South Coast – Empisini Nature Reserve

About the Birding

Established in 1973 over an area of 120 hectares, the Empisini Nature Reserve is a delightful birding site owned by the borough of uMkhomanzi/Umkomaas TLC and managed by the Umkomaas Centre of the Wildlife and Environment society of South Africa. The reserve is named as ‘the place of the hyena’ – though hyenas do not actually occur – which is the name given to the perennial stream that flows through the reserve and into the uMhkomazi River.

Most of the reserve is blanketed in primary and secondary forest habitats, though small patches of grassland and wetland can be found in the lower sections.

Follow the short trails through the forests along the Empisini stream, where it is possible to see characteristic forest species. The sought-after Spotted Ground Thrush is primarily a winter visitor and is best located by its sweet song and by following rustling sounds in the dense leaf-litter. The spectacular Narina Trogon calls incessantly from the forest canopy in the spring months. Other species to look for include the Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Purple-crested Turaco, African Emerald Cuckoo (summer), Green Malkoha, Trumpeter Hornbill, Common Square-tailed Drongo, Grey Cuckooshrike, Cape Batis, Terrestrial Brownbul, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Red-capped Robin-chat, Brown Scrub-robin, and the Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher. Watch overhead for the Black and Little Sparrowhawks, as well as for African Goshawk.

Limited areas of grassland may yield the Red-winged Francolin, Croaking Cisticola, and Yellow-throated Longclaw – while the small dam often supports a pair of African Black Duck. Red-chested Flufftail is vocal from the reedbeds in the summer months though patience is required to see this skulking species.

Key species:

Spotted Ground Thrush, Narina Trogon, Grey Cuckooshrike, Green Malkoha

About the Birding Site

The South Coast Birding Route in KwaZulu-Natal – spanning from Durban to the southern provincial border between KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape – comprises a variety of rich sub-tropical habitats ranging from coastal and inland wetlands to extensive grasslands, woodlands and forests. The forest birding to be had in this region is arguably some of the best anywhere in South Africa, featuring an interesting community of birds that is intermediate between the rich afromontane and coastal forests.

It is the only route within KwaZulu-Natal where these two diverse forest assemblages overlap and, for this reason, birding in this area is extremely rewarding. Several species reach their northernmost limits within this route including the sought-after Knysna Woodpecker and Knysna Warbler, while other notable highlights include the Magpie Mannikin, Knynsa Turaco, and Red-headed Quelea. Moreover, the route boasts many of KwaZulu-Natal’s most revered birding sites including Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve, Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve and the Weza-Ngele Forest among others. Several days are recommended in the area to afford yourself with the best chances of finding the most sought-after species.

Key species:

Spotted Ground Thrush, Narina Trogon, Grey Cuckooshrike, Green Malkoha

Other Related Information

Travel south from Durban on the main N2 freeway. Take the Umkomaas freeway exit to Umkomaas and turn left. Turn left again onto the road signposted to the Nature Reserve and SAICCOR. The turnoff to the reserve is about 1 km down this road on the left, follow the signposts.

Notable points of interest include the:
Main entrance: -30.2071, 30.7742

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
There are picnic and braai sites alongside the dam for the use of day-visitors. Several excellent trails meander through the various habitats in the reserve and the trails alongside the Empisini stream provide excellent forest birding. Bird lists and maps are available on request from the contact persons.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
The nearest Birder Friendly Establishments are in the nearby village of Margate. For more information, please visit:
Diverse accommodation options are also available in the coastal village of Umkomaas.

Local guide information:
The nearest BirdLife Community Guide operates out of Umtamvuna Nature Reserve and Oribi Gorge. For more information, please contact: Mpendulo Innocent Mzindle on cell: +27 (0)73 893 0241. Alternatively, please visit:

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

Key species:

Spotted Ground Thrush, Narina Trogon, Grey Cuckooshrike, Green Malkoha

Contact details:

The Empisini Nature Reserve is owned by the Umkomaas (uMkhomazi) Town Council, but is administered by the local branch of WESSA. Please contact:

Mike Bentley
Tel: +27 (0)39 973 0093 / +27 (0)39 973 8152