Birding in South Africa is most spectacular at Nylsvley Nature Reserve, which protects a significant portion of the country’s largest inland floodplain – totalling 16 000 hectares when water levels are highest during summer. Up to 80 000 birds can be found at Nylsvley at the same time.

Did you know?

BirdLife South Africa has designated Nylsvley as one of its Important Bird Areas.

South Africa's seven biomes are home to over 850 bird species, many of them endemic. Unsurprisingly the country is a popular birding destination and also has a relatively large local birding community.

One of the most spectacular venues for birdwatchers in the country is Nylsvley Nature Reserve in Limpopo province. The 4 000 hectare reserve has around 370 bird species, including rare ones like the dwarf bittern and rufous-bellied heron. Every three to four years Nylsvley experiences a peak flood and up to 80 000 birds take up temporary residence on the floodplain.

The surrounding area makes birding at Nylsvley extra interesting. The acacia thornveld is home to many dry-country species, which form an eclectic mix of birds that can also be found in the western Kalahari region and the eastern savannah region of the Kruger National Park.

The floodplains are situated north of Johannesburg and make for a pleasant day or weekend trip for visitors who want to go birding in South Africa. The reserve offers five bird hides, a game drive network and the freedom to walk where one pleases.

Historically, one of the major wetland floods led some Voortrekkers in the 19th century to believe that they had actually reached the famous river Nile – and they named the area for it.

While it is possible to spot rare mammals like roan antelope and tsessebe at Nylsvley, birding is definitely the most rewarding activity. During wet periods the wetland is an excellent area to find sought after species like Allen’s gallinule, lesser moorhen and different types of rare crakes.

A glut of ducks, herons and egrets can also be seen, feeding on the 300 to 600 tons of fish that the floodplain produces, straight fin barb being the most abundant species.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Friends of Nylslvey
Marion Dunkeld-Mengell
Tel: +27 (0)12 667 2183

Limpopo Tourism & Parks Reservations
+27 (0)15 290 7339

Nylsvley Information
Tel: +27 (0)14 743 1074

How to get here

Nylsvley Nature Reserve is located just off the N1 highway, about two hours north of Johannesburg and Pretoria. It is easily accessible by car.

Best time to visit

End of summer is the best time to visit, because of the delayed flooding of the plain and the drying up of alternative bodies of water in the region.

Around the area

There are a number of enticing golf estates in the area.

Get around

Nylsvley Nature Reserve has five bird hides and a road network for game viewing. There are hiking trails and visitors are permitted to stray off the beaten track.

What will it cost

A nominal admission of approx R15 per person and R25 per vehicle is payable at the main entrance of the nature reserve, where one should also pick up the keys for the bird hides on the far side of the reserve. Accommodation rates are also very good value, ranging from R30 for camping to around R600 per person for luxury accommodation.

Length of stay

A day trip to Nylsvley is possible, but the floodplains and surrounding bushveld also make for a perfect weekend outing.

What to pack

Don't forget your binoculars, bird book and scope if you have one.

Where to stay

The Nylsvley Nature Reserve offers cheap campsites and a lodge, and there is an array of birder-friendly guesthouses in the area.

What's happening

Although birding at Nylsvley is most rewarding in the wet season (or summer), a serious day of bushveld birding can still deliver some very interesting bird-spotting in the winter.