North West – Borakalalo National Park

About the Birding

This is a large reserve, and while it can be covered over the course of a 1-day visit, you can comfortably bird this reserve over the course of a weekend, and multiple days.

The broad-leafed woodland at the entrance gate often has some great birds in attendance. Bennett’s Woodpecker are often present, as is Gabar Goshawk, amongst more widespread species such as Burchell’s Starling, Yellow-throated Petronia (Bush Sparrow) and Golden-breasted Bunting.

Should you arrive early in the morning/depart in the evening, during summer, Rufous-cheeked Nightjar can often be seen just outside the entrance gate on the road.

Arguably the more exciting birding is located in the NW corner of the reserve (along the Moretele River, and the Tholo Loop road), and we will start off heading for this area. From the entrance gate, continue through the reserve, past the main picnic site on the dam’s shoreline (worth a check as occasionally Meyer’s Parrot is present in the trees here). Past the picnic site, you reach a vista over the dam wall (worth checking for cormorants, along with herons and eagles), before heading downhill. A right turn once you reach the base takes you over the Moretele River (and eventually the Pitjane Camp Site). It is worth stopping along the low-level bridge over the Moretele River here, where you can search for African Finfoot (occasionally seen here – more reliable around the Moretele Tented Camp), along with Hamerkop, Black-crowned Night Heron, Green-backed (Striated) Heron and Pied, Malachite and Giant Kingfishers. The riverine trees, especially in the 50m leading up to the bridge are an excellent area for African Pygmy Kingfisher (summer only). Backtracking to the main road at the base of the hill, a small parking area on this corner junction, marks the beginning of the self-guided Moretele River trail (~2km). Please note this is a poorly maintained trail, with indistinct markings, and it is recommended you make use of an escort who knows the trail (ask at the entrance gate).

The road to the Moretele Camp runs adjacent to the Moretele River – which is often in sight (and the Moretele River trail as well), and passes through a mix of riverine thickets, acacia thornveld and broad-leafed woodland. The birding in this area is good, and a high diversity of species can be expected. A number of more common species such as francolins, barbets, kingfishers, hornbills, woodpeckers, robins, flycatchers, sunbirds, starlings, weavers and smaller seedeaters can be expected – with some of the more special birds to keep an eye out for being Little Sparrowhawk, Grey-headed Kingfisher (summer), Eurasian Golden Oriole (summer), Common Scimitarbill, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Grey Tit-Flycatcher and African Firefinch (beware of the more common Red-billed and Jameson’s Firefinches). Wherever there is an opening to the river it is worth scanning for African Finfoot, as they can be found anywhere along the length of the river. White-backed Night Heron has been recorded from the area, but it is rarely seen. An old quarry you pass along the route is a good place to find Striped Pipit, Cinnamon-breasted Bunting, and both Greater and Lesser Honeyguides have calling posts in the area and are often around. Short-toed Rock Thrush occurs, but is rarely seen. Arguably the best stakeout for African Finfoot is from the section of river in front of the campsite portion of the Moretele Camp (although it can be seen anywhere). Patience is usually the name of the game with seeing this secretive bird, and scanning up and down the river, under overhanging branches is the best way to find one. Beware of mistaking Reed Cormorant and African Black Duck for African Finfoot, as they are often confused (and both are more commonly seen). This camp (both the campsite and tented camp) is also very birdy, and a walk around it is sure to produce a number of birds, such as those mentioned above.

Past the Moretele Camp, you will reach the Ga-Dinonyane hides – where the two hides present here overlook a series of temporarily flooded pans. When inundated (usually from December onwards) can play host to some exciting tropical migrants such as African Crake, Dwarf Bittern, Lesser Moorhen, Allen’s Gallinule, Greater Painted-snipe amongst others. Black Stork is also occasionally seen here, and Bronze-winged Courser has been recorded a few times quietly perched under the trees in the parking lot. The dry acacia thornveld here hosts typical species such as Crimson-breasted Shrike, Southern Pied Babbler, Marico Flycatcher, Burnt-necked Eremomela, along with Great Sparrow. The road eventually bends away from the river, and passes through stunning broad-leaved woodland on sandy soils, before doubling back and forming a loop road back to the old quarry site. These broad-leafed woodlands host exciting species such as Coqui Francolin, Red-crested Korhaan, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Meyer’s Parrot, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Bearded Woodpecker, Pale Flycatcher and Bushveld Pipit, amongst others.

The Klipvoor Dam is a large body of water, and the best water birding is usually to be had along the game drives loops (accessed shortly after entering into the reserve – you will see a sign indicating ‘Game Drives’, which lead to a wide network of roads in the SE part of the reserve. Many waterbirds occur here, and regular species include Grey, Goliath and Squacco Herons, Great, Yellow-billed (Intermediate) and Little Egrets, African Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Stork, Greater Flamingo (especially when water levels are low), White-faced Whistling and Yellow-billed Ducks, Red-billed Teal, Southern Pochard, Cape Shoveler, Egyptian and Spur-winged Geese, Little Grebe, Black-winged Stilt and African Jacana. The summer months are augmented with waders such as Ruff, Common Greenshank, Marsh, Wood, Curlew and Common Sandpipers and Little Stint, along with other birds such as White-winged Tern and Black-winged Pratincole. Many African Fish Eagles reside on the dam. Many rare and irregular water birds have been recorded over the years, and these have included Gull-billed Tern, African Skimmer, Chestnut-banded Plover, Terek Sandpiper and Pacific Golden Plover, amongst others.

A number of loop roads crisscross this ‘Game Drives’ portion in the SE of the reserve, and the habitats vary from dry acacia thornveld to stunted broad-leaved woodland on rocky soils. Many of the birds mentioned above can be sought here as well, but in particular it is a great area to search for Red-crested Korhaan, Bennett’s Woodpecker, White-crested Helmet-shrike, Pearl-breasted Swallow, Cape Penduline-tit, Kalahari Scrub Robin, Violet-eared and Black-faced Waxbills, Long-tailed Paradise Whydah, Great Sparrow and Bushveld Pipit. Monotonous Lark irrupt into the area after summer rains, and they can be exceptionally common. The Sefudi Dam (and hide) in this section is often a great place to spend the heat of the day, as many seedeaters and birds generally come down to the shoreline to drink, and you can often get excellent views of many birds this way. In summer this dam is often a reliable spot for Lesser Moorhen.

Key species:

African Finfoot, Red-crested Korhaan, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Meyer’s Parrot, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Cape Penduline-tit, Pale Flycatcher, Bushveld Pipit

About the Birding Site

The habitat consists of broad-leafed and acacia woodland together with dense riverine woodland along the banks of the Moretele River. The large Klipvoor Dam is situated within the Park. Bird watching is exceptional, with many prized and sought-after species occurring here. It is also home to 35 species of mammals including Giraffe, White Rhino, Leopard and a wide variety of antelope.

Best areas for walking are the picnic and camping areas, along the river and dam shoreline. Drives are easily negotiated on the extensive road network, accessible to all vehicles (ask for a map at the entrance gate). There are a number of different loops and drives which are summarised below. The diversity of habitats here makes this one of the premier birding sites in the wider-Gauteng region.

Key species:

African Finfoot, Red-crested Korhaan, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Meyer’s Parrot, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Cape Penduline-tit, Pale Flycatcher, Bushveld Pipit

Other Related Information

Access and facilities:
The reserve entrance gate is located here: 25°09’36.1″S 27°48’19.8″E, or -25.160036, 27.805510.

Tarrifs:
Adults R35.00
Children R20.00
Pensioners R20,00
Fishing R20,00 per person per day (includes children) + gate entrance fee

Entrance R10.00 per car
Combi (<16 seats): R10.00
Bus (17-25 seater): R40.00
Bus (26-50 seater): R55.00
Bus (50+ seats): R120.00

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
Please note: Borakalalo has no speedpoint because of problems with telephone lines, visitors should bring along enough cash, no cheques are accepted and the nearest bank is at Letlhabile about 45km from Borakalalo. The shop at the gate stocks limited supplies of fishing tackle and bait, wood and basic provisions. Although this is called a National Park, it doesn’t fall under SANParks control, and WildCards are not accepted here.

Gate times:
March & April 06h00 – 18h30
May – September 06h30 – 18h00
September & October 06h00 – 18h30
November – February 05h30 – 19h00

Recommended accommodation nearby:
Two Birder Friendly Establishments are found on the southern shoreline of Vaalkop Dam (some 45mins+ away):
Mziki Safari Lodge
Finfoot Lake Reserve

Day trips are easily doable, although various accommodation options do exist in the reserve itself (please be cautions at the Moretele Tented Camp/Campsite, as there have been break-ins in recent years).
Click to download the reserve brochure

Pitjane Camping Site
R40,00 per adult/child per night {Prior bookings not required – stands are on a first come first served basis}.

Moretele & Phudufudu Tented Camps
Click here for tariffs

Moretele Camping Site
Click here for tariffs
Reservations:
Tel: +27 (0)71 301 3354/5 or 012 729 4101/2
Fax: + 27 (0)12 729 4104
Email: borakalalo@mtnloaded.co.za
Please note: Prices do not include the entrance fee of R35.00 pp & R10.00 per car (once-off)
A wide range of lodges, game farms and camping sites can be found in the greater area (such as around Beestekraal, and closer to Brits – some 30mins+ away) to suit all budgets.

Local guide information:
Birding Ecotours operate day tours to the area

Text prepared by:
Dylan Vasapolli

Key species:

African Finfoot, Red-crested Korhaan, Double-banded Sandgrouse, Meyer’s Parrot, African Pygmy Kingfisher, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Greenbul, Cape Penduline-tit, Pale Flycatcher, Bushveld Pipit

Contact details:

Park Manager: Mr RE Seutane (Elias)
Admin Office
Tel: +27 (0)12 729 4101 / 2 / 3
Fax: + 27 (0)12 729 4104
Email: rkgatlhane@nwptb.co.za and eseutane@nwptb.co.za
Website: http://www.parksnorthwest.co.za/borakalalo-national-park/

Reservations Office (Phudufudu & Moretele Tented Camp Sites)
Tel: +27 (0)12 252 0131
Reservations per email: uniteaml@mweb.co.za

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