An interesting geographical feature of this route is its varying altitude. Polokwane lies on a plateau at approximately 1300 masl, further east lies the escarpment of the Northern Drakensberg and Wolkberg mountain ranges where the altitude reaches 2300 masl. The route then drops down into the Lowveld where the altitude is approximately 480 masl at the Letaba River. These extreme variations in altitude result in a great range of vegetation types within a relatively small area. Within these diverse habitats, over 500 bird species are to be found.
The open thornveld habitat of the Polokwane plateau supports a great variety of both Bushveld and Kalahari-type birds. Typical species here include Crimson-breasted Shrike, Barred Wren-Warbler, Short-clawed Lark and Black-faced Waxbill. Just before reaching the foothills of the Drakensberg and Wolkberg Mountains, one passes through the outcrop strewn Mamabolo Bushveld. These granite inselbergs hold many rock-dwelling species, including Southern Bald Ibis’s northern-most population. In the Northern Drakensberg and Wolkberg sections of the route, birders enjoy vast tracts of montane grassland, which is Blue Swallow territory and houses other sought after species such as Broad-tailed Warbler, Croaking Cisticola and Drakensberg Prinia. The afro-montane forests of Woodbush and Magoebaskloof offer amongst the best forest birding in the country with specials like Brown Scrub-Robin, Black-fronted Bush Shrike, Barratt’s Warbler, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, and Orange Ground Thrush. The eastern lower slopes and valleys of Magoebaskloof provide reliable sites for the elusive Bat Hawk and Green Twinspot. The Tzaneen area is well-known for its sub-tropical fruit industry and the interesting mix of lowland habitats here support a wide range of species including Gorgeous Bush Shrike, White-browed Robin-chat and Purple-crested Turaco. The Lowveld region around Letsitele and along the Letaba River is blanketed in extensive Mopane Woodland where Arnot’s Chat is resident. There are many Lowveld rivers with their associated riparian forest habitats where the likes of Greater Blue-eared Starling, Red-billed Buffalo-Weaver, Retz’s Helmet-Shrike and Thick-billed Cuckoo can be found. This is also one of the prime raptor areas in the region.
The Capricorn-Letaba Birding Route is further divided into four different birding areas, namely the Northern Escarpment, Polokwane, The Lowveld and Tzaneen. Each area has its unique character and a set of special bird species. The area is also well-supported by a variety of different accommodation options as well as several easily accessible birding sites.
The Tzaneen area encompasses the lower reaches of the Wolkberg and Northern Drakensberg mountain ranges and the hot sub-tropical regions around the Tzaneen Dam. The altitude in this area ranges from 900masl to about 650 masl, with the habitat changing from Afromontane to semi-deciduous forest and lush tropical vegetation. Various rivers that originate in the escarpment flow into the Tzaneen dam, the largest body of water on the route, with the Letaba River being the most dominant and flowing out of the dam through the area. This area is alive with birds; watch out for Purple-crested Turaco, African Green Pigeon, White-browed Robin-Chat, Broad-billed Roller and Half-collared Kingfisher. This area also has the highest concentration of confirmed Bat Hawk breeding sites in the country, with four nests. In this transition zone, between the Afromontane and the true Lowveld bushveld, birders have a chance of finding all sorts of surprise birds. Historical recordings of Plain-backed Sunbird and Blue-spotted Wood Dove exist for this area.
Gorgeous Bushshrike, Purple-crested Turaco, Tambourine Dove, Mountain Wagtail