Coastal forest, grasslands, beaches, estuaries and lush winding hills, are all the ‘ingredients’ that make a ‘rich buffet’ for any birder to explore and ‘feast’ on the birds that these varied habitats promise to deliver!
The Sapphire Coast Birding Route must be one of South Africa’s best-kept birding secrets. The route winds along the upper South Coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal, stretching from the eziMbokodweni River in the North, to the aMahlongwa River in the South and about 9km inland from the coast. With everything from coastal birds, to forest specials to soaring raptors, this stretch has it all!
The route has diverse habitats, with close on 270 species of birds being recorded, with rarities and out of range species being reported on more than one occasion.
The northerly reserves on the route, Umbogavango Nature Reserve and Vumbuka Nature Reserve, are both found within the Umbogintwini Industrial Complex. Both reserves are conservation areas that were the result of waste disposal dams being transformed. Umbogavango has trails that lead through exotic and coastal forest as well as dams. The reserve also has three bird hides overlooking the various water habitats. Umbogavango has a wide variety of species including Natal Spurfowl, Violet-backed Starling, Tambourine Dove, Green Twinspot, African Firefinch as well as many rapture species including Crowned Eagle, Black Sparrowhawk, and Long-crested Eagles. If one takes a short drive, Vumbuka is another gem that rises from within the factories in the Industrial Park. A walk through the forests filled with indigenous trees provides one with the opportunity to encounter many KZN Natal forest specials such as White-starred Robin, White-browed Robin-Chat and in winter the Spotted Ground Thrush. To visit the reserves a booking must be made in advance on 031 949-2081.
Just across the road is the Amanzimtoti Bird Sanctuary, this small park makes up for its size with the potential to see many birds. The sanctuary has lost a bit of its glory from former years, with much of the infrastructure not being maintained and unfortunately is in a dilapidated state, but with the species that are seen on a regular basis, it still makes it a well worth visit. The park is made up of a few easy walking trails that wind around the small dam in the coastal forest. Over the years the park has continuously delivered special birds, including Mangrove Kingfisher, Half-collared Kingfisher, Green Twinspot, White-backed Night Heron, Palm-nut Vulture and the annual winter visitor the Spotted Ground Thrush. The sanctuary is a great location to see Malachite Kingfisher, Mountain Wagtail, Black Throated Wattle-eye, Olive Woodpecker, and White-eared Barbet. The size of the park increases the chance of seeing many special species on a morning walk. It is often busy over weekends with picnics and braais, so it is best visited either during the week or early on weekend mornings.