Birding in the Drakensberg
South Africa is one of the world’s richest birding countries, mainly because of its diversity of habitats. Unique among these is the Drakensberg. It is home to over 500 species of birds. A high proportion are endemic – found only in South Africa – and many of these to an even smaller area, with the Drakensberg as its focus. The reason is that this mountain range forms an isolated island of high ground towering above the rest of the country. It is a refuge for cold-loving species, and isolation in itself is a necessary condition for the evolution of new species.
The Drakensberg is much more than high mountains. The foothills are a mosaic of grassland, protea woodland and evergreen Afro-montane forest, with thornveld in warmer valleys, all dissected with perennial clear streams and associated riverine thicket. Thornveld specials include the dazzling Violet-backed Starling and endemic Fiscal Flycatcher. In the grassland are six species of cisticola, the endemic Cape Longclaw and Yellow Bishop, and, strolling majestically, the Secretarybird, Southern Bald Ibis and Southern Ground-Hornbill. Forest species include Southern Boubou, Bush Blackcap, Chorister Robin-Chat and Forest Canary – all endemics.
The theme continues in the riverine scrub – Swee Waxbill, Cape Canary and Drakensberg Prinia: and yet further among the proteas where the Greater and Southern Double-collared Sunbirds coexist with spectacular Gurney’s Sugarbird. Two exceptionally beautiful birds live along the streams – the Mountain Wagtail and Half-collared Kingfisher.
Higher up are boulder-strewn slopes, the haunt of Cape and Sentinel Rock-Thrushes, Buff-streaked Chat, Bokmakierie and Ground Woodpecker – all endemics.
Above the great basalt wall, the Drakensberg summit is more of an undulating plateau with its own special birds. The “must-see” is the tiny and delicate Fairy Flycatcher; the “must-hear” is the Large-billed Lark, one of our finest songsters. Soaring high above everything see the Jackal Buzzard, and Cape and Bearded Vultures.
Birding can be done at most of the accommodation establishments and in the nature reserves in the area.