Inyoni Birding route – Chrissiesmeer, Lake Chrissie Pans Bird Area

About the Birding

Chrissiesmeer is known as the watershed area of South Africa. Four big river systems start in this Lake District: the Vaal, Komatie, Olifants and Usutu Rivers. Each of these rivers flow in a different direction. It is the ideal stopover from and to KwaZulu-Natal, the Kruger National Park and Swaziland. Chrissiesmeer is the largest natural body of fresh water in South Africa and measures about nine kilometres long and three kilometres wide and has a circumference of 25 kilometres. The Chrissiesmeer region is also called Matotoland, which is derived from maxoxo, the Swazi word for frog. Thirteen frog species have been recorded in the area. These include the tiny Boettger’s caco (Cacosternum boettgeri) and the rattling frog (Semnodactylus wealii).

With over 320 pans, the Chrissiesmeer area has both the highest concentration of inland lakes, pans and wetlands, and the largest natural inland freshwater lake (Lake Chrissie) in South Africa. The picturesque beauty of this unique pan system landscape, and the numbers and variety of birds that come with it, make the quaint town of Chrissiesmeer a birding hotspot worth visiting! The Highlands Inyoni Wetlands Birding Route offers a ± 60 km circular self-drive of easily accessible and rewarding bird watching, including the length of Lake Chrissie.

In addition to the tourism potential, the wetlands, pans, and surrounding grasslands of Chrissiesmeer are also critically important for bird conservation. That’s why this has been identified as one of 122 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in South Africa. The Chrissie Pans IBA (SA019) supports over 220 species of birds. This includes 83 waterbird species, 17 endemic or near-endemic bird species and 16 globally and regionally threatened bird species.

About the Birding Site

Two of South Africa’s crane species occur around Chrissiesmeer. This includes the Blue Crane (our National Bird), the Grey Crowned Crane and Wattled Crane. The fact that these threatened and beautiful birds occur here makes the area very special indeed.

From a crane’s perspective, the Chrissiesmeer area is an absolute jewel year-round. During the summer months, several Blue Crane pairs and a dozen or more Grey Crowned Crane pairs use this area for breeding. During winter a large flock of Grey Crowned Cranes can often be seen around some of the larger pans or in the harvested maize fields. The critically endangered Wattled Crane was recorded in the past as it frequently inhabited some larger wetlands in the Lake District
Two of the fifteen pans are reed covered which apart from providing cover for skulking birds such as night herons, crakes, rails and swamp hens, the reeds also provide roosts and nesting sites for cormorants, egrets, glossy ibises, spoonbills, and swallows.

Key species:

Blue Korhaan, White-bellied Korhaan, Secretarybird, Greater and Lesser Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, African Marsh Harrier, Southern Bald Ibis, and African Grass Owl

Other Related Information

The Coffee Shop and Info centre in Chrissiesmeer, as well as most of the guest houses provide birding route maps.

Other related information:

Local guide information:

In Chrissiesmeer we have a local water bird guide (A nature lover, and person with a very good knowledge of the water birds in the district). She can take guests on a water bird tour during the birding season.

Aretha Strydom: Cell: 082 821 3081, has a passion for water birds. Please contact her to arrange a birding tour.

Text prepared by:

Steven Segang (Ingula Project Assistant and site guide)

Key species:

Bird species to be seen includes Blue Korhaan, White-bellied Korhaan, Secretarybird, Greater and Lesser Flamingo, Glossy Ibis, African Marsh Harrier, Southern Bald Ibis, and African Grass Owl.

Contact details: