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Situated in the Limpopo river valley, in the north-west corner of the country, the Mapungubwe National Park borders both Zimbabwe and Botswana. This relatively new park protects the “lost city” at Mapungubwe Hill, where a far developed African civilisation prospered between 1200 and 1270 AD. The 28 000 ha National Park protects a considerable length of Limpopo river frontage, with associated riparian woodland, This is a big 5 area, although at the time of writing numbers of some larger animals are still low. This account includes the private “Den Staat” area, which lies between eastern and western Mapungubwe and includes a considerable variety of wetland habitats. The park is blessed with some excellent and innovative facilities, which make birding a pleasure here. A three-day visit in summer offers the potential of over 200 species, while a winter trip could produce about 150 species in the same time period.



Goliath Heron. Dwarf Bittern, Black Stork, Saddle-billed Stork, African Pygmy-Goose, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Harlequin Quail. Allen's Gallinule, Greater Painted-Snipe, Grey Crowned Crane, Kori Bustard, Caspian Plover, White-crowned Lapwing, Black-winged Pratincole, Bronze-winged Courser, Three-banded Courser, Burchell's Sandgrouse, African Mourning Dove, Meyer's Parrot, Thick-billed Cuckoo, Senegal Coucal. Pel's Fishing-Owl. African Barred Owlet, Square-tailed Nightjar, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Southern Carmine Bee-eater, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Broad-billed Roller, Southern Ground-Hornbill, Monotonous Lark, Dusky Lark, Eurasian Golden Oriole. Southern Pied Babbler, Olive-tree Warbler, Barred Wren-Warbler, Striped Pipit, Tropical Boubou, Retz's Helmet-Shrike, Meves's Starling, Great Sparrow and Long-tailed Paradise-Whydah.



Along the river, extensive areas of riparian woodland are found. A little further back, acacia thornveld and thorn thickets are dominant, while once off the floodplain itself, most of the park is covered with mopane woodland and scrub, interspersed with Baobab trees. Since much of the park is on rocky, hilly terrain, there are a lot of cliff, faces, rocky hillsides and gorges, with patches of lusher bush. In the east and west, extensive open plains are also interesting. The Den Staat area has vast open ponds, extensive reedbeds, mudflats, grassy lakeside plains and a variety of other wetland habitats.



This is a big and diverse area and at least three days are required to do it justice. A night at each of Leokwe and Limpopo Tented Camp is the minimum suggested stay, while an additional night will allow one to bird the den Staat area. The birding is covered in relation to three main areas:

1. Eastern area
Eastern area, from the main gate to the main Leokwe Camp, Aerial Boardwalk, the Confluence Lookout and Mapungubwe Hill itself.

From the gate, the road towards Leokwe covers rolling terrain with mixed woodland, which is dominated by mopane in many areas. Here you can expect typical Bushveld species such as Brubru, Puffback, Golden-breasted Bunting, Chinspot Batis and Sabota Lark. In sandy areas look for Fawn-coloured Lark, and after good rains, Monotonous Lark are widespread and vocal. Large Baobab trees may hold Meyer’s Parrot, European Golden Oriole and woodpeckers, while Burchell’s and Double Banded Sandgrouse as well as Red-crested Korhaan are also present in the area.

Leokwe Camp is set amidst rocky cliffs and the camp looks up at a cliff where Verreaux’s Eagle breeds, and Rock Kestrel is regular, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting is common and Striped Pipit may be seen on rocky slopes near the camp. Birds come to drink at a waterhole below the camp and here a variety of seed-eaters may be seen, including Jameson’s Firefinch and Purple Indigobird.

The Aerial Boardwalk is well worth a few hours. The boardwalk passes through tall open riverine woodland – often with an understory of large shrubs. Here Meve’s Starling is common and other birds to look out for include Meyer’s Parrot, African Mourning Dove, Ashy Flycatcher, Tropical Boubou and White-browed Robin-chat. The boardwalk goes down to a hide overlooking the Limpopo River, and is adjacent to a large pool which holds water when the river is not flowing. White-fronted bee-eater is usually common here, and is joined in summer by European and Southern Carmine Bee-eater. Depending on water levels, search the sandbanks for White-crowned Plover, the riverine race of White-fronted Plover, Little Egret, Water Thicknee and African Fish-eagle.

The confluence look-out consists of a surfaced pathway that provides easy access to several look-out platforms that overlook the Limpopo and Shashe rivers. This is a good spot to watch for raptors in the morning, and one will encounter a variety of Bushveld birds here including Grey-headed Bush-shrike and White Helmet-shrike.

A tour of Mapungubwe Hill (world heritage site), must be booked in advance through the main office at the gate. This area is rocky and relatively arid, but one can expect species such as Mocking Cliff-chat, Red-winged Starling, Familiar Chat and Lanner Falcon.

The drive around to Shroda Dam also takes one into interesting and diverse woodland, and while this area is similar to the central areas – it also has areas of open plains (north-eastern corner), which may offer a variety of pipits and larks as well as Caspian Plover at times, as well as good acacia woodland birding.

2. Western part of the park and Limpopo Tented Camp
The western part of the park is reached by taking the “Den Staat” turnoff, some 6km west of the main gate. This road passes through mopane woodland, and some more open areas. You re-enter the park through an obvious gate with an animal grid. A small stream just before the gate has a lot of dense vegetation and seasonal pools, which are worth examining, Senegal Coucal may be seen in this area. Once through the gate, an extensive area which is seasonally flooded can be seen on the right of the road – note – the extensive stand of Fever trees particularly on the right – this can offer interesting birding when wet, including Dwarf Bittern.

Once into the mopane, typical woodland birds include Red-headed Weaver, Brubru and White-helmet Shrike. Both Three-banded and Bronze-winged Coursers occur, but are difficult to locate during the day. The road turns sharply to the right and then runs straight on for some distance. Areas of bare ground here should be searched for Dusky Lark in the summer months. As the mopane starts to diminish, old farmland has created more open areas where Kori Bustard, Temminck’s Courser and other open country species may be seen. Before one reaches the turn off to the Limpopo Tented Camp one passed through an area of open country with low acacia scrub. This is good for seed-eaters such as Scaly-feathered Finch, Red-headed Finch, Great Sparrow ,Green-winged Pytlia, Long-tailed Paradise-Whydah - and in wet summers; Wattled Starling, Southern Carmine Bee-eater and Amur Falcon.

The road down towards the Limpopo tented camp passes through an open plains area, which should be scanned for pipits, larks and coursers. Acacia woodland adjacent to the floodplain proper holds a host of typical acacia thornveld birds including Southern Pied Babbler, Burn’t-necked Eremomela and Crimson-breasted Shrike. As the trees get more substantial Meve’s starling become more common. Around the Limpopo Tented Camp itself tall acacia woodland merges into true Limpopo riverine forest, and the birding is very varied here. Scops, White-faced, Barred, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl and Pel’s Fishing Owl can all be heard calling from the camp at night, and day visitors may include Yellow-bellied Greenbul and Le Vaillant’s Cuckoo.

The drive to Maloutswa Pan initially takes one through habitat with lots of big trees, where woodpeckers, hornbills and barbets are common. Further on one passes through some interesting open country, where Southern Ground Hornbill, Secretarybird, Quail-finch and Chestnut-backed Sparrowlark are to be found. In summer listen for the call of Olive-tree Warbler in larger acacia trees. In wet summers the open grasslands play host to numbers of Harlequin Quail and Kurrichane Buttonquail, while Monotonous Lark is common wherever there are trees.

The Maloutswa Pan hide is a good spot to spend a few hours and offers a host of Bushveld birds. In season, Dwarf Bittern, Greater Painted Snipe and Grey-hooded Kingfisher may be seen here. The Limpopo loop drive which continues past the pan hide parking area offers excellent variety and has many vistas over the Limpopo River. Broad-billed roller, European Golden Oriole, Saddlebilled Stork and a variety of raptors can be seen on this drive.

3. Den Staat Wetlands
This private farm has some large modified wetland areas, which comprise of dammed up lakes and an array of ponds. At times this is one of the best wetland birding sites in the region, but a visit must be arranged with the owners in advance, (see contact details below) To reach Den Staat from the Main gate take the den Staat dirt road as described under section 2 above and travel for 7.5km. You will see a signboard to Den Staat on the right and a smaller road leading down towards the farms. The first 1.5 km of this road passes through arid acacia scrub (look for Southern Pied Babbler and Kalahari Scrub Robin). The road then passes along the top of one of the earthen dam walls which offers a good vantage point to scan the surrounding wetland areas. Proceed to the farmhouse by continuing past the wetland areas (the road veers to the left) and after signing in you can explore the area, which has a number of tracks which provide access to the ponds and reedbeds. Lily-covered ponds hold Pygmy Goose, White-backed Duck and African Jacana, while reedy areas offer a variety of herons and warblers, including Great Reed Warbler in summer. Adjacent grasslands have Kori Bustard, and in summer Montagu’s and Pallid Harrier. When water levels have dropped, extensive exposed mudflats may have Black-winged Pratincole, Yellow Wagtail (summer), large numbers of Kittlitz’s Plover, and Caspian Plover (summer) Grey Crowned-Crane, Saddle-billed Stork, African Openbill and Goliath Heron may all occur. On the verges of the ponds, emergent vegetation may hold Allen’s Gallinule. Watch overhead for soaring raptors and storks, which can include Bateleur, Black-chested Snake-Eagle and Black Stork.


Other birding in the vicinity.

Ratho Farms, which is reached from a turnoff to the west, near the Pontdrift Border Post, is a regular spot for Pel’s Fishing Owl, Black Stork and various other birds. Here one can walk in the woodland along the Limpopo – which looks across at Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana. It is a good idea to contact Sandra Boshoff who owns the area and keeps tabs on the Pel’s Fishing Owls – Tel +27 15 575 1362



Access and Directions
Mapungubwe National Park is 520 km from Johannesburg. Take the N1 to Polokwane (Pietersburg) and at Polokwane take the R521 to Vivo/Dendron. A further 146km brings one to Alldays. In Alldays turn right towards Pontdrift and a further 46km brings one to the R572, where you turn right towards Messina. The main gate is 23km along this road. Mapungubwe can also be reached from Musina – take the R572 towards Pontdrift for 68km and you will see the park gates on the right.

There is a variety of self-catering accomodation in the area.

The main camp at Leokwe, is very well designed and equipped. It is set amidst splendid rock formations. This is a self-catering camp with a swimming pool and central braai area. It is close to the forest boardwalk and confluence lookout and a recommended stay-over for a birding trip.

The Limpopo Tented Camp provides luxury tented camp (self-catering) accommodation in the riverine woodland adjacent to the Limpopo in the west of the park. The camp is close to the Maloutswa Pan hide and is a must for birders.

The new Mazhou Camping Site is situated close to the Limpopo Forest Tented Camp and has 10 caravan/tent sites, each with a powerpoint.

Vhembe Wilderness Camp, in the eastern section of Mapungubwe, is situated on a small ridge close to the Limpopo River and Mapungubwe Hill.

Catering can be arranged in advance if you are staying at Little Muck or the Vhembe Wilderness Camp.

This is a Malaria area, and can be very hot in summer. The small shop at reception only sells cool-drinks and visitors should be self-sufficient. Remember to fill up with fuel at Alldays or Musina, since there is no fuel in the area. Note that Guests at any of the park's camps must check in at the main gate reception area. Mapungubwe Main Office (Gate) 015-534-2014

Etienne Marais, Indicator Birding, 2007

Indicator Birding
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