Garied and the Far North – Gariep Dam, Venterstad and Oviston

About the Birding

The area consists of a set of reserves that surround the Gariep Dam on the Orange (Gariep) River. The Gariep Dam Nature Reserve covers most of the dam and the northern section; the Tussen-Die-Riviere Nature Reserve lies in the east wedged between the Caledon and Orange rivers; and Oviston Nature Reserve is in the centre. The Oviston Nature Reserve in particular covers an area of roughly 16 000 hectares and stretches from the Gariep Dam Wall to the west, to the Bethulie railroad bridge to the east.

The Gariep Dam itself stretches more than 100km from east to west and is roughly 15km wide at its widest point. Several small ephemeral rivers run into the dam including the Bossiesspruit, Brakspruit, Broekspruit, Oudagspruit, Palmietspruit and Slykspruit.

The dam regularly supports impressive assemblages of waterbirds, though the water level of the dam fluctuates as water is released for electricity generation and irrigation and this is likely to lead to fluctuations in waterbird and wader numbers. However, at times, waterbird numbers have exceeded 10 000 individuals! Notable species include significant numbers of Egyptian Goose, South African Shelduck and Yellow-billed Duck. Caspian Tern also frequents the dam and a small colony breeds on one of the islands. Greater Flamingo is present in low numbers. A few hundred Blue Cranes roost on an island in the dam and feed in the karroid vegetation around it. Great Crested Grebe is occasional.

In the surrounding Karroid habitats, look for both the Kori and Denham’s Bustards as well as Blue, Karoo and Northern Black Korhaans. Where grasses dominate, look for both Grey-backed Sparrow-lark and the endemic Melodious Lark. Orange River Francolin is present, though the species can be notoriously difficult to find at times. Other noticeable species include the Karoo Chat, Sickle-winged Chat, Layard’s Tit-babbler (Warbler), African Red-eyed Bulbul, Rufous-eared Warblers, and Black-headed Canary. Thickets near water support healthy numbers of Namaqua Warbler. Other woodland species include the Brubru – at the southern limit of its distribution – Pririt Batis, Crested Barbet, and Common Scimitarbill. Rocky areas may yield Cinnamon-breasted Bunting and Short-toed Rock-thrush.

Key species:

Orange River Francolin, Kori and Ludwig’s Bustards, Blue Crane, Northern Black, Karoo and Blue Korhaans, Burchell’s Courser, Brubru

About the Birding Site

The provincial boundaries between the Eastern Cape and both the Northern Cape and the Free State have gained recent recognition among provincial listers for a plethora of species that reach their southern distributional limit here. Among these are the Orange River Francolin, Orange River White-eye, Cinnamon-breasted Warbler, Black-chested Prinia, Red-chested Swallow, Ashy Tit, and Brubru. However, the region supports well more than 290 bird species including significant numbers of waterbirds.

Other noteworthy endemic or threatened species include the Northern Black, Karoo and Blue Korhaans, both Ludwig’s and Kori Bustards, and a selection of interesting Karoo species.

The landscape along the provincial boundary consists mainly of flat plains that are interrupted by low hills and river valleys, with isolated rocky ravines and ridges. Five major vegetation types dominate the area: Upper Gariep Alluvial Vegetation closer to the Orange River, Xhariep Karroid Grassland, Eastern Upper Karoo, Besemkaree Koppies Shrubland and Highveld Salt Pans. Much of the area is privately owned in a sea of agricultural lands, though low annual rainfall precludes pastural farming away from the few rivers that flow through the area. Many areas have been overgrazed such that large areas consist of degraded karroid grasslands with shrubs and thornveld limited to riparian areas.

Given that several of the key species occur in low density, at the very edge of their distribution, several days are recommended in the area. Noteworthy sites to include on your visit include the wider Middelburg area, the Gariep Dam, and both Oviston and Venterstad.

Key species:

Orange River Francolin, Kori and Ludwig’s Bustards, Blue Crane, Northern Black, Karoo and Blue Korhaans, Burchell’s Courser, Brubru

Other Related Information

From Graaf-Rienet – travel north along the N9 to reach Colesburg. At Colesburg, turn to the east and follow the R58 past the Gariep Dam to Veterstad. From Venterstad’s main street, take the Oviston turn off. Proceed straight with the tar road until you reach the main gate. About 2 km from the main gate turn right to Oviston and at about 5 km arrive at Oviston Nature Reserve office.

Other related information:

The nearest towns are:
Venterstad: 12Km
Bethulie: 64Km
Gariep Dam: 47Km
Steynsburg: 77Km
Burgersdorp: 72Km
Aliqal North: 130Km

Access and facilities:
Facilities within the Oviston Nature Reserve are limited and visitors should be entirely self-sufficient. A limited network of roads traverses the reserve. A picnic area is provided near the Ihodi Campsite in the east of the reserve. Otherwise, the nearest shopping facilities and fuel stations are in the towns of Oviston, Venterstad and Gariep; the latter, across the Gariep Dam wall in the Free State.

Recommended accommodation nearby:
No Birder Friendly Establishments are currently available in the wider Gariep area. However, several basic accommodation options are available in Oviston. Oviston Nature Reserve offers three lodgings – the Komweer Lodge (sleeping 12 people), Apies Bay Cabin (sleeping up to 6 people) and the Ihodi Camp Site (2 wilderness sites with ablution facilities). For more information, or to make a reservation, contact:

Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency
17-25 Oxford Street
East London CBD
Tel: +27 (0)43 701 9600
Alt. email:

Local guide information:
No Birder Friendly Tour Operators or local guides are currently available for Gariep Dam, Venterstad and Oviston.

Text prepared by:
Daniel Keith Danckwerts (Rockjumper Worldwide Birding Tours)

Key species:

Orange River Francolin, Kori and Ludwig’s Bustards, Blue Crane, Northern Black, Karoo and Blue Korhaans, Burchell’s Courser, Brubru

Contact details:

For more information, contact:

Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency

17-25 Oxford Street
East London CBD
Tel: (+27) 043 492 0081

Reserve Office: (+27) 051 655 0000/ (+27) 051 655 0199
Office Mobile: (+27) 087 285 7390
Reserve Manager: (+27) 082 416 1913/ (+27) 063 801 8344

Telephone: +27 (0)43 7019600
Mobile: +27 (0)79 4967891