Birdwatching in Northern KwaZulu-Natal

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Posted on: March 18, 2018

Where you can see the widest range of grassland, freshwater, sea and forest birds in one trip

(with images by Dr George Hughes)


Kittilitz Plover photographed by Dr George Hughes at Lake Sibaya


I held my breath as we do

sometimes to stop time

when something wonderful

has touched us

Mary Oliver


Encountering a rare bird species on a walking safari is one such moment – where time seems to stand still and you feel you are on holy ground. With ever-shrinking natural spaces meaning more and more wildlife under threat, the simple act of bird-watching is a pleasure which becomes increasingly sacred. One of my favourite places in the world for birdwatching is Northern KwaZulu-Natal. Here you have the privilege of seeing grassland birds, forest birds, lake and sea birds all in one trip. From the back of a high safari vehicle or the low vantage point of a canoe gliding through clean waters, you are able to get up close to some of the most beautiful birds this continent has to offer.


Wattled Lapwing by Dr George Hughes, photographed while staying at Thonga Beach Lodge

Birdwatching at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi

You may start at Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge in the vast and impressive Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, home to over 400 bird species, a staggering 46% of all bird species found in the Southern African region. From the perspective of a walking safari you are best able to marvel at sightings at your leisure. Look for Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge guide Thobeka Nkosi’s favourite scarlet Gorgeous Shrikes, Fish Eagles, Bataleur and Martial Eagle. Or you may be lucky enough to spot the Woolly-necked stork, Saddle-billed stork, Ground Hornbill and White-backed Vulture.


Purple Crested Turaco photographed by stealthy birdwatcher Dr George Hughes

Birdwatching from Kosi Forest Lodge

Further North still, at the deep rural Kosi Forest Lodge, you may see Pel’s Fishing Owl, Scarlet- and Yellow-throated Longclaw and Palmnut Vulture. An unusual bird, the Palmnut Vulture is one of the few mostly vegetarian raptors. Also called one of the ‘Old World Vultures’, the courtship display of these birds is dramatic as they engage in acrobatic displays of diving, circling and rolling.


The elusive Rosy Throated Longclaw captured by Dr Hughes

One of South Africa’s top birding guides, Kosi Forest Lodge Manager Blessing Mngomezulu can advise on the best places to spot these territorial gems. The interconnected river and lake systems, surrounded by lush palms, water lilies and thickets attract even the shy birds to potter around and go about their daily rituals. I have literally held my breath as a Black Crake, my favourite of all water birds, chortled happily in the reeds, unaware of my presence. George Makoba, another highly experienced nature guide at Kosi Forest Lodge, knows all the secret hiding places of the river birds like the Narina Trojan.

What I especially love about Kosi Forest Lodge is that birdwatching can be done during every moment of your time at the lodge, not only on organised outings. Whether sipping sundowers at the edge of the pool, or strolling by lamplight through the indigenous sand forest to dinner or at a fireside boma, you are acutely aware of the privilege of being surrounded by an extensive array of birds, happy and confident in their natural habitat. My best moment is waking in a canvas tent to the cacophony of birdsong. I lift every side of my tent as the layered sounds of dawn come in waves, from the tiny peeping bush birds, to the gently, lyrical dawn song birds, to the loud cuckoos and wild geese. Nosy kingfishers, loeries and owls come right past your open air bath to stop time and drop you through a portal of joy into forever-time.


On the run – Orange Throated Longclaw spotted by Dr George Hughes while staying at Kosi Forest Lodge


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