Southern Zululand – Richard’s Bay Empangeni Grass for Africa and Dekker’s Dam

About the Birding

Empangeni – Grass for Africa and Dekker’s Dam are both within close proximity of one another and offer rather unique birding opportunities on the immediate outskirts of Richard’s Bay. Dekker’s Dam consists of open water, surrounded by dense reedbeds and a few areas of shallow flooded grassland. Grass for Africa is a commercial grass farm that has gained appreciation among birders for rarities.

Grass for Africa is best explored on foot. African Pipit is abundant along with the occasional Plain-backed Pipit; these two species test the skills of even the most experienced birder. Other species include the Fan-tailed Widowbird, Kittlitz’s Plover, Yellow-throated and Cape Longclaws and both Crowned and African Wattled Lapwings. In summer, the site regularly plays host to small numbers of Collared Pratincole. Other unusual records include the Caspian Plover, Southern Bald Ibis and Magpie Mannikin.

Nearby, Dekker’s Dam supports small numbers of waterfowl often including the scarce African Pygmy Goose, White-backed Duck and Blue-billed Teal. Reedbeds are host to the African Swamphen, Common Moorhen, Black Heron and a host of aquatic kingfishers. In summer, watch for the delicate Sedge Warbler as this is a reliable site for this species. Year-round, it is possible to see both the Rufous-winged Cisticola and Lesser Swamp Warbler. The thornveld surrounding the dam also offers decent birding and mixed-species foraging flocks in this area may contain the Southern Black Tit, Common Scimitarbill, Yellow-throated Bush Sparrow and White-crested Helmetshrike.

Key species:

African Pygmy Goose, White-backed Duck, Collared Pratincole, Plain-backed Pipit, Cape Longclaw

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 city of Richard’s Bay is so often overlooked by tourists heading into Zululand, given that the city and its surrounding areas are largely industrial in nature featuring several immense mines, vast areas of forestry plantations and a large port. While this description is not totally inaccurate, the area also boasts some of the best birding sites in KwaZulu-natal with well over 350 having been recorded in the immediate area including over 24 National Rarities! Richard’s Bay is also one of the premier shorebird watching sites in South Africa given the diverse freshwater and marine wetlands including open lakes, mangrove forests, and extensive mudflats. Other notable habitats include open dune and riverine forests where several species (e.g. Eastern Nicator) reach their southern distribution limits. Top sites within the wider Richard’s Bay area include the Mzingazi/Sharks Board Area, Richard’s Bay Harbour, Southern Sanctuary, Empangeni, Thulasihleka Pan, and Enseleni Nature Reserve.

Key species:

African Pygmy Goose, White-backed Duck, Collared Pratincole, Plain-backed Pipit, Cape Longclaw

Other Related Information

Head out of Empangeni on the R34 towards Nkwaleni / Melmoth. Just outside Empangeni is the Turnoff to TICOR, zero your trip meter here.

At about 2.6 km take a small turnoff to your right, cross the railway line and follow thus road to get to the Grass For Africa/SuperTurf farm.

To access Dekker’s Dam – once back on the R34 continue west for another 1.9km (5.2 km from Ticor) and take another small right-hand turn, cross the railway and follow this road for about 500m till you see a large wetland on your left …

Other related information:

… The Western part of Dekkers Dam can be accessed another 700m further along the R34, take the Heatonville turnoff and stop after about 200m at the first small dam you find on your right.

Access and facilities:
Prior to visiting, please contact the Grass for Africa farm using the contact details listed below. The farm is open between 07:00 and 16:00 during weekdays only.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Numerous Birder Friendly Establishments are available in the nearby towns of St Lucia and Mtunzini. For more information, please view Birder Friendly Establishments using the following link:

Diverse accommodation options are also available in Richard’s Bay including numerous campsites and caravan parks, self-catering, B&Bs and more luxurious options.

Local guide information:
Several community guides operate within the wider St Lucia/Mtunzini areas. For more information, please use the following link:

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

Key species:

African Pygmy Goose, White-backed Duck, Collared Pratincole, Plain-backed Pipit, Cape Longclaw

Contact details:

For more information or to arrange your visit, contact:

Grass for Africa/SuperTurf
Tel: +27 (0)83 292 0565
Cell: +27 (0)82 893 9990