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My Birding Diary - Mnini Dam Atlasing

Updated: May 2, 2023

Gorgeous Bushshrike - Sithembiso Blessing Majoka

So another late start to the day, but after winning the battle with my comfortable bed, I got out and did some atlasing in the area. I decided to head southwards and focus on the area around Mnini Dam, a popular local fishing spot 12kms from my house (7.5 miles).

Due to wanting to get a decent cup of coffee, I did the route the opposite direction that I normally take, starting at the Magabeni Water Treatment Works and ended at the dam.

I use both the Birdlasser and the eBird app when I am out atlasing, one of the frustrations with the Magabeni Water Treatment Works is that it changes pentads halfway through the second pond. I normally decide on the pentad that I will be focusing on for the day, and then record the birds that I can see while I am in the pentad. With eBird this is different, as the Magabeni Water Treatment Works is a location (an eBird hotspot now I think), so there is a slight difference between my Birdlasser list and my eBird list for the day. The pentad I was focussing on for the day was pentad number 3005_3045. Over the years I have done 31 full protocol cards and recorded 202 species for this pentad. I normally cover the pentad extensively when doing a full card, so I am hoping to head back within the next 5 days to do a bit more atlasing.

Section 1 - Magabeni Water Treatment Works

I started at the Magabeni Water Treatment Works. The first bird recorded was two Cape Wagtails, followed by a view of a Pied Kingfisher with its distinctive flight pattern hovering over the water. A distant Rufous-naped Lark was calling (with its ‘rusty gate’ call), the middle of the 3rd and 3rd ponds had the regular Reed Cormorants and Egyptian Geese (smaller numbers than normal – 3 Reed Cormorants and 6 Egyptian Geese). Small flocks of Little Swift were dipping over the water, while 6 Little Grebes frantically swam across various parts of the ponds. The raptors made an appearance, with 2 Black Sparrowhawks and a solo African Fish Eagle flying over. I managed to see 20 species at the ponds before starting my route to the valley. (To see my eBird list for the day, click here)

Section 2 – Down into the valley

I started the descent into the valley and got stuck behind a water truck. The road into the valley is a little bit steep with some bad sections of road. The road might be tricky with cars with low clearance, but most cars should manage. The stop behind the truck allowed me to spend a bit of time birding – I managed to add House Sparrow and a group of noisy village weavers to the list.

Photo Number 1 - A valley grassland

Once I got past the truck, I small flock of juvenile Bronze Mannikins landed on the road in front of me – strangely there was no adults with the flock that landed. I was excited to hear a Knysna Turaco calling in the thick growth on the sides of the hills alongside the valley – this is a tricky bird to get this close to Amanzimtoti so it was a great ‘tick’ for the day. I was surprised to see a small flock of Lesser Striped Swallows swooping over the grasslands – I would have thought they would have all migrated by now. The river was quiet expect for a pair of Black Sparrowhawk calling from the skies and a Red-capped Robin Chat calling from someone deep in the bushes. This area section added another 10 birds to the list for the day.

Section 3 – The Climb

As soon as you cross the bridge at the bottom of the valley, there is a steep road that goes up to the top of the mountain. This section of road is best done in a 4x4 or a high-clearance vehicle. I normally drive straight to the top without stopping (unless something special calls or shows on the way up) and then bird on the way down. The top of this mountain provides some nice flat grasslands at a slightly higher altitude. I was told that someone was killed by a Black Mamba a few years ago in this area – thankfully, I have never encountered one myself. I was lucky enough last year to see an African Emerald Cuckoo on steep road down last year. The wind was strong on the top area, so the birding was quiet while I was there. I saw on the Birdlasser map that there was a bridge if I kept on driving. At the bottom of a tar road, I found the bridge and was rewarded with a sighting of Mocking Cliff Chats. High above my head White-necked Ravens were calling, and in the distance, I managed to add a Black-crowned Tchagra on call (the ‘drunken sailor’ call). A flock of at least 20 Black Saw-wing were flying over the field near the river – I have noticed that the saw-wings seem to be flying in big flocks, I wonder if this is because of the time of year? The drive down the hill to go back into the valley provided a great sighting of around 10 Fiscal Flycatchers (the first sighting of the season for me). I stopped the car and enjoyed watching them feeding on insects that were flying around. I also managed to add Tambourine Dove, Yellow-fronted Canary, and Spectacled Weaver. I had a flyover by what seemed like a massive swift – my guess is that it was an Alpine Swift, but I didn’t manage to see the white underparts, so I decided to rather leave it off the list. Again, the Alpine Swift is a tricky bird to get in the area, so it’s always an awesome bird to see when out birding. This section added 22 species to the list for the day.

Section 4 – West side of the dam

The next section of was a quieter than usual, possibly a combination of the time of the day and the wind that was blowing. Just before going around the bend that takes you to the section that winds along the Umgababa River, there is a section of steel pipe across the road. Although this was quiet today, this is often a good place to stop and look. Water often gathers on the road, and I have seen flocks of Common Waxbill and even Red-faced Mousebird drinking from the water. The road then winds right alongside the Umgababa River – in the right season this place hosts hundreds of weaver nests. If you are lucky, you will see the photogenic Malachite Kingfisher along the side of the water. It was a quieter than usual, but I did manage to hear an African Paradise Flycatcher and a Tawny-flanked Prinia.

Photo Number 2 - The road along the Umgababa River

The road then edges alongside a field that is almost a guaranteed spot for Gorgeous Bushshrike and Little Bee-eater. I managed to record both along with a Green-backed Camaroptera and a White-browed Scrub Robin.

The road then will take you over a low-level bridge. This has not been than productive for me up until now, but I am sure that it is a good spot for Mountain Wagtail and Half-collared Kingfisher – the habitat is perfect. In summer at this spot, you will often see hundreds of raptors soaring over your head.

Photo Number 3 - The view from the low level bridge

As you start to head up the hill, to your right you will see a board advertising Mnini Adventures, if you turn into the small road, it will take you to a spot that will give you nice views across the dam. I didn’t manage to see any water birds but did manage to record Olive Sunbird and a distant Grey-headed Bushshrike (‘Spookvoel”).

When you leave Mnini Adventures, turn right up the steep hill. I don’t advise that you do this section of road when it has been raining, it becomes very slippery. The road will take you through a built-up area but take the time to listen out to the sounds of the valley as you drive up.

Photo Number 4 - The lookout point

Once at the top of the hill, there will be a road to your right that has a signboard for Nawane Lodge & Spa. If you go into this road, about 200 metres in you will come to a lookout point over the dam. When its calm this can be a great place to listen out for calls in the valley below.

Section 5 – East side of the dam

I then started my last section of atlasing for day and slowly headed around the east side of the dam. The first section of this section is built up and then winds alongside a plantation on your left-hand side, before crossing over the bridge. This whole section was very quiet, but it may have also been the fact that I was started to get hungry so I might have gone a little quicker than earlier in the day. The section around the Mnini Dam Tourist Resort area gate is a good area for Southern Tchagra. Also take some time to scan the edges of the dam for African Jacana, Common Moorhen, and Black Crake (all of which were not showing today). The Mnini Dam Tourist Resort is popular with fisherman, and you are able to hire boats for the day. This may be a good option to explore the sides of the dam a lot more. They also provide accommodation overlooking the dam. (for more information about the Mnini Dam Tourist Resort contact +27835141685 or email

As you head past the resort, check out the half-built house on the right-hand side of the road. If you look through the gap in the wall you get great views overlooking the dam. (To see my eBird list for Mnini Dam for the day, click here)

After nearly three hours of birding I managed to record 57 species for the morning.

The eBird list for Magabeni Water Treatment Works hotspot - click here

The eBird list for Mnini Dam hotspot - click here

(Please note that I used both Birdlasser and eBird on the day to record. If you tally all the eBird cards they wont fully tie into the number on the Birdlasser list as there were some birds that I recorded that didn’t get entered on an eBird card)


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