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Potential List: 250 species
Average list: 50-100 in a day
Site rating: B

Shongweni Dam and the surrounding nature reserve is one of the better birding spots in the greater Durban area. The 1700 Ha includes the dam, surrounding cliffs, riverine bush and valley bushveld. The bird list is over 250 species, and one can expect to see between 50 and 100 of these in a full mornings birding. The reserve also includes a wilderness area with game species such as rhino, buffalo, giraffe, wildebeest, zebra and kudu. Although the reserve is spoilt slightly by the surrounding tribal land and access route, it is definitely worth a visit.

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Specials

Verreauxs' Eagle, African Crowned Eagle, African Fish-Eagle, Black Stork, Lanner Falcon, Narina Trogon, Striped Pipit, Grey Cuckooshrike, Southern Tchagra, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike, Olive Bush-Shrike, Grey Sunbird and Grey Waxbill.

Rarities: White-backed Night-Heron, Martial Eagle, European Honey-Buzzard, African Broadbill, African Finfoot

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Facilities

The reserve is divided into a recreational and wilderness area. Access to the recreational area is good with a network of roads, walking trails and horse trails. Amenities include attractive picnic and camping sites, and a variety of accommodation. Activities include walking, riding, fishing, canoeing (canoes for hire), rock climbing, 4x4 trail, and an outdoor adventure camp. The wilderness area is accessed by game drives in open-top vehicles (both day and night drives), or by staying in the private bush camp. A map is available at the entrance.

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Birding

1. The contour road above the dam provides nice open birding and easy walking. Take the road down to the dam, noticing the no-entry contour road to your right. At the dam, turn right and find your way to the fenced picnic and camping area on the north bank. Park here, and walk back down the road about 50m, and find the trail going up the hill. This joins the contour road. Stop here and check the cliffs to your far left for Verreauxs' Eagle. Turn right and continue along the dirt road for about 1km. Birds include Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Grey-headed Bush-Shrike, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike and occasionally Olive Bush-Shrike, Southern Tchagra and Black-crowned Tchagra, Black Cuckoo (summer), Black Cuckooshrike, Grey Cuckooshrike, Grey Waxbill, Swee Waxbill, Grey Sunbird, Olive Sunbird, Amethyst Sunbird, White-bellied Sunbird and Collared Sunbird. After about 1km, take the first trail access point on your right. The trail leads through thick valley bush and takes you back to the picnic site, and may yield Narina Trogon, Tambourine Dove and Lemon Dove, and if you sit quietly, Buff-spotted Flufftail. (1-2hrs).

2. For a longer walk, and better chance of seeing the birds listed above, continue along the contour road for about 2km, turn right when you get to the tar, and head back down to the picnic site. African Broadbill has been reported from the forested bend on the contour road. Narina Trogon are regular. Keep an ear open for the insect-like call of Brown-backed Honeybird. (2-4hrs)

3. The Ntini Self-Guided Trail starts and ends at the picnic site. The trail passes through riverine forest, valley bushveld, grassland and combretum woodland. The trail is circular and fairly steep, proceeding up and down hill, and takes 2 to 3 hours to complete. Bird species are similar to those mentioned above.

3. Around the dam Hamerkop, African Fish-Eagle, African Black Duck, Giant Kingfisher and Pied Kingfisher are regular. African Pygmy-Kingfisher (summer) and Brown-throated Martin (winter) breed in the sandbanks, while White-backed Night-Heron have bred occasionally and African Finfoot are vagrant. The White-backed Night-Heron is best searched for by inspecting overhanging vegetation from a canoe.

4. From the picnic site, the road to the left continues past the canoe club and up the hill, where you can turn right and head down to the dam wall. Take this road and stop in the widened area below the cliff. Look for Mocking Cliff-Chat, Striped Pipit, and Cape Rock-Thrush along this cliff face.

5. Continue along the road to below the dam wall. Turn left at the bottom, and park in the grassy area. The gorge below the dam wall has nesting Black Stork and Lanner Falcon in late autumn/winter, and African Crowned Eagle in spring and summer. Verreauxs' Eagle also cruise the gorge occasionally. Trumpeter Hornbill and Crowned Hornbill frequent the fig trees. Depending on water levels, old water purification ponds hold a variety of waterbirds, including Little Grebe, African Black Duck, African Spoonbill, Grey Heron, Reed Cormorant, and Darter. Note this section below the dam wall is closed during the week for security reasons, but open during the weekend.

6. The road from the entrance gate to the reception office provides access to a more open grassy habitat. Look out for Rattling Cisticola and Rufous-naped Lark. Red-throated Wryneck occurs near the office. Shortly past the office you can turn left and walk along the track, eventually working your way left and back to the tar road. A variety of open woodland birds are encountered.

7. A view of the gorge below the dam wall can be obtained by walking past the reception office and track going left, and taking an obscure path from the small parking area towards the gorge. This is the rock climber's access route to the gorge. When you have a clear view, scan the cliffs for Verreauxs' Eagle, African Crowned Eagle, Black Stork, Lanner Falcon, and European Honey-Buzzard in summer. White-necked Raven, Rock Martin, and African Black Swift are regular. Check the flocks of swifts for Alpine Swift in summer.

7. Game drives to the wilderness area are an enjoyable experience in an open vehicle. Apart from the game, including Rhino, one can add a few more bushveld species, including Martial Eagle, Red-faced Mousebird, Blue Waxbill, and Little Bee-eater.

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General

Shongweni Dam is about 30 km from Durban off the N3 to Pietermaritzburg. Take the Shongweni/Assagay off-ramp, head south, and (following the signs) turn left after 500m, then right after 200m, and follow this road for about 5km through canefields, past a waste dump (close your windows), and through a rural township until you reach the entrance gate. Entry is from 5am to 6pm and an entry fee is payable. Short to long horse rides may be arranged. Telephone +27 31 769 1283. Beware of ticks when walking through long grass.

Security note: The section below the dam wall is closed during the week, but open on weekends. Remote trails should be avoided.

Guy Gibbon 2006.

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