Polokwane – Thabaphashwa Mountain Sanctuary

About the Birding

The Thabaphaswa Mountain Sanctuary is located on a working Nguni-stud farm, situated in a unique mountain range between Polokwane and Mokopane. The 2000ha farm is dominated by huge granite outcrops and, while the farm is not especially well-known for birding, it provides easy access to a range of habitats and over 177 bird species have been recorded on the property. Habitats include a combination of thornveld and broad-leafed woodland as well as riverine areas along a couple of small streams that run through the farm.

The rocky outcrops and mountains are home to two pairs of Verreaux’s Eagle, both the Lanner and Peregrine Falcons, Rock Kestrel and the rare Cape Eagle-owl. Other notable species in these rocky habitats include the Shelly’s Francolin, Striped Pipit, Cape Rock Thrush, Freckled Nightjar and Mountain Wheatear. General bushveld birding is good and may yield the uncommon Bushveld Pipit, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Long-billed Crombec, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Brubru, uncommon Black-cheeked Waxbill, and Orange-breasted Bushshrike. Pastures and areas of open grassland should be checked for the threatened White-bellied Bustard, which occasionally wanders through the area.

Key species:

Cape Eagle-owl, Verreaux’s Eagle, Freckled Nightjar, Ovambo Sparrowhawk

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:

Cape Eagle-owl, Verreaux’s Eagle, Freckled Nightjar, Ovambo Sparrowhawk

Other Related Information

Access and facilities:
Thabaphaswa offers hiking, mountain biking, 4×4, rock climbing, abseiling, birding, tree spotting, swimming and fishing. The reserve is located at the fork of the two main national routes the N1 and the N11 – 18 km North of Mokopane in the Limpopo Province. Thabaphaswa is therefore the ideal stopover for tourists to or from the North such as the Kruger Park and Mapungubwe, as well as countries such as Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Other related information:

Recommended accommodation nearby:
A variety of accommodation options are available in the nearby towns of Polokwane and Mokopane. Accommodation on the farm is varied and complements the beautiful scenery by being built into and around the big boulders. The Dome Rock self-catering camp can accommodate 26 in 5 huts each with its own boma and wash-up area. All accommodations are without electricity, though solar power is available for emergency use at the main farmhouse. Bookings are made by contacting the owners directly, using the details listed above.

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:

Cape Eagle-owl, Verreaux’s Eagle, Freckled Nightjar, Ovambo Sparrowhawk

Contact details:

Tel: +27 (0)15 491 4882
Cellphone/WhatsApp: +27 (0)82 389 6631
Website: https://thabaphaswa.co.za