Ntsikeni Nature Reserve is one of the few reliable sites for Eurasian Bittern in southern Africa. The reserve is situated in the Umzimkulu catchment approximately 50 km north of Kokstad, at 30o08'S 29o28'E. A proposed Ramsar wetland, the total area of the reserve is 9200 ha, and the Ntsikeni wetland itself covers an area of about 1070 ha. The altitude of the wetland ranges from 1752m to 1795m, while the high ground around the reserve attains 2231m on Ntsikeni mountain itself.
The pristine habitats include wetland, grassland, mountains and cliffs, rocky slopes, and a small indigenous forest en-route to the reserve. The birdlist total is 121 species, with an average list of 60 species recorded on a typical visit.
Access is difficult and time-consuming, and a minimum stay of an overnight visit is recommended for the best chance of finding more difficult species such as the Eurasian Bittern. Ntsikeni Lodge, 12 km’s within the reserve, is accessed by a single narrow 4x4 track which in wet weather becomes impassable. Hiking, cycling and bird-watching are encouraged, while 4x4 vehicles, quad bikes and motor cycles are banned from off-road activities.
SpecialsEurasian Bittern, Wattled Crane, Denham's Bustard, Striped Flufftail, African Snipe, African Marsh-Harrier, Montagu's Harrier, Bearded Vulture, Cape Vulture, Cape Eagle-Owl, Drakensberg Rock-jumper, Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Yellow-breasted Pipit.
Birding1. Birding on the 12km drive from the entrance gate to the lodge is highly rewarding. On the rocky slopes look for Eastern Long-billed Lark, Plain-backed Pipit, and the endemic Yellow-breasted Pipit. In the grasslands, Denham's Bustard, Secretarybird, Wing-snapping Cisticola, Pale-crowned Cisticola, African Quailfinch, and Ant-eating Chat are found. In summer, migrant Forest Buzzards from the southern cape, and Montagu's Harrier from Europe also occur.
2. Once at the lodge, walking is the order of the day. A 3km walk along the eastern edge of the vlei takes one to high ground overlooking the vlei, from where an early morning vigil for the Eurasian Bittern is conducted. Whilst a visual sighting is unusual (a 1 in 5 success rate), the deep booming call is often heard at dawn and dusk. Other species mostly heard include Red-chested Flufftail and Striped Flufftail. Often seen are Wattled Crane, Purple Heron, African Grass-Owl and Broad-tailed Warbler.
3. A strenuous walk up Ntsikeni mountain may yield three endemic species - Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Ground Woodpecker and Drakensberg Rock-jumper (one of two species in an endemic family), and the rarely seen Cape Eagle-Owl.
4. Overhead, keep an eye out for the rare and localised Bearded Vulture, while the endemic Cape Vulture roost colonially on the nearby cliffs of Elephant Hill. African Marsh-Harrier continually quarter the vlei, while Black Harrier are often seen over the grasslands.
5. At night, listen out for the booming of the Eurasian Bittern, bark of the Cape Eagle-Owl, and drumming of African Snipe.
6. Animals include grey Rhebuck, common Reedbuck, mountain Reedbuck, black-backed jackal, Aardvark, Oribi. Dragonflies include blue Emperor, Two-striped skimmer, and Nomad.
GeneralReservations are made through the offices of Button Birding at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone: 039 833 1029.
The reserve is managed by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and is accessible to day visitors, with a nominal entrance fee.
The reserve is accessed from the towns of Franklin or Creighton. From Franklin take the road to Riverside and turn left after 25km at the Ntsikeni Nature Reserve sign. From Creighton, head west on the Riverside/Franklin road for approximately 39km, and turn right at the Ntsikeni Nature Reserve sign. The lodge is 12km down the access road which is a 4x4 track, passable only in relatively dry weather due to river crossings. Travelling time from Creighton is 1.5 hours.
Guy Gibbon 2007