If you’re coming to Kwazulu Natal in search of birding areas, then you have found a gold mine. The North-Eastern region in particular boasts a vast array of bird life in its grassland, lagoons, forests and woodlands. You can look forward to the Zululand birding route which includes an Elephant Coast Route, North West route and a Southern Route.
Within the Zululand route lies over 605 bird species including the really special finds of Pink-Throated Twinspot, Green Barbet, Neergard’s Sun bird and Pel’s Fishing Owl.
The Elephant Coast route
This route holds some of the richest bird viewing in the world between the Ubombo Mountains and Umfolozi river. Visit the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Tembe Elephant Park or Kosi Bay Nature Reserve. The Kosi Bay lake system offers crystal clear waters, mangrove swamps and marshlands inside the reserve with 250 bird species including the fish eagle and whitebacked heron.
Stay at the Kosi Bay Forest Lodge within the iSimangaliso World Heritage Park with thatched bush suites positioned on a wooden deck, open-air bathroom and directly on a white sand beach beneath a forest of trees. Spend your days swimming, bird watching on the lakes, taking guided canoeing trips or guided walks through Raffia Palm Forest.
This is a high-risk malaria area so make sure you consult a doctor before visiting.
Photograph: Yellow-billed Kite
North West Route
This route is well known for its large wetland area where 58 of South Africa’s endemic and near endemic birds can be found. The hot, wet season between the months of September and March yield the best birding experiences. Visit the Itala Game Reserve where you’ll find both highland lowland birds in the habitat varying from high cliffs to rolling hills and forests.
Look out for the Secretary bird, Red-breasted Swallow, Croaking Cisticola and Yellow-throated Longclaw.
Stay at the Pakamisa Private Game Reserve with its large rock pool, fireplace for winter and hotel library. Go horse-riding, bird watching or game viewing with an experience ranger.
Photograph: African Great Egret in reeds at St. Lucia Wetlands Reserve
An area with a wealth of Zulu history and culture, bird watchers will find way more than they bargained for including deserted gold mines. The warm coast between Mtunzini and Richard’s Bay as well as the swamp forest at the bottom of Eshowe. Lanner Falcons, Rock Kestrels and Bald Ibis breed in this region up on the cliff faces.
Get a guide as many of the paths are not easy to find and visit the Nkandla wet rainforest with its lush vegetation of ferns, cycads and over 147 bird species. In Zulu history this has always been considered a magical forest and a home to the supernatural.
Stay at the Protea Hotel Imvubu Lodge beside the Menywa Lake and near the Indian Ocean. Because it falls within the greenbelt of Richard’s Bay, you’ll be rewarded with a plethora of birds. Take your pick of 37 luxury chalets with aircon and enjoy their sundowner cocktail bar.