Free State (Central) – Soutpan

About the Birding

When traveling on the R700 from Bloemfontein towards Bultfontein, one passes Soetdoring Nature Reserve on the left just before crossing the Modder River. Take the first turn off onto a gravel road to the left approximately 1 km after crossing the Modder River at the Florisbad sign. This road leads to the famous Florisbad, which is a natural spring believed to be a fountain of youth in the previous century.

The road transects farmland on both sides and can deliver a number of good birds including Greater and Lesser Kestrels, Lanner Falcon, Pale Chanting Goshawk and Black-chested Snake Eagle on the power lines and fences along the road. In wet years a few seasonal wetlands form alongside the road and can deliver species such as Marsh Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Black-winged Stilt, South African Shelduck, Whiskered Tern, Pied Avocet, Yellow-crowned Bishop. This road can also be good for Pink-billed Lark, Red-capped Lark and numerous grassland associated species.

The road eventually leads to a fork. Both roads, to the left and right, follow the edge of the largest pan, called Soutpan. The road off to the left is especially good for birding in wet years, since it transects a wetland (-28.761925, 26.051528) which can deliver a lot of rare and out-of-range (for area) water- associated species such as Dwarf Bittern, Greater Painted-snipe, Lesser Moorhen, Baillon’s Crake, African Crake and African Rail. Also along this road, on the right one passes a salt works where Chestnut-banded Plover can be found in dry years and during winter and early summer. After passing the wetland area, the road continues towards the town of Soutpan, where it makes its way up a small rocky plateau. Here one can look out for Yellow Canary, Sickle-winged Chat (winter), Kalahari and Karoo Scrub Robin, Plain-backed and African Pipit, Red-capped Lark and Orange River Francolin. The road eventually reaches the R703; here you turn right towards Soutpan and right again onto a gravel road after passing the Soutpan Police Station. This road transects the main pan and can deliver numerous water associated species including many waders such as Three-banded Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Little Stint, Wood and Marsh Sandpiper, Kittlitz’s Plover, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet and Chestnut-banded Plover. Waterfowl include Cape Shoveler, Yellow-billed Duck, Red-billed Teal, Spur-winged Goose, Egyptian Goose, White-faced Whistling Duck and Cape Teal. Other birds can include Yellow-billed (Intermediate) Egret, Little Egret, Glossy Ibis, African Sacred Ibis, Grey, Black-headed and Goliath Heron, Blue Crane, White Stork and Yellow-billed Stork.

Keep watching for any passing raptors since Pallid and Montagu’s Harriers are sometimes seen in summer.

The above-mentioned route around Soutpan is especially productive during years of abnormally high rainfall and is a highly recommended birding spot during wet summers. Soutpan is also perfect for the occasional mega rarity.

Key species:

Wet years: Baillon’s Crake, African Crake, African Rail, Greater Painted-snipe, Dwarf Bittern, Lesser Moorhen, Black-necked Grebe, Black-winged Pratincole, Common Ringed Plover, March Sandpiper and numerous other waders and waterfowl

Dry Years: Easter Clapper Lark, Melodious Lark, Large-billed Lark, Pink-billed Lark, Red-breasted Swallow, Rufous-eared Warbler, Desert Cisticola, Ludwig’s Bustard, Sickle-winged Chat, Pririt Batis and African Quail-finch

About the Birding Site

Soutpan is a small town situated approximately 45km from Bloemfontein. The town is surrounded by a number of small and large pans. The town’s name comes from the salt refineries surrounding the pans which have been producing salt for over a century. During wet years the numerous gravel roads surrounding the pans make for excellent birding in summer. In drier years this area is great year-round for grassland species associated with the arid central grasslands of the Free State.

The pans as well as the grasslands directly surrounding have been heavily invaded by mesquite trees (Prosopis sp.). This invasion has added a new dimension to the area’s birding, luring in savanna species not normally associated with this habitat.

Key species:

Wet years: Baillon’s Crake, African Crake, African Rail, Greater Painted-snipe, Dwarf Bittern, Lesser Moorhen, Black-necked Grebe, Black-winged Pratincole, Common Ringed Plover, March Sandpiper and numerous other waders and waterfowl

Dry Years: Easter Clapper Lark, Melodious Lark, Large-billed Lark, Pink-billed Lark, Red-breasted Swallow, Rufous-eared Warbler, Desert Cisticola, Ludwig’s Bustard, Sickle-winged Chat, Pririt Batis and African Quail-finch

Other Related Information

Directions:
Turnoff to Soutpan off the R700: -28.798806, 26.108917
Wetland area (also the same location for Chestnut-banded Plover at saltworks). Wetland is south of coordinates and saltworks to the north): -28.762194, 26.052667
Turnoff after the Soutpan Police Station that transects the main pan: -28.719182, 26.062287

Other related information:

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Truksvy B&B, Soutpan
Cell: +27 (0)76 768 8726
Website: https://truksvy.wixsite.com/truksvy
Various other accommodation options are also available in Bloemfontein.

Local guide information:
No local community bird guides operate in this area

Text prepared and edited by:
CW Vermeulen | Local birder
Martin Benadie | Specialist Birding Guide

Key species:

Wet years: Baillon’s Crake, African Crake, African Rail, Greater Painted-snipe, Dwarf Bittern, Lesser Moorhen, Black-necked Grebe, Black-winged Pratincole, Common Ringed Plover, March Sandpiper and numerous other waders and waterfowl

Dry Years: Easter Clapper Lark, Melodious Lark, Large-billed Lark, Pink-billed Lark, Red-breasted Swallow, Rufous-eared Warbler, Desert Cisticola, Ludwig’s Bustard, Sickle-winged Chat, Pririt Batis and African Quail-finch

Contact details:

N/A

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