Southern Zululand – Richard’s Bay Thulasihleka Pan

About the Birding

Thulasihleka Pan is one of Richard’s Bay’s premier waterbird areas. The pan is reed-lined and maintained by run off from the adjacent higher-level areas with overflow into the Ngodweni Canal. The pan is accessible given a series of excellent hides and viewpoints, affording the birder with several advantages to scan the water.

In winter, flocks of hundreds of pelicans (both Great White and Pink-backed) congregate here. Waterfowl are abundant throughout the year, often including the scarce and unpredictable Blue-billed Teal, White-backed Duck and African Pygmy Goose. The expansive reedbeds are home to the Little Bittern, Marsh Owl, African Swamphen, African Rail, and Black and Baillon’s Crakes as well as large breeding colonies of weavers including the Southern Brown-throated Weaver. When water-levels drop to reveal exposed mud, Greater Flamingo and Glossy Ibis may be seen alongside an array of interesting waders. African Marsh Harrier is often quartering nearby and a pair of African Fish Eagle regularly visit the site.

During the summer months, this site occasionally hosts vagrant species and previous records have included the Spotted Crake, Common Redshank, Eurasian Bittern and Western Marsh Harrier. Thus, birders should always remain mindful of out-of-range species when visiting this site.

Key species:

African Pygmy Goose, White-backed Duck, Blue-billed Teal, Southern Brown-throated Weaver

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, Blue-billed Teal, Southern Brown-throated Weaver

Other Related Information

From the R34 John Ross Highway turn right (if coming from Empangeni direction) into Medway Road (opposite ZBR office). Follow this road for approximately 1 km till the harbour gate and turn right on a small dirt road along the harbour fence. Follow this road along the pan’s edge till the parking area.

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
Thulasihleka Pan has long been earmarked for industrial development, but in 2004 the Umhlathuze Municipality realized the potential conservation and tourism value of the pan and handed the management of the area to BirdLife Zululand as part of the municipalities adopt a spot programme. Funds for the construction of hides, the pans office, clearing of weeds, signage and other developments have come from Umhlathuze Municipality, Central Timer Corporation as well as Richards Bay Minerals and Rio Tinto PLC.

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/Mtunizini 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, Blue-billed Teal, Southern Brown-throated Weaver

Contact details:


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