The Waterberg-Nylsvei Birding Route covers the vast Waterberg mountains and the surrounding areas. It contains the largest inland flood plain in South Africa, the largest Cape Vulture breeding colony in the country, four provincial reserves and over 150 000 hectares of other private reserves. This area is the only place in the Limpopo Province where you can see the rare Yellow-throated Sandgrouse, as well as the Blue Crane, Barrow's Korhaan and Stanley's Bustards, while enjoying vast wide open spaces and spectacular scenery. The area has the added attraction of being close to Gauteng and the O.R.Tambo International Airport, and it is in a Malaria-free part of the province.
The key attraction of the WNBR is the spectacular Nylsvei floodplain when it is in flood. This 16 000 hectare floodplain, which floods every 3 to 4 years, has been registered as a RAMSAR site due to the importance it has for waterfowl in South Africa.
Of the 365 bird species recorded in the Nylsvei area, 104 are water birds and, of those, 87 breed here in the wet years. Specials to look out for include Little; Dwarf and Eurasian Bittern, 15 species of duck and goose, Allen's Gallinule, Lesser Moorhen as well as seven species of Crake and Rail, to mention a few.
Besides the waterbirds, the bushveld surrounding Nylsvei also offers great birding, with 8 species of Owl being recorded and a chance of seeing the spectacular Orange-breasted Bushshrike and Crimson-breasted Shrike amongst the 200 other bushveld species found here.
The Waterberg Mountains hold a host of suprises for birders with White-backed Night Heron and Finfoot found along the Mogol and Phalala rivers, as well as Blue Crane, Barrow's Korhaan, Stanley's Bustard and Eastern Clapper Lark being found on the Plateau. There are over 485 breeding pairs of Cape Vulture in the Marakele National Park. Gurney's Sugarbirds, Buff-streaked Chat and Striped Pipit are found on the top of the highest peak in the Waterberg which is accessible to sedan vehicles via a concrete road.
The north-eastern escarpment of the Waterberg has the most spectacular scenery on the route and the Masebe Provincial reserve and the Telekishi community trail in this area offer the best chance of seeing Verraux's Eagle, African Hawk Eagle, Lanner Falcon and Rock Kestrel as well as Short-toed Rock Thrush.
The south-western part of the route is the main stake-out for Yellow-throated Sandgrouse in the country. The hundreds of kilometres of Limpopo River along the Botswana border are largely unexplored and hold Pied Babblers, Sociable Weavers, Black-cheeked Waxbill and a host of other birds usually only encountered in the western part of Southern Africa. There are also Pel's Fishing Owl, Meyer's Parrot, Great Sparrow and a host of other surprises for birders in this vast and unexplored area. The Mokolo dam, Doorndraai dam and D'Nyala Provincial reserves are interesting, unexplored birding sites, adding wetland habitats amongst the vast bushveld areas of this fantastic Birding Route.
We have divided the Waterberg-Nylsvlei Birding Route into four different birding areas. Each birding area has its own unique character and set of special bird species. Within each area there is also a variety of accommodation options and birding sites to visit.
The habitat in this area is mainly mixed bushveld with a distinct Kalahari flavour to it, and many of the bird species reflect this as well. Kalahari Scrub-robin, Pied Babbler, Yellow-throated Sandgrouse and Marico Flycatchers are all found in this area. The major feature of the area is the Limpopo River and its tributaries. This area has not been extensively birded but many raptors like Lapper-faced Vulture, Tawny Eagle, African Hawk-eagle and Wahlberg's Eagle are known to breed here. There are also reports of Pel's Fishing Owls and White-backed Night-heron along the Limpopo. Burchell's Sandgrouse are common here and other birds like Great Sparrow, Black-cheeked Waxbill and Violet-eared Waxbill can be found here as well.
This area covers about 16,000 ha from Modimolle to the west of Mokopane, on the Springbok Flats below the Waterberg. The habitat is dominated by the biggest seasonal flood plain in South Africa surrounded by mainly thornveld and a few patches of broad-leaved woodland. The Nyl River floods every 2 to 3 years and is then one of the biggest water bird breeding areas in South Africa. In the dry years the bushveld birding still makes this a worthwhile stop for birders.
This is the area surrounding the Waterberg Mountains to the south and west; an ecotone between the Waterberg broad-leaved woodlands and the drier arid western thornveld. As a result of this crossover of habitats it can be very productive; it is one of the best to look for White-bellied Korhaan and Meyer's Parrot. The south of this area along the PIenaar's River is a great site for River Warbler towards the end of summer and for Pied Babbler and Tinkling Cisticola all year round. The smaller flood plains in the D'Nyala Nature Reserve and at Kgomo Kgomo also hold a good range of breeding waterbirds in wet years. The Mokolo Dam is also a good site to search for the rare White-backed Night-Heron.
This area is defined by the Waterberg Mountains that stretches over a fairly large area and include a very diverse set of habitats that include montane grassland up to 2,000m, bushveld areas, broad-leaved woodland, rocky hills and wooded valleys along permanent rivers. This results in a very diverse bird list and to find specific species it is necessary to get into the micro-habitats within the area. For example the top of Marakele has montane species like Buff-streaked Chat, Gurney's Sugarbirds and Cape Rock-thrush, while the bottom of the same park has bushveld species like Southern Boubou and White-helmet Shrike.
The grassland on the higher parts of the mountains have Blue Crane, Denham's Bustard and a range of Cisticolas. The rivers of the Waterberg are good places to look for African Finfoot, White-backed Duck and African Black Duck. The predominant vegetation of the Waterberg is deciduous broad-leaved woodland. This habitat can be very productive in summer and you should look out for Black Flycatcher, Grey Penduline-Tit, White-crested Helmet-shrike and Yellow-bellied Greenbul.