Fish River – Bedford and surrounds

About the Birding

The village of Bedford, situated roughly 96Km to the north of Grahamstown, is surrounded by rich grasslands supporting several notable endemic species. Several unpaved public roads lead from the town itself, suitable as day trips from Grahamstown. Time spent along any of these should deliver most targets, though some occur in low density and require knowledge of specific habitat requirements.

Cisticolas, Larks and Pipits abound throughout the grasslands and scrutiny of any ‘LBJs’ should reveal the Cloud, Wing-snapping, Zitting and Grey-backed Cisticolas, the Eastern Clapper, Spike-heeled, Sabota, Large-billed, Red-capped, Pink-billed, Rufous-naped, Melodious, and Eastern Long-billed Larks as well as the African, Buffy, Plain-backed and Nicholson’s Pipits. A surprising diversity of bustards occurs including the White-bellied, Kori, Denham’s and Luwdig’s Bustards as well as Southern Black Korhaan. Blue Crane and Black Stork are sometimes present on small dams and several pairs of each species nest in the wider area. Grey-winged Francolin is common in grasslands throughout the area, though is never easy to see, and Burchell’s Courser is occasional.

Thornveld in the area can also be productive delivering both Grey and Southern Black Tits, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler (Warbler), Acacia Pied Barbet, Chat Flycatcher, both Red-faced and Speckled Mousebirds, Red-throated Wryneck, Black Cuckooshrike, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, and Red-headed Finch. Isolated thickets along small streams occasionally host Bearded, Knysna and Olive Woodpeckers, Cape Batis, Marsh and African Reed Warblers, African and Red-billed Firefinches, Dusky Indigobird and Yellow-breasted Apalis. In the summer months, Jacobin Cuckoo is fairly common and Great Spotted Cuckoo is occasional.

The area in general is very good for Birds-of-prey. Iconic species such as Cape Vulture, and both Martial and Verreaux’s Eagle wander widely throughout the area, whereas Rock Kestrel, and the Peregrine and Lanner Falcons prefer to remain nearer their nest sites in isolated ravines or large road cuttings. Several pairs of Secretarybird maintain large territories in the area and Pale Chanting Goshawk is conspicuous, frequently perching on exposed perches to survey the surrounding grasslands. Black-winged Kite and Jackal Buzzard regularly hunt from telephone wires, and are joined in summer by an abundance of Amur Falcons and Lesser Kestrels. Road-cuttings regularly host roosting owls and should be checked for both Spotted Eagle and Cape Eagle Owls. The tiny African Scops Owl is resident within the town of Bedford.

Large dams in the are regularly support impressive numbers of waterfowl. Check in particular for the Maccoa and White-backed Ducks, alongside Yellow-billed Duck, Cape Shoveler, South African Shelduck, and Red-billed Teal. Whiskered Tern often breed in the summer months.

Key species:

White-bellied, Denham’s, Ludwig’s and Kori Bustards, Blue Crane, Grey-winged Francolin, Melodious and Eastern Long-billed Larks, Cape Vulture

About the Birding Site

The Great Fish River is the Eastern Cape’s largest river system, running 644Km from source to mouth and draining a basin of some 30 366Km2. Originating to the east of the Karoo town of Graaf Rienet, the river runs past Cradock and Grahamstown before finally entering the Indian ocean near Seafield. Its main tributaries include the Groot Brak, Tarka, Kap and Little Fish Rivers with supplementary input from the Orange River through the Orange-Fish River tunnel system. The river itself flows permanently across much of its length and supports one of the Eastern Cape’s largest agriculture production areas.

It is also of ecological significance supporting several endemic and highly threatened species, including the endangered Eastern Cape Rocky (Sandelia bainsii) and the Eastern Cape Cycad (Encephalartos altensteinii). As such, several conservation areas have been delineated along its banks to protect vast areas of forest, grassland, karoo scrub, fynbos and dune thicket. Among the most important of these are the Greater Fish River Reserve, Kwandwe Private Nature Reserve, and the Kap River Nature Reserve. In terms of its avifaunal richness, the grassland areas surrounding the small village of Bedford are of additional significance.

More than 350 bird species can be found throughout the Fish River drainage system, with some 250 species resident along the river itself. Notable mentions include the nominate race of African Barred Owlet, African Scops Owl, African Finfoot, Crowned Eagle, Knysna and an isolated population of Bearded Woodpeckers, and Olive Bush-shrike. Several of the key sites are openly accessible, where others have restricted access, though most species are common among all sites.

Key species:

White-bellied, Denham’s, Ludwig’s and Kori Bustards, Blue Crane, Grey-winged Francolin, Melodious and Eastern Long-billed Larks, Cape Vulture

Other Related Information

Two routes are recommended as follows:
1. From Bedford, travel south-west along the MR0635 from -32.6844, 26.0811. Keep to the left at -32.7220, 26.0335 and continue south through the extensive grasslands until you reach -33.0257, 25.8989. Melodious Lark is best seen along this stretch of road. From there, you can either scan the Great Fish River or continue east through Sibuya Private Game Reserve to reach the M350.

Other related information:

2. If travelling from Grahamstown to Bedford, turn to the right -32.9444, 26.1262 and follow this unpaved road north-east to Adelaide covering extensive tracks of grassland and acacia scrub. Follow the R63 between Adelaide and Bedford, before turning to the left at -32.6868, 26.1397 which leads back onto the R350 passing several large dams en route.
Note, however, that much of the area is covered in private farmland and birding should be done from public roads only.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
No Birder Friendly Establishments are currently available in the wide-Bedford area. However, a variety of accommodation options are available in the nearby town of Grahamstown, to suit all needs and requirements.

Suggested accommodation in the Grahamstown area include:
A Stone’s Throw B&B:

Acorn Cottage:

Ault House:

Local guide information:
No Birder Friendly Tour Operators are currently available the wider Bedford area. However, birding tours in the general area are available through:

Tim Cockcroft
+27(0)72 314 0069

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

Key species:

White-bellied, Denham’s, Ludwig’s and Kori Bustards, Blue Crane, Grey-winged Francolin, Melodious and Eastern Long-billed Larks, Cape Vulture

Contact details: