area or notable features of this route such as the Abel Erasmus Pass and Blyde River Canyon. The central parts of Kruger National Park are then treated separately from the northern parts (covered in the Soutpansberg sub-route) of this expansive reserve.

Key species:

Dwarf Bittern (summer), Little Bittern, Greater Painted Snipe, Retz’s Helmet Shrike

Other Related Information

Coming into Phalaborwa from Gravelotte on the R71, turn right into Copper Street at the last set of traffic lights before you enter the Kruger National Park. Follow this road to the next Stop street and turn left. The Ba- Phalaborwa Municipality Nursery is 50 meters down the road. Enter through the gate and follow the road to the left of the office buildings with the dam on the left side of the property.

Other related information:

Recommended accommodation nearby:
The nearest BirdLife Recommended Accommodation are in the nearby towns of Phalaborwa and Hoedspruit.

Hoedspruit – Toro Yaka Bush Lodge:
Physical address: Balule Nature Reserve,
(On the R40 between Hoedspruit & Phalaborwa)
Fax: +27 (0)12 991 5984 or 086 603 8251
Mobile: +27 (0)82 308 5763

Phalaborwa – Abelana Game Reserve:
Abelana Game Reserve
Cell: (+27) 061 952 4302

Phalaborwa – Antares Bush Camp & Safaris
Cell: 083 2868281 (Ian) or 0828115696 (Mel)

Phalaborwa – Sunbird Lodge
Physical address: 21 Aalwyn Street, Phalaborwa
Tel: +27 (0)15 781 5559
Fax: +27 (0)15 781 5559
Mobile: +27 (0)72 756 1875

Local guide information:
Idah Lesufi, a community bird guide, is resident at the neighbouring Sefapane Lodge and Safaris and offers a comprehensive birding walk at both properties, which generally produces a phenomenal species count. You can contact her directly on + 27 (0)72 088 2617.

Text prepared by:
Daniel Danckwerts (Rockjumper Birding Tours)

Key species:

Dwarf Bittern (summer), Little Bittern, Greater Painted Snipe, Retz’s Helmet Shrike

Contact details:


Download Checklist