Western Limpopo Valley – Mapungubwe National Park

About the Birding

Mapungubwe is a birders’ paradise and the reserve supports well in excess of 400 bird species, many of which cannot easily be found elsewhere in South Africa.

The riparian woodland overlooking the Limpopo River is rich in species and birders should check tall and dark trees for roosting Pel’s Fishing Owl. This is one of the best sites in the country to see these magnificent and highly sought-after birds. Other notable species to look for in this habitat include the Meyer’s Parrot, Meves’s Starling, Thick-billed Cuckoo (rare; summer), Eurasian Golden Oriole (summer), Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Tropical Boubou, African Mourning Dove, and White-browed Robin-chat. Many of these species can be seen from the ariel boardwalk through the forest canopy. The boardwalk extends down to a hide overlooking the Limpopo River and is adjacent to a large pool. White-fronted Bee-eater is common here and is often joined in summer by the Southern Carmine and European Bee-eaters. The river itself supports the Saddle-billed Stork, Water Thick-knee, Little Egret, White-fronted Plover, and African Fish-eagle.

The dry scrub, thornveld and woodland further afield holds many excellent bushveld species including the Brubru, Black-backed Puffback, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Golden-breasted Bunting, and Sabota Lark. After good rains, the calls of the Monotonous Lark echo throughout these areas while Kori Bustard and the Red-crested Korhaan patrol the open savannahs. Mapungubwe is arguably the best site in the country to search for the rare Three-banded Courser. This nocturnal species is best found in the western parts of the reserve (‘Den Slaat’), in areas dominated by mopane woodland. Other key species include the Southern Ground Hornbill, Secretarybird, Harlequin Quail (summer), and both the Bronze-winged and Temminck’s Coursers.

Various small wetlands can be found throughout the reserve, particularly in the Den Staat portion. At times, these are some of the best wetland birding sites in the region but these sites require prior arrangement (see contact details below). To reach Den Staat from the main gate, take the Den Staat dirt road some 6km to the west of the main gate. The road passes through productive areas of Mopane Woodland before re-entering the park through an obvious gate with an animal grid. Travel for 7.5km before turning right onto a smaller road leading down to private farms. This road passes the top of the earthen dam walls which offers a fantastic vantage point to scan for various waterfowl species. The lily-covered ponds hold African Pygmy Goose, White-backed Duck and African Jacana while the reedy areas support a plethora of herons, warblers, and other water-associated species. The adjacent grasslands regularly support the Montagu’s and Pallid Harriers in summer, flocks of Black-winged Pratincole, and Western Yellow Wagtail.

About the Birding Site

Situated in the north-west corner of South Africa in the Limpopo River Valley, bordering both Zimbabwe and Botswana, this relatively new National Park protects the ‘Lost City’ at Mapungubwe Hill. This is the site of an ancient African civilization proposed between 1200 and 1270 AD. The reserve itself extends over 28,000 hectares and protects a considerable length of Limpopo River frontage with its associated riparian woodland. The reserve is now a ‘Big 5’ area and, while game numbers are still fairly low, birders should remain in their vehicles at all times except at a few sites where it is permissible to alight.

Other Related Information

Mapungubwe National Park is 520km north of Johannesburg. Follow the N1 north to Polokwane and at Polokwane take the R521 to Viv/Dendron. After a further 146km, you will reach Alldays. In Alldays, turn right towards Pontdrift and a further 46km leads you to the R572 where you turn right towards Messina. The main gate to Mapungubwe is 23km along this road.

Contact details:

To visit the Den Staat farms, please call George Hodgson on +27(0)15 575 1435.

For more information, please contact:
Email: mapungubwe@sanparks.org
Website: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/mapungubwe/
Tel: +27 (0)15 534 7923/24

Text prepared by:

Daniel Danckwerts (Rockjumper Birding Tours)

Key species:

Pel’s Fishing Owl, Three-banded Courser, Kori Bustard, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Saddle-billed Stork.

Contact details:

Mapungubwe National Park
Email: mapungubwe@sanparks.org
Website: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/mapungubwe/
Tel: +27 (0)15 534 7923/24

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