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  • Lisa Martus

BIRD(ERS) OF A FEATHER FLOCK TOGETHER

Birding has become an increasingly popular pastime over the last few years, and Magoebaskloof is renowned as one of the premier birding spots in South Africa because of the diverse range of species from the endangered Cape Parrot to the endemic Black-fronted BushShrike and dramatic Narina Trogon. Scenic drives in the area with one of the top local Bird Guides, David Letsoalo and Paul Nkhumane offer excellent opportunities to pick up specials like the Short-clawed Lark on the Mamabolo Grasslands and the Gurney's Sugarbird at Greatheads as well as a longer drive to Agatha to look for the Bat Hawk pair at their nesting site.


Magoebaskloof is a bird lover's paradise but also offers establishments that cater to the needs of birders and provide them with everything they need to have a comfortable stay while they scour the undergrowth for the forest specials on their wish-list. Magoebaskloof Birders’ Cottages and Bramasole Guest House are both Birder Friendly Establishments found a short drive away from the Woodbush Forest, the second largest indigenous forest in the country. From a birding point of view, this 14km dirt road runs through what is arguably the finest Afromontane forest in the Limpopo Province, if not the country.


The Woodbush Forest Drive winds through pristine mistbelt forests, down into semi-deciduous mixed forest and riverine thicket along the lower sections of the drive where ‘twitchers’ can find some of the most sought-after forest species, including Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, Olive Bush-Shrike, Olive Thrush, Orange Ground-Thrush, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Green Twinspot, Forest Buzzard, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, White-starred Robin, Buff-spotted Flufftail, Chorister Robin-Chat, Blue-Mantled Crested Flycatcher and even Grey Wagtail.


Magoebaskloof Birders' Cottages, on Dragonwyck Farm in Magoebaskloof, is a birder-friendly establishment that offers guests the unique opportunity to experience some of the most beautiful environments of the region and the specials that inhabit the area, as well as on the farm itself. This working farm produces avocados and indigenous plants, using natural farming methods so that creatures can coexist harmoniously with the farm's activities. The cottages are surrounded by indigenous plants, providing an ideal habitat for many birds and animals and guests can take a stroll on the farm's trails, which follow the streams through the forest. On these walks, birders can pick up a wide variety of specials, including the Narina Trogon, Yellow-streaked Greenbul, Barratt's Warbler, Grey CuckooShrike, Cape Parrot and the Crowned Eagle.


Magoebaskloof Birders' Cottages also has the distinct advantage of being owned by an avid birder, Mark Harman, who has an insider's knowledge of the area and has established bird baths, feeding sites near the venues and a bird hide in a prime birding site on the farm. Mark’s best sighting so far on the farm is of a Black Sparrowhawk but his guests have seen all sorts of special birds around Narina, Robin and Trogon cottages accommodating between two and four guests in self-catering units with a fireplace for wintery days and a bathtub-for-two outside under the stars if the weather is fine. Magoebaskloof Birders’ Cottages are a haven for birders and nature lovers alike. Connect with them on 084 402 3709 / mbcottage1@gmail.com or take a look at www.birderscottage.co.za


Although Magoebaskloof offers birding opportunities in both grassland and afromontane mistbelt forests between Haenertsberg and Tzaneen, the most impressive forest birding is undeniably along Woodbush Forest Drive, which takes visitors down several distinct levels of forest as they traverse down the valley where it is found. On the forest fringes along the streams, twitchers can find Barratt's Warbler and Buff-spotted Flufftail in the tangled bracken scrub. The Woodbush Forest Drive winds down a valley, descending through the forest to Debengeni Falls, which is a great site for Mountain Wagtails and, in some years, even Grey Wagtail. The slower-moving streams and rivers towards the bottom of the valley, as well as the dams in the area, provide possible views of African Black Duck, several species of Kingfisher, and the elusive African Finfoot.


Bramasole Guest House, located in the centre of all the action, is only 8km from Woodbush Forest Drive and 11km from Haenertsberg. The guest house is a birder-friendly establishment found in the shadow of a 130-hectare afromontane forest, with a towering Ironwood. African Wood Owls call from the forest behind the rooms at night, and a short walk from the house along forest paths guarantees chances of at least hearing several of the afromontane forest specials. The dam in front of the guesthouse is fed by a stream that flows adjacent to the forest, which is home to the elusive Barratt's Warbler.


The path through the forest adjacent to the guesthouse provides birders with a great picnic spot where there is ample opportunity for a fly-by. The 2.5km loop from the parking area, meanders alongside the stream which makes its way through pristine forest and is not only good for birds and butterflies but is also breathtakingly beautiful, with ferns and mosses covering the floor and ancient trees towering above. Many of the specials can be found along the trail, especially if you are lucky enough to bump into a bird party.


The top five specials to be seen on Bramasole’s property include Black-fronted Bush-Shrike, Narina Trogon, African Wood Owl, Barratt's Warbler, and Knysna Turaco. The most special bird that visits here is probably the endangered Cape Parrot, which is also Birdlife South Africa's bird of the year for 2023. There are only a handful of places where these gregarious and charismatic parrots can be found as they rely on large Yellowwood Trees for nesting and food. Since a major challenge with birding in Magoebaskloof is access to the forests and Woodbush Forest Drive is difficult to traverse without a 4x4 vehicle, having patches of forest that are easily accessible to visitors, such as the one adjacent to Bramasole, makes it possible for all birders to explore the birding bounty that the area has to offer.


Bramasole is well equipped to host small and large groups and specifically caters to the unique requirements of Birders with forest trails scoped out by David Letsoalo and dedicated to the late birding icons, Ben de Boer and Joe Grosel. They also have picnic sites and benches, bird baths and feeders near the venues as well as a bird hide in the planning stages. Bramasole Guest House has 15 uniquely-themed B&B rooms as well as 2 stand-alone self-catering chalets overlooking the forest. Connect with them on 015 007 0629 / 072 062 8514, email: reservations@bramasole.co.za or check out their website on www.bramasole.co.za.


Magoebaskloof and surrounds is an ideal destination for birders who want to experience the unique birdlife in diverse habitats and experienced bird guides. There are accommodation options for each kind of group and every pocket. Apart from Magoebaskloof Birders’ Cottages and Bramsole Guest House, Bird Guides, David Letsoalo and Paul Nkhumane also recommend Kuhestan Cottages which are lovely, comfortable, self-catering units right on the doorstep of Woodbush Forest; the Africamps glamping tents at Cheerio Gardens which always has great birding at the well-developed gardens and dams; Sanfern Downs for affordable camping and cottages just off the R71 as well as Zwakala Campsite in a beautiful natural setting along the Broederstroom River or Forest Camp surrounded by indigenous forest at Tupelo Honey Farm on the Magoebaskloof Pass. Magoebaskloof has everything that birders need for a memorable and enjoyable birding experience so take a look at www.mountaingetaways.co.za or www.magoebasklooftourism.co.za and www.limpopobirding.com and www.birdlife.org.za for birder friendly accommodation options, guides, birding routes, information and tips.



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