AFTER HAVING SPENT a large part of winter inside, wrapped in blankets and longing for warmer days, for birders living in Gauteng the promise of spring brings with it a tangible sense of excitement. They relish the thought of the arrival of summer migrants and more daylight hours in which to enjoy them.
So where best to welcome this change of seasons? Surely Gauteng, the sprawling conurbation that encompasses Johannesburg and Pretoria, can’t be all that exciting as a birding destination? Well, many birders would argue otherwise and the six destinations included here – chosen and rated on a combination of their productivity, quality of birding, levels of safety and accessibility – bear out why the province has six of the best mustvisit spots this spring.
RIETVLEI NATURE RESERVE
Estimated spring species count 80+
Cuckoo Finch anyone? Covering 3870 hectares, the Rietvlei Nature Reserve is probably one of the best sites in Gauteng to connect with this often tricky and elusive summer visitor. Spend your time in the reserve’s extensive swathes of grassland where cisticolas and prinias abound and you should strike it lucky. Cuckoo Finches are a parasitic species and soon after they arrive they begin to focus their energy on breeding, shifting their attention from one another to finding potential hosts to incubate their eggs and raise their chicks.
Other star attractions at Rietvlei include Northern Black Korhaan, Plain-backed Pipit, Red-winged Francolin (on the vlei route) and Dark-capped Yellow Warbler. The skulking and highly sought-after African Finfoot occasionally puts in an appearance along the Grootvlei Spruit.
Good to know
This fantastic reserve is conveniently situated in south-eastern Pretoria. It is extremely well maintained and has facilities ranging from ablutions to well placed bird hides along the Rietvlei Dam shoreline. There is even a lovely picnic site for those who wish to enjoy a relaxed lunch after a productive morning’s birding.
Estimated spring species count 110+
Situated north of Pretoria and west of Roodeplaat Dam, the Buffelsdrift Conservancy is ideal for those who want to enjoy extremely rewarding birding without having to venture too far from the confines of Pretoria (or even Johannesburg). The conservancy comprises predominantly acacia-dominated thornveld and its associated species. These include birds such as White-backed Mousebird, Marico Sunbird, Marico Flycatcher, Acacia Pied Barbet, Violet-eared and Black-faced waxbills, Cape Penduline-tit, Scaly-feathered Finch and Kalahari Scrub-Robin.
The presence of well-treed residential gardens, orchards, and nurseries leads you to feel that you are in residential Pretoria rather than in a conservancy and it is in these settings that gems such as African Crake, River Warbler and Spectacled Weaver have been recorded. In the evening the quiet network of dirt roads also lays claim to being one of Gauteng’s best when it comes to nocturnal stakeouts for the breeding intra-African migrant, Rufous-cheeked Nightjar.
Good to know
This is primarily a residential conservancy and many of the roads have restricted private access. You need to make arrangements before your visit to ensure you can gain the right of entry to the entire road network and the best birding spots. To do so and to receive a list of available accommodation options, e-mail Rob Geddes (robertgeddesrg13@gmail. com), chairman of the conservancy’s committee.
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