South Coast – Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve

About the Birding

Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve is one of the most scenic and easily accessible birding sites on the South Coast birding route in KwaZulu-Natal. It is centred on a 24km long stretch of gorge along the Mzimkulwana River, neighbouring the Oribi Conservancy/Idwala Nature Reserve, and covering an immense area of 1837 hectares. The main tarred road through the reserve winds down the gorge to a bridge that crosses the river, before subsequently climbing the steep gradient on the far side of the Umzumkulwana.

This permits easy access to most areas of the reserve, facilitating great birding. The reserve is surrounded on most sides by extensive monoculture sugarcane plantations and is thus a haven for birds within an otherwise heavily transformed landscape. The total list for the reserve stands at over 230 species, and a total list of over 100 species would constitute a reasonable days’ visit in the summer months.

Oribi Gorge is listed as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area and is perhaps the most reliable site anywhere in KwaZulu-Natal for the sought-after Knysna Woodpecker, occurring here at the northern limit of its range. The species is quite common within the reserve, although is secretive in nature and is best detected by its high-pitched and regularly uttered shrill call similar to the Golden-tailed Woodpecker. Search for this species in the forests along the Mzimkulwana River, along one of the trails leading from the main camp and picnic site. Other notable species that favour this riverine forest habitat include the Knysna and Purple-crested Turacos, Natal Spurfowl, Narina Trogon, Red-fronted and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds, Common Square-tailed Drongo, Southern Boubou, Gorgeous Bush-shrike, Black-bellied Starling, Dark-backed Weaver, and Forest Canary. Seeding grasses attract the immaculate Swee and Grey Waxbills, along with Green Twinspot. Listen for the trilled call of the Barratt’s Warbler at forest edge, bearing in mind that patience and perseverance are required to see this notoriously shy species. African Broadbill is sometimes also seen, usually in early summer when males perform their unique display. The river supports both African Finfoot and White-backed Night Heron, as well as Mountain Wagtail. Overhead, watch for Crowned Eagle as a pair nest about 1.5km down the gorge from the reserve camp. The threatened Cape Vulture also nest nearby and are sometimes sighted overhead, while African Wood Owl is common at night.

Key species:

Knysna Woodpecker, Barratt’s Warbler, African Broadbill, African Finfoot, Cape Vulture

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:

Knysna Woodpecker, Barratt’s Warbler, African Broadbill, African Finfoot, Cape Vulture

Other Related Information

Directions:
Take the main N2 highway from Port Shepstone to Kokstad. The turnoff to the reserve is 21km from Port Shepstone and is well signposted (ignore the first turnoff marked Oribi Gorge about 10km from Port Shepstone). The turnoff to the main camp is about 200m after you leave the N2. To drive down to the Gorge itself, continue straight on and the road immediately begins to descend into the Gorge. The reserve is about 150km south of Durban.

Other related information:

Notable points of interest include the:
Oribi Gorge camp: -30.7321, 30.2731

The nearest towns to the main rest camp at Addo Elephant National Park are:
Port Shepstone: 21km
Kokstad: 122km

Access and facilities:
Gate openings and closing times are between 06:30 and 19:30 daily, while offices are open from 08:00-12:30 and 14:00-16:30 daily.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Basic accommodation options (camping and chalets) are available through Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. Chalets include a 2-bedroom rest hut, and a 6-bed self-catering chalet. Both have an open plan living and dining area and come fully equipped as self-catering units. The campsite consists of 5 campsites, each able to accommodate 6 people, and all are electrified.

For more information, contact:
Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Reservations
Tel: +27 (0)33 845 1000
Fax: +27 (0)33 845 1001
E-mail: webmail@kznwildlife.com
Website: www.kznwildlife.com

The nearest Birder Friendly Establishments are in the nearby village of Margate. For more information, please visit:
http://www.birdlife.org.za/go-birding/bird-friendly-establishments/kwazulu-natal/

Local guide information:
A 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:
https://www.birdlife.org.za/go-birding/community-bird-guides/#1527848096692-9dc59238-8787

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

Key species:

Knysna Woodpecker, Barratt’s Warbler, African Broadbill, African Finfoot, Cape Vulture

Contact details:

For more information, contact:

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Reservations
Tel: +27 (0)33 845 1000
Fax: +27 (0)33 845 1001
E-mail: webmail@kznwildlife.com
Website: www.kznwildlife.com

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