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Birding in and around Pretoria/Johannesburg
This area is a worthy birding destination for two reasons. Firstly, many birders visit the industrial and political centre for other reasons - and are able to fit in a short stint of birding. Secondly Pretoria lies in the centre of transition of a number of habitat types, and thus offers spectacular birding diversity!
To date this area has not been properly exploited by tour groups - due largely to its proximity to the major industrial heartland of South Africa. However this is a pity, as superb birding can be had here. Top "bird-race" team, Raiders of the Lost Lark recorded 302 species in 24 hours to smash the previous "all regions" record for Southern Africa. In fact this total is an unofficial world record for a national bird-race event !!
About 430 species are regularly present in the region, and due to the number of birders living in Gauteng, the presence of rarities and difficult birds is far more closely monitored than many other more well-known birding areas.
This area offers the visitor 68 endemic species or near endemics to the Southern African Region, which can make a short birding foray very worthwhile for global birders with limited time.
The area, which is centred on the province of Gauteng - lies on the continental watershed, and altitudes are from 900 - 1800m above sea level. The eastern and southern sections are part of a wider region known as the "highveld" The east and south is largely grasslands, with the Suikerbosrand range being a key feature of the southern section. These grasslands are largely degraded through agriculture, but a range of grassland endemics and specials are still present, especially in the Suikerbosrand reserve, and to a lesser extent to the Southeast in the vicinity of Carltonville.
The Magaliesburg is a prominent ridge, which runs westwards from Pretoria-east. North of the Magaliesburg range, and in the valleys of the west and northwest part of the province, it is much warmer and woodlands and wooded valleys prevail. The best woodlands are the acacia thornveld of the northern parts of the area around Pienaarsriver and Borakolalo National Park, and broadleaved woodlands in the northeast. A number of significant wetlands and large water bodies provide for a good range of water birds, and up to 17 species of herons are possible! The most important of the wetlands is the Blesbokspruit - an extensive wetland near Nigel in the southeast of the province.
Some of the key birding localities include:
Marievale Bird SanctuaryThis sanctuary is part of the Blesbokspruit, a RAMSAR wetland, and it contains what is often the est wetland birding in the region. It is known for regional rarities such as Slaty Egret, Baillon's Crake and Painted Snipe as well as endemics such as Cape Shoveller, Yellow Canary and South African Shelduck.
Suikerbosrand.A very fine, pristine patch of highveld grassland and rugged hills, the Suikerbosrand reserve is the best place to see a range of specialities, some of which are found nowhere else in the province. These include Redwinged Francolin, Greywinged Francolin, Yellow-tufted Pipit and in winter, Sentinel Rock Thrush.
Northeastern Gauteng (Dinokeng)This relatively unknown area offers a wide variety of woodland habitats, including very fine broadleaved woodland, which is host to a number of specials. The area is good for raptors such as African Baza, Lizard Buzzard and Black-breasted Snake Eagle. Most local birders come here for woodland specials such a Greencapped Eremomela, Tinkling Cisticola and Pallid Flycatcher. The area also offers the Roodeplaat Dam and neighbouring reserves, as well as the Buffelsdrift Conservancy area, which offers a range of excellent thornveld and riverine birding.
Ditholo.A nature reserve in the far north of the province which is owned by the military, this offers a variety of excellent birding, and with a good guide, about 130 species are possible in a day.
The Witwatersberg.This range of hills which runs parallel to the larger Magaliesburg provides a mix of highveld grassland, partially wooded (bushveld) and more densely wooded habitats. Several relatively undisturbed areas provide haven for large raptors such as Martial Eagle and rivers conceal African Finfoot. There are a number of private reserves, hiking trails and picnic spots in this scenic area, which extends for the town of Magaliesburg in the west to the Schurveburge just west of Pretoria.
Roodekoppies and Vaalkop Dam NR:These two localities offer superb bushveld birding, as well as a variety of waterbirds, including the frequent presence of vagrants and rarities. Habitat is mainly acacia thornveld, and the verges of the dams provide a range of grassland flats habitats. These areas are well known for the range of raptors usually present, and are also excellent for migrant warblers in late summer. Typical endemics include Southern Pied Babbler, Barred Warbler, Kalahari Robin and Crimson-breasted Shrike.
Zaagkuildrift:Although most birding is usually done from public roads, this is one of the richest birding area in the region, with 180-200 species possible on a good summer day. A variety of thornveld habitats occur along the Pienaar River, and in wet years, the Kgomo-Kgomo floodplain offers the most exciting subtropical seasonal wetland birding south of Nylsvley. The area abounds with endemics and species like Southern Pied Babbler and Barred Wren Warbler are particularly common here.
Gauteng is a popular stopover for business travellers or conference goers, and while the above localities can provide a fine birding interlude, it is also a very good base for a slightly more ambitious birding experience. Within 4 hours drive, once can visit Sandveld Reserve in the Northern Freestate which offers a host of Kalahari Specials, There is also superb highveld birding some three hours drive away in the Memel or Wakkerstroom areas - both of which offer a range of grassland endemics. To the east, a three hour drive brings one to the Dullstroom area, where grassland endemics like Yellow-breasted Pipit, as well as Wattled and Crowned Crane occur. In season Nylsvley (2 hours) is not to be missed.
There are a number of local branches of BirdLife South Africa, and even if you visiting the area for a short while, it is worth joining one of these local clubs, who organise regular outings to all major biomes, and visit many localities which are not readily accessible to the general public. The Pretoria Bird Club website, http://www.birding.co.za/blng has more detailed information on several local birding spots. For the full list of endemics and their status click here.
Endemic list for Pretoria - Johannesburg region.
Annotated Checklist for the Johannesburg Pretoria Region
Short Blitz of Pretoria area nets 314 Species in 4 Days (TripList)
Trip Reports for the Pretoria Region(Annotated)
Birding Southern Africa - an overview
Endemic list for Southern Africa (Annotated)