Esikhuma is the name of a mountain situated 10km south of Vryheid. The area comprises of thornveld, with forest patches along the cliffs and drainage lines. All of this birding spot is situated on private land, but birding can be done along district roads and in Mpofini Game Lodge, which is situated in the same thorn belt, just north of Esikhuma Mountain. Other habitats include small wetlands, grasslands and rocky slopes.
Buffalo Grass grows prolifically along the first 200m of the dirt road (D34). Look out for White-winged Widowbird, African Firefinch and its parasitic host, the Dusky Indigobird, Common Waxbill, Blue Waxbill and Yellow-fronted Canary. The railway bridge across this road is a breeding site for Bald Ibis.
Continue up the road, and where the road bends, stop to look up at the cliff. Endemics such as Ground Woodpecker, Cape Rock-Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat, Grassbird, Drakensberg Prinia, Cape Batis, Southern Boubou, Greater Double-collared Sunbird and Cape White-eye occur among the rocks or in the surrounding forest patch. Listen out for Red-capped Robin-Chat, Swee Waxbill and Golden-tailed Woodpecker as well. Mountain Wheatear, Bokmakierie and Wailing and Lazy Cisticola are also fairly common. Jackal Buzzards breed on the cliffs, and are regularly seen.
Backtrack to the bridge and turn sharp left immediately after going under it. This road follows the railway line. Stop when you reach the first bridge on your left. The riverine forest here holds Fairy Flycatcher, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Icterine Warbler, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Orange-breasted Bush-Shrike, Brimstone Canary, Spectacled Weaver, Pale Flycatcher, Black Cuckooshrike, Emerald-spotted Dove and, in summer, African Paradise-Flycatcher. Summer migrants include Black, Jacobin, African and Diderick Cuckoos and Violet-backed Starling.
Check all bridges along the railway line for Mocking Cliff-Chat, Bald Ibis and Green Wood-Hoopoe.
If one turns left just before the first railway bridge, coming from the tar road, and carries on till the next big bridge, a Verreaux’s Eagle nest can be seen on the cliffs of the pointed mountain on the right. Lanner Falcon breed here as well. Other raptors to be seen include Brown Snake-Eagle, African Harrier-Hawk and, in summer, Wahlberg’s Eagle.
Travelling from Vryheid, take the R34 to Melmoth. After 9km, turn left down the D34 gravel road. This road takes one under a railway bridge, up to the base of the mountain, and then flanks it on the right hand side. On the bend, a cliff is visible on the left. Just before the bridge mentioned above, one can turn either left or right and follow the railway line. Either road loops back to the tar road (R34) and both are good for birds.
To get to Mpofini Game Lodge, turn left 4km from Vryheid on the R34. Take the second turn off to the right and follow the road to the gate. The reserve is signposted.
Please remember that these farms belong to private individuals, so birding must be done from the dirt road.