Nestled in north-eastern KwaZulu-Natal on the Mozambique border is an oasis called Ndumu Game Reserve (NGR). It is an awesome game reserve with a good variety of habitats which provide a great variety of birds. As a recommendation, do consider making use of the excellent and knowledgeable field rangers who can take you on walks in the bush, and for drives around the beautiful fever tree-lined Nyamithi Pan. Ndumo has probably the greatest number of different bird species of all Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife protected areas, and is truly a bird-watcher’s paradise.
Up until recently NGR has been very dry, but over the last month rain has fallen, the vegetation is green, and Nyamithi Pan is about half full.
There is a hide on the south shore overlooking Nyamithi Pan, and when the shallow water advances up to the hide the birds associated with water are prolific with, amongst others, Fish Eagles, and a variety of Kingfishers and Herons. Specials such as Black Herons and Slaty Egrets are serious possibles, and Caspian Terns are virtually guaranteed. On the way to the hide is a vulture feeding point, which attracts White-backed Vultures, Palm-nut Vultures, and in summer Yellow-billed Kites and even Black Kites.
The open vehicle drive along the north shore is beautifully scenic with its huge lime green fever trees all along the shore line. Peer into these trees for a Grey Penduline Tit, African Cuckoo-Hawk, Southern Banded Snake Eagle, and in summer the colourful Broad-billed Roller, and the stunning Woodland Kingfisher. The edges of the pan deliver numerous waders, the occasional Saddle-billed Stork, Collared Pratincole (which nest on the mud flats), a lot basking crocodiles of varying sizes. In the water, numerous herds of hippos contribute to the sounds of the pan with their guttural grunting and bubbling.
In the centre of the reserve is the thick Mahemane Bush which is lined by clumps of vicious-looking euphorbias with their hefty spines. In this habitat one can find the aptly-named Gorgeous Bushshrike, Pink-throated Twinspot, Purple-banded Sunbird, African Broadbill, and with a bit of luck, the diminutive Suni antelope. Continue on to the Red Cliffs Picnic Site, which has spectacular views over the Usutu River to Mozambique. Around the car park one can chalk up a Retz’s Helmet Shrike, a tiny Jameson’s Firefinch, and perhaps an African Green Pigeon. Keep an eye open for bush shrikes like Orange-breasted Bushshrike, and the highly secretive Grey-headed Bushshrike, which is not called the spookvoël (ghost bird) for nothing!
The western section of NGR is more open woodland and its complement of birds includes the majestic Martial and Bateleur Eagles, Golden-breasted Buntings and Senegal Lapwings, and in summer a whole variety of migrant Cuckoos. Also, spend time in the quiet resort, where the birding can be very good with Little Swift and Lesser Striped Swallows nesting under the eaves of the chalets, and Red-fronted and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds. The massive tree outside reception is home to the parasitic plant Loranthus, the flowers of which attract Grey Sunbirds and the rare Neergaard’s Sunbird. Then take a plunge into the swimming pool to cool off!
The guided walks along the Pongola River and around Shokwe Pan allow one to get close up and personal with many of the above mentioned birds plus Wood Owls, the mind-blowing Narina Trogon, and a good chance of spotting a Pel’s Fishing Owl.