Return to SA Birding Main Site
Umtamvuna Nature Reserve is the southernmost of the nature reserves in KwaZulu-Natal. It encompasses the northern bank of the Umtamvuna River, from which it takes its name and which forms the boundary between KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape Province. The Umtamvuna River and its side streams form magnificent gorges in this area and provide the visitor with breathtaking views. The name 'Umtamvuna' means 'the waters that reap or consume' and refers to the massive flash floods that can sweep downstream during the summer months. The reserve covers 3247 ha and extends from just 3km from the coast to over 20 km inland. Altitude varies between about 20 m and 420 m above sea-level.



Knysna Woodpecker, Narina Trogon, Green Malkoha, African Broadbill, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Olive Bush-Shrike, Grey Waxbill, Brown Scrub-Robin, Forest Canary, Barratt's Warbler, Southern Tchagra, and Spotted Ground-Thrush in winter. Southern Ground-Hornbill, Shelley's Francolin, Cape Rock-Thrush, Striped Pipit, Broad-tailed Warbler, Drakensberg Prinia. African Fish-Eagle, Half-collared Kingfisher, African Finfoot, Long-tailed Wagtail.



The slopes of the gorge arc covered in coastal forest and, in the drier areas, dense thickets of valley bushveld. Extensive tall cliff faces line large areas of the gorge. The Umtamvuna river itself presents aquatic habitat and is fringed with riverine forest. Grassland covers the upper plateau regions, with scattered trees, including Proteas.



The rugged nature of the reserve means that there is no network of roads. Visitors must use the well-developed hiking trails to move around in the reserve on foot. These trails start or end at the two entrance gates: the Beacon Hill and Pont entrances. The main office is situated at the Beacon Hill entrance. The various trails range in length between 500 m and 12 km (30 mins to 8 hours). A detailed booklet covering the reserve, which includes a comprehensive bird list, can be obtained from the main office.



The extensive network of trails in the reserve are the only birding opportunities. The trails along the Umtamvuna River from the Pont entrance are best for forest birds and those close to the Beacon Hill main office are best for grassland birding.

The Knysna Woodpecker, much sought after by enthusiastic birders, is probably more easily seen at Umtamvuna than at Oribi Gorge, its other, and more famous, KwaZulu-Natal locality. Search for this species along the Umtamvuna River. Its presence is best revealed by its high-pitched screeching call, Beware with your identification, however, as the closely related Golden-tailed Woodpecker, which has a similar call, has also been recorded in the reserve.

Several forest birds characteristic of Africa's eastern seaboard forests reach the southern limits of their range at Umtamvuna. These species include Purple-crested Turaco, Green Malkoha, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Golden-tailed Woodpecker, African Broadbill, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike and Grey Waxbill. As expected, several of these species are rare at Umtamvuna and only infrequently recorded here. The forest birding at Umtamvuna is rewarding and key forest species include the following endemics: Natal Spurfowl, Knysna Turaco, Chorister Robin-Chat (mainly a winter visitor), Brown Scrub-Robin, Cape Batis, Southern Boubou, Olive Bush-Shrike, Lesser Double-Collared Sunbird, Swee Waxbill and Forest Canary. Forest-edge habitats support the endemic Barratt's Warbler, Southern Tchagra and Greater Double-collared Sunbird. Other forest specials to be watched for include Narina Trogon, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Square-tailed Drongo, Black-bellied Starling, Grey Sunbird and Olive Sunbird, Forest Weaver and Green Twinspot. The Spotted Ground-Thrush should be looked for in the winter months.

The upper grasslands are best birded in summer. Species worth looking for include Secretarybird, and Red-winged Francolin and Shelley's Francolin. The energetic walker should take the Imziki trail across the Bulolo River to the 'Western Heights'. This area has the most extensive open grassland and there is also a small wetland. Levaillant's Cisticola, Stonechat and Red- shouldered Widow inhabit this wetland, and Pale-crowned Cisticola and Quail Finch can be found in the damp surrounding grassland. Other typical grassland birds include Common Quail, Rufous-naped Lark, Greater Striped Swallow and Red-collared Widowbird. Cisticolas are well represented and Zitting Cisticola, Ayres' Cisticola, Wailing Cisticola and Croaking Cisticola are all present. Both Cape Longclaw and Yellow-throated Longclaw occur. Areas with short grass, especially those which have been recently burnt, support Black-winged Lapwing and Plain-backed Pipit. Areas with tall rank grassland, mainly along watercourses and fringing forest, are good spots for Broad-tailed Warbler, Grassbird and Drakensberg Prinia. The Broad-tailed Warbler is best found in summer, when calling and displaying. Be careful not to confuse the endemic Drakensberg Prinia with the more common Tawny-flanked Prinia. Lazy Cisticola inhabit tall grassland in rocky areas or fringing forest. Gurney's Sugarbird are attracted to flowering Protea trees on the grassland plateau. Southern Ground-Hornbill are occasionally seen foraging in the open grasslands.

The extensive cliffs and rocky areas support the endemic Jackal Buzzard, and three other cliff-associated birds of prey: Gymnogene, Lanner Falcon and Rock Kestrel. White-necked Raven, Rock Pigeon and Red-winged Starling are other common sights. The large numbers of swifts present at the cliffs during summer comprise mainly Black Swift and Alpine Swift, some of which remain through the winter The White-rumped Swift is strictly a summer migrant and the Little Swift remains throughout the year, along with the Rock Martin. The endemic Cape Rock-Thrush favours rocky outcrops and the endemic Sentinel Rock-Thrush is an occasional winter visitor. Mocking Chat and Familiar Chat, Striped Pipit and Freckled Nightjar also inhabit the rocky areas. Another two species restricted to this habitat have also been recorded - Cape Eagle-Owl and Ground Woodpecker - but are rare.

The aquatic habitat along the Umtamvuna River is the place to look for Black Stork, Grey Heron, African Black Duck, African Fish-Eagle, Common Sandpiper, Greenshank, Water Dikkop, Pied Kingfisher, Giant Kingfisher, Half-collared Kingfisher and Malachite Kingfisher, White-throated Swallow, African Pied Wagtail and Long-tailed Wagtail. Thick-billed Weaver and Yellow Weaver nest in reedbeds fringing the river during the summer. Lesser Swamp-Warbler can also be heard in these reedbeds. African Fish-Eagle have been recorded nesting along the river. The African Finfoot has been seen but is very rare. The Long-tailed Wagtail is also common along the side-streams leading into the Umtamvuna River, for example along the Bulolo River close to the Beacon Hill office.


Other wildlife

The larger mammals occurring in the reserve include thick-tailed bushbaby, chacma baboon, samango monkey, vervet monkey, Natal red rock rabbit, porcupine, leopard, serval, black- backed jackal, Cape clawless otter, large-spotted genet, large grey mongoose, slender mongoose, water mongoose, white-tailed mongoose, rock hyrax, Oribi, bushbuck, reedbuck, blue duiker and common duiker.



Umtamvuna Nature Reserve is shown on most major road maps. Take the N3 south to Port Edward, where the reserve is signposted at the cross-roads. Turn right (inland) along the Izingo road. The turnoff to the pont is reached after about 2km, and the Beacon Hill entrance is a further 6km along this road (8 km from the main road). The reserve is about 170 km from Durban.

Accommodation, caravan or camping facilities are available jus outside the reserve at the pont entrance, and also in nearby coastal resorts. Care should be taken to book in advance during the holiday seasons.

The reserve is open between sunrise and sunset. There is a nominal entrance fee.

The reserve is managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

David Allan.

Copyright © 2008 SA Birding cc