Free State (East) – Harrismith

About the Birding

From Harrismith there are a number of gravel roads radiating out (notably those north of Harrismith off the R722), and a drive along any of these should reveal a good selection of highland birds. Birds to look out for in the surrounding countryside include Blue and Grey-crowned Crane, White-bellied Korhaan (occasionally in winter), Southern Bald Ibis, Ant-eating Chat and Pied Starling, and Blue Korhaan.

A particularly productive dirt road turns off the R722 at (-28.133750, 29.151028) and joining closer to the N3 at (-28.092833, 29.051222) can be rather productive as can be the stretch of road heading south under the N3 at (-28.103278, 29.042389). Species recorded here include Blue Korhaan, Eastern Long-billed Lark, Red-winged Francolin, Spike-heeled Lark, Pink-billed Lark and the elusive Botha’s Lark. Displaying Long-tailed Widowbird is a common sight and in summer the grasslands are alive with Barn Swallow, Greater Striped Swallow, Zitting Cisticola, African Pipit, South African Cliff Swallow, Yellow-crowned Bishop, Cape Crow, Cape Sparrow, Red-billed Quelea, Helmeted Guineafowl, Black-throated Canary, Banded Martin, Cape Longclaw and Cloud Cisticola, Common Quail, Yellow Canary, Pied Starling as well as Wing-snapping Cisticola. In moisture grassland patches listen out for the distinctive call of Pale-crowned Cisticola. This is also a very good area for the Giant Girdled Lizard (Sungazer) that can often be seen at their burrow entrances.

Wetlands in the area should deliver Whiskered Tern, African Snipe, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Levaillant’s Cisticola, Yellow-billed (Intermediate) Egret, Yellow-billed Duck, Southern Pochard, and Red-billed Teal.

Wilge Pan at the entrance to Harrismith from the N5 has produced some great birds over the years. Greater Flamingo and the elusive Maccoa Duck are two specials to be found here, with regulars here being Cape Teal, Hottentot Teal and Cape Shoveler.

Platberg Reserve is a good place for Buffy Pipit and the occasional Mountain Pipit in winter. The slopes of Platberg hold good numbers of Wailing Cisticola and Nicholson’s Pipit can be found on the rocky scree slopes. The indigenous forest at the base of Donkey Pass is reliable in summer for Bush Blackcap and Barratt’s Warbler. Black Sparrowhawk are regularly seen around the two dams in the reserve and the lower dam frequently holds African Black Duck and a resident Half-collared Kingfisher.

Key species:

Blue Crane, Southern Bald Ibis, Ant-eating Chat, Wing-snapping Cisticola, Yellow-crowned Bishop, Pale-crowned Cisticola, South African Cliff Swallow, Cape Longclaw, Spike-heeled Lark, Botha’s Lark, Bokmakierie, Pink-billed Lark

About the Birding Site

Harrismith lies equidistant from Johannesburg and Durban along the N3 highway. One of the larger towns in the region, Harrismith is a great stepping stone from which to explore the highland areas of the Drakensberg escarpment: Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve, Golden Gate Highlands National Park and Royal Natal National Park.

The landscape around Harrismith is dominated by gently undulating grassland, much of which is now under agriculture, interspersed with flat-topped hills showing sandstone cliffs ie. Platberg, the plateau overlooking town.

Key species:

Blue Crane, Southern Bald Ibis, Ant-eating Chat, Wing-snapping Cisticola, Yellow-crowned Bishop, Pale-crowned Cisticola, South African Cliff Swallow, Cape Longclaw, Spike-heeled Lark, Botha’s Lark, Bokmakierie, Pink-billed Lark

Other Related Information

Directions:
Turnoff to the R722 from the N3: -28.239556, 29.119889
Harrismith: -28.275417, 29.123944

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Rose Garden Manor House, Harrismith – local birder David Weaver; +27 (0)83 303 4230
No Birder Friendly Establishments are currently available in the area.

Other related information:

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

Text prepared by:
Martin Benadie | Specialist Birding Guide

Key species:

Blue Crane, Southern Bald Ibis, Ant-eating Chat, Wing-snapping Cisticola, Yellow-crowned Bishop, Pale-crowned Cisticola, South African Cliff Swallow, Cape Longclaw, Spike-heeled Lark, Botha’s Lark, Bokmakierie, Pink-billed Lark

Contact details:

N/A

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