Published on 19 August 2013
Written by Etienne Marais/Indicator Birding

LIMPOPO TRANSFRONTIER PARK:

 

This new park lies along the western border of Mozambique and covers over a million hectares (10 000 square km). On the northern and eastern border of the park is the Limpopo River, while the vast Massingir dam forms the southern border. It offers superb 4x4 trails, and wilderness camps, but also serves as a logical stop-over on trips from Kruger through to Southern Mozambique. The vast area includes a host of exciting habitats, including several habitat types which are not accessible in the neighbouring Kruger. The Limpopo Transfrontier Park will appeal especially to birders with a sense of adventure – who are keen to discover and experience a part of Africa that is somewhat wild and untamed.

 

This is an African Park whose very existence is being negotiated with communities who live in and around the park, and therefore offers an interesting cultural experience as a bonus.

In general the avifauna of the park is less well known that that of most large conservation areas in South Africa, so visitors can contribute to will be helping to uncover and develop the birding attractions in the region.

One of the great attractions of the park is the network of 4x4 tracks with exclusive bush camps available to those travelling in these remote areas. The 4x4 trails are generally well away from the main access road and traverse some spectacular country, with a host of habitats on offer. Visitors need to be fully self-sufficient to do these trails, but there are also operators doing guided 4x4 trails through the park.

The Massingir Dam, which lies to the south, is dealt with separately. See link here.

 

red headed weaver male

 

Male Red-Headed Weaver. 

Birds

The park offers excellent variety of bird species due to the habitat diversity present. Raptors, woodland species and wetland species (seasonally) are particularly well represented. The park has a similar avifauna to the adjacent and better known Kruger National Park. Woodland species include Meve's Starling (in the north), Yellow-billed Oxpecker, Tropical Boubou, Lilac-breasted Roller, Dark-Chanting Goshawk, Eastern Nicator, Southern Ground-Hornbill and Barred Owlet. Bohm's and Mottled Spinetails occur around large Baobab's and Grey-rumped Swallow, Mosque Swallow and Arnot's Chat also occur in the park.

Wetland habitats tend to be seasonal and unpredictable and include a number of good pans. When inundated, species on offer include Pygmy Goose, Lesser Jacana, Allen's' Gallinule, Greater Painted-Snipe and Dwarf Bittern.

Large terrestrial birds such as Southern Ground-Hornbill, Red-crested Korhaan and Kori Bustard also occur -the latter in the grassy areas to the north-west of the park.

Pennant-winged Nightjar has been recorded close to the Massingir Dam, where Eastern Nicator and African Barred Owlet also occur. Areas of sandveld habitat in the north-west of the park hold specials such as Rudd's Apalis and Pink-throated Twinspot. Lemon-breasted Canary which is highly localised in Kruger occurs on the Limpopo floodplain. Colourful seed-eaters like Green-winged Pytilia and Violet-eared Waxbill are fairly common in the north, while Grey-rumped Swallow occurs along river floodplains and Horus Swift is associated with river banks along the larger rivers. Rare species which may occur include Pel's Fishing Owl (along the major rivers), African Finfoot, African Broadbill, and White-backed Night-Heron.

 

brown headed parrot

 

Brown-Headed Parrot. 

Birding Areas

1. Limpopo River and associated habitats.

As one enters the park from South Africa at the Pafuri Gate, the riverine woodland is dominated by Fever Trees and Lala Palms with groves of giant Baobabs in the hilly areas. Birds in this area are similar to those found around Pafuri in the Kruger National Park and may include Meve's Starling, Tropical Boubou, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Gorgeous Bush, Southern White-crowned Shrike, Lemon-breasted Canary, Mosque and Grey-rumped Swallow and various raptors. Bohm's and Mottled Spinetail are both uncommon but do occur along the Limpopo in the vicinity of large Baobab trees. The new Pafuri 4x4 camp is set in riverine forest near the border post and offers excellent riverine birding similar to that at Crookes Corner. The road down to Mapai provides a good variety of woodland birds. Campismo Nhampfule, (at the NE gate close to Mapai), is set amidst a beautiful forest of mature mopane woodland and offers interesting birding – African Barred Owlet, Grey Penduline Tit, Ashy Flycatcher, Red-Headed Weaver and Raquet-tailed Roller (Rare). In summer Broad-billed Roller, Southern Carmine and Blue-cheeked Bee-eaters and Dusky Lark are also present, along with European Golden-Oriole and African Golden Oriole.

2. Central Plains and Sandveld

From Mapai the road goes past Campismo Nhampfule and southwards across the plains. This is an incredibly scenic road with expanses of open country interspersed with patches of woodland and thickets. These woodland areas host a variety of species, including Woodpeckers, Hornbills and Shrikes. Common Scimitarbill, Green-winged Pytilia and Violet-eared Waxbill are common. Resident Lilac-breasted and Purple Rollers are joined in summer by European Rollers, European and African Golden Oriole and migrant raptors including Steppe Eagle. Dark-chanting Goshawk, Bateleur and Brown Snake-eagle are the more common of the raptors that occur, but the full suite of big eagles is possible including Martial Eagle. One can expect Red-crested Korhaan while Black-bellied Bustard and Kori Bustard are also possible. The road traverses the edge of the Nyambiti Sandveld Habitat which holds a few elusive and sought-after specials including Pink-throated Twinspot, Rudd's Apalis and Fawn-coloured Lark.
Excellent birding is to be had at Mamba 4x4 Camp which is situated within the sandveld pan system. When inundated Mamba Pan may hold species such as Allen's Gallinule, Lesser Moorhen, Greater Painted Snipe, Saddlebilled Stork and Lesser Jacana. The sandveld habitat in this area holds sandveld specials such as Pink-throated Twinspot and Rudd's Apalis.

The road also passes through remnant patches of Lebombo Ironwood forest, where Crested Guineafowl may be seen. The most extensive patches of this unique forest type lie further to the east and are still in need of exploration! Elsewhere in Mozambique, more extensive patches of the same habitat hold Chestnut-fronted Helmet-shrike, African Broadbill and Plain-backed Sunbird.

3. South-western Bushveld, Machampane and the Shingwedzi River

The south-western part of the park is that which most visitors travel through, and while birding along the main access route is not particularly unique, bird parties can be productive. To bird the park effectively one most stay at one of the camps. Machampane Camp is at present the only luxury lodge type camp and is situated on a permanent pool on the Machampane River – with excellent birding on site. The area around the camp is usually alive with Kingfishers, Bee-eaters, Bush-shrikes, Flycatchers and an assortment of weavers and seed-eaters. There is the option of a game walk or game drive from the camp as well.

If doing the 4x4 trails through the park, a visit to the Shingwedzi Cliffs and Ngwenya Pools is a must do. The best route is the road which approaches from the north, and close to the Shingwedzi River. This track (strictly 4x4) crosses a wide array of habitats and will provide one with the opportunity to see a host of bushveld birds including Shrikes, Woodpeckers, Eremomelas, Hornbills and others. Flappet Lark occurs in the area. The Shingwedzi Cliffs Look-out point provides a spectacular view over the Shingwedzi River.  Here you may see a wide array of bushveld species such as Cinnamon-breasted Rock-Bunting, Brubru, Chinspot Batis, White-crested Helmet-shrike and Brown-crowned Tchagra. Watch the skies for raptors such as Bateleur, Little Sparrowhawk and Martial Eagle.

The main 4x4 route follows the Shingwedzi River downstream, some distance north of the main tourist through-road. As one follows the Shingwedzi River downstream it changes its character and riverine forest lines the river. Trumpeter Hornbill, White-browed Robin-Chat, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, African Green-Pigeon, Broad-billed Roller and Brown-headed Parrot are some of the typical species, while raptors may include Tawny Eagle, Bateleur and Little Sparrowhawk. Watch herds of cattle around the villages for Yellow-billed Oxpecker which occurs here alongside Red-billed Oxpecker. In wet seasons the rank vegetation along the lower Shingwedzi may hold Thrush Nightingale and River Warbler.

Campismo Albufeira – situated close to the Massingir gate to the park is situated amidst interesting thicket-type vegetation and usually has plenty of birds in and around the camp. Species recorded here include Purple-banded Sunbird, Grey Penduline-Tit, White-browed Robin-Chat, Yellow-breasted Apalis and Crowned Hornbill.

For birders with more time, the 4x4 trails enable one to visit a number of other excellent camps – several set close to pans, which provide a magnet for birds when they have water. In the wet season some of these pans are good for waterbirds as well. These include Mamba, Mamboreni 4x4 Camp, Mahinga and Pafuri. Access to the different camps and pans changes from time to time and visitors must contact the Park booking office prior to planning a trip.

 

red billed oxpecker on giraffe

 

Red-Billed Oxpecker feeding on the back of a giraffe. 

Directions

The park can be accessed in three different ways.

1. Kruger to Campismo Aguia Pesqueira via Giriyondo. Giriyondo Border Post is an hour's drive (43km) north of Letaba camp in the Kruger National Park. Follow the main north road from Letaba camp (Towards Mopane Camp) 20 km from the camp; turn right into the S48 towards Giryondo. (M12-01) The border post is 23km along this road at (M12-02). Once through the Giriyondo Border post you will proceed to the PLN office to pay park entry fees. Note that the border post was built specifically to cater for tourism in the park, and you will therefore need to provide evidence that you are staying either in the Kruger Park or in the Parque Nacional do Limpopo itself in order to use this border post. However it is a fully operational border post and passports and vehicle papers are required as with any other border post. (See visiting Mozambique on the main page of the birding route website) Proceed along the main road eastwards (keep left at the first fork) and after 27.5 km there is a junction and you need to keep left. (M12-03) After 47 km turn right and shortly afterwards you will turn right towards the Campismo Aguia Pesqueira. (M12-04)

2. Pafuri to Mapai. The Pafuri border post is a relatively quiet and easy-going border post and is accessed from Pafuri in the Kruger National Park. From the Punda Maria Gate proceed northwards to Pafuri. At M12-06, 1.7km before reaching the Levuvu River, turn left and proceed to the border post. After crossing the border, follow the main track parallel to the Limpopo river for 88km. At 88km (M12-08) you are Mapai, which is also the name of the northern gate, but to reach the gate keep right and ignore the more heavily used road which veers to the left towards the river. Continue on for a further 7km to the Mapai gate and Albufeira camp a further 7km on. (M12-09) (Note that entry from the northern end of the Park is only suitable for 4x4 vehicles.)

3. Massingir Route. If approaching from the South (Maputo) proceed to the town of Macia and take the road to Chokwe (M12-11) After 61km you reach Chokwe and continue straight on through town. At 81km you reach a junction (M12-12) and here you turn left towards Massingir. The town of Massingir is a further 100km along this road, and you pass through town and over the dam wall to the Park gates just a few km further on (M12-13). From the EN1 (Macia) it is 190km to the park gates and one should allow 3 – 4 hours to cover the distance.

 

Green-Winged Pytilia male

 

Green-Winged Pytilia male.

Additional Information

The official web-site of the park has the latest information on developments, facilities and access: http://www.limpopopn.gov.mz/ You can download the park fact-sheet which is very useful and has a map and updates on the development of the park. Transfrontier Destinations runs a guided trails, hikes and canoeing trips down the gorge of the Rio dos Olifantes (Olifants River). Pel's Fishing Owl is quite often seen on the Canoe Trail along the gorge of the Rio dos Olipantes. One can also access a comprehensive list of the birds of the Parque Nacional do Limpopo & Massingir Dam area. 


Road Conditions: The main road through the park is accessible to a sedan vehicle, as is the road down to Campismo Aguia Pesqueira – but a high clearance vehicle is highly recommended. For all other routes, a 4x4 and some degree of self-sufficiency is essential. Some routes (i.e. south of the Shingwedzi Lookout) are not suitable for casual 4x4 drivers without proper off-road tyres and low-range!

 

ground hornbill adult

 

Southern Ground Hornbill.

Accommodation and Wilderness Camps

Campismo Aguia Pesqueira (Fish Eagle Camp): This is a tented camp which also has wooden chalets and an overland camp-site. The camp is very well laid out and offers good birding in and around camp. Specials include African barred Owlet and Purple Indigobird. The camp is situated about 55 km from Giriyondo border gate and about 25 km from Massingir. Each chalet has a bathroom en suite as well as kitchenette and a deck overlooking the dam. The camp is situated high on the escarpment and all camping sites and chalets have magnificent views of the dam which is located 250 m away. The only electricity provided is for chalet, ablution and kitchen lighting.

Machampane Wilderness Trails Camp is a privately operated luxury tented accommodation facility about 30 km from Giriyondo border gate. The camp has a rich wildlife and birding environment and overlooks the beautiful Machampane river. All meals are included as well as guided game walks and game drives. The Camp operators, Transfrontier Trails, also offer Guided Wilderness Walking Trails and Guided Self Drive 4x4 Trails through PNL. Contact: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (+27) 021 701 7860 for more information and reservations.

Campismo Albufeira: This camp is preferred by transit travelers and is situated at Massingir Gate which is about 70 km from Giriyondo border gate. The camp is close to the dam wall and consists of camping sites with communal kitchen and ablution facilities as well as chalets. The camp offers sparingly good birding. Each camp site has its own braai. The chalets all have electricity, fridge and fan.

Campismo Sandalo: basic campsite positioned in the centre of the Park and about 3 hrs. drive from Aguia Pesqueira. It has a water supply with showers and toilets. Pennant-winged Nightjar has been recorded here in full breeding plumage.
Campismo Nhampfule: this is on our boundary in the north at Mapai Gate. This camp is set in mature mopane woodland and is a very basic camp with water supply, showers and toilets.

Campismo Mamba: This exclusive camp is positioned in the sandveld near Mapai gate and is also a very basic camp with water supply, showers and toilets. This camp provides access to
There are several other more basic bush camps (Dry Camps) for use by fully self-sufficient 4x4 groups. These camps are only accessible via the 4x4 road network. Camps that are open include Giriyondo (Lebombo Mountains), Mbona Kaya (Shingwedzi), Mahinga (Southern Sandveld) and Mamboreni (Northern Sandveld). More camps, including Pafuri 4x4 camp are scheduled for opening in the near future. For more information contact Mr Lodovico Salinha on Mobile: + (258) 084 3011 719 or e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Travelling within the Park: The main access road between Giriyondo and Massingir, including access to Campismo Albufeira is accessible by sedan. All other roads require a high ground clearance or 4x4 vehicle, with a 4x4 vehicle being essential during the wet season. As roads are not well developed and signposted, it is also advisable to make use of a GPS when traveling through the center of the Park.

All visitors are expected to comply with the Park Rules including: obeying the 40km/hr speed limit; not littering and being courteous to wildlife, fellow visitors and communities within the Park.

The distance between Giriyondo and Massingir is 70km and will take the visitor approximately 1¾ hours. The road has speed bumps and elephants frequently use the road so travel with care. Sufficient time must be allowed to accommodate for Gate opening times and accommodation or camping should be booked at either Albufeira or Aguia Pesqueira as there are no camping facilities at Giriyondo.

 

african green pigeon feeding on jackalberry fruits

 

African Green Pigeon. 

GPS Points

M12-01: Turn to Giriyondo GPS: S23 42 31.8 E31 32 36.2
M12-02: Giriyondo Border Post GPS: S23 35 08.4 E31 39 28.5
M12-03: Route to Aguia Pesqueira GPS: S23 45 31.2 E31 49 25.8
M12-04: Turn to Aguia Pesqueira Camp GPS: S23 48 28.4 E31 58 58.0
M12-05: Aguia Pesqueira Camp GPS: S23 51 30.1 E32 00 25.0
M12-06: Turn to Pafuri Border Post GPS: S22 26 14.1 E31 13 12.4
M12-07: Pafuri Border Post GPS: S22 26 55.4 E31 18 47.3
M12-08: Junction at Mapai GPS: S22 51 28.4 E31 56 03.1
M12-09: Mapai Gate GPS: S22 53 37.4 E31 55 21.9
M12-10: Albufeira Camp GPS: S22 53 36.5 E31 55 31.6
M12-11: Macia turn off EN1 GPS: S25 01 29.3 E33 06 09.0
M12-12: Junction turn left. GPS: S24 25 30.8 E32 50 42.4
M12-13: Massingir Gate GPS: S23 51 33.8 E32 08 38.2
M12-14: Albufeira Camp GPS: S23 52 06.7 E32 08 42.5
M12-15: Machampane Camp GPS: S23 46 16.9 E31 46 49.5
M12-16: Nhampfule Camp GPS: S22 53 45.4 E31 55 30.9
M12-17: Shingwedzi Cliffs Lookout. GPS: S23 22 29.8 E31 39 21.8