North West – Breedtsnek Pass

About the Birding

This birding route is based on driving the pass from the south, in a northerly direction.

Shortly after crossing into the North-West Province (from Gauteng), on the R24, at precisely 25°54’50.9″S 27°26’57.0″E (-25.914149, 27.449155), you will see a turnoff to ‘T3 Panorama Route’ to the north (towards the Magaliesberg Mountains). This is the start of the Breedtsnek Pass road, and the first 4-5km pass through a mix of disturbed grasslands, farmed lands, scattered acacia patches along with a stream and associated wetland.

Although not many specials occur here, this habitat can produce a number of more common and widespread species such as African Stonechat, Rufous-naped Lark, Greater Striped Swallow, Levaillant’s and Zitting Cisticola and African Pipit. The first stream you cross, 1km after turning off the tarred road (25°54’21.6″S 27°26’45.5″E, or -25.906006, 27.445977) is a good place to stop. Most of the year this stream is dry, but it does usually contain water in the summer. Species such as Thick-billed Weaver, Southern Red Bishop, Red-collared and White-winged Widowbirds can be expected here, while it will also be worth keeping an eye out for various warblers, such as African and Great Reed Warblers (both in summer), and Lesser Swamp Warbler.

After 5km, you will be on the lower slopes of the Magaliesberg, the road takes an obvious turn to the right and gradually starts going upwards. The road becomes significantly more rugged from here onwards, and a high-clearance vehicle, at a minimum, and preferably a 4×4 equipped vehicle is required from here onwards (the road is rocky and bumpy, and a sense of adventure is required). You’ll notice a shift in habitat, to natural woodlands. The southern slopes of the Magaliesberg are cloaked in a dense woodland, and species such as Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Cardinal Woodpecker, Orange-breasted Bushshrike, Black-backed Puffback, Chinspot Batis, Bar-throated Apalis and Jameson’s Firefinch amongst others can be sought. It is worth searching for trickier species such as Brown-backed Honeybird and Black Cuckooshrike as well.

At the first hairpin bend, once you’re on the Magaliesberg (25°52’02.1″S 27°26’44.8″E, or -25.867255, 27.445773), it is worth pulling over to the side, and exploring the road on foot. The grassy, rocky slopes, with scattered trees here host our first specials and species such as Familiar Chat, Cape Grassbird, Streaky-headed Seedeater and Cape Bunting are usually in evidence. Keep an eye skywards for Cape Vultures flying through (which nest nearby), along with other raptors such as Common Buzzard (summer), Jackal Buzzard and Verreaux’s Eagle, along with wheeling flocks of African Black and Alpine Swifts.

From kilometres 6 – 9km, you pass through excellent mountainous habitat, and while driving through the stunning rock formations along this part of the route, you should stop regularly and bird. Almost all of the area’s specials can be found here, although careful searching is often required. Lazy, Wailing and Wing-snapping Cisticolas all commonly occur, as do Bokmakierie, Mountain Wheatear, Mocking Cliff Chat and Nicholson’s (formerly Long-billed) Pipit, while species such as Eastern Long-billed Lark, Cape and Short-toed Rock Thrushes and Striped Pipit are more difficult to locate. When the proteas are blooming (usually in late spring/early summer), species such as Greater Double-collared and Malachite Sunbird move in. There are records of Freckled Nightjar, Spotted Eagle Owl, and even Cape Eagle Owl, but finding them in the day is highly unlikely.

After 9.5km, the road begins dropping in elevation, and you will fairly suddenly move out of the grassy rocky plains to an acacia-dominated woodland. These woodlands host more typical ‘bushveld’ species such as Golden-tailed Woodpecker, Long-billed Crombec and Golden-breasted Bunting, while some of the specials to search for here include Coqui Francolin, Flappet Lark and again, Brown-backed Honeybird. Various migrants move in during the summer, and species such as Black, Red-chested and Klaas’s Cuckoos, Woodland Kingfisher, Willow Warbler and Violet-backed Starling all move in and be found. After 11.3km, you cross another stream, and it is again worth a stop (look for breeding Thick-billed Weavers and Red-collared Widowbirds). Here the woodlands change to a terminalia sp. dominated woodland on sandy soils, and species such as Southern Black Tit, African Grey Hornbill, Groundscraper Thrush and even the scarce Striped Kingfisher occur.

After 12.3km, the road gets to a T-junction; a left turn will bring you to the main Buffelspoort Road, while a right turn will take you to the Mountain Sanctuary Park.

Key species:

Coqui Francolin, Cape Vulture, Mocking Cliff Chat, Eastern Long-billed Lark, Cape Grassbird, Wailing Cisticola, Malachite Sunbird, African Firefinch, Striped Pipit, Cape Bunting

About the Birding Site

This exciting, yet rugged mountain pass takes you on a transect over the Magaliesberg Mountains between Maanhaarand in the south and Buffelspoort in the north. A wide range of habitats are encountered on the length of this public gravel road, ranging from disturbed grasslands and farmlands, densely wooded slopes (a mix of broad-leaved woodland and acacia on sandy soils, to almost forest-like dense woodland), small streams and vlei areas, to open, rocky mountainous grasslands with scattered shrubbery at the top of the Magaliesberg.

Due to the wide range of habitats present, many different species occur in the area, and a high daily total is possible.

Key species:

Coqui Francolin, Cape Vulture, Mocking Cliff Chat, Eastern Long-billed Lark, Cape Grassbird, Wailing Cisticola, Malachite Sunbird, African Firefinch, Striped Pipit, Cape Bunting

Other Related Information

Access and facilities:
This site is a public gravel road. Please note that this road is not maintained, and it has progressively gotten more rugged and bumpy each year. This road is not for the faint of heart, with a number of rocky obstacles that need to be negotiated. Please note that this road may be impassable in, or shortly after rains. A high clearance, and preferably a 4×4 vehicle is required.

Other related information:

Access and facilities:
This site is best done as a day (or half-day) trip. Please note there are no facilities along the road, although many restaurants, and various services can be found in the area, to the south and north of the pass (in Maanhaarand and Buffelspoort respectively).

The birding can be excellent, and it is possible to achieve a list of 100+ species in a half-day trip in summer. This area hosts a number of unique and scarce birds, this close to Johannesburg and Pretoria, and is of special interest.

GPS Coordinates:
Turn-off to Breedsnek Pass, from R24: 25°54’50.9″S 27°26’57.0″E (-25.914149, 27.449155)

Recommended accommodation nearby:
No BirdLife Recommended Accommodations are currently available in the area. However, a diverse array of accommodation options are available around Maanhaarand and Buffelspoort, to suit all budgets and requirements.

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

Text prepared by:
Dylan Vasapolli

Key species:

Coqui Francolin, Cape Vulture, Mocking Cliff Chat, Eastern Long-billed Lark, Cape Grassbird, Wailing Cisticola, Malachite Sunbird, African Firefinch, Striped Pipit, Cape Bunting

Contact details: