North West – Bloemhof Dam Nature Reserve

About the Birding

The Bloemhof Dam Nature Reserve is often best done in conjunction with the neighbouring Sandveld Nature, on the Free State side of the dam – as Sandveld supports a greater diversity of acacia thornveld specialities, while Bloemhof supports a greater diversity of open, plains species (please have a look at our Sandveld NR write-up, under the Free State birding routes).

The entrance gate to the reserve is located just off the R34, on the western edge of the Bloemhof Dam, right outside the Bloemhof town, at precisely these coordinates (27°38’07.5″S 25°39’21.6″E, or -27.635413, 25.656008).

The vast majority of the habitat of the Bloemhof Dam Nature Reserve is covered by a mix between dry grassy plains, and karooid scrub vegetation. This is not the most productive habitat type, but careful searching and scanning of the open plains is a sure way to find the special birds occurring here. Double-banded Courser and Namaqua Sandgrouse feature primarily where you find open, gravel plains in between the grasses and vegetation. The sandgrouse in particular can be quite nomadic and move around in response to water, and are usually more prevalent during winter (listen for their distinctive flight calls in the mornings). These areas are also the best zones to search for larks, and amongst the common Spike-heeled and Red-capped Larks, keep an eye out for the prized Pink-billed Lark, Eastern Clapper Lark (especially obvious during the summer when they are displaying) and both Chestnut-backed and Grey-backed Sparrow-Larks.

Rufous-eared Warbler is a special of the scrub vegetation, and without knowledge of their call, are incredibly inconspicuous. More common and widespread species to be seen in these areas include Common Ostrich, Northern Black Korhaan, Namaqua Dove, Desert Cisticola, Capped Wheatear, African Quail-finch, Cape Longclaw and African Pipit. There is a wide network of tracks through the reserve, and it is suggested you obtain a copy of the map at the entrance gate.

The tracks that are further away from the dams shoreline (the secondary tracks) are usually better for these open-country species. Two large saline pans, located to the west of the entrance gate (back towards Bloemhof town), are worth exploring as they may host species such as Pied Avocet, Cape Teal and Chestnut-banded Plover, should they have adequate water in, and the plains surrounding them are usually excellent for the above-mentioned species.

While interspersed throughout the reserve, small pockets of acacia thornveld are more commonly present closer to the dams shoreline, and host a different suite of birds to those mentioned above. Here you should search for the likes of White-backed Mousebird, Acacia Pied Barbet, Common Scimitarbill, Pririt Batis, Crimson-breasted Shrike, Fairy Flycatcher (during winter), Cape Penduline-tit, Ashy Tit, Yellow-bellied Eremomela, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Fiscal Flycatcher, Blue Waxbill, Shaft-tailed Whydah and Yellow Canary. The odd colony of Sociable Weaver are present here, and are easily seen by virtue of their massive nests. Note that this forms part of the eastern edge of this species range, and they are not very common here. There is the odd record of a Pygmy Falcon from the area every once in a while, and it is worth keeping an eye out for this tiny raptor. They are often present around Sociable Weaver nests, as they ‘pirate’ some of the chambers in these massive nests for their own use. White-backed Vultures nest atop acacia in some of these ‘larger’ stands of trees. Sandveld Nature Reserve has more extensive and more mature stands of acacia thornveld, and conversely a greater diversity in these species.

Although very large, the dam supports a number of different water birds, and usually holds good numbers as well. Regularly seen species include Spur-winged Goose, South African Shelduck, Cape Shoveler, Cape Teal, Yellow-billed Duck, Little, Great-crested and occasionally Black-necked Grebes, Grey and Goliath Herons, African Spoonbill, Greater Flamingo, Black-winged Stilt, Kittlitz’s and Three-banded Plovers, Grey-headed Gull, Caspian and Whiskered Terns, and Reed and White-breasted Cormorants. Winter brings in species preferring more saline conditions, such as Pied Avocet, Lesser Flamingo and Chestnut-banded Plover, while augmenting numbers of Cape Teal and South African Shelduck. Summer brings with it many migrants, including shorebirds, and species such as Ruff, Common Greenshank, Wood, Marsh and Curlew Sandpipers, Little Stint and Common Ringed Plover all regularly occurring. Numbers of White-winged Terns also move in during the summer months. Rare species have been recorded here over the years, and it is always worth keeping an eye out for any odd species, with examples being Lesser Black-backed Gull, Sanderling and Ruddy Turnstone.

Key species:

Black-necked Grebe, Chestnut-banded Plover, Caspian Tern, Double-banded Courser, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Pygmy Falcon, Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark, Pink-billed Lark, Rufous-eared Warbler, Cape Penduline-tit

About the Birding Site

This dam fed by the Vaal River is one of the largest in Southern Africa extending over an area of approximately 25000ha. This large reserve, at roughly 12000ha, boasts of a large variety of typical plains game including large herds of Black Wildebeest, Springbok, Eland, and Gemsbok. Over 250 bird species have been recorded, which is a significant number for this dry region. This reserve also forms part of a recognized IBA SA039 which includes the Sandveld Nature Reserve which lies just across the border in the Free State.

This is a popular fishing area, and many fishing competitions are held on the Bloemhof Dam. Some of the key highlights of this region include nesting White-backed Vultures, and it is one of the eastern-most regions where Sociable Weavers, and their impressive nests occur. Aside from the dam, and exposed open shoreline, this area is otherwise dominated by open short-grassed and bushed plains, very karoo-like in nature, primarily, with smaller pockets of dry acacia thornveld (especially Camelthorn trees).

Key species:

Black-necked Grebe, Chestnut-banded Plover, Caspian Tern, Double-banded Courser, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Pygmy Falcon, Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark, Pink-billed Lark, Rufous-eared Warbler, Cape Penduline-tit

Other Related Information

Access and facilities:
The entrance gate is located precisely at these coordinates (27°38’08.1″S 25°39’22.1″E, or -27.635579, 25.656129), and doubles up as the reception. There are ablution facilities in the angling area of the dam, but otherwise, there are no facilities for the day visitor. A full suite of services can be located in the nearby Bloemhof town.

Adults R35,00
Juveniles R20,00
Pensioners R20,00

Angling R20,00 per person per day (includes children) + gate entrance fee
Boat Launching Fee R50-00 (Once off)

Other related information:

Gate times:
06h00 – 18h00

Recommended accommodation nearby:
There are no BirdLife Recommended Accommodations in the area, but a wide range of accommodation options are available in the nearby Bloemhof town, to suit all budgets.

There is a wide range of accommodation options available in the reserve itself, from basic camping through to chalets, log cabins and farm-houses. See contact detail above for enquiries, and alternatively, follow this link:

Camp with electrical power points R120.00 max. 6 people
Camp with no electricity R60.00 max. 6 people plus entrance & angling fees.

R140,00 per person per night + once off gate entrance fees (max. 6 persons per cottage). Fully Furnished, self-catering.

Group Camp R80,00 per person per night + gate entrance fee. Furnished plus kitchen with meeting hall.

Log Cabin R300-00 per night for 4 people plus entrance fee

Hunting Camp R100,00 per person per night + gate entrance fees (max. 8 persons). Furnished and exclusive.

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:

Black-necked Grebe, Chestnut-banded Plover, Caspian Tern, Double-banded Courser, Namaqua Sandgrouse, Pygmy Falcon, Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark, Pink-billed Lark, Rufous-eared Warbler, Cape Penduline-tit

Contact details:

Park Manager: Steve Gore
Tel: +27 (0)53 433 1706
Fax: +27 (0)53 433 1705

Accommodation Reservations & Information:
Jeanette Strauss: +27 (0)53 433 1706