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.

Arid West

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 small reserve, that is owned by the Anglo-Platinum mine, is one of the best places in the country to see the Yellow-throated Sandgrouse. Access is arranged via a mine employee, Jannie Willemse, who guides visitors to a waterhole where the birds come and drink.

Additional Information

The best time to see the birds is around 10H00 in the morning.

The farm roads around the Koedoeskop between the R510 and the R511 up to Thabazimbi offer some excellent birding. Yellow-throated Sandgrouse can be seen in this area from the roads by scanning the black cotton soils. There is good general birding along this road with White and Abdim’s Storks, African Quail Finch, Amur Falcon and many more.

During summer the woodland is alive with the sounds of several species such as Red-chested, Striped, Jacobin and Diderick Cuckoo, Woodland Kingfisher and European Bee-eater. Also look out for Brown-crowned Tchagra and Grey-headed Kingfisher. Extensive reedbeds along the river have good numbers of White-winged Widows and Southern Red and Yellow Bishops.

A series of irrigation dams on the northern (right hand) side of the road are home to Lesser Swamp-Warblers and Levaillant’s Cisticola that are easy to locate due to the sparse vegetation cover. The dams are surrounded by cultivated fields which attract species such as Comb (Knob-billed) Ducks, White-faced Ducks and Spur-winged Geese.

Directions

To access these roads, turn left off the R511 to Koedoeskop about 30km south of Thabazimbi. Head straight on this road for 1.2 kilometres until you get to the bridge over the Crocodile river.

This is the closest part of the province to Gauteng being only 90 km from Pretoria. It offers good bushveld and broadleaved woodland birding as well as a good diversity of water birds.

Goliath and Black Heron, Comb Duck and White-backed Duck can be seen on the dam as well as a host of waders including Wood and Common Sandpipers. The acacia woodland holds Barred Wren-warbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Cape Penduline-tit and in the broad-leaved woodland look out for Coqui Francolin, Great Sparrow and Flappet Lark. Various rarities have been found here as well, with Greater Frigatebird and Golden Pipit boosting the reserve lists.

Directions

Take the N1 north and take the Hammanskraal off ramp and follow the signs to Rust de Winter.

This dirt road follows the Pienaars River and after about 15 km end at the Kgomo Kgomo floodplain where the Pienaars, Plat and Tshwane rivers meet. The habitat along the road is mostly Acacia woodland with areas of grasslands. This area is renowned for the variety of warblers that can be found here, Barred-, Wren-, Olive-tree-, Marsh-, Great-reed and Icterine Warblers are found here as well as Common White-throat, River Warbler and even Thrush Nightingale.

You may also find Tinkling Cisticola, Pied Babbler and Crimson-breasted Shrike here. The grassland around the Kgomo Kgomo area has Blue-cheeked Bee-eater, Kittlitz’s Plover, Chestnut-backed Sparrow Lark and African Quailfinch. When the floodplain inundates it attracts Black-, Goliath and Purple Heron as well as Yellow-billed Stork, Allen’s Gallinule, Lesser Moorhen and Corn-, Ballion’s and African Crake.

Directions

Take the Rust de Winer / Pienaarsrivier off-ramp and turn west. Drive to the T-junction with the R101 and turn right. After 1 km turn left onto a dirt road to Zaagkuilsdrift. In very wet years the roads around the flood plain get inundated and are sometimes impassable for a week or two.

This 23,500 ha reserve is in the south western corner of the province. There is a good mix of habitats and the reserve has a bird list of over 300 species. There are Kalahari habitats that are home to Koi Bustards, Red-crested and Black Korhaan, Secretarybird and Harlequin Quail. This is also one of the few places where Bateleur have been recorded to breed outside the Kruger National Park. There is a breeding population of White-backed Vulture. Yellow-throated Sandgrouse have been sighted close to the reserve and should occur here together with the Double-Banded, Burchell’s and Namaqua Sandgrouse that are regularly seen here.

The reserve has a variety of game including black rhino. There is a variety of self-catering accommodation options at Atherstone.

Directions

The reserve is 160 km from Thabazimbi on the Oosermoed road.

Additional Information

Website: www.golimpopo.com

This 8,000 ha reserve is 10 km out of Lephalale and has a small floodplain of the Tambotie River. The rest of the reserve is made up of broad-leaved woodland and acacia bushveld.

In wet years, the flood plain attracts a host of water birds with the Comb Duck, Little Bittern, Lesser Moorhen and Painted Snipe being recorded. The rest of the reserve has regular sightings of Double-banded Sandgrouse and the occasional Burchell’s Sandgrouse. Owls, cuckoos and kingfishers are all well represented and six species of Bee-eater occur – this is one of the best spots to find the erratic Swallow-tailed Bee-eater.

The reserve offers fully equipped self-catering log cabins and is in the process of being upgraded. The self-drive loop with its spectacular wetland hides is well worth doing.

Additional Information

Website: www.golimpopo.com

Birder Friendly Establishments in this area:

Nylsvley Floodplain

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 reserve holds a large dam in the foothills of the Waterberg between Mookgophong (Naboomspruit) and Mokopane (Potgietersrus). There is a variety of habitats in the reserve with wooded hills, savannah bushveld, open plains and broad-leaved woodland making up the majority of the habitat other than the dam and its well-vegetated banks.

The reserve has a good complement of raptors with Martial Eagle, African Hawk-eagle and African Fish-eagle all breeding here. This is one of the few places in the country where Garganey has been recorded, and Osprey is regularly seen here in summer. Coqui and Shelley’s Franklin are also often seen and heard, and Freckled Nightjar and Mocking Chat are found in the hills. More than 12 species of shrike occur here as well as Yellow-throated Petronia and Orange-breasted Waxbill.

Doorndraai dam has been a favourite for fishermen in the area for years and birders are only now starting to discover this beautiful reserve. Walking is allowed and there is lots of general game to be seen as well.
There is a camp site on the reserve.

Directions
Take the Sterk Rivier road off the R101 between Mookgophong (Naboomspruit) and Mokopane (Potgietersrus), after 17 km turn left on to a dirt road, the reserve is 5 km down this road.

Contact
Website: http://www.wildliferesorts.co.za/limpopo-resorts/waterberg/doorndraai-wildlife-camp.html

This farm is 40 km’s from Nylsvley on the banks of the Nyl River near Mokopane. The farm has a large dam that provides permanent water along the Nyl River floodplain. Other than the thornveld woodland around the dam, there is reeded river and marshland habitat.

Even in a dry seaon, the pan is bursting with Red-billed Teal, Yellow-billed Duck, Knob-billed Duck, Spur-wing Goose, Sacred Ibis, White-face Duck, Fish Eagle, resident Maccoa Duck, as well as a host of sandpipers, plovers, coots, herons, warblers, cisticolas and spoonbills. The woodland around the dam is good for Chestnut-vented Ti-babbler, Barred Wren-warbler and Crimson-breasted Shrike.

Additional Information

To organize a visit to this amazing dam, please make prior arrangement on +27 (0)82 920 1741 or +27 (0)15 491 9400.

This RAMSAR site is a unique seasonal flood plain that is the largest and most intact in the country. It is surrounded by typical bushveld savannah. The area has over 365 bird species recorded, with 104 of these being water birds.

The flood plain is inundated every 2-4 years and when it floods, several rare and endangered water birds breed here. All three of the bittern species occur and breed here and all of the southern African herons have been recorded here. The largest recorded breeding concentrations in South Africa of Great Egret, Black Heron, Squacco Heron and Black-crowned Night-Heron occur at Nylsvley. Streaky-breasted Flufftail have been recorded here. Striped Crake and Lesser Moorhen and Allan’s Gallinule breed here. Pygmy Goose, White-backed Duck and Comb Duck are some of the 15 duck and goose species that occur in the wet years.

In the dry years, the area is still a prime birding destination. Common Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Olive-tree Warbler and Tinkling Cisticola all occur here. There is a large concentration of Pearl-spotted Owlet along with seven other owl species. This is a birding stop not to be missed.

There is a camp site and accommodation in the reserve as well as a variety of Birder Friendly accommodation around the reserve and in Modimolle and Mookgophong (Naboomspruit), less than half an hour’s drive away.

Directions

The reserve is accessed via the R101 between Modimolle and Mookgophong by taking the Boukenhout turning, the reserve gate is 8 km down this road on the left just after the railway line.

Contact

Website: www.golimpopo.co.za
For bookings please contact +27 (0)15 293 3611/2.

Waterberg Fringes

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 reserve in the far north-eastern part of the Waterberg has some of the most amazing scenery anywhere in the province. There is a spectacular escarpment of red sandstone cliffs and a host of lone-standing mesas. The reserve is just over 4000 ha and the habitats are mainly deciduous broad-leaved woodland.

The main birding attraction of the reserve is the raptors. There are four pairs of Verreaux’s Eagles breeding on the cliffs as well as African Hawk Eagle, African Harrier Hawk, Lanner Falcon and Rock Kestrel. Lizard Buzzard and Brown- and Black-chested Snake Eagles are also found here.

The other interesting species found her include Retz’s Helmet-Shrike, Grey Tit-flycatcher and Short-toed Rock-thrush.

Directions

The reserve is reached from the R518 between Melkrivier and Marken or by taking the R11 north from Mokpane. After 90 km turn left to Sagole onto a gravel road and after 20 km turn left to Masebe. The gate is on your left after 2 km.

Additional Information

There is an Ivory Route camp in the reserve.

Telekishi Community close to Masebe have started a three hour trail that takes in various archaeological sites and traverses the escarpment. The guides have been FAGASA trained as site cultural guides and are going to be trained in birding as well.

The trail starts in the flood plain area of the Matlabas River with its related birds and heads up the escarpment to the broad-leaved woodlands on the top of the Waterberg Plateau.

There is a pair of Verreaux’s Eagle nesting along the trail and African Hawk-eagle and Lanner Falcon are also regularly seen. Spotted Eagle-owl, Barn Owl, and Peal-spotted Owlet are also regularly sighted.

This is a good option for birders who enjoy doing a bit of walking and like to interact and support the local communities and learn about the culture and history of the area while birding.

Additional Information

For more information and bookings contact Malisela Chokwe at +27 (0)83 612 7845 or Oldrich on +27(0)83 274 5000.

This little town is run as a suburb of Thabazimbi but is located in the bushveld, 40 km from the town, surrounded by a game reserve. It is freely accessible to the public through a manned gate. A network of roads, which get you off the main road and into great bushveld habitat and good birding, can be explored. Orange-breasted Bush-shrike, Arrow-marked Babbler, Lizard Buzzard and Shikra are often seen.

This convenient refreshment stop offers a birding hotspot in the restaurant garden, especially if you are a photographer as the birds allow you to get close to them. Within the gardens, several breeding pairs of African Paradise-flycatchers are nesting in summer as well as nesting Amethyst Sunbird. During the evening, African Scops-owls can be heard calling around the restaurant area. There is also an entertaining group of Banded Mongoose which frequents the gardens.

Additional Information

For more information call Leon on +27 (0)14 735 0955.

This project was set up in 1999 on Mabula to harvest wild second chicks, that always die in the nest, for hand-rearing, and on fledging release them with the existing group to learn to forage, about predators and the complicated social structure of these co-operative breeders, before released into areas where this important flagship species of the savannah biome is now extinct.

Southern Ground Hornbills live in co-operative breeding groups of between two and twelve birds, with one alpha breeding pair. The remainder of the groups are made up of predominantly adult male helpers and immature hornbills from the previous years. Ground Hornbills have an average breeding rate of one chick per group reared to fledging every nine years, defending a territory of an average of 100 square kilometres. There are the largest and estimated to be the longest-lived hornbills, reaching between 50-60 years of age, and the slowest to breed.

Additional Information

To visit the project you need to phone in advance and work through Mabula Game Reserve. Contact with the birds is limited to prevent them losing their fear of humans.

Project Website: http://www.mabulagroundhornbillconservationproject.org.za

Waterberg Plateau

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.

This wonderful national park is 30 kilometres north-east of Thabazimbi and covers 45,000 ha of the Southern Waterberg. This huge area is not all accessible to the public, but the parts that are hold a fantastic variety of birds.

The cliffs have the largest Cape Vulture breeding colony in the country and there is access to the highest point of the Waterberg via a concrete road. On top of the peak, you can find Gurney’s Sugarbird, Malachite Sunbird, Buff-streaked Chat and many other high-altitude specialists.

The rest of the park is dominated by bushveld and patches of broad-leaved woodland and riverine habitats. You can see Pied Babbler, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Red-crested Korhaan, Kori Bustard and Secretarybird at Kwagga’s Vlakte, a separate piece of the park where the campsite and tented camp is situated.

There are many raptors in the park with Booted Eagle, Peregrine Falcon and Cuckoo Hawk being some of the more notable. The banks of the Matlabas and Sterkstroom Rivers and the dams in the park have a variety of water bird and you may see Half-collared Kingfisher, African Darter or Red-faced Cisticola in the reeds.

There are elephant, black and white rhino and general game in the park, so walking is not permitted without an armed ranger-guide. The park has a variety of accommodation options, from camping to tented and bush camps.

Additional Information

Website: www.sanparks.org/parks/mapungubwe

This 2,000 ha conservancy in the Waterberg mountains has a wide range of habitats, from wetlands to cliffs, it can all be found on this property. The majority of the area is covered by broad-leaved woodlands, but there are a number of small streams and two perennial rivers with wetland areas that attract Blue Crane, Secretarybird, Common Quail and a host of other grassland birds. The raptors are well represented with Lizard Buzzard, Little Sparrowhawk, Spotted Eagle Owl and Cape Vulture being seen here often.

There is a hide placed on one of the small dams that attracts Black Crake, Yellow-billed Duck and Moorhen, but this property has been under-birded and many specials bay be found in the vast tracts of wilderness. There are over 70 km of hiking trails on the farm and a host of small self-catering cabins that provide basic but comfortable accommodation.

The Palala River can be birded from this point where it is dammed by a weir to the west of the bridge. Sunrise and early mornings is the best time to do birding in this area especially if looking for African Finfoot and Little Bittern. Scanning the sandbanks will reveal the resident group of Water Thick-knees and African Wattled Lapwings while Green-backed Heron might be found within the adjoining reed-beds. Keep a look out for Black Crakes, African Pygmy Goose, African Fish-eagle and Giant Kingfisher.

The surrounding woodlands towards the south of the bridge are well represented with a variety of typical bushveld species like African Pygmy Kingfisher, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Orange-breasted and Grey-headed Bush-Shrikes, Grey-tit (Fantailed) Flycatcher, African Firefinch and Little Sparrowhawk.

During the summer months watch out for Long-tailed Paradise- and Pin-tailed Whydah as well as Purple Indigobird. Scanning the wooded bank to the east of the bridge might produce Black Sparrowhawk, especially if one happens to be there later in the afternoon.

Directions

From Vaalwater take the Melkrivier turn-off and follow the road for 40 km. Turn left onto a dirt road at the Melkrivier School and Rhino Museum signboards. Follow the road for 5.9 km and turn right still following the Rhino Museum boards. Follow the road for 5.7 km, past the Rhino Museum until reaching the bridge.

This is the over-wintering area of between 40 and 60 Blue Cranes. The area is mainly montane grasslands and besides Blue Cranes you can see Denham’s Bustards, White-bellied Korhaan, Short-toed Rock-thrush, Buff-streaked Chat, Wailing Cisticola and many more. The cranes gather on private farms and are monitored by the provincial officials who can organize outing to see the birds.

You can also travel through the area on the public dirt roads and have good roadside birding. The recommended route is turn left at the second Alma turning on the R33 when travelling from Modimolle to Vaalwater, just after a small school. Follow this road for about 10 km to a T junction; here turn left to Alma. Continue through Alma to Rankin’s Pass and turn right towards the mountain. This road will take you back to Alma. About 7 km along this road is a farmer Jan de Beer, who will allow access onto his farm with prior arrangement.
Call +27 (0)14 721 0833 or +27 (0)82 903 2483 to organize access to his farm.

Please note that these roads are not always maintained correctly so a vehicle with some clearance is recommended and after rain a 4×4 is sometimes needed.

If you want to know where the Blue Cranes are between May and August, phone Joseph Heymans, the District Biodiversity Monitor on +27(0)82 807 6741 and he may be able to organize an outing onto the private farm lands where the cranes gather in winter.

This private cattle farm is the breeding area for a pair of Blue Cranes. This vast farm is mainly covered by tall montane grasslands. Other than Blue Crane there is a good chance of seeing Denham’s Bustard, White-bellied Korhaan and the Common Quail. There are also three species of pipit and five species of cisticola to be found here. The cranes are on the farm from September to March.

The farmer, John Malovich, allows birders on his farm if you book with him in advance. He will either give you directions or send someone with you to show you around. There are two strict rules on the farm – No Smoking, as fires are a big problem and “If a gate is closed, you must close it behind you. If it is open, leave it open”. The farm is at the top of the Bokpoort pass near the source of the Palala River, you will get directions from John when you organize a visit. To organize an outing on this beautiful farm, call John on +27 (0)83 661 8823.

This small dam, just north of Mookgophong, is covered with water-lilies and so provides a perfect habitat for Pygmy Goose. They have been recorded here a few times.

There are two bridges here and some nice reed beds that host a number of swallow, swift and martin species, other species to be seen here include White-backed Duck, African Fish-eagle, Purple Heron and Purple Swamp-hen. Look out for Giant Kingisher, Great Crested Grebe and Zitting Cisticola here as well.

Directions

From Mookophong take the R520 out of Mookophong. You will turn left at the most northern traffic light in the town. After 11 km, turn left at the T-junction. After less than 1 km, turn right on the Marken road. The dam is on the right along this road, just before the pass where the road crosses the Sterk River.

This 2,000 ha conservancy in the Waterberg mountains has a wide range of habitats, from wetlands to cliffs, it can all be found on this property. The majority of the area is covered by broad-leaved woodlands, but there are a number of small streams and two perennial rivers with wetland areas that attract Blue Crane, Secretarybird, Common Quail and a host of other grassland birds. The raptors are well represented with Lizard Buzzard, Little Sparrowhawk, Spotted Eagle Owl and Cape Vulture being seen here often.

There is a hide placed on one of the small dams that attracts Black Crake, Yellow-billed Duck and Moorhen, but this property has been under-birded and many specials bay be found in the vast tracts of wilderness. There are over 70 km of hiking trails on the farm and a host of small self-catering cabins that provide basic but comfortable accommodation.

Additional Information

Website: www.waterberg.co.za

Birder Friendly Establishments in this area: