Lake Phobane is conveniently situated about 15km north of Eshowe. Lake Phobane (previously known as Goedertrouw Dam) is the second biggest dam in KwaZulu Natal and is fed by seven rivers of which four flow all year round. The dam is set in the Umhlatuze Valley with Mabelebele Mountains offering a spectacular backdrop for this beautiful dam. The habitats along the dam vary from dry acacia scrub to tall mixed woodland, riverine forest patches and mountainous areas with cliffs up to 100m high dropping into the water
The first area worth mentioning is the access road and parking area. Keep an eye open around the very dry looking areas along the road especially around the areas with a lot of Dichrostachys-type thickets for Long-Tailed Paradise Whydah in the summer together with it’s host the Green-winged Pytilia, which can be seen all year round. When crossing the dam wall look along the grass bank on the right, Rufous-naped Larks, Zitting Cisticolas, Rock Martins, White-rumped and Little Swifts are often seen. In the summer months Blue-cheeked Bee-Eaters also frequent the dam wall. At the parking area keep an eye open for Gorgeous and Grey-headed Bush-Shrikes as well as Southern Boubou, Common Scimitarbill, Brown-crowned Tchagra and White-browed Scrub-Robin, all of which can be found easily virtually anywhere along the dam. The areas of mixed woodland and acacia veld along the dam edges often produce birds such as Yellow-breasted Apalis, Red-fronted Tinkerbird, Cardinal Woodpecker, Red-billed Firefinch, White-bellied Sunbird, White-crested Helmet-Shrikes and Kurrichane Thrush. Keep a special eye open for White-throated Robin-Chat and in the summer months Striped Cuckoo are recorded regularly. Also seen flitting from the thickets on the shores to drink in the early morning are Grey Waxbills.
The riverine forests here have a lot of weeping Boer-Bean Trees (Schotia brachypetla). When these are in flower in the early spring the bright red flowers literally drip with nectar (hence the name) and it is certainly worthwhile just sitting and waiting for the birds which seem unable to resist the flowers and insects that have also been attracted to the tree. Overhanging trees where the rivers feed the dam normally have a variety of weavers breeding in the summer. Village and Lesser Masked Weavers are the most common while Spectacled and Masked Weavers pop up fairly regularly. Also seen around weaver colonies waiting to take advantage of unguarded nests are Klaas’s Cuckoo, Diderik Cuckoo and African Harrier-Hawk. Other raptors to look out for are Black Sparrowhawk and African Goshawk. Martial Eagle and African Hawk Eagle have also been recorded.
The cliff faces that drop into the dam are home to Southern Bald Ibis which breed here in the late winter months. Lanner Falcons (breeding), Peregrine Falcon and White-necked Raven also frequent the cliffs. The cliffs and any other rocky areas along the shore are great for Mocking Cliff-Chat and Striped Pipit. Look in the gaps and overhangs on the cliffs for roosting, and if you are lucky, breeding Barn Owls.
The dam itself must be one of the best places around to see White-backed Night-Herons, (there are currently five known breeding pairs of this elusive bird on the dam). Goliath Herons and Green-backed Herons are common and both species also breed here. Seven species of kingfisher can be seen here. Of the aquatic kingfishers, Giant, Pied and Malachite Kingfishers are all common and the spectacular but elusive Half-collared Kingfishers are best found in the rocky areas where streams flow into the dam. These areas are also good for African Black Duck. African Fish Eagles are easily found and Osprey are recorded at least a few times during the late summer months. Wire-tailed and White-throated Swallows can be seen anywhere along the dam.
From Eshowe head towards Melmoth/Ulundi on the R66. About 10km out of Eshowe is a dirt road to your left (signposted Goedertrouw Dam and Shakaland). Follow this road (suitable for a sedan car) for 7km and cross the dam wall to find the secure parking area on the northern shore.