THE BIRDS OF ORIBI GORGE NATURE RESERVE

Situated two hours south of Durban and 21km inland of Port Shepstone is the magnificent Oribi Gorge Nature Reserve. The Umzimkulwane River snakes its way through the bottom of the deep Oribi Gorge itself, with soaring cliffs and lush forest rising up on either side, and with a grassland plateau in front of the resort itself. All these areas are home to some very exciting birds. A tarred road winds down one side of the gorge and up the other, which makes for easy walking, birding and viewing of the spectacular scenery.

In front of the Oribi Gorge resort is a short trail leading across the plateau to the edge of the cliffs from where the view is stunning. While walking through the grassland keep your eyes open for the Fan-tailed Grassbird and Cape Grassbird while also scanning the forest margin on the right for the Knysna Turaco, Grey Waxbill, Red-fronted and Yellow-rumped Tinkerbirds. You might also see the Grey Sunbird and Greater Double-collared Sunbird.

Don’t ignore the big trees in the garden of a staff house on the left – one can often see interesting birds such as the Lesser Honeyguide, and occasionally the very special Knysna Woodpecker (be aware that the similar-looking Golden-tailed Woodpecker also occurs here!). At the rocky edge of the plateau one can spot the endemic Cape Rock Thrush, Mocking Cliff Chat, Striped Pipit, and an assortment of (often very colourful) lizards and agamas.

Looking across the gorge you may see Cape Vultures, Jackal Buzzards, Rock Kestrels and Lanner Falcons soaring on updraughts. Flocks of Trumpeter Hornbills and the occasional Ground Hornbill lurk in the area and can be heard booming in the early hours of the morning.

At the far side of the resort a narrow trail winds through the forest to the tarred road. An early walk down the road is very productive with possibles such as the Narina Trogon, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Green Twinspot, Knysna Woodpecker, as well as the shy Samango monkey and baboons announcing your presence. With serious luck you might also spot an African Broadbill. Halfway down the road is a lay-by where one can look for Southern Boubou, Terrestrial Brownbul , and Brown Scrub Robin. Crowned Eagles used to nest near this lay-by but the nest fell of of the tree – check at the office whether these huge eagles have rebuilt their nest in the area.

When you reach the crystal clear river (you might want to drive there) watch out for birds such as the Mountain wagtail, Black duck and African Finfoot . These may be seen from the bridge. Around the picnic site the shy Southern Tchagra can be found in the scrubby areas, and a tiny African Pygmy Kingfisher might be seen zipping across the road. The best area to see an African Finfoot, Black Duck, and Half-collared Kingfisher, is along the quieter stretches of the river upstream of the bridge. In the early morning take the Hoopoe Falls Trail for a kilometre or so – a quiet walk could produce the goods.

Finally, birding in the grounds of the resort can be fun and could produce sightings of the Dark-backed Weaver, Red-backed Mannikin, Forest Canary and Swee Waxbill. The tall Strelitzia trees are a magnet for a variety of sunbirds.

So even if you are a stranger to birds and birding, take along a pair of binoculars plus a bird book, and add a new experience to your life. You will never regret it.

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