Southern Zululand – Melmoth Sappi Mooiplaas

About the Birding

Mooiplaas consists of nine farms that were bought from private farmers and exchanged with companies in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The plantation is subdivided into 5 blocks, namely A – E. The total area of the plantation covers 10 980 hectares, of which 6 500 hectares are planted to eucalyptus, wattle and pine. The remaining 4 480 hectares consists of the 1 140 hectare natural heritage site in block C, the 1 200 hectare site of conservation significance in block D, and the remainder under valley bushveld.

Although access can be challenging due to forestry operations – a total of 298 birds have been seen on Mooiplaas. Amongst these, are the following species: Verreaux’s Eagle, Crowned Eagle, Southern Bald Ibis, Southern Ground Hornbill, Swee Waxbill and other bushveld and grassland species.

Sites of conservation significance at Mooiplaas are: Stan Hope Gold Mine, Verreaux’s Eagle’s nest, Nomisila Wetland, Mhlatuze Waterfall and Hillside. There is also a Natural Heritage site on Mooiplaas, 1100 ha in extent.

Key species:

Verreaux’s and Crowned Eagles, Southern Bald Ibis, Southern Ground Hornbill

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 Melmoth, located at the gateway into the picturesque Zulu highlands, was founded in 1888 as a ‘gold rush’ town on a portion of the farm Golden Reef. The town itself is situated at roughly 800m above sea level and is surrounded by areas of good forest, riverine thickets, thornveld and grassland. These areas altogether support in excess of 300 species of bird. Top among these are the Southern Bald Ibis, Orange Ground Thrush, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, and Buff-streaked Chat. Notable sites along this sub-route include Weni Farm, Sappi – Mooiplaas, Wintershoek Farm and the famed Nkandla Forest.

Key species:

Verreaux’s and Crowned Eagles, Southern Bald Ibis, Southern Ground Hornbill

Other Related Information

Directions:
The Mooiplaas offices are in block A which is next to the tar road running from Melmoth to Babanango. From Melmoth, take the Babanango turn-off, approximately 4 km past Melmoth. On the Babanango road continues for 20 km and the offices will be found on the left hand side.

Notable points of interest include the:
Sappi offices: -28.5228, 31.2697

The nearest towns to the Sappi Mooiplaas are:
Melmoth: 20km
Eshowe: 72km

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
A network of district roads and forestry tracks lead through the area, offering birders the opportunity to explore. However, note that much of the region is privately owned and birders should seek permission from SAPPI before venturing onto any forestry tracks.

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:
http://www.birdlife.org.za/go-birding/bird-friendly-establishments/kwazulu-natal/

Local guide information:
Several community guides operate within the wider Dlinza/Melmoth/Mtunzini areas. For more information, please use the following link:
https://www.birdlife.org.za/go-birding/community-bird-guides/

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

Key species:

Verreaux’s and Crowned Eagles, Southern Bald Ibis, Southern Ground Hornbill

Contact details:

For more information, contact:

SAPPI Mooiplaas
Tel: +27 (0)35 450 2782

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