Although two different places, these two localities are treated in one write-up as the birdlife is similar and the two areas lie adjacent to each other.
Phongola Nature Reserve was the first proclaimed reserve in Africa, though it was deproclaimed and then reproclaimed again. It surrounds the Jozini Dam, a large impoundment of water on the Phongola River. The Lebombo Mountain Range forms the eastern boundary of the reserve, and contains forest patches and steep cliffs.KZN Wildlife owns the Nature Reserve, and the Game Reserve is privately owned.
Species that occur at or near their southernmost limit in Africa include Bennett’s Woodpecker, Burchell’s Starling, Red-billed Buffalo Weaver, Magpie Shrike, Pearl-spotted Owlet, Red-headed Weaver, Brown-headed Parrot, Grey and Red-billed Hornbills, Levaillant’s Cuckoo and Purple Roller. Other specials occurring in the dry bushveld include, Arrow-marked Babbler, Burnt-necked Eremomela, Red-crested Korhaan, Jameson’s Firefinch, Marico Sunbird, Flappet Lark and Grey Penduline Tit.
Patches of thicker bush, especially along the shoreline and along drainage lines are home to White-throated, White-browed and Robin-Chats, Purple-crested Turaco, Bearded Scrub-Robin, Rudd’s Apalis, Grey, Scarlet-chested and Neergard’s Sunbirds, Gorgeous Bush-Shrike and Pink-throated Twinspot.
Summer visitors include Red-backed Shrike, African Pygmy Kingfisher, African Cuckoo, African Paradise-Flycatcher, Violet-backed Starling and Red-breasted Swallow.
Phongola is also one of the better places in Zululand for raptor watching. Large raptors such as Martial, African Crowned, Tawny, African Fish, Bateleur, Steppe, Brown Snake- and Wahlberg’s Eagles are regularly recorded,White-backed Vultures and Lappet-faced can be seen at the vulture restaurant in Phongola Game Reserve. Smaller raptors include Gabar Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon, Shikra and, in summer, Pallid Harrier.
Open grassland areas provide habitat for Lilac-breasted Roller, Yellow-throated Longclaw and less commonly, Lemon-breasted canary.African Jacana, large flocks of White-faced Duck, Goliath Heron and Water Thick-knee are resident, and a breeding colony of Yellow-billed Stork have made the Nature Reserve one of the few places in South Africa where they do so. Flooded grassland can produce exciting species; Black Coucal, Lesser Moorhen, Rufous-bellied Heron and Greater Painted-snipe.
To access the Game Reserve: travel up the N2 from Durban. Pass the “Mkhuze” turnoff, as well as the “Jozini” one. About 35km further north, on the right hand side of the road, lies the well-signposted entrance to the Game Reserve. Travel a further 5km, turn right at the sign “Golela”, drive into the small town and follow the signs to the Nature Reserve.
Arriving from the north (Piet Retief or Johannesburg) drive through the town of Phongola on the N2 and turn left to Golela after about 25km to access the Nature Reserve, or proceed for another 5km and turn left to the Game Reserve.
Lodges and bushcamps have been built in the Game Reserve and the Nature Reserve has a campsite.