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Water birding in Mpumalanga


For outdoor fanatics, birding has become one of the most relaxing and satisfying hobbies. Whether you are just out for the day, camping or on some 4×4 adventure or hiking trip, there will always be birds around for you to spot and identify. It is an inexpensive and enjoyable hobby and an activity that the whole family can get involved in.

History of birding

The urge to take in beauty rather than consume food was what first sparked interest in birdwatching in the late 18th century. This fascination has developed over time, becoming one of the world’s fastest increasing pastimes from a rarefied interest in natural history during Victorian times.

For the record, the term “bird watching” originally appeared in 1901 as the title of the book “Bird Watching” by British ornithologist Edmund Selous.

Southern Africa is home to more than 960 of the world’s approximately 18 000 bird species, making it a real birdwatcher’s paradise.

Because of its diverse and intriguing array of natural environments, South Africa is one of the most popular travel destinations for birdwatchers. Mpumalanga fits perfectly into the picture and is on many birdwatchers’ itineraries.

Birding in Mpumalanga

Mpumalanga are bordered by Mozambique and Swaziland in north-eastern South Africa. The province boasts a rich diversity of species, scenery, and history. A rich and diverse bird population that inhabits a patchwork of grassland, forest, marsh, savannah, and mountain habitats is the result of a significant variety in height and ecological zones.

The northern Drakensberg mountain divides the subtropical Lowveld from the temperate Highveld. The Crocodile, Sabie, and Olifants are major east-flowing rivers. Summer rainfall ranges from 350mm in the north-east Lowveld to 1,600mm at higher altitudes across the province. Heavy mists on the Escarpment provide up to 50% of annual precipitation. The Lowveld has short, moderate winters, while the Highveld has cold winters with snow on the Escarpment. Summers are temperate to warm on the Highveld but quite scorching on the Lowveld’s lowlands.

Mpumalanga is not only home to 550 species of birds, it is also known as the Crane capital of South Africa.  So, when is the best time for a spot of birdwatching in Mpumalanga? Just about any time!  May to September is South Africa’s winter season, when the foliage is less lush and the temperature cool and dry in our neck of the natural universe, making it just that extra bit more comfortable for wildlife and bird viewing.

However, if you’re looking for unique species and unique locations, you’ll find the water birds of Mpumalanga to be very fascinating. The province has many fantastic water bird destinations.

Birdwatchers from all over the world are familiar with the water birds of Mpumalanga and their habitats. The rare Pel’s fishing owl, the critically endangered saddle-billed stork, the infrequently seen white-winged flufftail, and many of its less uncommon but frequently equally intriguing cousins can all be found in Mpumalanga.

The Mpumalanga water birds can be seen virtually anywhere: in rivers, at dams, foraging along river banks, and paddling alongside streams. The best time to spot these birds are in summer, when the migrant water birds are back from their northern wintering, although there are plenty of resident water birds throughout the year.

Birding habitats in Mpumalanga

Afro-montane Forest is only found in the mist belt of the Escarpment, usually in gorges that are safe from fire or on moist south-facing hills. Chorister Robin-Chat, Knysna Turaco, Bush Blackcap, Barratt’s Warbler, and Forest Canary are all endemic birds that like this habitat.

Acacia/Broad-leaved Savannah grows in the hillsides and below the Escarpment. Dense thorny thickets to towering, park-like woods. This ecosystem has the most bird species, including raptors, shrikes, hornbills, barbets, rollers, woodpeckers, bee-eaters, bustards, and many others.

In the south-western Lowveld, Yellow-bellied and Green-capped Eremomelas, Pale Flycatcher, Bushveld Pipit, Croaking and Lazy Cisticolas, Striped Pipit, Yellow-throated Petronia, and African Firefinch live in broad-leaved woodlands.

Dry Bushveld is found in the low-rainfall region of north-western Mpumalanga and is dominated by thorn trees. While a number of species are shared with the moister eastern savannahs, there are several unique species such as Crimson-breasted Shrike, Black-faced and Violet-eared Waxbills, Shaft-tailed Whydah, Great Sparrow and Pied Babbler.

Most high-altitude mountains have grassland. This is Mpumalanga’s best habitat for uncommon and endemic South African birds. Rudd’s and Botha’s Larks, Yellow-breasted and African Rock Pipits, Southern Bald Ibis, Blue and Barrow’s Korhaans, Ground Woodpecker, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat, and Blue Crane are among the specialities. The Escarpment’s mist-belt grassland, a montane grassland, is one of South Africa’s most vulnerable environments. The Blue Swallow is the most famous victim of these sterile, man-made woodlands that have replaced most of the fertile meadows.

The western Highveld of Mpumalanga’s grasslands are now mostly maize crops. Long-tailed Widowbird, Yellow-Crowned Bishop, Cape Longclaw, and Marsh Owl are common birds in grasslands. Botha’s Lark, Pink-billed Lark, Grass Owl, Black-winged Pratincole, and Montagu’s Harrier are among the remaining specials.

Marshes and small pans dominate the Escarpment and Highveld. Rivers and dams dominate the Lowveld. Wattled Cranes and White-winged Flufftails breed in Escarpment wetlands. Cape Shoveller, Hottentot Teal, Southern Pochard, South African Shelduck, Maccoa Duck, Greater Flamingo, African Spoonbill, and Chestnut-banded Plover are common in the shallow Highveld pans. African Black Duck, African Finfoot, Goliath Heron, African Pied Wagtail, and Half-collared Kingfisher are special Lowveld river birds.

Cliffs and mountain peaks are mostly confined to the Escarpment. Verreaux’s Eagle, Jackal Buzzard, African Black Swift, Black Stork, and the uncommon Taita Falcon prefer this area.

Water birds around Vygeboom Dam

At OppiDam Resort and surrounding area of the Vygeboom Dam be sure to be on the look-out for ducks and geese, grebes, darters and cormorants, herons, ibises, spoonbills and storks, cranes, rails, moorhens and coots, and several waders.

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