Above: Malachite Kingfisher by Wynand Grobler
With people cooped up the past few months, forced to slow it down and take in the surroundings, bird watching has taken flight as a preferred pastime. This renewed appreciation for the feathered friends has continued as travel opens up, with the KZN South Coast welcoming the trend in birders.
“The diversity of our natural landscape on the KZN South Coast provides homes for a such a wide variety of South African bird species,” explained CEO of Ugu South Coast Tourism (USCT), Phelisa Mangcu. “Bird watching is a great way to get back into nature and discover a previously unknown world. We’re very excited to welcome travellers starting out on the birdwatching journey, as well as those who are looking to tick off those truly unique bird species. The KZN South Coast has it all!”
Top birding spots to explore on the KZN South Coast
TC Robertson Nature Reserve (Scottburgh)
Flit on over to this 60-hectare coastal reserve situated on the south bank of the Mpambanyoni River near the mouth. Established in 1989 and named after the famed author, ecologist and conservationist Dr Thomas Chalmers Robertson, visitors can view African fish eagles, terrestrial brownbuls, Barratt’s warbler, yellow-throated longclaws and the green malkoha.
Contact: 062 002 5190 or email@example.com.
Crocworld Conservation Centre (Scottburgh)
There are more than 200 wild bird species found at this beautiful conservation centre including nesting palm nut vultures, African fish eagle and six species of kingfishers. Within the centre, there’s a great variety of bird species including the African eagle owl, jackal buzzards, Eurasian eagle owls, Harris hawk and even white mute swans.
Umdoni Park Trust Golf Club & Nature Reserve (Pennington)
Named for the water berry tree found along the estate’s water courses and swamp areas, this is a wonderful place to start a birding adventure. There are extensive trail networks, starting from the club house, overnight or parking area which offer visitors the chance to see the spotted ground thrush, purple-crested turaco, olive woodpecker, ashy flycatcher, southern tchagra and narina trogon.
Contact: 039 975 1615 or www.umdonipark.com
Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve (Umzinto)
Established in 1973, this coastal reserve is just km inland of the sea and has beautiful grassland, forest, and wetland habitats. This variety provides shelter for around 300 bird species recorded in the reserve, among them grey crowned cranes, martial eagles, ground hornbills, secretary bird, lazy cisticola, lesser honeyguide and short-tailed pipit.
Contact: 039 974 2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Lake Eland Game Reserve (Oribi Gorge)
For those wanting a bit of birding and wildlife viewing, then Lake Eland Game Reserve is a great stop. The ecosystems consist of bushveld and grassland interspersed with coastal forest and wetland. Catch sightings of local birdlife at the picnic or braai sites, while enjoying a relaxed game drive, or go hiking or biking through the reserve.
Contact: 039 687 0395 or www.lakeeland.co.za
Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve
This is one of the most scenic birding spots on the 24km stretch of gorge along the Mzimkulwana River. There have been more than 350 bird species recorded here, with guided tours arranged if required. Get to the gorge to check out the African broadbill, African finfoot, African wood owl, African pygmy kingfisher and Knysna turaco.
Contact: 039 845 1000 or www.kznwildlife.com
Oribi Vulture Viewing Hide
Considered one of the world’s best vulture viewing spots, this site has over 200 resident Cape vultures and is easily accessible by car and foot. There are no 4×4 or hiking requirements to witness this spectacle of vultures soaring along ridges, flying overhead and below, just metres from visitors. Tours are held on a Saturday and advanced booking is essential.
Contact: 072 893 3794 or email@example.com.
Weza-Ngele Forest (Harding)
This is one of the most accessible tracts of this Afromontane mistbelt forest, found 80km inland of the coast with a great system of trails to go birdwatching. There are shorter trails for a quick hike or the half-day circular loop through the upper forest. Here visitors can see orange ground thrush, Cape parrot, bush blackcap, chorister robin chat, Cape batis, African dusky flycatcher and double-collared sunbird.
Contact: 039 553 0600 or www.anewhotels.com
Skyline Nature Reserve (Uvongo)
Renowned for its incredible collection of indigenous coastal and exotic tree species, Skyline Nature Reserve is also home to a really diverse variety of bird species. Birds and other local wildlife can be viewed by hiking along the many trails found here, roughly an hour in length.
Contact: 039 315 0112 or www.kznwildlife.com
River Valley Nature Reserve (Margate)
This is a much smaller reserve, just 28 hectares in total, with walking trails along the banks of the river into the riverine forest which is home to many interesting birds. In River Valley, twitchers can look out for the green-backed heron, tambourine dove, grey or purple-banded sunbird, grew waxbill and brown scrub robin.
Ventures by Sweetdale (Margate)
There are 120 hectares of coastal nature to be found at Ventures, consisting of exciting biking trails and hiking trails for spectacular bird watching. For the more experienced, there’s the challenging “alpine” hiking trail to try, or the 9,5km biking trail.
Mpenjati Nature Reserve (Trafalgar)
This beautiful riverine reserve encompasses the Mpenjati River Estuary and is the perfect space for novice or experienced birders to spend a day out. There are well laid out walking trails with boardwalk observation platforms to enjoy views of the river lagoon, wetlands, forests, grassland, and coastline. Some special sightings could include the half-collared kingfisher, swift tern, African black oystercatcher, Kittlitz’s plover, giant kingfisher and water thick-knee.
Contact: 039 313 0531 or www.kznwildlife.com
Red Desert Nature Reserve (Port Edward)
Combine birdwatching while ticking “world’s smallest desert” off the bucket list at Red Desert Nature Reserve. Just 200m in diameter, the desert appears to be a miniature version of America’s Arizona Desert, but it’s the surrounding coastal forest that you’ll find some great birds. There are a range of habitats, including a protected grassland area, with more than 480 plant species and 200 bird species recorded here.
Contact: 039 695 0460 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Umtamvuna Nature Reserve (Port Edward)
The southernmost nature reserve in the province includes the beautiful Umtamvuna River, coastal forests, bushveld, cliffs and riverine forests. There are well-developed hiking trails to wander in search of Gurney’s sugarbird, malachite sunbird, pale-crowned cisticola, common cuckoo or rufous-winged cisticola.
Contact: 039 311 2383 or www.kznwildlife.com