The beautiful Mariepskop forest reserve is situated on the slopes and summit of the highest peak (Mariepskop, at 1,947 metres above sea level) of the northern Drakensberg mountain range in the Mpumalanga province, 30km southwest from the town of Hoedspruit.
The highly productive birding route in the reserve passes initially through a variety of savannah grass and thornveld habitats, over forested river crossings and cutting through state Eucalyptus and Pine plantations to the foot of the mountain. The first part of the track further up the mountain cuts through mature or climax afro-montane forest whereas the summit is covered in fynbos (usually only found in the Cape regions only), grassland and rocky outcrops with stands of Proteas and aloes. The birding throughout the route is varied and first time visitors will be pleasantly surprised with the mix in bushveld, highveld grassland, forest and fynbos species all occurring within a short distance from each other.
Key species to look out for during a morning birding trip to Mariepskop include Black-fronted Bushshrike, Orange Ground Thrush, African Emerald Cuckoo (summer), White-starred Robin, Barratt’s and Yellow-throated Woodland Warbler, Bush Blackcap, Grey Cuckooshrike, Green Twinspot and Gurney’s Sugarbird.
Other colourful and interesting species that could be seen in and around the Mariepskop include African Finfoot, African Black Duck and Mountain Wagtail, Lemon Dove, Red-necked Spurfowl, Gorgeous Bushshrike, Striped, African Pygmy and Half-collared Kingfisher, Red-collared Widowbird, Village and Dusky Indigobird, African Firefinch, Olive Bushrike, Yellow-throated Longclaw, Rufous-naped Lark, White-throated and Chorister Robin-Chat, Knysna Turaco, Olive Woodpecker, Southern and Greater Double-collared Sunbird, Red-faced Cisticola, Pin-tailed Whydah, Cape White-eye, Southern Red Bishop, White-fronted Bee-eater, Green-capped Eremomela, Grey Tit-Flycatcher, African Dusky Flycatcher, Grey Penduline Tit, Lesser Honeyguide, Striped Pipit, Forest and Cape Canary, Swee Waxbill, Brown-back Honeybird, Bar-throated Apalis and Red-backed Mannikin.
Raptors are also plentiful on the mountain, and sightings could include Crowned Eagle, African Hawk-Eagle, Common, Jackal and Forest Buzzard, Long-crested Eagle, Lanner Falcon, Black-chested Snake Eagle and others.
Due to its height Mariepskop has had military significance in the past. On its summit is a radar station, a microwave tower and forestry fire look-out posts. The development of the area has been kept to a minimum and the mountain and surrounding nature reserve remain a natural and unspoilt wilderness.
A morning trip to Mariepskop from the Kruger National Park (Orpen Gate is less than 90 minutes away) could yield some fantastic species not easily seen in Kruger, and is a wonderful addition to a Kruger or eastern South African birding tour.
To book your expert-guided birding tour in the Kruger Park and surrounding areas, get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org