Highlands and Wetlands – Wakkerstroom

About the Birding

The village of Wakkerstroom is a convenient place to stay during your birding exploration of the surroundings. Most of this exploration can be done from the comfort of your car as the network of nearly 1000kms of gravel roads radiate out from the village. Making use of the services of a trained local bird guide will elevate your experience and ensure you tick your species wish list.

Birding in and around the Wakkerstroom Wetland

The best viewing opportunities of the wetland are from the raised road which heads north out of the village towards Amersfoort or just below the road, at the picnic spot and hides. Here you can witness hundreds of South African Cliff Swallow, White-rumped and Little Swift swooping below the bridge with a good chance of spotting the Cape Clawless and the much rarer, Spotted-neck Otter. The open water and sedge banks provide the perfect habitat for a range of birds, including: Cape Shoveler, Little Bittern, African Rail, Lesser Swamp Warbler, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Black Crake, Grey-crowned Crane, African Marsh Harrier, Red-billed Teal and Red-chested Flufftail.

There are four hides (Grade 4) scattered around the wetland. Two of which are on the northern side, Clive Beck and WoW hides, and two on the western side, Iain Drummond, and Crane hides. Each provide a slightly different set of bird species.

Situated across the wetland, is the BirdLife South Africa Wakkerstroom Tourism and Education Centre. This property is open to the public and offers superb grassland walks, especially in the summertime. Crane Hide can be reached by parking at the main entrance / reception and following the approximate 700m trail down to the edge of the wetland. Marsh and Grass Owl are a potential sighting at dusk in this area. The grassland hosts the possibility for Pale-crowned Cisticola, Red-winged Francolin, Black-bellied Bustard, Secretarybird, Common Quail, Wing-snapping and Zitting Cisticola. Further birding information can be gathered from the Centre’s office.

Ossewakop, Groenvlei, and Zaaihoek Dam Loop

The hills behind Wakkerstroom are part of the village commonage and one is free to walk this area. The view from the top of Ossewakop over the village and wetland is breath-taking, especially in the early morning or late afternoon. Access to the top of Ossewakop is from the Utrecht road – look out on the right, approximately 5.9kms from the centre of the village, for a marked gate. Follow the steep track/road to the top. This track should be driven in the drier seasons and preferably in a 4×4 vehicle. Rock Pipit are located on the steep rocky slopes leading up to the trig beacon at the top whilst Ground Woodpecker frequent the lower slopes. Yellow-breasted Pipit prefer these higher areas and during October to March, breeding pairs can be seen crisscrossing the area.
Carrying on straight along the Utrecht Road, take the left turn to Paulpietersburg, following the back fence line of game farm for approximately 15.7kms. This road cuts through rolling hills and crosses rivers making the are perfect for sightings of Denham’s Bustard, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Sentinel Rock Thrush, Eastern Long-billed Lark, Grey-winged Francolin, Buff-streaked Chat, Secretarybird and Jackal Buzzard. At the intersection turn right on D9. This will take you through to Groenvlei Village. Watch for Grey-crowned and Blue Crane, African Marsh and Black Harrier, Lanner Falcon. Passed Groenvlei you will follow the Slang River on your right, all the way through to Zaaihoek Dam. Specials in this area include Mountain Wheatear, African Fish Eagle, Verreaux’s Eagle, Southern Bald Ibis, Ground Woodpecker and African Rock Pipit. After the village, turn right again. This road will take you back into Wakkerstroom.

Amersfoort Road Loop

Leading out of Wakkerstroom, over the wetland, the road will change from tar to gravel. Travel approximately 8.6kms and take the first left turning to Volksrust. This area is renowned for both species of crane, Denham’s Bustard, Blue Korhaan, Spike-heeled Lark, Mountain Wheatear, Red-capped Lark and Rudd’s Lark. At the first intersection turn right and head toward Fickland Pan. This area is community owned and an entrance fee is payable at the first green-roofed house. Continue to the JoJo tanks and pass through this gate to the pan. Specials here include Rudd’s Lark, Pink-billed Lark, African Quailfinch, Black-winged Pratincole, occasionally Greater Flamingo, Maccoa Duck and Common Greenshank. Coming back to the main road, continue another approximately 6kms and turn left. This section of road can produce Eastern Clapper Lark, Montague’s Harrier, Pallid Harrier, Blue Korhaan and Eastern Long-billed Lark. Follow the signboards to Vlakpoort – turn right at the second intersection to Daggakraal. Just before the community itself, Botha’s Lark can frequently be seen in the open fields. Cloud Cisticola, Capped Wheatear, Cape Canary, Black-throated Canary and Rock Pipit are common sightings too. Continue to the intersection with the Amersfoort road and turn right back toward Wakkerstroom. Keep your eyes peeled on both sides of the road for bustards, korhaans, Ground Woodpecker, Secretarybird, cranes and cisticola.

Jankieshoek / Dirkiesdorp Loop

Follow the R543 out of Wakkerstroom toward Piet Retief. You will pass Martin’s Dam on your left. This area is the common roosting site for three of the ibis’ species (Southern Bald, Sacred and Hadeda) and Grey Crowned Crane. Continue to the first left turning to Driefontein. Continue with this road approximately 20kms toward Dirkiesdorp. In the forested sections, Bush Blackcap, Barret’s Warbler, Lazy Cisticola and Greater Honeyguide. In the grassland sections watch out for the Long-billed Pipit, Buffy Pipit, Coqui Francolin, White-bellied Bustard, Sectretarybird, Lanner Falcon and Rock Kestrel. At Dirkiesdorp turn right and head back to Wakkerstroom on the R543. If you are in a 4×4 vehicle and have some spare time, turn right off to Luneburg for Wattled Crane, otherwise continue down Kastrol Nek Pass for Ground Woodpecker, Yellow Bishop, Drakensberg Prinia, Olive Bush-shrike, and Cape Rock Thrush.

About the Birding Site

The Wakkerstroom village is located at the southern edge of the province where it joins KwaZulu Natal. Lying in a valley, at an altitude of 1760m, much of the surrounding country is above 2000m, meaning cooler climate and a shortened summer growing season. The large wetland straddles the north-western side of Wakkerstroom with an area of approximately 700ha. This is one of the larger reed-marshes on South Africa and supports an interesting and diverse wetland fauna. A typical stroll through the wetland can produce up to 70 species of birds in a morning. A day spent exploring further out into the district could result in 110 species (including some special endemics), in the company of a local bird guide.

Other Related Information

All bird hides and routes are free. The BirdLife South Africa Wakkerstroom Centre (-27.351529, -30.113827) is open Monday to Friday 08h00 – 16h30. Over weekends, please call 071 718 1566 / 081 726 5282 for more information or maps of the area.

Bird Guide bookings: 071 718 1566 / 081 726 5282 / wakkerstroom@birdlife.org.za

Wakkerstroom village restaurants and shops see www.wakkerstroom.co.za for additional information.

Text prepared by:

Kristi Garland and Lucky Ngwenya, BirdLife South Africa

Key species:

Rudd’s Lark, Botha’s Lark, Yellow-breasted Pipit, Blue Korhaan, Barret’s Warbler, Orange-breasted Waxbill, African Quailfinch, Black-winged Lapwing, Bush Blackcap, African Rock Pipit

Contact details:

BirdLife South Africa Wakkerstroom Tourism and Education Centre

For guide bookings, accommodation, and information.

Mobile: +27 81 726 5282
Email: wakkerstroom@birdlife.org.za