Free State (Central) – Soetdoring Nature Reserve and Krugersdrift Dam

About the Birding

Prior to entering the reserve, continue just beyond the signposted entrance off the R700 and stop at the bridge over the Modder River (-28.806472, 26.109222). Safest is to park safely on either side of the bridge as the R700 can be busy. A large breeding colony of South African Cliff Swallow breeds under the bridge in summer providing quite a spectacle. White-rumped Swift and Little Swift also breed here in numbers while Goliath Heron, African Black Duck and Grey Heron may be observed along the river.

Black Crake and even Little Bittern may be seen amongst the reeds from here as well as Lesser Swamp Warbler.

As mentioned, the key habitats in Soetdoring Nature Reserve are grassland, thornveld and the Modder River itself. Time spent in all of these will result in a very good bird list.

Upon entering the main gate, one passes through pristine grassland. Grassland-associated species to look out for include Small (Kurrichane) Buttonquail, Double-banded and Temminck’s Courser, Northern Black Korhaan, Ant-eating Chat, Long-tailed Widowbird, Rufous-naped Lark, Eastern Clapper Lark, Red-capped Lark, Spike-heeled Lark, Pink-billed Lark, and Melodious Lark. Other possibilities include Blue Korhaan, Orange River Francolin, Desert Cisticola, Cloud Cisticola, Greater Striped Swallow (summer), African Quail-finch, and Red-breasted Swallow. Lucky sightings could include Ludwig’s Bustard, Kori Bustard, Secretarybird or even the occasional courting Black Harrier.

A stop at the picnic sites closer to the Modder River with its associated reedbeds as well as a walk in the thornveld areas will add a different suite of birds to the grassland areas.

Thornveld-associated birds along the river include Gabar Goshawk, Natal Spurfowl, Red-chested Cuckoo, White-fronted Bee-eater, Cardinal Woodpecker, Pearl-breasted Swallow (summer), Kalahari Scrub-robin, Chestnut-vented Tit-babbler (Warbler), Pririt Batis, Acacia Pied Barbet, Brown-backed Honeybird, Common Scimitarbill and Brown-crowned Tchagra. Orange River White-eye can also be abundant here. In summers with good rainfall, Common Cuckoo, African Cuckoo and Eurasian Golden Oriole occur. A vagrant Madagascan Cuckoo was also found here causing much excitement amongst birders when it was initially discovered in late 2020 where it remained into 2021, being seen by a happy contingent of twitchers. Wet summers can also produce White-winged Widowbird, Bronze-winged Courser, Common Whitethroat, Garden Warbler, Icterine Warbler, Great Spotted Cuckoo, and Klaas’s Cuckoo.

Namaqua Warbler is abundant in the riverine thickets (betrayed by their distinctive calls), while Little Bittern, Green-backed (Striated) Heron and Burchell’s Coucal prefer the reedbeds. Red-billed Firefinch, Black-faced Waxbill and Green-winged Pytilia also favour the thornveld areas as do Village Indigobird (look out for calling males in summer perched atop trees) and displaying Shaft-tailed Whydah. A productive thornveld patch can be accessed here: 28°49’53.9″S, 26°03’01.9″E.

The Krugersdrift Dam part of the reserve on the Kimberley road (R64) is the best spot to observe waterbirds. Waders such as Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and Ruff are common summer visitors, while Common Ringed Plover, Kittlitz’s Plover, Pied Avocet, Three-banded Plover, Black-winged Stilt and the occasional Chestnut-banded Plover favour the shoreline. Larger waterbirds may include Yellow-billed Stork (summer), Caspian Tern over the open water, both Greater Flamingo and Lesser Flamingo, and waterfowl such as Cape Shoveler and Yellow-billed Duck. Yellow Wagtail has been observed in wet summers. Vagrants have also included American Golden Plover, (Common) Black-headed Gull, Bar-tailed Godwit, and Ruddy Turnstone.

Soetdoring also has an interesting mix of mammal species to look out for while birding such as Black Wildebeest, Springbok, Red Hartebeest, Eland and Yellow Mongoose.

Key species:

Namaqua Warbler, Melodious Lark, Eastern Clapper Lark, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Rufous-eared Warbler, Northern Black Korhaan, Pririt Batis, Acacia Pied Barbet, Kalahari Scrub Robin, South African Cliff Swallow (summer)

About the Birding Site

Soetdoring Nature Reserve and Krugersdrift Dam is a prime birding spot in close proximity to Bloemfontein. The name, Soetdoring, originates from the many sweet thorn trees found here. This reserve comprises 7 500 hectares and is one of the relatively unknown birding gems in the Free State. Soetdoring lies next to the Modder River and protects a mosaic of open grasslands, thornveld and wetland. The reserve has a bird list of almost 300 with a 100+ species day easily attainable in summer.

Key species:

Namaqua Warbler, Melodious Lark, Eastern Clapper Lark, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Rufous-eared Warbler, Northern Black Korhaan, Pririt Batis, Acacia Pied Barbet, Kalahari Scrub Robin, South African Cliff Swallow (summer)

Other Related Information

Directions:
Access to the reserve is from the Bloemfontein-Bultfontein road (R700) or from the Bloemfontein-Dealesville road (R64).
Turnoff to Soetdoring Nature Reserve from the R700: -28.810639, 26.109444
Turnoff to Krugersdrift Dam section off the R64: -28.882440, 25.950568

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
The reserve offers accommodation and there are picnic sites and braai (barbeque) areas. A network of well-maintained self-drive roads take in the key habitats. An entrance fee per vehicle is payable and a map of the self-drive roads and picnic sites is obtainable.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
No Birder Friendly Establishments are currently available in the Soetdoring area. However, a diverse array of accommodation options are available in Bloemfontein (only approx. 40 km away) to suit all budgets and requirements.

Local guide information:
No Birder Friendly Tour Operators or local guides are currently available in the Bloemfontein area.

Text prepared and edited by:
Martin Benadie | Specialist Birding Guide

Key species:

Namaqua Warbler, Melodious Lark, Eastern Clapper Lark, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Rufous-eared Warbler, Northern Black Korhaan, Pririt Batis, Acacia Pied Barbet, Kalahari Scrub Robin, South African Cliff Swallow (summer)

Contact details:

The reserve office can be contacted on:

Soetdoring Nature Reserve
Tel: +27 (0)51 433 9002

Download Checklist