South Africa: 1-Day Mabusa Nature Reserve & Mkhombo Dam Birding Tour Report, April 2022

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18 APRIL 2022

By Dylan Vasapolli

Mabusa day trip reportThe grassy hills surrounding Mabusa Nature Reserve are an excellent area to find White-bellied Bustard, and we enjoyed good views of these scarce birds on this day trip.


This Johannesburg/Pretoria-based, South Africa, birding day tour takes one to an almost-forgotten corner of the Mpumalanga province. Here lie the mega birding sites of Mabusa Nature Reserve, the Verena grasslands and the Mkhombo Dam Nature Reserve – all of which are frequently overlooked sites, though deserve to be included on the main birding routes around South Africa. Verdant rolling grassy hills line the outside of Mabusa Nature Reserve, and play host to some incredibly sought-after species and are arguably the best areas in the country for the likes of Melodious Lark and White-bellied Bustard, and in the summer months a handful of other species such as Short-tailed Pipit. Mabusa Nature Reserve itself hosts a broad spectrum of birds with diverse broad-leafed woodlands on rocky ground dominating the area, producing scarce species such as Fawn-coloured Lark and Green-capped Eremomela. Mkhombo Dam Nature Reserve, as its name suggests, is based around the large Mkhombo Dam, and while water levels fluctuate widely, it generally hosts a large number of waterbirds, while additionally supporting an excellent suite of acacia thornveld species.

Mabusa day trip reportFawn-colored Lark is one of many LBJs that can be seen here.

This trip was carried out for a single client. A more detailed account of the day trip is given below, and a total list of species can be seen following this.

Detailed Report:

We departed Pretoria early in the morning, and found ourselves in the Verena Grasslands shortly after sunrise. We had a bit of weather to contend with, though thankfully the light rain soon abated, but cool, overcast and windy conditions persisted. We started off at a wetland where we enjoyed flocks of Orange-breasted Waxbill as they left to forage, along with others such as Purple Heron, Cape Grassbird, Little Bee-eater, Cape Weaver and Red-collared Widowbird. We also enjoyed a variety of warblers with African Reed, Lesser Swamp and Little Rush Warblers all showing. Red-chested Flufftail and African Rail were vocal but remained unseen. We eventually carried on, stopping for a close pair of Coqui Francolins next to the road, along with a brief Melodious Lark sighting, a Buffy Pipit next to the road, a Greater Kestrel, and a mixed flock of hirundines that included Banded and Brown-throated Martins and Greater Striped, South African Cliff and White-throated Swallows. Further stops yielded a lovely family of three Blue Cranes, South Africa’s national bird, Fawn-coloured Lark, Cloud and Desert Cisticolas, and a pair of White-bellied Bustards. This must surely rank as the best location within South Africa to view the latter species!

Mabusa day trip reportCoqui Francolin was a highlight in the grasslands.

We eventually pressed onwards to Mabusa Nature Reserve, where we concentrated on more woodland-based birding. With the sun now out, things were on the quiet side, but our patience paid off as we enjoyed a bustling bird party filled with the likes of Green-capped Eremomela, Brubru, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Southern Black Tit, Lazy Cisticola and Southern Black Flycatcher, amongst others. Nearby, a confiding pair of Short-toed Rock Thrushes showed well, as did Mocking Cliff Chat and Familiar Chat. We carried on birding, searching for various other species such as Bushveld Pipit and Red-headed Weaver that we were still missing, but things were awfully quiet and we only added various widespread species, and our last notable sighting before leaving the area was of a large flock of nesting White-fronted Bee-eaters.

Mabusa day trip reportGreen-capped Eremomela is a special of Mabusa Nature Reserve.

Mabusa day trip reportShort-toed Rock Thrush is a localized special that we did well to find.

We then transited to the Mkhombo Dam Nature Reserve where we spent the remainder of the day. The water level had risen substantially in the recent days/weeks, as the waterline now infringed on the treeline and grasslands that once dotted the edge. This made navigating the dam’s edge tricky as it was not clear where the water actually ended, and also meant that the overall waterbird numbers were low as many waterbirds and shorebirds had probably sought out more attractive areas. Aside from Blacksmith Lapwings and Black-winged Stilts, there were no shorebirds to speak of, however eventually we were able to track down some waterbirds congregating in a specific area, which included White-faced Whistling Duck, Red-billed Teal, Yellow-billed Stork, Great Egret, Black Heron, African Spoonbill and African Swamphen, amongst others.

With virtually all of the waterbirds exhausted, we made our way into the acacia thornveld that surrounds the dam, where we spent some time working the area. A short and sharp rain shower brought things to life, and we enjoyed a supremely productive end to our day. Small, colorful seedeaters were present in large numbers, with Blue Waxbill and both Jameson’s and Red-billed Firefinches dominating the numbers, though we also managed to find Green-winged Pytilia, Violet-eared Waxbill and Cut-throat Finch. We did well to pick up a scarce Great Sparrow amongst a group of more common Southern Grey-headed Sparrows. A lively group of Cape Penduline Tits played hide and seek with us for a bit, eventually showing well, and we were also pleased to find both Burnt-necked Eremomela and the regionally rare Yellow-bellied Eremomela. Marico Flycatchers perched on the tops of the trees, as did an Acacia Pied Barbet and Kalahari Scrub Robin, before a Gabar Goshawk dashed through the area. A surprise Double-banded Sandgrouse was seen on our way out, and brought to a close a fun and successful day out.

Mabusa day trip reportGreat Sparrow was a highlight of our time in the thornveld surrounding the dam.

Mabusa day trip reportA dainty female Violet-eared Waxbill was another highlight during our time at Mkhombo Dam.


Bird List – Following IOC (12.1)

Birds ‘heard only’ are marked with (H) after the common name, all other species were seen.


Common Name Scientific Name
Ducks, Geese, Swans (Anatidae)
White-faced Whistling Duck Dendrocygna viduata
Spur-winged Goose Plectropterus gambensis
Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca
Red-billed Teal Anas erythrorhyncha
Guineafowl (Numididae)
Helmeted Guineafowl Numida meleagris
Pheasants & Allies (Phasianidae)
Crested Francolin Ortygornis sephaena
Coqui Francolin Campocolinus coqui
Natal Spurfowl Pternistis natalensis
Swainson’s Spurfowl Pternistis swainsonii
Swifts (Apodidae)
Alpine Swift Tachymarptis melba
African Black Swift Apus barbatus
Turacos (Musophagidae)
Grey Go-away-bird Crinifer concolor
Bustards (Otididae)
White-bellied Bustard Eupodotis senegalensis
Cuckoos (Cuculidae)
Burchell’s Coucal Centropus burchellii
Sandgrouse (Pteroclidae)
Double-banded Sandgrouse Pterocles bicinctus
Pigeons, Doves (Columbidae)
Rock Dove Columba livia
Speckled Pigeon Columba guinea
Red-eyed Dove Streptopelia semitorquata
Ring-necked Dove Streptopelia capicola
Laughing Dove Spilopelia senegalensis
Namaqua Dove Oena capensis
Flufftails (Sarothruridae)
Red-chested Flufftail (H) Sarothrura rufa
Rails, Crakes & Coots (Rallidae)
African Rail (H) Rallus caerulescens
African Swamphen Porphyrio madagascariensis
Black Crake Zapornia flavirostra
Cranes (Gruidae)
Blue Crane – VU Grus paradisea
Grebes (Podicipedidae)
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis
Stilts, Avocets (Recurvirostridae)
Black-winged Stilt Himantopus himantopus
Plovers (Charadriidae)
Blacksmith Lapwing Vanellus armatus
Crowned Lapwing Vanellus coronatus
African Wattled Lapwing Vanellus senegallus
Jacanas (Jacanidae)
African Jacana Actophilornis africanus
Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)
Whiskered Tern Chlidonias hybrida
White-winged Tern Chlidonias leucopterus
Storks (Ciconiidae)
Yellow-billed Stork Mycteria ibis
Anhingas, Darters (Anhingidae)
African Darter Anhinga rufa
Cormorants, Shags (Phalacrocoracidae)
Reed Cormorant Microcarbo africanus
White-breasted Cormorant Phalacrocorax lucidus
Ibises, Spoonbills (Threskiornithidae)
African Sacred Ibis Threskiornis aethiopicus
Hadada Ibis Bostrychia hagedash
Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus
African Spoonbill Platalea alba
Herons, Bitterns (Ardeidae)
Striated Heron Butorides striata
Western Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Black-headed Heron Ardea melanocephala
Goliath Heron Ardea goliath
Purple Heron Ardea purpurea
Great Egret Ardea alba
Black Heron Egretta ardesiaca
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Kites, Hawks, Eagles (Accipitridae)
Black-winged Kite Elanus caeruleus
Black-chested Snake Eagle Circaetus pectoralis
Gabar Goshawk Micronisus gabar
African Fish Eagle Haliaeetus vocifer
Owls (Strigidae)
Pearl-spotted Owlet (H) Glaucidium perlatum
Mousebirds (Coliidae)
Speckled Mousebird Colius striatus
Red-faced Mousebird Urocolius indicus
Hoopoes (Upupidae)
African Hoopoe Upupa africana
Hornbills (Bucerotidae)
Southern Red-billed Hornbill Tockus rufirostris
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill Tockus leucomelas
African Grey Hornbill (H) Lophoceros nasutus
Rollers (Coraciidae)
Lilac-breasted Roller Coracias caudatus
Kingfishers (Alcedinidae)
Brown-hooded Kingfisher (H) Halcyon albiventris
Striped Kingfisher (H) Halcyon chelicuti
Pied Kingfisher Ceryle rudis
Bee-eaters (Meropidae)
Little Bee-eater Merops pusillus
White-fronted Bee-eater Merops bullockoides
African Barbets (Lybiidae)
Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird Pogoniulus chrysoconus
Acacia Pied Barbet Tricholaema leucomelas
Woodpeckers (Picidae)
Cardinal Woodpecker Dendropicos fuscescens
Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)
Greater Kestrel Falco rupicoloides
Amur Falcon Falco amurensis
Wattle-eyes, Batises (Platysteiridae)
Chinspot Batis Batis molitor
Bushshrikes (Malaconotidae)
Black-crowned Tchagra (H) Tchagra senegalus
Black-backed Puffback Dryoscopus cubla
Southern Boubou (H) Laniarius ferrugineus
Crimson-breasted Shrike (H) Laniarius atrococcineus
Brubru Nilaus afer
Shrikes (Laniidae)
Magpie Shrike Urolestes melanoleucus
Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio
Southern Fiscal Lanius collaris
Drongos (Dicruridae)
Fork-tailed Drongo Dicrurus adsimilis
Crows, Jays (Corvidae)
Cape Crow Corvus capensis
Pied Crow Corvus albus
Tits, Chickadees (Paridae)
Southern Black Tit Melaniparus niger
Penduline Tits (Remizidae)
Cape Penduline Tit Anthoscopus minutus
Larks (Alaudidae)
Sabota Lark Calendulauda sabota
Fawn-colored Lark Calendulauda africanoides
Rufous-naped Lark Mirafra africana
Melodious Lark Mirafra cheniana
Red-capped Lark Calandrella cinerea
Bulbuls (Pycnonotidae)
Dark-capped Bulbul Pycnonotus tricolor
Swallows, Martins (Hirundinidae)
Banded Martin Neophedina cincta
Brown-throated Martin Riparia paludicola
White-throated Swallow Hirundo albigularis
Lesser Striped Swallow Cecropis abyssinica
Greater Striped Swallow Cecropis cucullata
South African Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon spilodera
Crombecs, African Warblers (Macrosphenidae)
Cape Grassbird Sphenoeacus afer
Long-billed Crombec Sylvietta rufescens
Reed Warblers & Allies (Acrocephalidae)
Lesser Swamp Warbler Acrocephalus gracilirostris
African Reed Warbler Acrocephalus baeticatus
Grassbirds & Allies (Locustellidae)
Little Rush Warbler Bradypterus baboecala
Cisticolas & Allies (Cisticolidae)
Lazy Cisticola Cisticola aberrans
Rattling Cisticola Cisticola chiniana
Levaillant’s Cisticola Cisticola tinniens
Neddicky Cisticola fulvicapilla
Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis
Desert Cisticola Cisticola aridulus
Cloud Cisticola Cisticola textrix
Tawny-flanked Prinia Prinia subflava
Black-chested Prinia Prinia flavicans
Grey-backed Camaroptera Camaroptera brevicaudata
Yellow-bellied Eremomela Eremomela icteropygialis
Green-capped Eremomela Eremomela scotops
Burnt-necked Eremomela Eremomela usticollis
Sylviid Babblers (Sylviidae)
Chestnut-vented Warbler Curruca subcoerulea
Laughingthrushes & Allies (Leiothrichidae)
Arrow-marked Babbler Turdoides jardineii
Starlings, Rhabdornis (Sturnidae)
Common Myna Acridotheres tristis
Cape Starling Lamprotornis nitens
Burchell’s Starling Lamprotornis australis
Thrushes (Turdidae)
Kurrichane Thrush (H) Turdus libonyana
Chats, Old World Flycatchers (Muscicapidae)
Kalahari Scrub Robin Cercotrichas paena
White-browed Scrub Robin Cercotrichas leucophrys
Southern Black Flycatcher Melaenornis pammelaina
Marico Flycatcher Melaenornis mariquensis
Cape Robin-Chat Cossypha caffra
White-throated Robin-Chat Cossypha humeralis
Short-toed Rock Thrush Monticola brevipes
African Stonechat Saxicola torquatus
Mocking Cliff Chat Thamnolaea cinnamomeiventris
Familiar Chat Oenanthe familiaris
Sunbirds (Nectariniidae)
White-bellied Sunbird Cinnyris talatala
Old World Sparrows, Snowfinches (Passeridae)
Yellow-throated Bush Sparrow Gymnoris superciliaris
Great Sparrow Passer motitensis
Southern Grey-headed Sparrow Passer diffusus
House Sparrow Passer domesticus
Weavers, Widowbirds (Ploceidae)
White-browed Sparrow-Weaver Plocepasser mahali
Scaly-feathered Weaver Sporopipes squamifrons
Cape Weaver Ploceus capensis
Lesser Masked Weaver Ploceus intermedius
Southern Masked Weaver Ploceus velatus
Red-billed Quelea Quelea quelea
Southern Red Bishop Euplectes orix
Fan-tailed Widowbird Euplectes axillaris
Red-collared Widowbird Euplectes ardens
Long-tailed Widowbird Euplectes progne
Waxbills, Munias & Allies (Estrildidae)
Bronze Mannikin Spermestes cucullata
Common Waxbill Estrilda astrild
Quailfinch Ortygospiza atricollis
Cut-throat Finch Amadina fasciata
Orange-breasted Waxbill Amandava subflava
Violet-eared Waxbill Granatina granatina
Blue Waxbill Uraeginthus angolensis
Green-winged Pytilia Pytilia melba
Red-billed Firefinch Lagonosticta senegala
Jameson’s Firefinch Lagonosticta rhodopareia
Indigobirds, Whydahs (Viduidae)
Pin-tailed Whydah Vidua macroura
Wagtails, Pipits (Motacillidae)
Cape Wagtail Motacilla capensis
Cape Longclaw Macronyx capensis
African Pipit Anthus cinnamomeus
Buffy Pipit Anthus vaalensis
Finches, Euphonias (Fringillidae)
Yellow-fronted Canary Crithagra mozambica
Buntings (Emberizidae)
Cinnamon-breasted Bunting Emberiza tahapisi
Golden-breasted Bunting (H) Emberiza flaviventris
Species seen: 155
Species heard: 11
Total species: 166



Please see the downloadable PDF above with the full species lists included. This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.

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