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Weza-Ngele Forest is one of the largest and most accessible tracts of Afromontane forest in KwaZulu-Natal. A good system of trails allows access to large parts of the forest. This forest is a prime site for the much sought after Cape Parrot, Orange Ground-Thrush and Bush Blackcap, among many other Afromontane forest specials. The total bird list for the area is over 220 species but the forest habitat, of course, supports only a small percentage of these. A total of about 70 species is realistic for a trip that focuses primarily on the forest habitat. At least a morning effort (with a very early start), and preferably an overnight stay, is to be recommended. It is safest to attempt at least one very early morning and one late afternoon vigil overlooking the forest in order to maximise your chances of securing the parrot.

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Specials

Weza-Ngele boasts a small population of one of Africa’s rarest, most threatened and most localized birds, the endemic Cape Parrot. This bird has recently been recognised as a different species from the similar and more widespread form found further north in Africa (now called the ‘Grey-headed Parrot’). The Cape Parrot is the largest South African representative of its family and is essentially restricted to the inland Afromontane forests of the eastern cape and KZN. Less than 500 individuals remain in the wild. The birds are best located in the early morning and late afternoon when they fly at high speed over the forest canopy giving their arresting and loud screeching calls.

Two particular local celebrities, almost as exciting as the Cape Parrot, are the much sought-after Bush Blackcap and Orange Ground-Thrush (take care not to confuse the latter with the ubiquitous Olive Thrush). Other common and characteristic forest species include: African Olive-Pigeon, Lemon Dove, Knysna Turaco, African Emerald Cuckoo, Narina Trogon, Trumpeter Hornbill and Crowned Hornbill, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Olive Woodpecker, Terrestrial Brownbul, Sombre Greenbul, Grey Cuckooshrike, dazzling Chorister Robin-Chat and White-starred Robin, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Barratt's Warbler (particularly common), Bar-throated Apalis and Yellow-breasted Apalis, Green-backed Camaroptera, Cape Batis, African Dusky Flycatcher, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, Southern Boubou, Olive Bush-Shrike, Southern Double-collared Sunbird, Collared Sunbird, Dark-backed Weaver, the delightful Swee Waxbill, Green Twinspot and Forest Canary.

The forest fringe supports species such as Red-necked Spurfowl, Drakensberg Prinia and Greater Double-collared Sunbird. At the summit of the ‘white’ trail look out for Red-winged Francolin and Black-winged Lapwing in the grasslands.

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Habitats

Weza-Ngele Forest is one of the largest expanses of Afromontane forest in the province. These high-altitude forests are much taller than their coastal counterparts, are characterised by towering yellowwood trees, and support a quite distinct forest avifauna. It is this forest habitat that should be the primary focus of your visit. There are nearby grassland and wetland areas but none of these are particularly noteworthy and they support bird species more easily and reliably found elsewhere.

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Facilities and Birding

You can either potter around on several short trails (‘red’ and ‘blue’ trails) in the lower reaches of the forest or, for the more intrepid, tackle the half-day circular hike (‘white’ trail) looping through the upper forest. The ‘white’ trail offers the best birding as it spans the full altitudinal range of the forest.

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General

Weza-Ngele straddles the N2 between Kokstad and Harding in southern KwaZulu-Natal (28 km west of Harding). The Ingeli Forest Lodge is situated virtually on the fringe of the forest and is easily visible (and signposted) from the N2. Immediately west of the Lodge the N2 passes through a section of the forest. Park at the Lodge and walk across to the forest. Weza-Ngele Forest is under state control. A day-permit (R4 per person) can be obtained from the Ingeli Forest Lodge reception (tel. + 39 553 0600 email: info@ingleiforestlodge.com ), along with a bird list and trails map. An overnight stay at the lodge, which has discounted weekend rates, or in the nearby town of Kokstad, is to be recommended, especially as this will facilitate late afternoon and early morning vigils for the Cape Parrot.

Reserve Tel: +27 32 342 222

David Allan 2000.

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