Working for birds in Africa

Range extension of African Broadbill Smithornis capensis into Soutpansberg, Northern Province, South Africa

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African Broadbill
C. T. Symes

The northernmost mountain range in South Africa, the Soutpansberg, lies at 23°05'S-22°25'S, and 29°17'E-31°20'E. Altitude is 300-1,719 m, at Hanglip, and 1,748 m at Letjuma. The Soutpansberg's geology developed cl,700 million years ago during an east-west faulting of the Limpopo Mobile Belt, which caused dipping to the north and rising to the south[19]. The mountains end north of Thohoyandou, between the Luvhuvhu and Mutale rivers. Forest is prominent on south-facing slopes in the south of the range, but is not aspect-dependent at high altitudes. Rainfall is seasonal, falling mostly in the summer ( October-March). Entabeni receives highest rainfall (cl,800 mm/year), with the Drakensberg rainshadow causing Louis Trichardt, to the west, to receive c540 mm/year[8]. Rainfall decreases to the east, with Punda Maria, at c200 m, receiving c620 mm/ year[8]. Temperatures are hot in summer, but cooler with increased altitude in the mountains.

The Luvhuvhu River originates east of Louis Trichardt and flows west-east along the south of the range. East of the Soutpansberg it turns north-east, meeting the Limpopo River at Crooks Corner in northern Kruger National Park. The Mutale River originates at Thathe Vondo, flows north-east and joins the Luvhuvhu in north-west Kruger National Park, near Pafuri Gate. Although the geological features of the Soutpansberg extend as far north-east as Pafuri, it is in the region between these rivers, in the east, where altitude decreases, that the Afromontane elements of Soutpansberg begin to decrease[8].

African Broadbill Smithornis capensis is an uncommon endemic resident in Africa[2,10,11]. It is the only broadbill in the southern African subregion and inhabits a variety of habitats, including dense woodland, riparian forest, miombo woodland, lower storeys of evergreen forest, and deciduous thickets[10-12]. In southern Africa its range extends from the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, north into Mozambique and through the Zambezi Valley to the western Caprivi of Namibia [3,4,10,12,15,17]. It is a rare resident in Swaziland [14] and very scarce in the former Transvaal[18] . In the south its range extends to Port Shepstone (30°45'S 30°20'E), where it inhabits evergreen forest and coastal scrub;. In Mozambique a southern population, in coastal woodland and forest, is disjunct from those in the north, which largely occur in Androstachys johnsonii forest[5,14]. Throughout the Zambezi Valley it occurs in dry scrub-bush associated with riverine forest, and in the Eastern Districts in rain forest at the Haroni-Lusitu confluence and lower Pungwe River areas[17]. It may be an overlooked resident of riverine forest in the Okavango Delta, Botswana[16]. It is usually silent and inactive in low vegetation, and consequently easily overlooked[12].

While bird ringing at a site near Levubu a female African Broadbill was captured. Additional sightings were made at nearby Ratombo, a dry lowland semi-deciduous forest. The South African Bird Atlas Project did not record the species in this region, the nearest occurrences being in south-east Zimbabwe, c250-300 km distant[4] . Several subspecies are recognised and our records are probably of conjunctus. These records prompted an investigation into the presence of African Broadbill in the region.

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