Free State (West) – Benfontein Game Farm

About the Birding

Benfontein is perhaps one of the prime birding localities in the western Free State. This is partly due to the large diversity of bird species that frequent the property as a result of the diverse habitat types, but also because of the knowledge that has been gained through several ornithological research projects about the property’s avifauna. Thus far 260 bird species have been recorded on Benfontein.

Over the years the property has become well known for its larks, and 14 species have been recorded, including residents such as Eastern Clapper Lark, Fawn-coloured Lark, Spike-heeled Lark, Rufous-naped Lark, Red-capped Lark, Sabota Lark, and Large-billed Lark, common nomads such as Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark and Pink-billed Lark, and rare nomads such as Melodious Lark, Stark’s Lark, Monotonous Lark, Chestnut-backed Sparrow-lark and Black-eared Sparrow-lark.

It is however perhaps the Kalahari and Nama Karoo endemics that are the property’s main attraction, particularly for overseas bird-watchers who occasionally visit Benfontein. These include: Orange River Francolin, Bradfield’s Swift, Ludwig’s Bustard, Blue Korhaan, Burchell’s and Namaqua Sandgrouse, Burchell’s Courser, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Cape Penduline-tit, Fairy Flycatcher, Rufous-eared Warbler, Eastern Clapper Lark, Marico Flycatcher, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Mountain Wheatear, Violet-eared Waxbill and Cape Longclaw. There are numerous Sociable Weaver colonies in camel thorn trees in the south-eastern areas of the property. Associated with these nests are other typical Kalahari bird species, such as Pygmy Falcon, Acacia Pied Barbet, Ashy Tit and Red-headed Finch.

There is a population of White-backed Vulture that breed on top of camelthorn (Vachellia erioloba) trees. Cape Vulture and Lappet-faced Vulture are also occasionally observed roosting on the powerline that traverses the eastern section of the property, or at wild animal carcasses. The greater Kimberley area in fact supports a breeding population of more than 250 pairs of White-backed Vulture. These have been the focus of intensive research during the past 28 years, with more than 1000 birds being ringed. Please record the combination of colour-rings on ringed birds and send the details to Angus Anthony (bizzybees@mweb.co.za). Several other species of raptors breed on the farm, including Tawny Eagle, Secretarybird, Greater Kestrel, Gabar Goshawk, and Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl. Less frequent visitors are Brown Snake Eagle, Red-footed (rare) and Amur Falcon, Montagu’s and Pallid Harrier, and Marsh Owl.
The world’s largest bird, the Common Ostrich, is common on Benfontein and these birds are most well-known for their genetic integrity. In other words these southern Ostriches (Struthio camelus australis) have not hybridized with Ostriches introduced to South Africa from other parts of the African continent. Other large birds, which are sometimes encountered on Benfontein, include Blue Crane (which breed during the summer months) as well as several species of bustard, most notably Ludwig’s Bustard, Northern Black Korhaan, Red-crested Korhaan and infrequently Blue Korhaan. The dolerite hills on the southern and western extremities of the property provide habitat for a unique suite of birds, including African Rock Pipit, Nicholson’s Pipit, Layard’s Tit-babbler (Warbler), Grey-backed Cisticola, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, and Short-toed Rock Thrush.

The large ephemeral pan in the low-lying northern end of the property can support a plethora of interesting waterbirds, depending on inundation levels. Some interesting waterbirds which have been recorded at the pan include: Black-necked Grebe, Purple Heron, Greater and Lesser Flamingo, Hottentot Teal, Southern Pochard, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Greater Painted-snipe, and various species of waders, including Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, and Pied Avocet.
The homestead, picnic site, and farm dam support an interesting suite of birds too, including Western Barn Owl, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Green Wood-hoopoe, Crested Barbet, Lesser and Greater Honeyguide, Familiar Chat, and White-bellied Sunbird.

Benfontein has an interesting diversity of large ungulates that are typical of the Free State and Northern Cape. These include Steenbok, Grey Duiker, Springbok, Mountain Reedbuck, Gemsbok, Red Hartebeest, Kudu, Blesbok, and Black Wildebeest. The latter two species are of conservation importance as they are genetically pure, having never seen the closely-related Bontebok and Blue Wildebeest. Surplus ungulates captured on Benfontein have been used to re-establish populations of these species on other properties throughout the country. The farm is also well known for its diversity of nocturnal animals and a night time drive can be particularly rewarding with frequent observations of Aardwolf, Aardvark, Black-footed Cat, Hedgehog, Cape Fox, Bat-eared Fox, Black-backed Jackal, Small-spotted Genet, Springhare, and Cape Porcupine. Even some of the smaller rodents, such as the Large-eared Mouse (Malacothrix typica), are of interest. Other interesting small mammals include Yellow Mongoose, South African Ground Squirrel, Meerkat (suricate), Slender and Mongoose.

A large diversity of plants is found on Benfontein, with a few unusual and threatened plants, including one member of the Mesembryanthemaceae, Nananthus species, amaryllids namely vleilelie (Nerine laticoma), gifbol (Ammocharis coranica), seeroogbol (Boophone disticha) and the poisonous iris, bloutulp (Moraea polystachya). As a result of its biological and cultural importance, Benfontein Game Farm was designated as a Natural Heritage Site in the mid-1980s.
The paleohydrology, geology and archaeology of Benfontein have been the focus of several studies. Although kimberlite pipes are found on the farm, the deposits are small and thus not economically viable and consequently diamonds have not been mined.

The margins of the Alexandersfontein Pan are renowned in the annals of archaeology for the rich spreads to be found there of Stone Age and palaeo-environmental traces. There is evidence of a palaeolake of substantial proportions, and numerous sites with Middle Stone Age artefacts have been documented. Later Stone Age rock engravings occur in the hills to the north of the pan. In 1858 conflict flared up when Khousop, a local KhoeSan leader, said to have resided at Wildebeest Kuil, attacked white settlers at Benfontein farm.

Key species:

Sociable Weaver, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Orange River Francolin, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Rufous-eared Warbler, Common Ostrich, Marico Flycatcher, Ludwig’s Bustard, Burchell’s Courser and Pygmy Falcon

About the Birding Site

Benfontein is a De Beers’ property located c. 10 km south-east of Kimberley and is 11,300 hectares in size. The Northern Cape-Free State provincial boundary runs through the property. Three major vegetation biomes converge in the Kimberley area, with elements of these occurring on Benfontein, including mixed grassland, Kalahari thornveld (now known as Kimberley Thorn Bushveld) and Karoo (Eastern Mixed Nama Karoo).

It is also listed as an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, with 16 endemic and near-endemic bird species occurring on the property.

Key species:

Sociable Weaver, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Orange River Francolin, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Rufous-eared Warbler, Common Ostrich, Marico Flycatcher, Ludwig’s Bustard, Burchell’s Courser and Pygmy Falcon

Other Related Information

Directions:
The entrance to Benfontein is about 5 km from the Kimberley airport turnoff, on the western side of the Kimberley-Bloemfontein N8 road, with the entrance at the provincial border. Benfontein entrance off the N8: -28.810194, 24.812111
There is a complex network of roads on Benfontein, but the visitor is unlikely to get lost as the homestead and surrounds are visible from most parts of the farm. Although the roads are regularly graded they become impassable after even a few millimetres of rain.

Other related information:

Bird and Mammal lists for Benfontein can be downloaded here: https://www.diamondroute.com/visit-diamond-route/explore-our-properties/benfontein

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Basic accommodation is available at Benfontein as well as camping facilities. Research facilities are available in an historic Victorian-style house, but this is only for bona fide research projects. Excellent accommodation is available at a variety of establishments in Kimberley, from bed and breakfasts to hotels.
No BirdLife Recommended Accommodations are currently available in the area.

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

Text prepared and edited by:
Mark D. Anderson, Eric Herrmann and Tania A. Anderson
Martin Benadie | Specialist Birding Guide

Key species:

Sociable Weaver, Burchell’s Sandgrouse, Orange River Francolin, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Rufous-eared Warbler, Common Ostrich, Marico Flycatcher, Ludwig’s Bustard, Burchell’s Courser and Pygmy Falcon

Contact details:

Benfontein
Email: reservations@debeersgroup.com

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