top of page

Birding Mkombo Dam on the Highveld of Mpumalanga - Marc Cronje

When one thinks of the highveld of Mpumalanga around the area of Middelburg, birding does not seem an option. The scatted coal mines, open maize fields and cold temperatures in winter do not sound all that tempting for a birding trip. Here at Nature Travel Birding we offer trips to this exceptionally diverse area for our South African and international friends. This is area had become know as one of the most exciting birding sites in South Africa.


Our Saturday started nice and early with the mercury sitting at -2 as we headed out to Mkhombo Dam in the very northwestern corner of Mpumalanga on the Elands River, east of Rust de Winter Dam. The dam is surrounded by large expanses of mixed woodland and is an excellent location for migrant warblers in late summer. When water levels are high the dam offers reedbeds, inundated grassland, and a network of shallow pools. As water levels drop, large mudflats may develop. The morning got off to a great start with us seeing Chestnut-vented Warbler, Scaly-feathered Weaver, Marico Flycatcher and Pearl-breasted Swallows sitting on a fence as we reached the area. A trip to Mkhombo Dam is exciting as one is exploring remote and unexplored landscapes, the lack of infrastructure and unpredictable road conditions make this a site an adventure site, but birders willing to explore are amply rewarded like we were.

Scaley-feathered Weaver
Scaley-feathered Weaver

Some of the more common species seen on the way to the Acacia thickets around the dam included: Brown-crowned Tchagra, Rattling Cisticola, Black-chested Prinia, Spotted Thick-knee, the characteristic three-blind mice call of the Chinspot Batis, Long-billed Crombec, African Fish Eagle, Golden-breasted Bunting, Buffy Pipit, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Acacia Pied Barbet and the gorgeous, Crimson-breasted Shrike. Already some good birding for Mpumalanga, a much-needed coffee stop rewarded us with exceptional views of a pair of stunning Violet-eared Waxbills sunning themselves in front of us. The distinctive call of a Cardinal woodpecker was also added to the day tally.

Crimson-breasted Shrike
Crimson-breasted Shrike

As we moved across the grassy plains we enjoyed sightings of African Pipit, Capped Wheatear, Cape Sparrow, Green-winged Pytilia, Sabota Lark, Plain-backed Pipit, Cut-throat Finch, Chestnut-backed Sparrow Lark, and Quailfinces, the latter being difficult to see as they flew over us but eventually, we got exceptional views on this stunning bird.

Violet-eared Waxbill
Violet-eared Waxbill

We had reached the Acacia thickets, and this is when the birding and specials started to roll in. One of the first special birds we saw was Barred Wren Warbler- a real beauty, this also alerted us to a Pearl-spotted Owlet nearby. Just as we locate the owlet, we heard the obvious calls of Southern Pied Babbler and soon had our binos on them- a great bird for the province. As we strolled towards the car, we saw an Accipiter flying out the bush and low and behold it was a Ovambo Sparrowhawk- a great bird for the area and the province. Some of the other special birds we saw in the Acacia thickets included: Black-faced Waxbills, Ashy Tit, Grey Penduline Tit, Greater Kestrel and Fiscal Flycatcher. With us having seen most of our targets for the Acacia we headed down to the dam to see what was around.

Barred Wren Warbler
Barred Wren Warbler

The fact that it was wint