Updated: Oct 1, 2020
There are very few places in the country that even begin to compare to the Magoebaskloof area. With over 300 species of bird within a day's reach, countless habitats and a wealth of endemic fauna and flora the area is a birders paradise. I’ve spent my life birding the area, adding Black-fronted Bush Shrike to my list way before adding Orange-breasted. To top it all off, the waterfalls and views make it the ideal family destination, meaning that your non-birding family members won’t get in the way of your much needed birding.
The area’s habitats include montane grassland, mist-belt forest, dry bushveld, lowveld woodland, riparian woodland and sub-alpine Drakensberg vegetation. This diversity of habitats provides an abundance of highly sought after species for the keen birder to find! With a little bit of effort and some neck-breaking forest birding even a novice birder can manage 150+ species in a day.
If you had told me that you could go from seeing Short-clawed Lark within 100 metres of a Gorgeous Bush shrike and then proceed to drive half an hour to see Gurney's Sugarbird, Striped Flufftail and Buff-streaked Chat I would've said that you were insane, this area turns that insanity into a breath-taking experience that even expert birders can’t believe.
The area is easily traversible with well-demarcated roads and countless accommodation options. Guides are readily available in the area and I would suggest David Letsalo at the Kurisa Moya Nature Lodge as he has vast experience of the area and its birds, and I have never seen his face without a smile. For the birder that prefers to explore alone there is a wealth of information in “The Chamberlain Guide to Gauteng Birding” by Faansie Peacock and Etienne Marais. There are also a few local birders(Including myself) that are very happy to share any form of Gen with a fellow birder.
Most birders visit the area purely for the forest birding, which I can't deny is incredible, however there is an immense amount of overlooked habitats. A quick trip down the mountain towards Tzaneen will allow you to add Magpie Mannikin, Bathawk, African Skimmer, Thick-billed Cuckoo and White-breasted Cuckooshrike to mention a few, all whilst filling your belly with delicious artisanal food.
On top of the array of habitats and incredible resident species, the area is the perfect place to pull a rarity out of! The Warbler habitat is unmatched in the summer and if it has rained enough you could find yourself looking at a Baillon's Crake whilst listening to Short-clawed Lark.
A weekend trip is possible from Johannesburg, and I can tell you, it's well worth it! Just be careful, once the Magoebaskloof bug bites it will be impossible to stay away from the place. I’m excited to see some new birders in my local patch. Happy Birding!