North West – Barberspan Nature Reserve

About the Birding

This Nature Reserve is located just off the N14, between the towns of Sannieshof and Delareyville. At precisely here (26°36’05.1″S 25°36’31.3″E, or -26.601407, 25.608699), take signposted turnoff to Barberspan/Deelpan, and follow the road for 6.3km, until you reach the entrance gate. The reception offices are located just within this entrance gate, where you must check in and pay your entrance fee. This is the ‘birding area’ portion of the nature reserve (the area you passed closer to the N14 is the ‘fishing portion’.

Shortly after entering into the reserve, you pass a hide which overlooks the northern bay of the pan. Reeds and other vegetation dominate here, and species such as Lesser Swamp Warbler and Levaillant’s Cisticola are common here. The Eucalyptus trees around the offices host some more wooded species, and you should search for Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Acacia Pied Barbet, White-backed Mousebird, Cardinal Woodpecker, African Red-eyed Bulbul, Orange River White-eye and Fiscal Flycatcher. A Gabar Goshawk is also occasionally present in this stand of trees (listen for their piercing call). A network of tracks file out, and cover this northern part of the reserve, crossing across the dry grassland, and working around the shoreline of the dam. There are a few mobile hides in this area, usually (but they are moved from time to time), and they are always worth a scan.

Vast numbers of waterbirds can be expected on the pan, with the numbers reaching their peak during the drier winter months. The bulk of these birds are dominated by the likes of Red-knobbed Coot, Egyptian Goose and Little Grebe, however with special care, one can usually find the likes of Cape Shoveler, Southern Pochard, Cape, Red-billed and Hottentot Teals, Maccoa and Yellow-billed Ducks, Spur-winged Goose, South African Shelduck, along with Black-necked and Great Crested Grebes. Greater Flamingo are almost always present, while Lesser Flamingo are typically more numerous during the drier months when the conditions are more saline. The shoreline and shallows are dominated by Grey and Goliath Herons, and you should also keep an eye out for African Spoonbill, Great Egret and both African Sacred and Glossy Ibises. Pink-backed Pelicans do move in from time to time. Grey-headed Gull and Whiskered Tern are resident shoreline patrollers, with White-winged Tern joining them during the summer months, and Caspian Tern visiting erratically. Resident shorebirds include the likes of Kittlitz’s and Three-banded Plovers, Black-winged Stilt and Pied Avocet, and they are joined by many others during the summer months, such as Common Greenshank, Ruff, Marsh, Wood and Curlew Sandpipers and Little Stint (these vary depending on water levels). The prized Chestnut-banded Plover occasionally visits when water levels are low and at their most saline. There are a number of pairs of African Fish Eagles at the pan, and Western Osprey are often seen as well. As expected, a number of rare species have been recorded over the years here, and it is always worth keeping an eye out for any odd species. Such vagrants have included; Eurasian Curlew, Grey Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Wilson’s Phalarope, Slaty Egret and Lesser Black-backed Gull, amongst others.

While working through the birding section of the reserve, the vast grasslands you pass through regularly should be searched for Common Ostrich, Orange River Francolin, Swainson’s Spurfowl, Northern Black Korhaan, Double-banded Courser (search especially around open patches of grass), Ant-eating Chat, Long-tailed Widowbird, African Quail-finch and Cape Longclaw. A number of lark species occur, and the more commonly encountered species are Rufous-naped, Red-capped and Spike-heeled Larks, however, scarcer species should be search for as well such as Chestnut-backed and Grey-backed Sparrow-Larks and Pink-billed Lark – the latter is best found by listening for their distinct three-note flight call they make when they explode from the grassy tracks (they can then be followed and tracked down). Marsh Owls quarter over these areas during winter afternoons and mornings. Small pockets of acacia woodland occur, especially in the south-western corner of the reserve/dam, and these should be searched for the likes of Bokmakierie, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Pririt Batis, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Fairy Flycatcher (primarily during winter), Black-chested Prinia and Green-winged Pytilia, amongst others.

Excellent birding can be had on the gravel roads surrounding Barberspan, outside the reserve, effectively doing a large loop around the entire pan/reserve.

These roads pass through a mix of open, dry grassland, stunted karroid shrubbery and farmed agricultural lands. A similar suite of species to those found within the reserve can be expected, although the other roads are usually more reliable for the likes of Double-banded Courser and Pink-billed Lark, while also hosting species such as Orange River Francolin and Swallow-tailed Bee-eater. Rufous-eared Warbler is best searched for in these karoo-like shrubs found on the boundary road, but it is a scarce bird here and not always present. If drought conditions prevail, deep western species may even be encountered, and it is always worth keeping an eye out for species such as Burchell’s Courser, Stark’s Lark, Chat Flycatcher and Sickle-winged Chat – which may turn up in exceptional years.

Key species:

South African Shelduck, Maccoa Duck, Black-necked Grebe, Lesser Flamingo, Orange River Francolin, Double-banded Courser, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Pink-billed Lark, Pririt Batis

About the Birding Site

This area covers two large expanses of water, one of which is the RAMSAR registered Barberspan pan, and the surrounding wetlands. This area is fed by the Harts River and is one of the largest waterfowl sanctuaries in Southern Africa. The water area extends over an area of 2000 ha and the whole reserve covers an area of 4000 ha. Barberspan is a registered Important Bird Area. Aside from the large pan and water habitat, the sanctuary is otherwise dominated by open grasslands with small pockets of acacia thornveld.

Agricultural lands surround the reserve, and are interspersed with small tracts of dry almost karroid vegetation. There are a number of strategically placed bird hides to add to the enthusiast’s experience. At times the pans can hold over 40 000 birds. The reserve also hosts typical grassland antelope like Black Wildebeest and Blesbok. Black footed Cats are known to occur in the reserve.

Key species:

South African Shelduck, Maccoa Duck, Black-necked Grebe, Lesser Flamingo, Orange River Francolin, Double-banded Courser, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Pink-billed Lark, Pririt Batis

Other Related Information

Access and facilities:
The entrance gate is located precisely at these coordinates (26°32’44.7″S 25°36’23.6″E, or -26.545750, 25.606550), and the reception offices are a short distance through this gate.

Adults: R35,00
Juveniles: R15,00
Pensioners: R15,00
Angling: R20,00 per person per day (Only Angler pays this fee – includes children) + gate entrance fee

Other related information:

Gate times:
Summer (October – April)
Opens: 06h00
Closes: 19h00

Summer School Holiday
Opens: 05h00
Closes: 21h00

Recommended accommodation nearby:
No BirdLife Recommended Accommodations are currently available in the area. The Barberspan Nature Reserve however, is located almost directly in between the two small towns of Sannieshof and Delareyville (~20mins away) – both of which host other accommodation options, along with restaurants and other services.

There is a selection of basic accommodation in the Barberspan Nature Reserve directly (see ‘Office’ contact details). Accommodation is on a self-catering basis in two guest houses sleeping 6 and 8 people, respectively. Each house is equipped with a bathroom and separate toilets, the smaller house also has a shower in the bathroom, electricity, a fridge, stove, furniture, beds with mattresses, and an outdoor braai facility. Bring your own bedding, pots, crockery and cutlery.
Weavers Nest is a large house with 3 and a half bathrooms, sleeping 16-20 people, equipped with a stove, table, chairs, beds and mattresses. There is an outdoor lapa for braais. Wood is available, bring your own bedding.

Camping sites along the angling shore and a campsite on the northern side of the reserve are also available.

Camping (along angling shoreline)
R50.00 per site per night, (max 6 people per site) + Entrance Fee. No Electricity, four small ablution blocks with cold water, every three km along shore. Only showers, toilets, washbasins.

Camping/ Caravans (northern side of reserve in birding area)
R80.00 per site per night [max 6 people per site] + Entrance fee. Ablution Block with Showers and warm water. Situated near to guest houses.

R20.00 per person, for day use only, out by 17h00.

Guest Houses
R80,00 per person per night + gate entrance (Flamingo house sleeps 6, Pelican house sleeps 8 people). Furnished, Self-catering. Please bring our own cutlery and crockery and bedding. Well equipped with fridge, stove and electric kettle.

Barberspan Hotel/Vakansie Oord
Located just off the N14, on the southern shores of Barberspan, this resort offers chalets, hotel rooms, as well as camping stands. The hotel has a restaurant as well. Note this is not in the Nature Reserve. Contact details: 073 318 6366, or visit:

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

Text prepared by:
Dylan Vasapolli (Birding Ecotours)

Key species:

South African Shelduck, Maccoa Duck, Black-necked Grebe, Lesser Flamingo, Orange River Francolin, Double-banded Courser, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Pink-billed Lark, Pririt Batis

Contact details:

Park Manager: Sampie van der Merwe
Cel: +27 (0)82 443 9777

Barbarspan Bird Sanctuary Office
Tel: +27 (0)78 536 0561 / +27 (0)87 151 1770
Fax: +27 (0)86 524 0873 / +27 (0)86 505 7310

Click to download the reserve brochure