Polokwane – Turfloop Dam Nature Reserve

About the Birding

This provincial nature reserve was originally proclaimed in order to protect the Turfloop Dam and its associated wetland habitats. It has now also become a protected breeding site for the northernmost population of the Southern Bald Ibis. It falls within the Mamabolo vegetation type and has many granite outcrops which are typical of this habitat. The dam itself has fluctuating water levels depending on local rainfall, so conditions change seasonally.

The dam has an open shoreline with some exposed mudflats in the summer, a feature which has probably led to this site having delivered the odd vagrant wader, with species such as Ruddy Turnstone, Pectoral, Green, Broad-billed and Terek Sandpipers having been seen here over the past few years. The more common wetland species to be found here include Great Crested Grebe, Southern Pochard, Fulvous Duck, Blue-billed Teal, Cape Shoveler and Maccoa Duck. The rocky island in the dam is an important breeding site for White-breasted Cormorant, Black-headed Heron, African Sacred Ibis, Intermediate Egret and African Spoonbill.

Key species:

Southern Bald Ibis, Great Crested Grebe, 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:

Southern Bald Ibis, Great Crested Grebe, Southern Pochard

Other Related Information

To get to this reserve take the R71 out of Polokwane and travel for just over 20km. At this point turn left at the traffic lights towards the University of Limpopo. Travel for 7.3km and look for an obscure turn-off to the right opposite two general dealer stores. Travel down this gravel road, passing several houses on the left until reaching the nature reserve fence. Turn left here; the entrance gate is a few hundred metres further on. Once through the gate, keep to the left track to the dam. From the east, the turn-off is 15.4km from the Woodbush/Magoebaskloof T-junction.

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
Entry Fee: R10 per person and R20 per vehicle.
Opening Times: 07H00 – 17H00.

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
Website: 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:

Southern Bald Ibis, Great Crested Grebe, Southern Pochard

Contact details:

Tel: +27 (0)15 276 1131