KZN, particularly the midlands and the Drakensberg Mountains, offer some of the most diverse yet unique birding in Southern Africa. One of the main reasons for this is the sharp change in altitude from 0 to 3000 meters above sea level over just 160 kilometres. This change in attitude and climate supports a huge variety of habitats – vlei grasslands in the lowlands, moist mistbelt grasslands in the midlands, indigenous montane forests up the escarpment and alpine heaths in the snow belt. All within 160 km!
It is also this massive change in altitude over short distance that makes this area great for altitudinal migration. Here birds do not have to migrate thousands of kilometres to escape the harshness of winter. All they have to do is fly a short distance down the escarpment to their warm summer holiday homes.
At 1450 metres above sea level, the midlands area is about halfway up this migration route, in what is known as moist mistbelt grassland. Mist occurs year round which gives this grassland its name. It is characterised by very high summer rainfall, cold winters and brief snowfalls. This high rainfall over porous doloritic soils produces underground rivers, which in turn form sinkholes. These sink holes provide vital nesting sites for probably the most critically endangered bird in southern Africa – the blue swallow. In South Africa there are fewer than 40 breeding pairs left.
Other birds that make the grassland their home are Denham’s Bustard, black rumped buttonquail, Southern bald ibis, pale crowned cisticola, broad tailed warbler, and red wing francolin. The rocky outcrops that form islands in this sea of grass are a good place to look for red throated wryneck, buff streaked chat and ground woodpecker. Gurney’s sugarbirds can also be seen visiting Protea sp. on these rocky outcrops.
The mistbelt grasslands also hold some of the largest natural vleis in the country. The area is known for its excellent crane viewing as 3 endangered cranes (watlled, crowned and blue) congregate here. The grassland surrounding the vlei areas are also good for secretary bird and yellow breasted pipit.
Due to the high incidence of mist, this grassland also supports large indigenous forests on the western slopes of the valleys. Here ancient yellowwood trees and form the main diet of another endangered bird – the Cape Parrot. These noisy birds roost in the same forest every night, but come morning they travel in a noisy convoy to wherever there are fruiting trees – yellowwoods, stinkwoods, figs etc.
Other birds that can be seen in these ancient indigenous forests are crowned eagle, bush blackcap, yellow throated woodlands warbler, orange ground thrush, Narina trogon, Emerald cuckoo, white starred robin, Chorister robin and grey cuckoo shrike. Barratt’s warblers are also seen in the undergrowth surrounding the forests.
The foothills above the midlands are also a great area to see some of the local altitudinal migrants like Drakensberg siskin, Drakensberg rock jumper and sentinel rock thrush. Cape and Bearded vulture venture down the foothills daily to get access to the vulture restaurants created by farmers. These flight paths can easily be intercepted with good success.
A visit to Tillietudlem Nature Reserve will expose you to much of this birding wonderland. In addition to the birding we also have healthy populations of eland, wildebeest, zebra, blesbuck and a myriad of smaller game. The farm forms the headwater of the Elands River, and 13km of crystal clear streams feed 4 trout dams that feature in two very exclusive fly fishing competitions.
Our Guest Houses
The reserve has two guest houses, each with its own charm.
Ogram’s House is a luxurious classical colonial farm house dating back to the late 19th century, set under a huge oak tree overlooking several tranquil dams, rolling lawns with a magical feeling of absolute peace. Roaring fires, original Oregon pine floors, sash windows and high ceilings capture the magic of a bygone era…. This luxuriously furnished 4 star graded house accommodates 10 guests in 5 double en suite bedrooms.
Hlega Manzi lodge on the other hand is a comfortable and well appointed self catering lodge with an expansive wooden deck which overlooks the Hlega Manzi waterfall. Tranquillity and seclusion make this an ideal place to get away, unwind and enjoy the beauty of the reserve.
The manager of the reserve has 17 years of guiding experience and is very familiar with the birding in the area. Even experienced birders have a good chance of adding at least one lifer to their list.
Feel free to contact us to learn more about birding in midlands and Drakensberg foothills.
Bazil Roth – firstname.lastname@example.org