Free State (East) – Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve

About the Birding

Several waterbird species can associate with the Sterkfontein Dam, including Little Grebe, Goliath Heron, Egyptian Goose, South African Shelduck, Caspian Tern, African Fish Eagle and Osprey.

Amur Falcon, and the odd Red-footed Falcon, typically perch on roadside telegraph poles although their numbers have been much reduced in recent years. Keep an eye to the sky as raptors overhead could include Verreaux’s Eagle, the odd Martial Eagle, and Rock Kestrel.

The grassland areas support Common Quail, Grey-winged Francolin, White-bellied Korhaan, Ground Woodpecker, Mountain Wheatear, Buff-streaked Chat, Karoo Prinia and Yellow-crowned Bishop. Southern Bald Ibis breed on sandstone cliffs in the reserve and can be seen foraging in grassland. Along the road, Jackal Buzzard, Cape Rock Thrush, Cape Crow, Red-collared Widowbird and Yellow Bishop are common, and Buff-streaked Chat occurs in rocky areas. In Protea woodland, scan for Gurney’s Sugarbird, Malachite Sunbird, and Golden-breasted Bunting. Pale-crowned Cisticola is confined to moist grassland seeps alongside streams. In isolated forest patches, African Olive Pigeon, Red-chested and Black Cuckoo (summer), Bush Blackcap, Cape Batis and Forest Canary occur but one typically needs to hike to access this habitat type.

The rocky slopes (like on the access road off the R74) provide habitat for several species such as Grey-winged Francolin and Red-winged Francolin, Ground Woodpecker, Mountain Wheatear, and Cape Rock Thrush.

In short montane grassland areas on the western side of the reserve one can look for Yellow-breasted Pipit and possibly Rudd’s Lark. This area can however only be accessed on foot.

From the entrance, the road continues for several kilometres to a viewpoint that overlooks a vulture restaurant (vulture feeding programme). Depending on when a carcass was put out, you may see Cape Vulture, White-necked Raven, and even the sought-after Bearded Vulture.

Productive birding can also be had around the reserve chalets and campsite areas for various species such as Greater Double-collared Sunbird and Streaky-headed Seedeater, and is a good spot for a leg stretch if not staying over.

Mammals to look out for in the reserve include Mountain Reedbuck, Grey Rhebuck, Oribi, and Common (Southern) Reedbuck.

Key species:

Southern Bald Ibis, Ground Woodpecker, Mountain Wheatear, Buff-streaked Chat, Malachite Sunbird, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Cape Rock Thrush, Bearded Vulture, Red-winged Francolin, White-bellied Korhaan

About the Birding Site

The Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve is situated outside Harrismith and is well-known for its vulture restaurant. Sterkfontein is the third largest dam in South Africa. The reserve has a total area of almost 18 000 ha, of which the dam covers 6 940 ha when full.

Birding habitats here include the dam itself and associated shoreline, Drakensberg escarpment grassland, with ouhout (Leucosidea sericea) scrub, protea woodland and forest pockets in a few isolated valleys. This habitat mix results in a bird community of nearby 200.

Key species:

Southern Bald Ibis, Ground Woodpecker, Mountain Wheatear, Buff-streaked Chat, Malachite Sunbird, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Cape Rock Thrush, Bearded Vulture, Red-winged Francolin, White-bellied Korhaan

Other Related Information

Access and facilities:
Access to the reserve is from the R74 on the Oliviershoek Pass from KwaZulu-Natal and Harrismith. An entrance fee is payable.
Turnoff to Sterkfontein Nature Reserve off the R74: -28.418944, 29.065028

If travelling to Durban, consider the scenic detour on the R74 from Harrismith past Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve to Bergville, connecting back onto the N3 just after Winterton.

Other related information:

Recommended accommodation nearby:
The reserve has self-catering chalets and campsites and enquiries can be made by calling +27(0)58 6223520.

The Qwantani resort has luxury self-catering chalets and also falls within the reserve
https://www.qwantani.co.za/

No Birder Friendly Establishments are currently available in the area.

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:

Southern Bald Ibis, Ground Woodpecker, Mountain Wheatear, Buff-streaked Chat, Malachite Sunbird, Gurney’s Sugarbird, Cape Rock Thrush, Bearded Vulture, Red-winged Francolin, White-bellied Korhaan

Contact details:

N/A

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