Bird Watching

The following information was made available by the Free State Department of Tourism Web site.

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Tussen-die-Riviere Game Reserve

The Tussen-die-Riviere Nature Reserve is situated at the confluence of the Caledon and Orange Rivers near Bethulie in the southern Free State. The reserve also forms the upper limit of the Gariep Dam. The reserve is easily accessible from either Bloemfontein, the Eastern Cape (via Aliwal North), and the Southwestern Cape (via the N1 over S pringfontein). This easily accessible yet relatively unknown area has a bird list of about 220 species.

Along the Orange and Caledon Rivers several water-associated species occur. These include South African Shelduck, Yellowbilled Duck, and Pied Avocet. Caspian Tern and Greyheaded Gull are found at the confluence of the rivers.

Along the open sandy shores of the rivers Kittlitz's Plover and Threebanded Plover are characteristic species, together with African Pied Wagtail, African Black Duck, Pied Kingfisher and Giant Kingfisher. The typical trilling call of the Namaqua Warbler can be heard from the reedbed clumps along the river and smaller streams, as well as those of African Marsh Warbler and Cape Reed Warbler.

In the grassland areas, which at places is "invaded" by karoo shrub vegetation, typical species are Eastern Clapper Lark, Spikeheeled Lark, Redcapped Lark and Thickbilled Lark, while Doublebanded Courser, Sicklewinged Chat, Karoo Chat, Yellowbellied Eremomela and Rufouseared Warbler are common. Other specials of this habitat are Pale Chanting Goshawk, Greywing Francolin, Orange River Francolin, Ludwig's Bustard, Eastern Longbilled Lark, Karoo Prinia, Buffy Pipit and Longbilled Pipit. The recently described Longtailed Pipit possibly also occur in the reserve and birders must be on the lookout for them as they have been found breeding at a nearby farm, Cypherfontein in Springfontein district. The owner, Riette Griesel can be contacted by ( 051) 7830203 or 0829009888. The farm is approximately 20 km from Springfontein.

In the rocky hillsides and more mountainous areas, Southern Free State specials such as Karoo Robin, Layard's Titbabbler, Greybacked Cisticola and Rock Pipit are easily detected by their calls. Other species are Southern Grey Tit (common at "Klipstapel Rotse"), Shorttoed Rockthrush (easily observed where they perch on telegraph poles along reserve roads), Whitethroated Canary and Larklike Bunting. In the dense bush African Green Pigeon have been also observed. At Middelpunt, near the offices, a windmill-fed dam attracts several birds that come to drink. Species like Blackheaded Canary and Rock Bunting, among other buntings and seedeaters have been observed at water point. Redbreasted Sparrowhawk and Speckled Mousebird have been observed in the riverine bush and in the hilly areas of the reserve. Black Eagle, Martial Eagle, Lanner Falcon, Alpine Swift and Pied Crow also occur in the skies above the grassland and mountainous areas.

Hagesdam, Bloemfontein

The farm Hagesdam is approximately 60 kilometers south-west of Bloemfontein in the Central Free State. Access to the farm is from the Jagersfontein road (R706), turning on the Hagesdam / Steunmekaar off ramp,after 40 kilometers, on the tarred road from the city. On the gravel road proceed for 15 kilometers until the farm sign post, "George Fourie, Hagesdam", is on the left on the road. A total of 138 species have been recorded in the area.

Special birds of the hilly areas include Rock Pipit (one of only a few localities near Bloemfontein), Layard's Titbabbler, Fairy Flycatcher, Greybacked Cisticola, Southern Grey Tit and Shorttoed Rockthrush. At least three to four territories of Rock Pipit are known in the area, and they can most of the times be located from where they are calling from the top of a bush or dry branch of a tree, and not always at the higher plateaus near the large rock boulders. They responded well with tape playbacks, but care must be taken not to over use the method. Calling activity is mostly in early mornings and is not so vocal during winter months than in summer breeding season.

Fairy Flycatcher, Greybacked Cisticola and Layard's Titbabbler are commonly encountered along the bushy hills, while the Shorttoed Rockthrush is not so common here, but were regularly observed. Other species recorded in the hilly areas is Southern Grey Tit, Longbilled Pipit, Plainbacked Pipit.

Rufouscheeked Nightjar roosting under the shades of the trees on the lower hills, and Eastern Longbilled Lark heard from time to time. Raptors occurring in the area are Jackal Buzzard, Black Harrier (hunting over trees on lower hills), Lanner Falcon and Martial Eagle visiting the skies and also a pair of Booted Eagle and a solitary Black Eagle visiting the area. Greywing Francolin have been recorded on the lower foothills. In the surrounding grassland areas are dominated by Spikeheeled Lark, Redcapped Lark, Thickbilled Lark and Greybacked Finchlark. Longtailed Pipit have been recorded once in the open karoo parches while Orangethroated Longclaw and Whitewinged Korhaan are abundant. During winter, from April onwards, Sicklewinged Chat are present in the grassland areas with low bushes. A colony Whitebrowed Sparrowweaver breeding in a old oak tree near the reservoir which are a watering point for sever seed eating species.

Botanical Gardens, Bloemfontein

These gardens are situated on the northern outskirts of Bloemfontein, and consist of a mix of planted and indigenous habitats. Two dams, with associated reeds, and a few small koppies (hills), with indigenous Karee and Wild olive- dominated vegetation, are present.

Over 100 bird species have been recorded, with at least half this number possible in a few hours, especially in summer.

The cultivated gardens provide good habitat for Whitebacked Mousebird, Redeyed Bulbul, Olive Thrush, Malachite Sunbird and Whitebellied Sunbird (the last two especially in winter), while both Titbabbler and Layard's Titbabbler (winter), Greybacked Cisticola, Cape Bunting, Yellow Canary, Pririt Batis, Ashy Tit, Yellowbellied Eremomela and Fairy Flycatcher (mostly in winter) occur on the koppies.

Cape Wagtail and Greater Striped Swallow have bred in the hide overlooking the larger dam, while Squacco Heron, Glossy Ibis, Whitefaced Duck and Yellowbilled Duck are associated with the water. Purple Heron, Whitebacked Duck and Baillon's Crake have also been recorded here. Access is via Rayton Road, and a visit of one to three hours can be worthwhile. An entrance fee is payable on entering the gardens (Botanical Society members enter free of charge). (Dawie de Swardt, Johan Kok & Rick Nuttall 2001.)

Thaba 'Nchu Sun and Maria Moroka Park

The park is located about 70 km east of Bloemfontein, alongside the popular Thaba 'Nchu Sun Hotel and Casino. Luxurious accommodation is provided here by the Thaba 'Nchu Sun Hotel and Casino. A variety of activities such as tennis, mini golf, gambling and cabaret shows are offered.

More than a hundred species of birds, including a variety of aquatic species, have been recorded here. Large flocks of blue crane can, from time to time, be seen in the park.

Soetdoring Nature Reserve

Soetdoring Nature Reserve has two entrances. The eastern entrance is at the Modder River on the Bloemfontein / Bultfontein road (R700). Here visitors enjoy angling, picnicking, game and bird viewing.

The Modder River entrance is at the eastern boundary and runs through the 7 500 ha reserve before entering the Krugersdrift Dam which forms the western boundary.

The dam attracts large numbers of South African Shelduck, Spurwinged Goose and Egyptian Goose, together with several other duck and water associated species. Goliath Heron and Caspian Tern are regularly observed along shores and over open water of dam. Other characteristic non-water associated birds of the reserve include Martial Eagle, Kori Bustard, Doublebanded Courser, Whitefronted Bee-eater, Karoo Robin and Kalahari Robin, Rufouseared Warbler and Namaqua Warbler, just to name a few.

Night excursions give visitors an intimate look into the night life of the many nocturnal creatures that inhabit the reserve. However, these excursions must be booked in advance. Over two hundred and fifty species of birds have been recorded here.

Sandveld Nature Reserve

Sandveld Nature Reserve is along the Bloemhof / Hoopstad road, the R34. It lies approximately 200 km northwest of Bloemfontein. The essence of Africa is tangible in the Sandveld Nature Reserve, situated in the Kalahari thornveld biome. The reserve covers 37 700 ha and includes the Bloemhof Dam.

Specials include Great Crested Grebe, Pygmy Falcon (very rare), Caspian Tern, Doublebanded Courser, Natal Francolin, Orange River Francolin, Pinkbilled Lark, Eastern Clapper Lark and Fawncoloured Lark, Tinkling Cisticola, Desert Cisticola and Rattling Cisticola, Rufouseared Warbler, Sociable Weaver, Violeteared Waxbill and Blackcheeked Waxbill. Waterfowl species, including Whitefaced Duck, Fulvous Duck, Southern Pochard, Cape Shoveller, Cape Teal, South African Shelduck and Knobbilled Duck may be seen in good numbers at certain times. Heronries comprising up to 12 different species of heron, egret, ibis and cormorant may be present during seasons of good rainfall.

Large numbers of egrets, cormorants, ibis, ducks, geese and flamingos gather on the dam and along its edges at different times of the year.

Social weavers have built several communal nests which are sometimes inhabited by the diminutive pygmy falcon. White-backed vultures breed in large nests on top of camel thorn trees, and the crimson-breasted shrike and hornbills can also be seen in the reserve.

Willem Pretorius Game Reserve

This reserve qualifies as one of the top birding spots in the Free State. Situated in the central Free State, it surrounds the Allemanskraal Dam, and has a range of habitats, most of which are easily accessible. A two to three day stay is recommended, although 100+ bird species may be recorded during a day visit. The reserve checklist totals about 250 species, of which about 200 are common or regularly seen.

The reserve office provides a map of the reserve and bird checklists.

1. Open grassland habitats, particularly in the southern section of the reserve, provide ideal habitat for korhaan, larks, cisticola and Doublebanded Courser. Look out for Secretarybird, Black Harrier, Orange River Francolin and for various swallow species, including Banded Martin.

2. In the acacia savanna areas species such as Scimitarbilled Woodhoopoe, Pied Barbet, Whitebacked Mousebird, Cape Robin, Kalahari Robin, Ashy Tit, Yellowbellied Eremomela, Blackchested Prinia, Pririt Batis and Threestreaked Tchagra may be found. This habitat also boasts a number of small seedeaters, including Scalyfeathered Finch, Melba Finch, Blue Waxbill, Violeteared Waxbill, Blackcheeked Waxbill, whydahs, Yellow Canary and Blackthroated Canary. Look out for Redbilled Woodhoopoe and Redthroated Wryneck in the poplar trees in the picnic site just before entering the reserve to the north of the dam.

3. Take a short walk from the road to the viewing point on top of the koppie. From here you will have a wonderful panoramic view over the reserve below, and across Allemanskraal Dam. Look out for swifts and swallows; Alpine Swift, Black Swift, Little Swift and Whiterumped Swift may be seen feeding together. This is also a good spot to search for game in the thornveld and grasslands below.

4. The vegetation changes quite dramatically in the wooded kloofs, where impressive white stinkwood trees dominate. Martial Eagles and Gabar Goshawk breed here and many other interesting species are present. Plumcoloured Starling is an occasional visitor.

5. The dam environment is host to many water birds. A heronry is usually present during the summer months on the island near the two resorts; more than ten species of large birds may be present, including herons, egrets, ibis, cormorants and Darter. small waders may be found along exposed stretches of shoreline, and waterfowl, including South African Shelduck, Spurwinged Goose, Egyptian Goose, Cape Shoveller and Southern Pochard are also present. Listen for the call of the African Fish Eagle. Reedbeds bordering the narrow eastern parts of the dam will produce Red Bishop and various skulking warbler species.

Koppies Dam Nature Reserve

The town of Koppies lies 55 km north of Kroonstad, just off the N1 between Kroonstad and Sasolburg.

The nature reserve is 16 km east of the town. The roads are well marked. Their are camping facilities. Neat ablution facilities with hot and cold water are available although there is no electricity. There isn't any shops and visitors must bring their own provisions.

Koppies Dam itself provides suitable habitat for a number of different water bird species, including Whitebreasted Cormorant and Reed Cormorant, Darter, various herons, Glossy Ibis, African Spoonbill, Whitefaced Duck, South African Shelduck, African Black Duck, Cape Teal, Cape Shoveller and Knobbilled Duck.

Blue Korhaan and Secretarybird can be found in the grasslands, which should also produce various larks, pipits and cisticolas.

Birds frequenting the acacia thickets include Ashy Tit, Redeyed Bulbul, Whitebacked Mousebird and Redfaced Mousebird, Kalahari Robin, Titbabbler, Blackchested Prinia and Bokmakierie.

Golden Gate Highlands National Park

Golden Gate has much the same spectrum of birdlife as does Giants Castle Game Reserve, but lies more in the actual cradle of the mountains. he reserve is one of the more reliable sites for Bearded Vulture, and a stay of three or four days will provide a gratifying list of up to 100 species of montane birds, many of them endemics.

The bird list will vary according to the season: fewer species occur in winter when many of the altitudinal migrants move to lower elevations, but the birding is interesting at any time of year. T Drives, walks, hikes and rides through the reserve expose one to some spectacular mountain scenery and the chance of many interesting birds in all habitats. The scenery is especially beautiful in the autumn (April and early May) when the Lombardy Poplars are in golden foliage.

Special viewing include Bearded Vulture and Cape Vulture, Jackal Buzzard, Bald Ibis, Greywing Francolin, Rock Pigeon, Alpine Swift, Ground Woodpecker, Grassbird, Cape Rockthrush, Bush Blackcap, Stonechat, Barratt's Warbler, Gurney's Sugarbird, Pied Starling, Redwinged Starling, Cape Weaver, Redcollared Widow and Cape Bunting.

Qwa-Qwa Park

The park is about 60 km from Harrismith on the Harrismith/Golden Gate Road, the R712. The Eerstegeluk Guest House is fully equipped. It can accommodate 10 persons. Guided horse rides are available and viewing can be done in this unique way.

The vleis of this beautiful park are filled with bird life, the kloofs luxuriously vegetated and the caves adorned with mysterious Bushmen drawings.

While descending the mountain pass from Golden Gate be on the lookout for Bearded Vulture and Cape Vulture, Bald Ibis, Black Eagle, Eastern Redfooted Kestrel (summer), Alpine Swift, Whitenecked Raven, Buffstreaked Chat, Grassbird, Spotted Prinia, and Malachite Sunbird flying between proteas on the mountain slopes.

In the lower-lying moist grassland areas listen for Common Quail, while Whitebellied Korhaan and Blue Korhaan occur in isolated places in the more easterly parts. Cloud Cisticola and Fantailed Cisticola can be heard displaying in summer while the less common Palecrowned Cisticola occurs in the moist grasslands only, along mountain streams in the high-lying areas. In the vlei areas along the river Little Bittern, Corncrake, African Rail, Redchested Flufftail and Striped Flufftail and Redshouldered Widow may be encountered. The rare, overlooked Whitewinged Flufftail has also been noted recently in vlei areas, which seemed to be localised in this and Memel areas further north-east.

A guided tour to the isolated Qwaqwa Mountain should produce Bush Blackcap in the dense bush, Gurney's Sugarbird and Malachite Sunbird in the protea veld, Yellowrumped Widow in the long grass, and Rock Pipit and Eastern Longbilled Lark on the rocky hillsides. Mocking Chat, Cape Batis, Dusky Flycatcher and Drakensberg Siskin were observed at the Maluti Picnic spot (near Cultural village) which are on the foothills of Qwaqwa Mountain on the north-western side. During 1999 some ringing were done at Maluti Picnic spot and several Bush Blackcap were ringed at this site. Apart for the birds, the scenery is spectacular!

Other special birds recorded in the park include high-altitude specials such as Orangebreasted Rockjumper, Mountain Pipit (rare summer migrant at altitudes above 2000m) and Yellowbreasted Pipit.

Witsieshoek Mountain Resort

The Witsieshoek Mountain Resort nestles in the foothills of the Sentinel and the impressive Amphi theatre of the Northern Drakensberg mountain range at a height of 2 286 m above sea level, making it the highest resort in South Africa. No words can really describe the breathtaking views from the resort over the Amphitheatre and the Royal Natal National Park. During summer these mountains are snugly covered by seemingly endless green carpets of grass and during winter by soft white blankets of snow.

Specials include the Bearded Vulture, Cape Vulture, Black Eagle, Orangebreasted Rockjumper, Drakensberg Siskin, Bush Blackcap and Bald Ibis.

The area boasts a list of 141 species, including a number of specials such as Orangebreasted Rockjumper, Drakensberg Siskin, Bush Blackcap and Bald Ibis. This is also one of the few areas where a sighting of the elusive Bearded Vulture is virtually assured, especially in the vicinity of the Witsieshoek Mountain Inn, where a "vulture restaurant" has been established. Other raptors such as Cape Vulture, Black Eagle and Lanner Falcon are also regularly observed here.

The accommodation consists of standard as well as luxury rooms. There is a conference facility that can accommodate 40 delegates. The restaurant with its excellent cuisine also has an extensive wine list and many mountain adventure stories have been shared in the cosy pub or around the open log fire in the lounge.

Sterkfontein Dam

The nature reserve is situated approximately 23 km from Harrismith on the R74.

The main attraction is a vulture restaurant which can be viewed from Oliviershoek Pass outside the reserve, and offers good views of Cape Vulture, Bearded Vulture and both Black Crow and Whitenecked Raven. In short montane grassland areas Yellowbreasted Pipit have been observed and Eastern Redfooted Kestrel perching on roadside telegraph. For vulture feeding details contact Paulus Fihlo on 0835470238.

Several water bird species can be seen from the chalets and near the reserve entrance, including Dabchick, Goliath Heron, Egyptian Goose, South African Shelduck, Caspian Tern, African Fish Eagle and Osprey. In the grassland and open bush areas Common Quail, Greywing Francolin, Whitebellied Korhaan, Ground Woodpecker, Mountain Chat, Buffstreaked Chat, Spotted Prinia and Golden Bishop can be seen.

The rocky slopes provide habitat for several species such as Greywing Francolin, Redwing Francolin, Ground Woodpecker, Mountain Chat, Cape Rockthrush, and during winter near the reserve's offices, Malachite Sunbird.

Other raptors such as Black Eagle, Jackal Buzzard, Black Harrier and Rock Kestrel are common, while Bald Ibis breeds on sandstone krantzes in reserve and can be seen foraging in grassland. The rare Rudd's Lark also occurs in short montane grassland and there must be on the lookout for them.

A scenic drive to the upper end of the reserve in the higher mountainous areas is a must, but permission must be obtained from the reserve office. There is also a trail in this part of the reserve, which is over two days and will provide excellent birding opportunities. Along the road, Jackal Buzzard, Cape Rockthrush, Redcollared Widow and Yellowrumped Widow are common, as well as Buffstreaked Chat in the rocky areas.

In the protea woodland, look out for Gurney's Sugarbird, Malachite Sunbird, Greater Doublecollared Sunbird, Streakyheaded Canary, and Goldenbreasted Bunting. Palecrowned Cisticola is localised, but can be located by call in the moist grassland patches along the mountain streams. In the isolated forest patches, African Green Pigeon, Redchested Cuckoo and Black Cuckoo, Bush Blackcap, Cape Batis and Forest Canary occur locally.

The reserve has fully catered chalets and reservations can be made by telephoning (058) 6223520. The Qwantani time-share holiday resort falls within the reserve and reservations can be done at (058) 6230882 or write to PO Box 980, Harrismith.

Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve

The Klip River meanders through the Seekoeivlei wetland that stretches from Memel in the south to Villliers in the north. The many oxbow lakes next to the river characterize these wetlands which are unique, and one of the few remaining sponge areas in the Vaal River catchment area. 4 400 ha have been set aside for conservation purposes. Seekoeivlei is soon to be declared a Ramsar Area. The entrance to the reserve is just north of the town of Memel. Braai facilities are at present the only amenities.

Bird viewing is a great attraction for visitors to this reserve in view of the wide variety of species, some of them very rare, that live in the vlei and surrounding grasslands. Bittern, different species of heron, stork, ibis, the blue crane and the beautiful mahem can be seen.

Specials include the Bald Ibis, Whitebacked Duck, South African Shelduck, Maccoa Duck, Bearded Vulture, Cape Vulture, African Marsh Harrier, Black Harrier, Greywing Francolin, Bittern, Wattled Crane, Blue Crane, Crowned Crane, African Rail, Whitewinged Flufftail, Stanley's Bustard, Whitebellied Korhaan, Blue Korhaan, Burchell's Courser, Temminck's Courser, Cape Eagle Owl, Ground Woodpecker, Olive Woodpecker, Halfcollared Kingfisher, Melodious Lark, Rudd's Lark, Eastern Longbilled Lark, Pinkbilled Lark, Botha's Lark, Bush Blackcap, Sentinel Rockthrush, Buffstreaked Chat, Mountain Chat, Chorister Robin, Cloud Cisticola, Ayres' Cisticola, Palecrowned Cisticola, Rock Pipit, Yellowbreasted Pipit, Swee Waxbill and Forest Canary.


The area around the little north-eastern Free State village of Memel can be just as productive, specialising in endemic bird species of high-altitude grasslands and wetlands, and in the opinion of some this area is scenically more attractive than is the Wakkerstroom area.

The area is host to a number of "specials", as well as a number of Red Data Book species, including Rudd's & Botha's Lark, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Blue Korhaan, Ground Woodpecker, Buff-streaked Chat, Sentinel Rock Thrush and Bush Blackcap. Wattled, Grey Crowned and Blue Crane also occur and breed in the area.

A network of mainly gravel roads provide access to various habitats in which these birds are to be found. A number of birding routes have been identified and information on which birds may be found in the different areas is available. A checklist of birds to be seen in the district, as well as a list of the "specials" is also available.

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