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Phinda Resource Reserve is a private game reserve of about 14 000ha. It borders Mkuze Game Reserve on the west and the Greater St.Lucia Wetland Park on the east. The main attraction is the diversity of seven distinct ecosystems within the reserve that provide ample opportunity for great birding and also prime big game viewing. Your birding could be interrupted by anything from big cats and elephants to stunning frogs and butterflies. Over 350 bird species have been recorded on the reserve.



Special birds to be seen are Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, African Finfoot, Narina Trogon, Rudd's Apalis, Eastern Nicator, African Broadbill, Green Twinspot, Pink-throated Twinspot, Neergaard's Sunbird, Lemon-breasted Canary, Collared Pratincole, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, and African Cuckoo Hawk. Rarities are Pel's Fishing-Owl, Palm-nut Vulture, Swamp Nightjar, Black Coucal and Dwarf Bittern.



The south is dominated by acacia savanna and punctuated by well-wooded drainage lines and seasonal pans. There is a stretch of rocky hillside, which is the southern-most tip of the Ubombo Mountain Range. The Mzinene, Mhlosinga and Munywana Rivers all run a course through the south of Phinda. Two are seasonal and the Mzinene is perennial. A floodplain and stands of fever trees make up the rest of the south. Ilala Palm savanna, broadleaved woodland and the Mziki Marsh are features of the north. The highlight here is over a 1000ha of sand forest. (This contains the largest private stand of mature forest).



Being a private reserve, all drives and walks are guided for guests staying at any of the four lodges. There is no public access. Day trips (either evening or morning drives) are available on request at the individual lodges, but are limited if the lodges are busy. Accommodation in the south is at Mountain Lodge (20 rooms) and Rock Lodge (6 rooms). In the north it is at Forest Lodge (16 rooms) and Vlei Lodge (6 rooms). The game drives can access any part of the reserve. small motorised boats or canoes can be used to experience the splendour of the Mzinene River. Game drives are 3-4 hours long in the morning and again in the evening. Morning walks usually go from the lodge at around 11am. These are usually with Zulu trackers, many of whom are able to call up Narina Trogon and other birds. There is a small rustic bird hide in the sand forest at Forest Lodge where guests can sit during the day. There are plans afoot to construct small hides at each lodge as well as one at a more remote setting at a pan amongst termitaria thickets in the south.



The general birding is good and it is easy to spot 50-80 birds on a drive. Many of the special birds are common, but others require a bit of searching. Some of the forest areas are really dense, but there are large open areas interspersed throughout the whole reserve.

1. River cruise/canoe trip on Mzinene River. There are lots of weeping boer-beans on the banks, which is good for late winter/spring birding. This especially for Grey Sunbird, Purple-banded Sunbird and Scarlet-chested Sunbird. More time can be spent on the river in winter as the heat is less oppressive than in summer. Resident, breeding White-backed Night-Heron are a highlight. Good viewing of Purple Heron, Little Bittern, breeding Goliath Heron, Squacco Heron and Black-crowned Night-Heron can be had, especially in the evenings at the large heronries in the reedbeds. Pel's Fishing-Owl can be seen in dry years when the smaller rivers in the area dry up. African Finfoot is a regular and must be looked for near the overhanging vegetation. Weavers, including Southern Brown-throated Weaver are abundant and visible breeders in the spring and summer months. Large flocks of Red-billed Quelea roost in the reedbeds and are sometimes accompanied by a fair number of Red-headed Quelea. The vast lily pad areas provide excellent viewing of breeding African Jacana, Black Crake and African Purple Swamphen. African Fish-Eagle and Wahlberg's Eagle breed in trees right next to the river. The river is also good for other raptors like Southern Banded Snake-Eagle, African Cuckoo Hawk, Long-crested Eagle and Osprey (usually year round). The close up viewing of Malachite Kingfisher on this river is awesome too. Birds which make odd appearances are Caspian Tern, Half-collared Kingfisher and flamingo in the shallow pans adjacent to the river. Grey Sunbird and Purple-banded Sunbird are regular. Crocodiles are common, hippos less so and other game like elephant can also be spotted.

2. Drive/walk on Inkwazi Floodplain. Black Coucal possibly breed here in summer and African Crake are common. Red-chested Flufftail and African Rail are elusive residents. This is also the best area for Broad-tailed Warbler, Rufous-winged Cisticola and Red-faced Cisticola. In times of flooding, Great White Pelican flock here. African Marsh-Harrier patrol regularly. In summer, Collared Pratincole and Blue-cheeked Bee-eater are common. It is also good for swallows like Grey-rumped Swallow, Red-breasted Swallow and Wire-tailed Swallow as well as Banded Martin and Sand Martin. There is good raptor viewing around the floodplain. Good savannah birds like Pink-throated Twinspot and Violet-backed Starling are common in the woodland right on the edge of the floodplain.

3. Drive around/walk Ntabankosi mountain. This is the only place to see Mocking Cliff-Chat and Striped Pipit and is also good for raptors and swifts. Stierling's Wren-Warbler occurs on sparse gravely sections of the mountain. The drainage lines have Narina Trogon, African Emerald Cuckoo, Pink-throated Twinspot and Eastern Nicator. Where the mountain steeps down to the Mhlosinga River, African Crowned Eagle nest successfully every year in an open sycamore fig. Greater Honeyguide, Lesser Honeyguide and Scaly-throated Honeyguide are found at many perches throughout. Bateleur and Wahlberg's Eagle nest in the mountain. In winter the flowering mountain Aloes attract sunbirds, weavers and Black-headed Oriole. Cinnamon-breasted Bunting have been seen in recent months and Lemon-breasted Canary are found at the foothill near Main Gate.

4. General game drive through the south. The habitat is variable which can make for excellent birding. There are two small patches of sand forest where most of the typical specials occur. African Broadbill is one and can also be found near Mvubu Dam. Rudd's Apalis, Black Cuckooshrike and Grey Penduline-Tit are common in bird parties, especially in winter. The endemic Fiscal Flycatcher and the African Dusky Flycatcher both visit Phinda more in the winter months. Drainage lines and the Munywana River which is enclosed by riverine forest are excellent habitat for eastern Bearded Scrub-Robin, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, African Broadbill, Green Malkoha, Narina Trogon, Trumpeter Hornbill, African Green-Pigeon, Crested Guineafowl and White-eared Barbet. African Wood-Owl are also fairly common and can be seen on night drives. Night drives can also produce Bronze-winged Courser, African Scops-Owl, Barn Owl or Spotted Eagle-Owl and also Fiery-necked Nightjar and in summer European Nightjar. African Barred Owlet is regularly heard in the riverine forest near the Mzinene River, but rarely seen. In summer, flocks of up to 15 Broad-billed Roller can be seen at Mvubu Dam. This is also the favourite haunt of the Osprey. In the pans and depressions, African Crake, Dwarf Bittern, Lesser Moorhen and Allen's Gallinule can be found and the dams must be checked carefully for Green Sandpiper. African Pygmy-Goose and White-faced Duck are to be found at Ximongwe Dam. In the open grassland, Corn Crake, Black Coucal, Kurrichane Buttonquail, Croaking Cisticola and Black-bellied Bustard are evident. In the late summer, the thicket/tangles areas are good for Willow Warbler, Icterine Warbler and Garden Warbler. In the dry season, Great White Pelican and African Snipe are regularly seen at Mvubu Dam. Palm-nut Vulture are seen anywhere, anytime of year and kills should be checked carefully for them as they tend to sit to the side quietly waiting for the White-backed Vulture and Lappet-faced Vulture to finish. Bird parties in the acacia thornveld must be checked for Pink-throated Twinspot, Grey Waxbill, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Green-winged Pytilia, Red-billed Firefinch, African Firefinch and Jameson's Firefinch.

5. Drive/walk through Ilala Palmveld. This area is also interspersed with termitaria thickets and drainage lines, so lots can be found. Birds to look for are Lemon-breasted Canary, which breed in the palms, Flappet Lark and Black-bellied Bustard. Raptors most frequently seen are Black-shouldered Kite, Black-chested Snake-Eagle and Martial Eagle. Shelley's Francolin is heard more often than seen. African Wattled Lapwing and Senegal Lapwing are especially common after fires.

6. Walk in mature sand forest to small hide. African Broadbill is common in the tall mature stands and the patient observer can watch them display. Their calls are heard distinctly from the rooms in the Forest and Vlei lodges early in the morning. Narina Trogon is common and in spring/early summer as many as six have been seen calling in the same place. Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher and Dark-backed Weaver abound. The small birdbath at the hide is a constant attraction to both Pink-throated Twinspot and Green Twinspot. Nyala, Red Duiker, Suni and Tonga Red Squirrel are mammals to be seen at the hide too. Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Terrestrial Brownbul, Eastern Nicator and Tambourine Dove are regular and constantly alert to the dashing African Goshawk and Little Sparrowhawk. Listen carefully for the sunbirds. Neergaard's Sunbird is common. The best time to view them is when the weeping boer-beans are flowering in late winter and spring. Up to six species can easily be seen in the same tree. These are Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Collared Sunbird, White-bellied Sunbird, Grey Sunbird, Purple-banded Sunbird and Neergaard's Sunbird. In the clearings in the forest, Grey Waxbill, Stierling's Wren-Warbler, Black Cuckooshrike, Grey Cuckooshrike and flycatchers abound. Look and listen around Nobonobo for Southern Banded Snake-Eagle. At night, African Wood-Owl are the most vocal, but African Barred Owlet and Verreaux's Eagle-Owl are also around. African Crowned Eagle nest in a massive torchwood in the forest and Crowned Hornbill nest in the older trees too.

7. Drive around the northern clearings and Mziki Marsh. Senegal Lapwing breed here after the winter fires. Charcoal Clearings has Bearded Woodpecker, nesting Wahlberg's Eagle and all three Snake Eagle species. The pans in the area support breeding jacanas, breeding White-backed Duck and occasionally African Pygmy-Goose, Saddle-billed Stork and Pink-backed Pelican. Mziki Marsh is good for African Marsh-Harrier, Black Coucal, Dwarf Bittern, Collared Pratincole and Amur Falcon, especially after heavy rains. This is the only spot for Arrow-marked Babbler in the surrounding woodland. Sunset is a good time here as Fiery-necked Nightjar, Square-tailed Nightjar and Swamp Nightjar are easily located by their distinctive calls. Barn Owl, Marsh Owl and Southern White-faced Scops-Owl are to be found at night in the marsh or woodland of the far north.



Phinda is well sign-posted as part of southern Maputaland from the N2 about 10km north of Hluhluwe. This is the best access to Mountain and Rock Lodges. Access to Forest and Vlei Lodges is best off the tar road on the False Bay side, by following the Sodwana Bay signposts from Hluhluwe. A 2-3 night stay is recommended to get around to all the habitats the reserve has to offer.

Afternoon game drives meet at 4pm in summer and at 3:30pm in winter. Rates and bookings for day trips are available on request at the lodges themselves. Accommodation enquiries can be done at central reservations. Guests should specify birding as a priority when booking so that the lodges can receive that information ahead of time.


Contact Details:

Phinda Resource Reserve tel: +27 35 562 0271, fax: +27 35 562 0399; (mountain & rock); (forest & vlei)

Accommodation is available in the area.

Alastair Kilpin 2001.

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