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Karkloof & Ingula 2021

9 to 13 May 2021

Ingula

This superb tour combines the spectacular mist-belt forests of the Karkloof with the pristine high-altitude grasslands of the Drakensberg escarpment.

Destinations

The Karkloof

The Karkloof is an exceptional, unspoilt area in the north of the Natal Midlands, filled with mistbelt grasslands, wetlands and huge tracts of mistbelt forest. Much of the area is protected as part of the Karkloof Conservancy. Within the conservancy lies the Karkloof Nature Reserve – a 2 800 hectare private reserve between Curry’s Post and Rietvlei, 22 km north of Howick and 50 km from Nottingham Road.

The Karkloof Nature Reserve was created in 1983 when Timothy Hancock signed a long-term lease with the Natal Parks Board (now Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife), leasing the 410 ha Rockwood Farm to the NPB for R1 per year, in a bid to protect the Karkloof Forest that had been relentlessly harvested for its hardwoods. Further farmland, grassland and wetland was slowly added during the ensuing years to grow the reserve into what it is today, a contiguous area of some 2700 hectares.

Currently, the reserve consists of about sixty percent mist-belt forest and forty percent mist-belt grassland and ranges from 1 000m to 1 767m above sea level. This results in a significant number of endemic and near-endemic species of fauna and flora, including the Karkloof Blue butterfly (Orachrysops ariadne) and a sub-species of Crested Guineafowl.

Mistbelt forests are found on south-facing slopes. The most extensive patch is known as Karkloof Forest and a large portion of it falls within Karkloof Nature Reserve. Grasslands once occurred throughout the area but are now largely restricted to the high-lying slopes and plateaus in the northern parts. The Karkloof valley has been heavily transformed by agricultural activities. The area forms part of the headwaters of three river systems: the Mooi, Umgeni and Umvoti.

Wetlands, vleis and flooded grassland are found throughout the area, the most important complex of which is found in the Karkloof and Mount Gilboa nature reserves. The main vegetation types are Southern Mistbelt Forest, Drakensberg Foothill Moist Grassland and Midlands Mistbelt Grassland.

The vleis and wetlands support one of the most important breeding populations of Wattled Crane in KwaZulu-Natal, with an estimated 10% of the population found in the area. Grey Crowned Crane also nests in the wetlands, whereas Blue Crane breeds in the surrounding grasslands. Large flocks of all three crane species are regularly found foraging in agriculture lands during the non-breeding season.

There are many important bird species in the forests, including small numbers of the threatened Cape Parrot and Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon has been recorded. An isolated endemic subspecies of Crested Guineafowl is found only here and in a couple of small forests nearby.

Our home for two nights is Rockwood Forest Lodge, located on the banks of the Godwini stream within the indigenous forest of the Karkloof Nature Reserve.

Rockwood Forest Lodge
Rockwood Forest Lodge

Ingula

The Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme was initiated by Eskom in order to supplement the national power grid during peak times. The Bedford and Braamhoek dams are connected by underground waterways passing through a subterranean powerhouse with four generators. To generate electricity during times of peak demand, water is released from Bedford Dam which is situated in the upper site and allowed to pass through the turbines into the Braamhoek Dam situated in the lower site.

In 2003 the Ingula Partnership was established between Eskom, BirdLife South Africa and the Middelpunt Wetland Trust with a common conservation objective of managing the Ingula Pumped Storage Scheme as a sustainable conservation site. Situated on the watershed between the Orange River in the eastern Free State and the Tugela River in KwaZulu-Natal, Ingula and its surrounding nature reserve provides a core conservation area and acts as a catalyst to encourage conservation-based management principles for surrounding landowners and for socio-economic development for local communities.

The upper Bedford wetlands are protected on the Ingula property as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA), providing ideal habitat for the White-winged Flufftail, with annual surveys undertaken to monitor the species’ presence. A management plan that allows Eskom to follow best practice principles in preventing collisions and electrocutions is being developed and the powerlines within and around the Ingula site are surveyed on a quarterly basis to assess for collision and electrocution mortalities

Over 330 bird species have been recorded at Ingula. These include four Critically Endangered species, White-winged Flufftail, Wattled Crane, White-backed Vulture, and Bearded Vulture. Several threatened bird species have also been observed on site, including Southern Bald Ibis, Grey Crowned Crane, Blue Crane, Cape Vulture, Secretarybird and White-bellied Korhaan.

BIRDING ATTRACTIONS

Karkloof

African Crowned Eagle, Forest Buzzard, African Wood-Owl, Wattled Crane, Grey Crowned Crane, Blue Crane, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Red-winged Francolin, Black-winged Lapwing, Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Buff-streaked Chat, Crested Guineafowl, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Mountain Wagtail, Knysna Turaco, Orange Ground-Thrush, Bush Blackcap, Cape Parrot, Grey Cuckooshrike, Olive Bush-Shrike, Narina Trogon, White-starred Robin, Chorister Robin-Chat, Olive Woodpecker, Lemon Dove, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Swee Waxbill and Forest Canary.

 

Ingula

Cape Vulture, Verreaux’s Eagle, Peregrine Falcon, Rufous-chested Sparrowhawk, African Marsh-Harrier, Marsh Owl, Black Stork, Southern Bald Ibis, Secretarybird, Denham’s Bustard, White-bellied Korhaan, Grey-winged Francolin, Wattled Crane, Grey Crowned Crane, Blue Crane, Cape Grassbird, African Rail, Cape Rock-Thrush, Ground Woodpecker, African Rock Pipit, Eastern Long-billed Lark, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Half-collared Kingfisher, Barratt’s Warbler, Drakensberg Prinia, Pale-crowned Cisticola, Cuckoo Finch, Orange-breasted Waxbill and African Quailfinch.

 

This 5-day tour departs from Johannesburg. We travel in an air-conditioned Double Cab 4-wheel drive vehicle.

Itineraries

Day 1

Date : May 9, 2021

Johannesburg-Ingula

Depart from Johannesburg bright and early. Travel via Harrismith and Van Reenen to Ingula, arriving late-morning. Afternoon guided birding in Ingula Nature Reserve. Overnight at hotel in Van Reenen.

Day 2

Date : May 10, 2021

Ingula

Day spent birding and game viewing in Ingula Nature Reserve. Guided tour of Pumped Storage Scheme for interested parties. Overnight at hotel in Van Reenen.

Day 3

Date : May 11, 2021

Ingula- Karkloof

Early morning birding in Upper Wilge stewardship site, neighbouring Ingula. Depart after breakfast for Karkloof, via Ladysmith and Howick. Arrive mid-afternoon and overnight at Rockwood Forest Lodge.

Day 4

Date : May 12, 2021

Karkloof

Day spent birding and game viewing in forests and grasslands. Overnight at Rockwood Forest Lodge.

Day 5

Date : May 13, 2021

Karkloof-Johannesburg

Early morning birding in forest. Depart after brunch for Johannesburg, arriving late afternoon.

Includes

Transport, all meals and accommodation, guiding and entrance fees.

Excludes

Alcoholic beverages, gratuities, and items of a personal nature