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Vernon Crookes is a 2 139 ha 'island' of coastal evergreen forest, bush and grassland mosaic in a 'sea' of sugarcane, gum plantations and tribal lands. The bird list stands at over 300 species, 100 of which can easily be recorded in a summer morning's birding. These include a number of forest and grassland specials, African Crowned Eagle and Martial Eagle.

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Specials

African Crowned Eagle, Martial Eagle, Black Sparrowhawk, Lemon Dove, African Emerald Cuckoo, Green Malkoha, Narina Trogon, Brown Scrub-Robin, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher, Black-bellied Starling, Green Twinspot, Red-winged Francolin, Broad-tailed Warbler, Short-tailed Pipit, Plain-backed Pipit, Lazy Cisticola, Zitting Cisticola, Wing-snapping Cisticola, Pale-crowned Cisticola, Mountain Wagtail, African Pygmy-Kingfisher, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Greater Honeyguide and Lesser Honeyguide,

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Habitats

Coastal evergreen forest, bush and grassland mosaic, streams, dams, marshes.

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Facilities

Facilities include good gravel roads, walking trails, picnic sites and toilets, and a small hutted camp.

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Birding

The route described below, which takes about 6 hours, starts at the tar road turnoff to the reserve, and can be followed in the reserve by using the map provided at the gate. Birding is best if you start very early.

1. After leaving the tar road, the visitor travels on a gravel road up a pass for 2,5 km. At this point there are a number of gum trees that should be scanned for Eurasian Hobby in the predawn. Calling African Wood-Owl may welcome early arrivals at the gate. Mountain Wagtail can sometimes be seen on the stream below the road.

2. From the gate, drive for 800 m, park and get out. A large amphitheatre of forest serves to focus the dawn chorus for best listening. The songs and calls of Brown Scrub-Robin, Red-capped Robin-Chat, Narina Trogon, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Black Cuckoo and Blue-mantled Crested-Flycatcher may all be heard. Green Twinspot are quite common, but normally only seen flying overhead. In winter large flocks of Crowned Hornbill and Trumpeter Hornbill converge on fruiting figs. The careful observer may see a Martial Eagle perching near its nest in the upper left-hand reaches of the forest. Return to your car and travel for another 1,4 km to a small picnic spot. On the way keep a look out for African Pygmy-Kingfisher which breed in the road cuttings.

3. The grove of coral trees in which the picnic site is located is great for birds on sunny winter mornings. Notably, various sunbirds and large flocks of Black-bellied Starling congregate here. Park and continue up the road on foot for about 25 m where you will see a track leading off to the left. After about 100 m you crest a ridge and look into a valley with a marsh at the bottom. The wet patches on the hillside (not the marsh) are good for Broad-tailed Warbler, while Short-tailed Pipit has bred on these slopes. Return to your car.

4. Continue up the hill and pass a small dam on the left. This area can be scanned, but the water bodies in the Reserve are artificial and quite poor. Immediately after the dam the road forks. The left hand fork, signposted Duhela Road, is a cul-de-sac after a few kilometres, and is quite good on days when a north-easterly wind blows. Then raptors use the steep slopes on the right for lift. Species that can be seen include Lanner Falcon, Jackal Buzzard and Steppe Buzzard, Wahlberg's Eagle and African Harrier-Hawk. There is a African Crowned Eagle nest in the forest at the end of the road. Turn here and return to the main tourist road.

5. At the next fork (signposted office etc) turn right and stop when you are adjacent to the main dam. At this point, in the surrounding burnt grasslands, Plain-backed Pipit are common in winter, while Croaking Cisticola are obvious all year. Grey Crowned Crane breed annually, usually in the wetland at the head of the dam. Red-winged Francolin seem to be becoming increasingly common. Proceed from here over the dam wall and you will find the main picnic site and toilets hidden in a large bushclump on your right. Three excellent circular trails leave from this point for those who are energetic or have more time.

6. From the picnic site continue on the road and keep right at the next junction. Go down the hill until the road flattens out. This is a good place to stop. bush edge species can be seen here. These include Black Cuckooshrike and Lazy Cisticola. Greater Honeyguide may be heard calling in the forest to the right.

7. Your next birding is 500m further on at a road signposted No Entry which leads off to the right. Park here (leave no valuables visible) and walk along this road. The forest patch about 500 m from the parking is very productive, and is a good place for Black Sparrowhawk, Lemon Dove, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Brown Scrub-Robin, Narina Trogon, Green Malkoha and African Emerald Cuckoo. This walk can be extended as far as a picnic table and chairs, after which the vegetation becomes infested with alien plants. The Reserve's second African Crowned Eagle nest is in this vicinity.

8. After returning to your car continue up the hill for a circular drive on the plateau. Three Cloud Cisticola; Zitting Cisticola, Wing-snapping Cisticola and Pale-crowned Cisticola display overhead in summer. Cape Longclaw prefer these higher grasslands to those occupied by their Yellow-throated Longclaw congeners in the lower reaches of the Reserve. Orange-breasted Waxbill feed in the fallow fields in the tribal area adjacent to the fence. The cliffs to the south of the plateau are good for soaring raptors when a south-westerly wind blows. On occasion Striped Pipit strays onto the road from the rocky slopes below.

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General

Vernon Crookes Nature Reserve is about 80 km south of Durban. From Durban turn off the south Coast Freeway (N2) at Park Rynie/Umzinto. Turn right and travel inland on the R612 (to Umzinto and Ixopo) for just over 11 km, until you see the signposted turn-off to the right. The gate is about 4km further on.

The Reserve is managed by the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and an entrance fee is payable at the gate. Day visitor Entry fee: R10.00 per adult R5.00 per child

Gate Opening and Closing Times:
Summer ( October to March ) 06h00 to 18h00
Winter (April to September ) 06h00 to 17h00

Office Hours:
The office is open from 08h00 to 13h00 from Monday to Friday and from 08h00 to 12h00 on Sundays.

Distance and Time from Gate to Camp: 6 kms

Camp Telephone Number: +27 39 9742222

Accommodation is available in the area.

Richard Boone 1999.

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