Polokwane Bird Sanctuary

About the Birding

The Polokwane Bird Sanctuary is a small oasis, situated just to the north of the city of Polokwane. The reserve holds three large settling dams surrounded by dense reed beds and riverine thickets. Further from the water, one can easily access small patches of grassland and Acacia thornveld. The sanctuary boasts a list of over 320 species and is easily traversable using a good network of footpaths. Allow three to four hours of birding to maximise your chances of finding the top specials in each habitat.

Begin your explorations in the dry Acacia scrub near the entrance of the reserve. Several species of cuckoo may be seen here during the summer months (September-April) including the Diederik, Klaas’s, Black, African and the scarce Great Spotted Cuckoos. Listen for the calls of White-throated Robin-chat and White-browed Scrub-robin from dense undergrowth. The Common Scimitarbill and both the Ashy and Southern Black Tits move in mixed-species foraging flocks, while Fiscal Flycatcher can be found throughout. The African Paradise and Spotted Flycatchers are abundant summer visitors, with a few overwintering. Other migrants include the Common Whitethroat, Olive-tree, Icterine, Garden, Marsh and Great Reed Warblers. Listen too for the advertising calls of both the Lesser and Greater Honeyguides. In the grassland areas, look for the Sabota and Rufous-naped Larks. Mid-summer is a good time of year to look for Indigobirds and three species (Village, Dusky and Purple) are present at this site, along with their host Firefinch species.

The three large water bodies vary in depth but host an interesting selection of waterbirds. Look for the Black-headed and Grey Herons, Western Cattle Egret, African Sacred Ibis, Southern Pochard, Red-billed and Hottentot Teals, and Cape Shoveler. African Fish Eagle occasionally wanders through the area and a pair are known to nest nearby. The shallow pond on the eastern side of the sanctuary often attracts a host of interesting waders in mid to late summer including the Wood, Marsh, Common and Curlew Sandpipers, Greenshank, Ruff and Little Stint. African Spite and Greater Painted-snipe are both regular.

Key species:

The Village, Dusky and Purple Indigobirds, Greater Honeyguide, Greater Painted-Snipe, Southern Pochard

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 the northern-most population of Southern Bald Ibis. 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 Polokwane sub-route is the most westerly region of the Capricorn-Letaba Birding Route that extends from Polokwane to the Wolkberg and Northern Drakensberg Mountain Ranges. The area has an average altitude of 1300 masl and is the driest area of the birding route. The habitat is characterised by open savannah with scattered Acacia and broadleaved trees and includes the Polokwane Plateau Bushveld and Mamabolo Bushveld vegetation types. Granite outcrops and riverine thickets provide diversity in this area’s vegetation and bird species. Some 350 bird species are known from the wider Polokwane region. Notable among these are the Short-clawed Lark, Northern Black Korhaan, Kalahari Scrub-robin and Black-cheeked Waxbill.

Key species:

The Village, Dusky and Purple Indigobirds, Greater Honeyguide, Greater Painted-Snipe, Southern Pochard

Other Related Information

Access and facilities:
The reserve is easily traversable using a detailed network of footpaths. Other facilities include bird hides, picnic and braai facilities, and a small kiosk selling refreshments. A nominal entrance fee is payable (R12 per person and R15 per vehicle) and the sanctuary is open from 07:00 to 18:00 daily. Maps are also available at the entrance.

The sanctuary is situated just outside town on the R521 (to Dendron). The turn-off is on the right-hand side just after crossing the Sand River and is diagonal across from a filling station.

Other related information:

Recommended accommodation nearby:
A variety of accommodation options are available in the nearby city of Polokwane to suit all budgets and requirements.

Brasole Guesthouse
Contact Details
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
Web: www.bramasole.co.za
Instagram: @bramasole97

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

Text prepared by:
Daniel Keith Danckwerts (Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Adventures)

Key species:

The Village, Dusky and Purple Indigobirds, Greater Honeyguide, Greater Painted-Snipe, Southern Pochard

Contact details:

Tel: +27 (0)15 290 2331 (office hours only)
Fax: +27 (0)15 290 2333