Central Karoo – Nieu-Bethesda

About the Birding

Around 280 bird species are known to occur within the wider Nieu-Bethesda area including several threatened and endemic species. Much of the area is privately owned and birding in the vicinity of the town is done using several unpaved roads along which the full compliment of species can be seen. The vegetation in the wider area is a mixture of arid karoo veld and recovering grassland – an artefact of several decades of intensive livestock farming in the region.

The Northern Black and Blue Korhaans are prevalent in grassland and karroid scrub areas and both the Ludwig’s and Kori Bustards are recorded regularly. Secretarybird is present and several pairs are known to nest in the wider area. Karroid scrub supports the endearing Rufous-eared Warbler, Scaly-feathered Weaver, Karoo Scrub-robin, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Desert Cisticola, and Fairy Flycatcher. Riverine thickets should yield the Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler (Warbler), Grey Tit, Red-billed Firefinch, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Orange River White-eye, and Red-headed Finch. Large numbers of Lark-like Bunting and Grey-backed Sparrow-lark irrupt into the area after heavy rainfall, when grasses come to seed. Resident plains species include the Double-banded Courser, Spike-heeled and Thick-billed Larks, and Sickle-winged Chat.

Birds of prey abound. The large dolerite and sandstone cliffs supporting a breeding pair of Verreaux’s Eagle and, although these birds only nest every second year, they are often sighted soaring over the reserve. Martial Eagle is an occasional visitor and African Fish Eagle is resident on the dams around town. Smaller species include the Gabar Gosahwk, both Rock and Greater Kestrels, and the occasional Lanner Falcon.

Key species:

Verreaux’s Eagle, Blue and Northern Black Korhaans, Ludwigs’s and Kori Bustards

About the Birding Site

The vast central Karoo is one of South Africa’s most iconic ecosystems, blanketed by semi-desert drought adapted vegetation and characterised by endless plains broken only by isolated conical hills. The region is dotted with picturesque towns and villages, many with a quaint charm and old-fashioned way about them. The largest among these is the picturesque town of Graaf-Rienet, the fourth oldest town in South Africa and the administrative centre for virtually the entire Karoo region.

However sparse the central Karoo may seem, it supports extremely high avian diversity including over 400 species and many of South Africa’s endemics and near-endemics. Among these are 10 species that are entirely restricted to the Karoo! Most Karoo birds are highly nomadic in nature, moving into areas following high rainfall, but a few are truly desert adapted and remain year-round. Key species include the Karoo Korhaan, Kori and Ludwig’s Bustards, Rufous-eared Warbler, Double-banded Courser, Sickle-winged Chat, and Pririt Batis to name a few.

As a birding route, the region is admittedly broad given the large geographic extent of the Karoo. Nevertheless, several key hotspots are included into the Central Karoo, all of which offer fantastic birding. Among these are the famed Mountain Zebra National Park, Camdeboo National Park, Commandodrift Nature Reserve and the Neiu-Bethesda district.

Key species:

Verreaux’s Eagle, Blue and Northern Black Korhaans, Ludwigs’s and Kori Bustards

Other Related Information

From Graaf Rienet – head north along the N9 for 30Km, before turning north-west in the direction of Nieu-Bethesda. This, and other, unpaved roads in the area provide access to all important habitats in the area.

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
Note that much of the area is privately owned and visitors should not trespass on privately owned land. The full compliment of species found in the area can be found along the detailed network of unpaved roads through the area. The nearest shopping facilities are in Graaf-Rienet, though there is a small fuel station and convenience store in the village of Nieu-Bethesda.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
No Birder Friendly Establishments are currently available for Nieu-Bethesda. However, a range of accommodation options are available within the small town itself including backpackers, bed & breakfast and self-catering options. Alternate accommodation options are available in the nearby town of Graaf Rienet.

Local guide information:
No Birder Friendly Tour Operators or local guides are currently available for Nieu-Bethesda.

Text prepared by:
Daniel Keith Danckwerts (Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Tours)

Key species:

Verreaux’s Eagle, Blue and Northern Black Korhaans, Ludwigs’s and Kori Bustards

Contact details:

For more information, contact:

Nieu Bethesda Tourism

Tel: +27 (0)49 841 1642
Cell: +27 (0)72 742 7113
Email: accomodation@nieu-bethesda.com