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Midlands Magic 2021

24 to 28 January 2021

Tillietudlem & Dargle Nature Reserves

Classic Scenery of the Midlands Meander
Classic Scenery of the KZN Midlands

Kwa Zulu Natal, particularly the midlands and the Drakensberg Mountains, offers some of the most diverse and rewarding birding in Southern Africa. One of the main reasons for this is the sharp change in altitude from 0 to 3000 m above sea level over just 160 km.

This change in altitude and climate supports a huge variety of habitats – vlei grasslands in the lowlands, moist mistbelt grasslands in the midlands, indigenous montane forests up the escarpment and alpine heaths in the snow belt. It is also this massive change in altitude over short distance that makes this area great for altitudinal migration.

At around 1450 m above sea level, the midlands area is about halfway between the coast and the mountains, in what is known as moist mistbelt grassland. Mist occurs year-round which gives this grassland its name. It is characterised by extremely high summer rainfall, cold winters and brief snowfalls. The high rainfall over porous doloritic soils produces underground rivers, which in turn form sinkholes. These sink holes provide vital nesting sites for probably the most critically endangered bird in southern Africa – the Blue Swallow.

The mistbelt grasslands also hold some of the largest natural vleis in the country. The area is known for its excellent crane viewing as three endangered crane species (Wattled, Grey Crowned and Blue) congregate here. The grassland surrounding the vlei areas is also good for Secretarybird and Yellow-breasted Pipit.

Due to the high incidence of mist, this grassland also supports large indigenous forests on the western slopes of the valleys. Here ancient Yellowwood trees form the main diet of another endangered bird – the Cape Parrot. These noisy birds roost in the same forest every night but come morning they travel in a noisy convoy to wherever there are fruiting trees – yellowwoods, stinkwoods, figs, etc.

DESTINATIONS

The Dargle valley stretches out beneath iNhlosane, an iconic hill visible from just about anywhere in the Midlands. At 1976 m, it is one of the highest peaks before the Drakensberg, which can be clearly seen from the top. The valley is home to many important ecosystems, including wetlands, grassland and mistbelt forests which provide habitats for endangered species and inspiration to local artists and crafters.

We visit two wonderful destinations:

Tillietudlem Nature Reserve

Set on 2000 hectares in a secluded valley on the southern side of the iNhlosane Mountain, Tillietudlem Nature Reserve offers an extraordinary eco-experience. The reserve includes a diverse combination of mistbelt grassland, indigenous forest and wetlands which provide habitat for a great variety of animals. The area also plays host to some endemic and endangered species like the Blue Swallow, Pennington’s Protea Butterfly and the Long-toed Tree Frog.

The reserve is a haven for grassveld bird species and one can expect regular sightings of all 3 crane species, Yellow-breasted, and several other pipit species, up to 7 cisticola species and rock-dwelling birds like Ground Woodpecker, Buff-streaked Chat and Sentinel Rock-Thrush.

A small patch of indigenous forest alongside the spectacular Hleka Manzi (laughing waters) waterfall holds the promise of some interesting forest species like Bush Blackcap, White-starred Robin and Olive Bush-Shrike.

This sprawling reserve is a veritable treasure trove for the botanist and boasts an impressive collection of flora. The variety of wildflowers that abound the grasslands, riverbanks and wetlands is truly awe inspiring. Every season seems to introduce a new set of blooms, making a visit at any time of the year a pleasure.

Tillietudlem hosts most of the game that would have occurred in this area naturally, and it is managed to optimise the variety and well-being of all species. As a result, the reserve is home to healthy populations of Eland, Black Wildebeest, Zebra, Waterbuck, Blesbok, Oribi, Common Reedbuck, Mountain Reedbuck and Bushbuck.

Eland

Dargle

Dargle is a tiny hamlet about 15km to the northeast of Midmar Dam set in one of the most beautiful valleys in the KZN Midlands. The Dargle Valley lies less than 50km, as the crow flies, from the Drakensberg Mountains. The towns of Howick, Balgowan, and Nottingham Road are close by and the area forms an important part of the well-known Midland Meander. The 100 ha Lemonwood Farm forms an integral part of the 890 ha Dargle Nature Reserve, integrating grassland and forests on 4 private farms. Lemonwood is a non-working farm on the edge of a large indigenous mist belt forest in the heart of the peaceful and picturesque Dargle valley and conservancy area.

Dargle Nature Reserve

A self-guided walk through the 90-ha forest and grassland above, rewards one with spectacular, 360-degree views of the valleys and the Drakensberg mountains beyond. The forest with its abundance of indigenous trees, offers well-constructed trails and a viewing platform for both bird and botanical enthusiasts. Special trees include towering Real Yellowwoods, Red Stinkwoods and ancient Lemonwoods.

Birding Attractions

Tillietudlem Nature Reserve and surrounds

Verreaux’s Eagle, Booted Eagle, Marsh Owl, Southern Bald Ibis, Secretarybird, Denham’s Bustard, Southern Ground-Hornbill, Red-winged Francolin, Red-necked Spurfowl, Common Quail, Wattled Crane, Grey Crowned Crane, Blue Crane, Black-winged Lapwing, Blue Swallow, Horus Swift, Cape Grassbird, Sentinel Rock-Thrush, Ground Woodpecker, Red-throated Wryneck, Eastern Long-billed Lark, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Buff-streaked Chat, African Rail Half-collared Kingfisher, Broad-tailed Warbler, Barratt’s Warbler, Dark-capped Yellow Warbler, Drakensberg Prinia, Croaking Cisticola, Pale-crowned Cisticola, Cuckoo Finch, Orange-breasted Waxbill.

Dargle Nature Reserve

African Crowned Eagle, Forest Buzzard, Black Sparrowhawk, Wood-Owl, Scaly-throated Honeyguide, Knysna Turaco, Bush Blackcap, Cape Parrot, Grey Cuckooshrike, Olive Bush-Shrike, Narina Trogon, White-starred Robin, Chorister Robin-Chat, African Emerald Cuckoo, Olive Woodpecker, Blue-mantled Crested Flycatcher, Lemon Dove, Yellow-throated Woodland-Warbler, Cape Batis, Swee Waxbill, and Forest Canary.

 

This 5-day tour leaves from Johannesburg. We travel in an air-conditioned VW Caravelle, 4-wheel drive Microbus.

Itineraries

Day 1

Date : January 24, 2021

Johannesburg-Dargle Nature Reserve

Depart from Johannesburg bright and early. Travel via Harrismith and Howick to Dargle, arriving early afternoon. Late afternoon forest birding and overnight at Lemonwood Cottages.

Day 2

Date : January 25, 2021

Dargle Nature Reserve

Day spent birding and game viewing in forests and grasslands. Overnight at Lemonwood Cottages.

Day 3

Date : January 26, 2021

Dargle-Tillietudlem

Early morning forest birding at Lemonwood. Depart after brunch for Tillietudlem NR, arriving early afternoon. Afternoon birding in grasslands and wetlands. Overnight at Tillietudlem.

Day 4

Date : January 27, 2021

Tillietudlem-Inpendle Nature Reserve -Tillietudlem

Guided excursion to Impendle Nature Reserve to look for Blue Swallows and visit prime indigenous forest. Overnight at Tillietudlem.

Day 5

Date : January 28, 2021

Tillietudlem-Johannesburg

Early morning birding in grasslands and forests. Depart after brunch for Johannesburg, arriving late afternoon

Trip Includes

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

Trip Excludes

Alcoholic beverages, gratuities and items of a personal nature