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Vaal River 0

Posted on October 15, 2015 by Ken


The Vaal River area is famous for its many wedding venues but the variety of habitats makes for good birding and some secretive species are hiding out along the banks and in the general area known as the Vredefort Dome.

Amongst the birds passing through are the nomadic widowfinches – little seed-eating birds also known as Indigobirds that spend the winter in large flocks.

But come summer and the males wander far and wide and are conspicuous in their almost-glossy blue-black plumage as they sing from elevated call-sites. They move all over the eastern half of Southern Africa and the Highveld, and the Vaal River region is just the sort of area in which they would pop up.

And so it was in early February that I saw both Black Widowfinch, along the Venterskroon Road, and Steelblue Widowfinch at Vaal de Sioleh, one of the wedding venues that offers good birding along the river.

The riverine vegetation holds plenty of Redeyed Dove and Southern Masked Weaver, while Natal Francolin skulk around the thicker undergrowth and Redbilled Woodhoopoes pass noisily through. Bokmakierie also occasionally flies through in a burst of colour.

The river itself hosts African Darter, Reed Cormorant, Whitebreasted Cormorant, Cattle Egret, Yellowbilled Duck, Giant Kingfisher, Whitethroated Swallow, Southern Red Bishop, Greater Striped Swallow, Blackheaded Heron, Great White Egret and Egyptian Goose.

There is still a lot of natural bush along the Venterskroon Road and, coupled with all the rocky outcrops, this leads to good species diversity. Swainson’s Francolin, Whitebrowed Sparrow Weaver, Spotted Flycatcher, Redbilled Quelea, Redeyed and Blackeyed Bulbuls, Rufousnaped Lark, Sacred Ibis, Cinnamonbreasted Rock Bunting, Whitewinged Widow, Blackthroated Canary, Chestnutvented Tit Babbler and Amur Falcon were all seen from the road, while a Longcrested Eagle, imperiously perched on a telephone pole surveying all below him, was an interesting visitor from it’s moister preferred habitat.


Scimitar Oryx on a farm on the Venterskroon Road, Vaal River area

The most interesting sighting of the day, however, was the Scimitar Oryx, an antelope that is extinct in the wild (since 2000). Endemic to North Africa, it is now part of an extensive global breeding program and I was fortunate enough to see half-a-dozen of them on a farm adjoining the Venterskroon Road.

They are adapted to extreme heat and semi-desert conditions, and can go long periods without water (their kidneys prevent water loss through urination), so 29° and thorn scrub must have felt quite luxurious for them. Interestingly, there is speculation that the legend of the unicorn comes from seeing a Scimitar Oryx with one horn …


Sightings list

Redeyed Dove

Helmeted Guineafowl

African Darter

Reed Cormorant

Redbilled Woodhoopoe

House Sparrow

Crowned Plover


Southern Masked Weaver

Whitebreasted Cormorant

Cattle Egret

Natal Francolin

Swainson’s Francolin

Laughing Dove

Common Myna

Glossy Starling

Fiscal Shrike

Whitebrowed Sparrow Weaver

Black Widowfinch

Spotted Flycatcher

Redbilled Quelea

Redeyed Bulbul

Rufousnaped Lark

Sacred Ibis

Cinnamonbreasted Rock Bunting

Ground Squirrel

Whitewinged Widow

Blackthroated Canary

Scimitar Oryx

Chestnutvented Tit Babbler

Amur Falcon

Blackeyed Bulbul


European Swallow


Longcrested Eagle

Hadeda Ibis

Cape White-Eye

Yellowbilled Duck

Giant Kingfisher

Whitethroated Swallow

Southern Red Bishop

Greater Striped Swallow

Steelblue Widowfinch

Blackheaded Heron

Little Swift


Great White Egret

Egyptian Goose

Blacksmith Plover


Vaalkop Dam Nature Reserve 2

Posted on February 20, 2012 by Ken

The view from the southern part of Vaalkop Dam Nature Reserve, looking across to the islands and Bulkop Hill.

The best feature of Vaalkop Dam Nature Reserve, 50km north-west of Brits, is the overwhelming sense of peace and natural tranquility you get sitting on the shore of the large dam.

On a steamy hot February morning, it was beautiful just to sit and soak in the clear blue skies, the odd koppie and the sounds of the waterbirds going about their business. I even used the opportunity to indulge in one of my favourite treats – dipping my cap into the cool water and then throwing it over my head … Bliss!

I judged the spot where I tiptoed into the water to be crocodile-free because moments earlier a large carp had come to that spot and briefly frolicked in the shallow water …

February 16 was a very hot day, but nevertheless it was a good birding trip.

I stopped at the little bridge across the Elands River and made a great start – a couple of Blackcrowned Night Herons roosting in the overhanging riverine trees.

It was a good spot, also throwing up African Darter, a fleeing Greenbacked Heron with its orange legs dangling conspicuously, Reed Cormorant, a fleeting glimpse of a Woodland Kingfisher, Cape Wagtail, a large flock of Greater Striped Swallows, Southern Red Bishop, Whitewinged Widow, Southern Masked Weaver and Pied Kingfisher. I also heard some rustling down below the bridge and shortly afterwards a large Nile Monitor came shuffling out with a plastic bag and some vegetable/reedy matter clamped tight in its jaws.

The people at Bushwillow kindly allowed me into their bird sanctuary and highlights there were Scalyfeathered Finch, my first European Roller of the summer (leaving it late!), Jameson’s Firefinch, an Ostrich, a nicely posing Lesser Grey Shrike and Goliath Heron.

I then took a little walk down to the dam and spotted a dashing Bluecheeked Bee-Eater, swooping around like a green bullet, as well as a Whiskered Tern that was meandering across the dam before suddenly changing direction and swooping back into the water to catch something small. A couple of dainty Black Heron were also amongst the waterbirds.

A lovely shaded little pool threw up a brilliant Malachite Kingfisher that posed all-too-briefly on a reedstem for me before vanishing in a blur of dazzling colours.

I stopped for lunch at the picnic site and spotted my second ever Great Sparrow (the first was in November at Mapungubwe), hopping about in an Acacia tree along with a Crested Barbet.

The signs warning anglers about the crocodiles are true because I spotted a two-metre reptile cruising in towards the shoreline before my attention was grabbed by a pair of fairly distant African Fish Eagle.

A very yellow Cape White-Eye also popped in to visit and, just before leaving Vaalkop, I spotted an Icterine Warbler in the thicker Acacia woodland in the southern part of the reserve.

By far the most common bird of the trip was the Spotted Flycatcher … there seemed to be one lurking under a tree ever 50 metres or so! As someone who’s birding foundation was in KZN, I’m used to Blackeyed Bulbuls dominating … in fact I didn’t see a single Toppie!

But another wonderful piece of African heaven discovered not that far from home and definite food for the soul …

Sightings list

Blackcrowned Night Heron

African Darter

Greenbacked Heron

Reed Cormorant

Woodland Kingfisher

Cape Wagtail

Greater Striped Swallow

Nile Monitor

Southern Red Bishop

Whitewinged Widow

Southern Masked Weaver

Pied Kingfisher

Laughing Dove

Little Egret

Grey Hornbill

Grey Lourie


Glossy Starling

European Bee-Eater

Scalyfeathered Finch

Redbilled Quelea

Southern Greyheaded Sparrow

Lilacbreasted Roller

Pied Crow


European Swallow

Rufousnaped Lark

Cape Turtle Dove

European Roller

Fantailed Cisticola

Nyala (females)

Jameson’s Firefinch (female)

Spotted Flycatcher


Whitebreasted Cormorant

Lesser Grey Shrike

Grey Heron

Goliath Heron

Blacksmith Plover

Egyptian Goose

Bluecheeked Bee-Eater

Cattle Egret

Whiskered Tern (non-breeding)

Black Heron

Sabota Lark

Malachite Kingfisher

Longtailed Shrike

Vervet Monkey

Crested Barbet

Great Sparrow (male)

Common Myna (grrrrr)

Nile Crocodile

Redknobbed Coot

African Fish Eagle

Cape White-Eye

Sacred Ibis

Rattling Cisticola

Red Hartebeest


Waterbuck (pregnant young cow)

Forktailed Drongo

Southern Black Tit (female)

Redbacked Shrike (male)

Icterine Warbler

Birds/Wildlife 7

Posted on December 21, 2011 by Ken


Nahoon Estuary Nature Reserve


Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve

Kenneth Stainbank Nature Reserve

Leopard Creek

Kosi Bay

Ndumo Game Reserve

Pilanesberg National Park

Pilanesberg National Park

Vaal River

Mapungubwe National Park

Punda Maria, Pafuri & Crooks Corner

Sabie River

Marievale Bird Sanctuary

Nylsvley Nature Reserve

Punda Maria & Pafuri

Letaba to Punda Maria

Lower Sabie to Letaba

Crocodile Bridge to Lower Sabie

Mlawula Nature Reserve

Akasia Country Club

Hartebeestpoort Dam

Mt Moreland, La Lucia

Pilanesberg National Park

Ndumo Game Reserve


Amatikulu Nature Reserve

Ezemvelo Nature Reserve

Mkuze Falls

Muzi Pans

Bonamanzi Game Park

Hluhluwe Game Reserve

Ndumo Game Reserve

Vaalkop Dam Nature Reserve

Zaagkuildrift to Kgomo-Kgomo

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