At piece with the birds


Georgina Lockwood goes birding at Manyoni Private Game Reserve, in the rolling hills of Zululand…

Many people visit the Manyoni Private Game Reserve for its reputation as a premier Big Five safari destination, but there is much more to this spectacular reserve. Manyoni, also known as ‘the place of birds’ is a hideaway for birding gurus like Jim Lawrence, global marketing manager of Birdlife International, and Adam Riley, founder of Rockjumper Birding Tours. The reserve’s status as a birding destination was reaffirmed early in 2019 when a golden pipit (Tmetothylacus tenellus), common to East Africa, was observed near Manyoni’s Mavela Game Lodge. Fairly nomadic and seldom recorded in this region, it stayed for just under two months, attracting birders from far and wide.

Golden pipit at Manyoni.

Manyoni is prime habitat for black rhino and has contributed significantly to the Black Rhino Expansion Project. The reserve is also home to a pack of wild dogs, which we had the privilege of seeing during our stay. The cheetah population thrives on the game reserve, and a cheetah mother with a litter of four cubs has adopted a fifth from another cheetah mom on the property. While we did not see any lion or cheetah kills, we witnessed a black-shouldered kite making a meal of a mouse, from beginning to end.

The expression ‘rolling green hills of Zululand’ rings true for Manyoni. The veld was blooming with the lemon-drop-yellow flowers of the lagoon hibiscus (Hibiscus tiliaceus), and during our summer visit the green grass was high and alive with flowers and birdlife. Large fig trees lining the riverbanks offer the perfect place to spot a leopard and hear trumpeter hornbills.

Gorgeous bushshrike

Although we just missed the golden pipit that took the birding world by storm, our group managed to make a significant dent on birding lists. “Of course, everyone wants to see a gorgeous shrike, because they’re so bloody gorgeous,” proclaimed Lawrence. After some patience and perseverance, we spotted a calling gorgeous bushshrike near the road. Other birds ticked off our list included the mocking cliff chat, purple-crested turaco, crested eagle, a number of roosting vulture species and emerald-spotted wood doves.
There are eight lodges on the property, all of which offer something different, depending on your requirements. Zebra Hills Lodge is ideal for families, with its relaxed and personalised character.

Where in the world?

Manyoni is a 23 000-hectare private game reserve in the heart of Zululand, located just off the N2 highway between Hluhluwe and Pongola in KwaZulu-Natal.


Written by Georgina Lockwood.

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