Southern Zululand – Eshowe Lake Phobane

About the Birding

Lake Phobane (previously known as Goedertrouw Dam) is conveniently situated about 15km north of Eshowe and is the second biggest dam in KwaZulu-Natal. It is fed by seven rivers, of which four flow all year round. The dam is set in the Umhlatuze Valley with the Mabelebele Mountains offering a spectacular backdrop for this beautiful dam. The habitats along the dam vary from dry acacia scrub to tall mixed woodland, riverine forest patches and mountainous areas with cliffs up to 100m high dropping into the water.

The first area worth mentioning is the access road and parking area. Check the dry Dichrostachys-type thickets along the main entrance road for the Long-tailed Paradise Whydah in the summer together with its host the Green-winged Pytilia. When crossing the dam wall, look along the grass bank on the right where Rufous-naped Larks, Zitting Cisticolas, Rock Martins, and both White-rumped and Little Swifts are often seen. In the summer months Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters also frequent the dam wall, using exposed perches to hawk insects above the water. At the parking area, listen for the loud calls of the Gorgeous and Grey-headed Bush-Shrikes as well as Southern Boubou, Common Scimitarbill, Brown-crowned Tchagra and White-browed Scrub-Robin; all of which can be found easily virtually anywhere along the dam. The areas of mixed woodland and acacia veld along the dam edges often produce birds such as Yellow-breasted Apalis, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Cardinal Woodpecker, Red-billed Firefinch, White-bellied Sunbird, White-crested Helmetshrikes and Kurrichane Thrush. Keep a special eye open for White-throated Robin-chat and in the summer months Levaillant’s Cuckoo are recorded regularly. Also seen flitting from the thickets on the shores to drink in the early morning are Grey Waxbills.

The riverine forests here have a lot of Weeping Boer-Bean Trees (Schotia brachypetla). When these are in flower in the early spring, the bright red flowers literally drip with nectar (hence the name) and it is certainly worthwhile just sitting and waiting for the birds which seem unable to resist the flowers and insects that have also been attracted to the tree. Overhanging trees where the rivers feed the dam normally have a variety of weavers breeding in the summer. Village and Lesser Masked Weavers are the most common while Spectacled and Southern Masked Weavers pop up fairly regularly. Also seen around weaver colonies waiting to take advantage of unguarded nests are the Diederik Cuckoo and African Harrier-Hawk. Other raptors to look out for are Black Sparrowhawk and African Goshawk. Martial Eagle and African Hawk Eagle have also been recorded.

The cliff faces that drop into the dam are home to Southern Bald Ibis which breed here in the late winter months. Lanner Falcons (breeding), Peregrine Falcon and White-necked Raven also frequent the cliffs. The cliffs and any other rocky areas along the shore are great for Mocking Cliff-Chat and Striped Pipit, both of which are best detected by their sweet songs. Look in the gaps and overhangs on the cliffs for roosting Western Barn Owls.

The dam itself must be one of the best places in South Africa to see White-backed Night Heron, as there are currently five known breeding pairs of this elusive species on the dam. Goliath Herons and Green-backed Herons are common and both species also breed here. Seven species of kingfisher can be seen here. Of the aquatic kingfishers, Giant, Pied and Malachite Kingfishers are all common and the spectacular but elusive Half-collared Kingfishers are best found in the rocky areas where streams flow into the dam. These areas are also good for African Black Duck. African Fish Eagles are easily found and Western Osprey are recorded at least a few times during the late summer months. Wire-tailed and White-throated Swallows can be seen anywhere along the dam.

Key species:

White-backed Night Heron, Peregrine and Lanner Falcons, Grey Waxbill, Gorgeous Bush-shrike

About the Birding Site

Southern Zululand is perhaps the premier forest birding route in all of KwaZulu-Natal, home to a rich diversity of species in a mix of different habitats. Starting on the warm coast of Zululand, between Mtunzini and Richard’s Bay, the route offers many estuarine swamp forests supporting impressive numbers of threatened species including the Mangrove Kingfisher and Black-throated Wattle-eye. Coastal forests here are equally rich in species and are perhaps the best areas anywhere in South Africa to search for the Spotted Ground Thrush (mainly a winter visitor) and Palm-nut Vulture.

Further inland near the towns of Eshowe, Melmoth, and Nkandla are several Afromontane mistbelt and scarp forests where a number of incredibly range-restricted species may be found including the highly localized endemic race of the Green Barbet, as well as Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon. These areas descend sharply down to dry thornveld habitats in a region that is rich in both Zulu history and culture.

The town of Eshowe is centrally positioned within the southern Zululand birding route and is surrounded by a number of extensive scarp forests. It is often the starting point for birders visiting this region of KwaZulu-natal and is rightly famous as the best site anywhere in South Africa for both the Spotted Ground Thrush and the Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon. Dlinza Forest, which is situated in the very heart of the town itself, is perhaps the pride of the entire southern Zululand birding route and boasts one of the only canopy towers – offering sublime views over the forest – anywhere in South Africa. To the west of Eshowe is the Entumeni Nature Reserve, which is superficially similar in many regards to the Dlinza Forest. To the north of the town is Lake Phobane, which is at the very heart of King Shaka’s Kingdom offering unique birding in a variety of different habitats.

Key species:

White-backed Night Heron, Peregrine and Lanner Falcons, Grey Waxbill, Gorgeous Bush-shrike

Other Related Information

From Eshowe head towards Melmoth/Ulundi on the R66. About 10km out of Eshowe is a dirt road to your left (signposted Goedertrouw Dam and Shakaland). Follow this road (suitable for a sedan car) for 7km and cross the dam wall to find the secure parking area on the northern shore.

Notable points of interest include the:
Lake Phobane parking area: -28.7757, 31.4705

Other related information:

The nearest towns to the Lake Phobane are:
Eshowe: 23km
Melmoth: 41km
Mtunzini: 69km

Access and facilities:
No facilities are available at Lake Phobane. Birding is done along the main district roads through the area, though secure parking is available besides the dam wall.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Numerous Birder Friendly Establishments are available in the town of Eshowe. For more information, please view Birder Friendly Establishments using the following link:

Local guide information:
Several community guides operate within the wider Dlinza/Melmoth/Mtunizini areas. For more information, please use the following link:

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

Key species:

White-backed Night Heron, Peregrine and Lanner Falcons, Grey Waxbill, Gorgeous Bush-shrike

Contact details: