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Birding in Northern Gauteng, close to Tshwane (Pretoria)

Bird watching in Northern Gauteng is most rewarding for broadleaved woodland species and water birds. Close to Pretoria, the Seringveld Conservancy and the Roodeplaat Nature Reserve are home to a number of specials and a wide variety of summer and winter visitors and residents.

We have prepared a day trip route around the main birding areas of Seringveld and Roodeplaat Dam,  on public roads, which may not be in very good repair, but passable in a sedan. These roads are quiet and you can take your time without feeling pressurised by the traffic. From the route, it would be easy to include a side trip to Buffelsdrif Conservancy and Amakulu Nature Reserve if you have the time to stay over in the area.

Seringveld Specials for Birders

Seringveld specials from left: Pallid Flycatcher, Tinkling Cisticola, African Cuckoo hawk and Green-capped Eromomela

About Seringveld

The Seringveld Conservancy is mostly mixed woodland with sour veld types on sandy soils. This area is well known for its broadleaved woodland specials. It is the only place in Gauteng where Tinkling cisticola occurs. Other specials include Green-capped eremomela, Pallid flycatcher, Flappet & Fawn-coloured lark, Bushveld pipit, Striped pipit, Buffy pipit, Lizard buzzard and Cuckoo hawk.

While the conservancy boasts a list of some 280-odd species, 120 (summer), 75 (winter); endemics: 22, a visitor to the area may expect to find between 100 and 150 species in a day if all habitats are visited. Priority areas are along Rinkhals and Mambaweg. This is where one has the best chance of ticking the area’s specials, plus a range of other species such as the very vocal but shy Coqui francolin, large raptors such as African hawk-eagle, Black-chested snake-eagle and Brown snake-eagle, Ovambo sparrowhawk and Lizard buzzard, African cuckoo in spring, Black cuckooshrike, Yellow-throated petronia and Red-headed weaver. Striped kingfisher, Black-crowned tchagra, Yellow-rumped tinkerbird, Brubru and Pearl-breasted swallow are virtually guaranteed at any time of year.

About Roodeplaat Dam and Nature Reserve
Roodeplaat Dam Wall

Roodeplaat Dam Wall

Roodeplaat Dam offers a combination of open water, reedbeds, and dense Acacia and mixed thornveld interspersed with more open areas. Riverine bush is to be found along the watercourses entering and leaving the dam.

Roodeplaat dam is obviously good for waterfowl, highlights being African Finfoot below the dam wall, African Fish Eagle, which breed at the dam, and Osprey. Roodeplaat – species count: ± 120; daily species list: 80 (summer), 60 (winter)

About the Day Trip

Drive from Johannesburg (60 minutes) or Pretoria (20 minutes) to Seringveld (bird for 4-5 hours). Drive to Roodeplaat Dam Nature Reserve (bird for 2-3 hours). Return Johannesburg (60 to 90 minutes due to traffic).

Approximate distance covered from Johannesburg: 250 km. Take some cash for toll roads and entrance to the Roodeplaat Dam Nature Reserve – R100 should cover these with change.

Pack a picnic breakfast and lunch, or stop at one of the many restaurants or lodges along this route for a meal. An early morning departure from Johannesburg is advised in order to beat rush hour traffic.

Map Northern Gauteng Birding, Seringveld and Rooiplaat Dam

Click to enlarge the map

Route Description

Depart before 06h30. Take the N1 north towards Pretoria, turn on to the Danie Joubert Freeway (N1) following it towards the Zambezi Drive off-ramp.Turn right onto the R513 towards Cullinan (under the highway) and continue straight for just over 6 km, then take a left at the Kameelfontein turn-off. Travel 10.3 km, past Roodeplaat Dam (you will return here later where you can enjoy the picnic spot), then turn right onto the gravel Bynespoort Road.

This is the south-western section of Seringveld conservancy. Birding here is done from the comfort of your car and the roads are all public thoroughfares. However, all the properties are privately owned so please be considerate, and remember if you wish to bird off the road you will need the owners’ permission. Drive along the Bynespoort road and look in the thick bush at the base of the hill on your left for White-throated robin-chat, Striped pipit, Lazy cisticola, Short-toed rock-thrush and Lesser & Greater honeyguides.

After 1 km turn left onto Rinkalsweg which is a dead-end road, but offers 3 km’s of delightful birding before you need to retrace your steps. As you drive along scan the rocky ridge for Striped pipit and Cape & Short-toed rock thrush. During summer Flappet lark can be heard displaying overhead, and Striped pipit may also be heard calling. From the ridge continue down the slope to where the road bends sharply to the right, and just after the bend is where you’ll encounter a patch of broad-leaved woodland in which you may find such specials as Tinkling cisticola, Striped kingfisher, Green-capped & Yellow-bellied eremomela, Brubru, Black-crowned tchagra, Black cuckooshrike, Pale flycatcher and Yellow-fronted tinkerbird. A slow walk along the road may also reveal Coqui francolin, Bushveld pipit, Southern black flycatcher and Brown-backed honeybird. Keep an eye overhead as there is a resident African cuckoo hawk in the area, as well as the possibility of Ovambo sparrowhawk, African hawk-eagle, Lizard buzzard and Black-breasted & Brown snake-eagle. After birding this area, retrace your steps to the tar road where you turned off towards Bynespoort, and turn right onto the tar road.

Drive for just over 400 m before taking your first right into Mamba Road, a gravel road. This road is particularly good for larks, so look for Fawn-coloured, Rufous-naped, Sabota and Flappet larks. The open bushveld is also good for Yellow-throated petronia, White-fronted & European bee-eater, and you may be lucky and spot a roller. Pearl-breasted swallow may be seen foraging across this area as they breed in the aardvark burrows. After 3.5 km you again enter a patch of beautiful broad-leaved woodland, so look out for any of the aforementioned specials which you still have not seen.

The Krokodilspruit has several good reedbeds and shallow pans along its course. Red-chested Flufftail are commonly heard, Southern Masked-Weaver, Village Weaver and Cape Weaver nest in the reedbed where Mambaweg crosses the spruit next to the Sandra Maria group facility.

After roughly 4 km take the left-hand fork and continue on the gravel road for 2.7 km before reaching the tar road. Turn right onto the tar road, the R573, and stop at any pans along this road to look for White-backed & Comb duck, African jacana, African rail and Red-chested flufftail. Reedbeds should be checked for Village, Southern masked and Cape weaver.

Check the bridge for a colony of South African cliff swallows, the small stream below for Halfcollared & Giant kingfisher, and the dam to the south for Purple heron, African purple swamphen, African jacana, Black crake and Little bittern.

The Boekenhoutskloofspruit is home to Giant Kingfisher and the occasional Half-collared Kingfisher. Purple Heron, African Purple Swamphen, Little Bittern, Black Crake and African Jacana frequent the dam where the river crosses the R573.

Driving further along, stop at the Kloof Shop and head out to the back where Mocking cliff-chat, Striped pipit and Lazy cisticola may be found in the rocky habitat. Kloof shop and the bush at the foot of the rocky crags behind it are good for a range of species, notably Striped Pipit, Lazy Cisticola and Mocking Cliff-Chat. Storeowner Piet Rademan will readily allow access. Traffic noise from the KwaMhlanga road does tend to spoil the ambience at busy times, however.

Telephone poles along any of the roads are great perches for raptors so be sure to scan these as you drive around. Continue along the R573 until you reach the R573 – M8 intersection where you turn right onto the M8. As you drive along this road check the grasslands alongside for Longtailed & White-winged widow.

Detour to the Amakulu Nature Reserve: This detour is not included in the timing for the day trip. It must be taken before you turn off onto the M8. 500 meters past the M8 intersection on the R573, turn left and drive 6km to reach the Amakulu Nature Reserve.

Unusual birds encountered in this area include Blackbreasted Snake Eagle and Brown Snake Eagle, Greater Kestrel and Lesser Kestrel, Temminck’s Courser, Whitebellied Korhaan, and Buffy, Plainbacked Pipit and Bushveld Pipit. Watercourses should be scrutinised for Malachite Kingfisher and Dwarf Bittern, while areas around drinking troughs and good bush can be expected to yield a good range of seedeaters, flycatchers and warblers, including Garden Warbler and Icterine Warbler in midsummer. This is an exceptional area for cuckoos, with Great Spotted Cuckoo and Striped Cuckoo being common sightings.

Amakulu NR lies to the north of the Seringveld Conservancy. The area can be traversed on one of two untarred roads running roughly in a north-westerly direction from the KwaMhlanga road. The one, signposted to Hammanskraal, turns off opposite Kloof shop and the other just beyond the business centre of De Wagensdrift. Following the latter road to the end, turning right at the T and right again at the “Uitvlugt” sign takes one onto another quiet dirt road that yields excellent birds on occasion. 

Roodeplaat Dam Nature Reserve

After finishing up with birding the Seringveld Conservancy, continue along the M8, and at the R513 – M8 junction, turn right onto the R513 and head back towards the highway. At the Kameelfontein turn-off (where you turned off initially) turn right and after 3.6 km you will see a sign for “Roodeplaat Reserve” where you turn left. Follow this gravel road for a few hundred metres until you reach the reserve entrance where an entry fee is payable.

Once in the reserve turn left on a circular route towards ‘Zeekoeigat’ and drive for 1.7 km where you’ll see a boom gate on the left. Stop here and walk down to Zeekoeigat where you can often find Glossy ibis, African darter, Green-backed heron and Wattled lapwings. Also scan the surrounds for Blue & Common waxbill, Yellow-fronted, Black-throated & Streaky-headed canary and Golden-breasted bunting. Return to your car and continue for a short distance on the route until you see the entrance into the Zeekoeigat complex where a lovely hide can be visited for some of the more common waterbirds.

After finishing the circular route stop at the offices and take a walk in the bushveld looking for Crimson-breasted shrike, Chestnut-vented tit-babbler, Long-billed crombec, Acacia pied barbet and Chinspot batis. Drive through the parking area and take an unsigned gravel road for 1.8 km, which heads down to the second bird hide. Coqui francolin occur along this road, while at the hide look for Three-banded plover, African jacana, White-winged & Whiskered tern and a good variety of herons, egrets and kingfishers. Return back along the road and turn right onto the main road, then turnoff at the picnic site. The picnic site is idyllically situated under lovely large trees and a wander around here should reveal Blackchested prinia, Crested francolin, Black-collared & Crested barbet, and in summer, Diederik, Jacobin & Levaillant’s cuckoo.

The western section offers excellent bushveld birding in the early morning, but is inclined to be noisy over weekends. Many waterbirds can be seen such as Great Crested Grebe, Whitewinged Terns, Purple Gallinule, Black Crake, Thickbilled Weaver and several duck species. The thickets are good for warblers, prinias, weavers and robins, and Giant Kingfishers frequent the stream coming in from the Zeekoegat water treatment works. The pools below the wall should be scrutinised for African Finfoot. The eastern section of the reserve is quieter and thus more conducive to birding over weekends. African Fish Eagles are known to nest in this section of the dam. The vegetation along the dam is thicker, and there are also areas of open grassland. The Roodeplaat Experimental Farm offers superb birding in a variety of habitats, but is unfortunately not open to the public. The Pretoria Bird Club has regular outings to this venue.

Roodeplaat Dam is surrounded by a number of campsites, self-catering chalets and full board resorts. Camping in the section of the nature reserve on the western bank costs R22 for a site without an electricity point. There is a group camp consisting of 8 rustic huts in the eastern section. Reservations can be made by calling (011) 904 3930/3. There is also a 2km trail in the eastern section of the reserve.

The dam wall is reached by going one kilometer past the reserve entrance on the Kwa Mhlanga road and taking the next right turn, signposted to “Hidrologiese Navorsing” and Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. The entrance to the eastern section of the reserve is reached by continuing straight towards Cullinan at the first 4-way stop off the N1, turning left at the large “Plantforum” sign 5km later, and left again 3.6km later. A permit is required for this section. These can be obtained by calling the reserve manager, number (012) 808 0373.

After you have finished birding, return to the R513 and turn right which will take you back to the N1 where you’ll head south towards Pretoria/Johannesburg. Keep in mind that rush hour traffic in the greater Johannesburg/Pretoria area is from approximately 16h00 – 19h00, so if you wish to miss it, aim to leave the reserve with enough time to spare.

Buffelsdrif Conservancy

Buffelsdrif Conservancy with a species list of 265 and its close proximity to Pretoria and Johannesburg is possibly one of the easiest areas in which to view most of the typical thornveld species, as well as numerous other species.

Due to the nearby Roodeplaat Dam, an extensive canal system and the Pienaars River, birding at all times of the year is rewarding. To cover the area extensively a full day visit is recommended especially if combined with a visit to the nearby Seringveld Conservancy.  In summer a list of over 150 and in winter 120 are easily achievable in a full day visit.

Specials: Southern White-faced Scops-Owl,European Nightjar, Bronze-winged Courser, African Pygmy-Kingfisher, African Black Duck, Violet-backed Starling, Violet-eared Waxbill and Black-faced Waxbill. Vagrants include Black Stork, Peregrine Falcon, Lanner Falcon, African Finfoot, Greater Painted-snipe and Water Thick-knee.

Along the Canal network birding is very rewarding in winter with most bushveld species in abundance.

The Pienaars River route – a 5km stretch along the river with great views over the deep pools of the river. Colonies of Village Weaver and good chances of Giant Kingfisher, Half-collared Kingfisher and Malachite Kingfisher.

A hiking trail along the ridge through an Aloe Forest with good chances of Spotted Eagle-Owl, Greater Honeyguide, Lesser Honeyguide and Brown-backed Honeybird as well as Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird and Southern Pied Babbler.

A hike or drive to the ruins of a mission station through arid acacia veld characterised by Ashy Tit, Cape Penduline-Tit, Desert Cisticola and Little Bee-eater. 

As Buffelsdrif is entirely privately owned a number of residents have accommodation available, from single rooms to self-contained chalets. Due to the proximity to Pretoria – (travel time approx. 20 Minutes from Pretoria central) and the inclusion of Buffelsdrift in the Dinokeng area, many options are available.

From the N1 take the Zambezi Drive/Cullinan offramp and continue towards Cullinan for approx. 1km. At the Traffic lights turn left towards Moloto. Follow this road for 7kms before turning left at the Buffelsdrif signpost (This is 2km before the entrance to Roodeplaat Dam.) Continue on the gravel road for 4km’s before entering the Buffelsdrift Conservancy.

For guiding in the area, go to the Indicator Birding Website.

More info on the quaint town of Tswane More info on the Northern Gauteng area

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