BIRDS AND BIRDING: ROYAL NATAL NATIONAL PARK

In the northern section of the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) is the magnificent Royal Natal National Park (RNNP) with its breath-taking scenery, including the unsurpassable Amphitheatre. With the terrain so variable, plus the presence of the headwaters of the Thukela River, there are numerous habitats consisting of protea woodlands, evergreen forests, grasslands and riverine scrub. These habitats provide many wonderful birding opportunities.

Starting at the Visitor Centre, where you may see ultra-cute Swee Waxbills around the car park, an easy stroll along the thicket-lined road towards the entrance gate could deliver the vocal little Drakensberg Prinia, Bush Blackcap, Greater Double-collared Sunbird, and if you are there early, the surprisingly attractive Red-necked Spurfowl. Heading in the direction towards the dam, birds such as Familiar Chats and Fiscal Flycatchers are present, while at the dam itself there are numerous nesting Southern Masked Weavers (in summer) and with luck the tiny gorgeous Malachite Kingfisher, and maybe even some otters! Carrying on towards the Mahai Camping Site, look for Groundscraper Thrushes strutting around in the mowed grass areas, and African Stonechats and Dusky Flycatchers hawking insects from the edge of the thickets.

Just beyond the Mahai entrance is a lovely walk to the Cascades where you could see Mountain Wagtails on the rocks in the crystal clear water, the possibility of attractive Half-collared Kingfishers whizzing by, and Black-backed Puffbacks fossicking around in the scrubby vegetation. Endemic Forest Canaries also inhabit this area, as do Olive Woodpeckers.

A Half-collared Kingfisher (Image off the internet)

One can also take a drive alongside the boulder-strewn Thukela River to the start of the Gorge Walk. En route keep your eyes peeled for shy African Black Ducks bobbing in the river, and Giant Kingfishers perched on the riverside trees. Also check out the road-side scrub for birds like the petite Fairy Flycatcher, African Yellow Warbler (one of the very few attractive warblers!), attractive Cape Grassbirds, and flocks of neat Cape Canaries. For the more fanatic birder Barratt’s Warblers occur in the scrub, but it takes time and patience to catch a glimpse of this highly secretive, cryptic and frustrating bird! The Gorge Walk itself is wonderful. The path runs parallel to the Thukela River and meanders in and out of patches of cool evergreen forest. Within these patches one can find birds like the awesome looking Chorister Robin-Chat (which is an amazing mimic), smart-looking Yellow-throated Woodland Warblers (another one of the very few attractive warblers!), and the cute Cape Batis.

Another very pleasant walk is that which goes towards Gudu Falls. The open grassland areas provide Red-winged Francolins, Greater-striped Swallows overhead (mainly in summer), and when the Watsonia flowers are in bloom they are visited by glossy green Malachite Sunbirds. Where boulder outcrops occur, Ground Woodpeckers, endemic Buff-streaked Chats, and great-looking Cape Rock Thrushes are likely to be seen on top of the boulders.

Red-winged Francolin (Image off the internet)

There are also stands of Protea trees and when flowering they are a magnet for the beautiful Gurney’s Sugarbirds. While on this trail you may see Mountain Reedbuck, Grey Rhebok, and there are bound to be some noisy baboons. And then, of course, there is the to-die-for view and while soaking this up you may spy Bearded Vultures and Cape Vultures soaring over the gigantic amphitheatre, not to mention that iconic Drakensberg bird the Bearded Vulture.

(Please note that most of these images have been copied from what is understood to be free image sources on the internet. Should we have inadvertently tramped on copyright territory please let us know immediately)

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